First-time director Fergal Reilly, who teamed up with co-director Clay Kaytis on The Angry Birds Movie, is a self-proclaimed gamer. He believes that experience helped in transitioning the popular video game characters into a Hollywood animated feature film.
The Angry Birds Movie is already a hit for Rovio Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment, which distributed the $73 million CGI movie. After opening with $38 million domestically, beating out Captain America: Civil War, the movie earned $18 million over the Memorial Day Weekend and has made over $223 million worldwide. Rovio also has a new hit Angry Birds Action! mobile game, new movie merchandise, and a slew of tie-ins helping to cross-promote the big screen and interactive adventures.
Reilly talks about the synergies Rovio brought to the table, including a 360-degree video from McDonald’s, and explains how his own background as a gamer impacted the Hollywood adaptation in this exclusive interview.
What are the challenges of turning a video game into a movie? It’s something Hollywood has been doing for a long time, but hasn’t had the success that we just saw with The Angry Birds Movie at the box office.
It’s about audiences’ expectations. The original source material, if it’s a video game, has a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan base, whatever property that might be. It’s a big challenge for any studio to adapt something that’s a translation of a property from one form into another. It’s more of a transformation than it is a translation, and every filmmaker who has to do that, be it Duncan Jones on Warcraft or myself and Clay on Angry Birds, has to set themselves free of the source material a little bit and allow it to be a transformation rather than just a translation. We were lucky on the Angry Birds Movie because there is so little narrative with the actual app that Rovio gave us a huge amount of freedom to create the type of comedy that we were trying to create and blue sky all the characters in that world from the game and create comedic personalities for those characters. The characters in the game don’t have any personality. They’re just icons, whereas our job—and I think any animation director’s job—is to create really funny, appealing characters that the audience is going to root for.
Rovio has done a lot of short Angry Birds Toons over the years. Did that help with the film in any way?
There were a lot of toons that they’d done, like the Piggy Tails, but they’re very simple and short. For the movie, we needed to create personalities with a lot more definition and a much more sophisticated type of comedic personality. It was a huge relief when I saw that John Vitti was writing the script because I knew that he was going to certainly elevate the type of comedic personality that you might have expected from something as simple as a video game app.
Hollywood has done a lot of live action adaptations of games. Does going the CGI route like with The Angry Birds Movie seem a better avenue for success?
It’s a graphics familiarity to the characters that the audience really likes. It’s not a big jump for the audience to recognize the characters that they love and with Angry Birds that’s because they were cartoon characters. They’re really particularly suited to animation because when you actually play the game, it’s almost like a little cartoon game that you’re playing. Other video game properties have a more difficult time with that because there’s such amazing graphic reality to games like Assassin’s Creed and The Last of Us. The audience is very familiar—and they have a relationship with—those characters in the games. But the trick is, like with any adaptation, to allow it to become something else. With Angry Birds it was easier in that sense because, in the original game, the characters live in an animated environment, so it’s not as big a jump to take it into an animated forum.
The Angry Birds Movie also has the tie-in Angry Birds Action! game. What do you think of that kind of synergy?
The great thing about our movie was that it was made entirely by Rovio, which is very unsual. So from very early on there was this internal synergy between what we were doing on the movie and the game creators. Rovio knew from very early on that it was a great advantage to be able to bring the movie to the world, and also create a game property that is almost a partner to the movie.
McDonald’s has released an Angry Birds Movie 360-degree video and we’re seeing a lot of VR out there. What do you see that medium opening up creatively for directors like yourself?
We’ve only scratched the surface. Being a big game player myself and loving games, it’s interesting because when you play games you’re automatically—as a player—part of the narrative of the concept of the game. With virtual reality, it’s going to be a really interesting challenge to filmmakers, but also to the audience, as to how to insert yourself as a viewer into the VR narrative. The trick to figuring this stuff out is that, with VR filmmaking, the audience isn’t a passive component. Just like in games, you’re an active participant in the narrative. The challenge is how to crack the code on what the audiences’ participation in that new VR environment will be because it can’t be passive. It has to be active.
What impact do you feel your own gaming background has had in being able to bring a film like The Angry Birds Movie to life?
Lots of different things, like the way you think about creating the experience for the audience, the way you think about making it immersive so that the characters feel like they really belong in that world, and how you block scenes in that world. That’s all been influenced by how we block the action in Act III. That was all influenced by my video game experience. We were very conscious of making it a really immersive experience for the viewer. We wanted to create the best possible idea of what the game could translate to in terms of the action of the game translating into the action of the movie. We wanted it to be a really immersive experience for the audience. We even brought our 3D supervisor Todd Napier on very early in the process to discuss and explore how to make that happen.
Even as a game player, audiences who play games have a much more sophisticated awareness of how scenes can be blocked and they’re not as limited in the way a narrative can unfold visually. If I’m playing Assassin’s Creed I love playing around with the camera to try and add different perspectives, even though it’s one focal lens, basically. I love the fact that you can really play with your perception of what’s happening in the narrative.