Final Fantasy Producer Chris Lee has been around the blocks of Hollywood several times. Much like the director of Final Fantasy (Hironobu Sakaguchi), many people have seen his work, but not to many know his name. As a matter of fact, I had no idea who he was when I first met Chris during a private press lunch (I will not complain about the food, I will hold my tongue, it’s taking every ounce of will power not to complain about the “”food””…) at the MPAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC a few months ago. At the time the PR Reps asked me if I wanted to see a 17-minute clip of Final Fantasy and participate in a group Q and A with Chris Lee after words. Well being a fan of the game, this movie is one of my top three movies that I want to see this summer (and don’t get me started on how disappointing the summer movies have been so far), so I said sure, but who the hell was Chris Lee? The PR Agent said he’s the Producer of Final Fantasy.
I said “”Oh, ok””. So I went and looked him up in the IMDB. I didn’t see him there. I declined the one on one opportunity thinking that the group Q and A session would be good enough – not to mention it’s a lot less work, because I wouldn’t have to come up with all those brilliant, probing questions that I’m famous for. When am I going to learn not to turn down anyone? I still regret turning down the Blair Witch and South Park guys -who knew?Well during the original Q and A session (which I will post when the film opens) I found him to be a fascinating man, and quite the namedropper as well. He was so Hollywood, without being Hollywood. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he was the former head of production at Columbia Pictures. Responsible for putting together such films as – “”As Good As It Gets””, “”Jerry Maguire””, “”Philadelphia””, “”My Best Friend’s Wedding””, “”Sleepless in Seattle””, “”Starship Troopers””, “”Zorro””, “”Godzilla””, and others. Ok, “”Godzilla”” was a dog of a movie, but you can’t complain about the others (well maybe “”Starship Troopers””, which I liked). But you can’t argue with the man’s track record. After “”Final Fantasy”” his next project is a “”hip”” spy movie with Antonio Banderas, and a movie adaptation of the hit television show “”S.W.A.T.”” Let’s hope they don’t screw up the theme song, like they did with “”Mission Impossible II””. Well after finding all of this background information about Chris, I told the PR Rep that I had to get him one on one. Not to seem shallow, I did want to talk with him some more after our initial encounter. It’s just that all of this “”new found”” information made him even more interesting than he already was. So recently we had a quickie little telephone chat with him, and again I found him fascinating, and he told me several things that is “”not for publication””. Let’s just say the Final Fantasy DVD will Kick Ass. EMWhen we met at the MPAA, I must be honest I had no clue who you were, other than being the producer of the movie “”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within””. Imagine my surprise when I later found out that you were the head of production at Columbia Pictures. Tell us a little bit about your stint there, what projects you worked on. Just what the heck does the head of production do anyway?CL [laughs] Well my first job was at Tri-Star pictures, where I worked for about 13 years. At Tri-Star, I started as a freelance script reader and worked my way up to become the President of Production at Tri-Star. When I was there, I became Story Editor, Production Assistant, President of Creative Affairs, etc. When Tri-Star merged with Columbia Pictures, I ended up moving over there. Through these various roles I had a chance to work on many different projects. You bring relationships and people to the studios and hopefully they’ll do well. I’ve been lucky in that the films that I worked on all did fairly well.EMScript readers are the first door or hurdle that a movie producer has to go through to get a project made and is also among the lowest end of the Hollywood ladder. As a script reader how did you know which films were going to be successful? Not only that but successful enough for you to pass the script along up to the next level in the chain and to fight for that script to be read? What in a script moves you?CLWell filmmaking is such a long process. I originally bought Final Fantasy when I was the President of Production at Tri-Star. At the time it was based on a 12-page outline. It wasn’t so much the story that I cared about it was working with the Director, and being part of such an innovative project. “”The Legend Of The Fall”” took us ten years to make, it started as a novella, went through several rewrites, etc. Harrison Ford was originally going to star in it, and it ended up being Brad Pitt. In order to be in this business you have to have passion for what you are doing and a perseverance to see a project through to