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The Cat’s Out of the Bag

Jerry Hawthorne
United States
dallas
Texas
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So I got back to my hotel room after my first day at Essen Spiel 18, and was fighting jet lag a bit, but I wanted to catch up on social media as a way to wind down. As soon as I looked at Twitter, I saw a tweet from my friend and colleague Andrea Mezzotero referring to a news article by Variety magazine online. In the article, they boldly stated something I’ve been keeping secret for years. Dreamworks Entertainment is entering final negotiations on a movie based on my story game Mice and Mystics! It had to be true because their information was accurate. Nobody had informed me that this was going public, and it was never part of their responsibility to do so. As you can imagine, it came as quite a shock, but a mostly pleasant one.

So how did I get here?

Well in 2014 I received a random email from the “assistant to the director Alex Aja.” The email was brief, she introduced herself and politely explained that Alex Aja was interested in Mice & Mystics to possibly make a movie. She asked me for a phone number and a good time to call, and before long I was on the phone with Alex Aja.

Alex Aja is a dashing young French director. He had received some critical acclaim at Caan, and had done a very well received remake of The Hills Have Eyes. At the time he contacted me, he was quite busy filming Horns with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame.

So I found myself on the phone with an enthusiastic French man with a vision. Aja has a son who was six years old at that time and together they had discovered Mice & Mystics. According to him, as soon as Alex started experiencing the story of Prince Collin and his companions, he started envisioning movie scenes, musical scores, technology applications, and writing approaches. In other words, he saw a movie unfolding in his mind. He also saw the potential to work on something and also involve his son.

Alex described for me a movie that was heavily influenced by tricks of scale. Little mice in a big huge castle. He mentioned always wanting to do a movie like Stewart Little where the audience experiences a shift in scale and there are charming elements that play on this interaction. He loved that the idea of a movie that featured humans, and that they transform into mice. He mentioned Miz Maggie and liked the idea of having a real actress play her. He also mentioned new digital facial mapping technology that would allow the actors to look like themselves even when turned into cgi mice.

Like anybody, I was delirious with an emotional fugue akin to hope, anxiety, fear, and gratitude. I had tears in my eyes, but not from any kind of crying, just from the enormity of what we were talking about. I felt small, kind of like a mouse.

I told Alex that I would need to consult an entertainment lawyer. He was very encouraging, as this is standard. I talked to a long term customer of mine who I trusted. Her husband is a hotshot well connected lawyer here in Dallas. He got me into contact with Dallas’ top entertainment lawyer. This was such a good choice on my part. I love my lawyer, and because Dallas is a thriving city, they have programs to foster the arts. These programs allowed me to get top representation for a fair price. Dallas celebrates its local talent!

The Deal

So, you would not believe how complex movie contracts are. I’m not going to go into any specifics, but there are some things that are standard, and there are many choices a good entertainment lawyer can advise you on. There is tons of customization. I live a fairly simple life by choice, so I wasn’t interested in too many things. My main requests were to limit the movie to PG, and to allow me to keep the boardgame rights.

With the deal all worked up, Alex was now able to shop the idea around to various production studios. My lawyer was very frank with me. She said that 99% of these deals never actually result in a movie. Year after year went by, Alex was tenacious even sending copies of the game to everyone In Hollywood he thought might be interested. We got sooooo close, sooo many times but each time something got in the way. Sometimes long periods of time would go by and I thought for sure it had gone cold, but then a trickle of hope would come in the form of a short email, or a question from my lawyer. I was thankful for having kept my hope in check.

Finally there is Dreamworks, and suddenly everything was on again! More on than ever before. Enthusiasm and motivation were creeping in all over again. My lawyer says that this option period is no guarantee that the movie will get made. It means that the studio wants to hold the movie rights while they explore the idea, attempt to gather a team to make it, and spend money on market research. But, she also told me that I had made it to a place that thousands of people try to get to, but never do. She said that having your work optioned is a bragging right among screenwriters and other movie professionals. While I couldn’t care less about bragging, I found this hopeful.

What All This Means

I’m a father, breadwinner, husband. Since 2004 I’