completion. The challenge is reading something and knowing that it is going to be right for the market.EMWith such a long production schedule is it really hard to predict what the market will want to see?CLIt’s like I said, with such a long schedule, you are often trying to predict the audience wants to see in the future, not what they want to see now. Music is a good barometer of what future trends will be, so I follow that industry quite a bit. As a producer you cannot afford to be behind trends, you have to stay ahead of them.EMDo you think Videogames are a good barometer of future trends?CLNot the entire market, but definitely a good indicator. Four years ago when I bought “”Final Fantasy”” I also had the chance to buy “”Tomb Raider””. Which is another gaming title that I thought would make a great film. “”Tomb Raider”” I would have done differently than “”Final Fantasy””. I would have made that as a live action film because it was essentially Indiana Jones.EMThere are several Video Game franchises that are in various stages of production. What would you say are the top two or three videogame franchises that deserve the big screen treatment?CLYou know what? I don’t even know what other projects are in the pipeline. I know that I’m not doing anymore myself. I can think of a few games that I’d like to see get made, but I’m not sure if they are in the pipeline or not. The question you have to ask yourself is would the game property be enhanced at all by creating a movie out of it.EMLike Super Mario Bros?CLThat was a movie where the producers didn’t know what they wanted to do, or even why it should be a movie. A game that I would love to see made is Metal Gear Solid.EMWell there’s an obvious difference between a title like “”Super Mario Bros”” or “”Metal Gear Solid.””CLWell Metal Gear Solid is a movie even the lead character’s name is “”Snake””. People really love that game because it is so true to life. That game is a great example of true convergence. EMHow far do you think this convergence will go?CLOne of the interesting things about Final Fantasy is that while we were making this game, we were also creating a version to play on the Playstation 2. It won’t be so much as a game, but you will be able to rearrange the movie into any format you want, in essence become your own director. The DVD movie will have it’s own separate features, like multiple angles, editing ability, and some other enhancements as well. Hollywood is always trying to figure out what the next ancillary market you can get out of a movie. It’s funny that this movie started as a game franchise, became a movie, and is going back to being a game.EMWhere you thinking of these markets as you were creating this movie?CLYes. When you are doing a film like this, it is only natural to think about what other mediums you can port it to. With a property like “”Jerry McGuire there is but so much you can do with it. When doing a big action movie or franchisable film like Final Fantasy you are always thinking about the next possibility. For instance Sakaguchi is thinking about taking Aki Ross [the lead character] and putting her in another film.EMHow exactly would that work? Put her in a totally different animated film? Or use a mix like “”Who Framed Roger Rabbit?””CLWell since this has never been done, we haven’t figure out exactly how that is going to work, but it’s really matter “”casting”” her in the right movie.EMWhat can you tell me about your latest project, the one with the cool theme song?CLWhat project?EMS.W.A.T.CLWell, we are waiting for the script it’ll be young, hip, and fun. Other than that there’s not much I can say about the project.EMWell what else are you working on?CLWell I’m working on a new action film, starring Antonio Banderas for Warner Brothers. It’s going to be a cool, hip, spy film, written by the same guy who did “”The Fast and Furious””. It’s called ECK X and it’s already becoming a video game.EMHow did you come up with such a goofy name?CLWell the writer did, it’s the name of the character.EMWhat’s it about?CLIt’s kind of a hip spy movie that is a cross between Desperado or “”The Professional”” but a little more high tech. It’s sort of a spy vs. spy situation until they find out that they have a common enemy. I was shocked when I looked at Next Gen [popular videogame mag] and saw that it was already being made into a videogame.EMWell there you go, you already have your very own MGS, your Solid Snake. What did you think of the Tomb Raider movie?CLI’ve been so busy working on Final Fantasy that I haven’t had time to go see it.EMWhere you disappointed to see the numbers it pulled?CLWhat did it pull?EMAbout $80 million.CL[laughs] Well $80 million dollars is a great number in my book.EMDo you think that mainstream critics will understand what this film is about? What has the critical and audience response been to the movie so far?CLIt’s been largely positive. I think it’ll appeal to a large audience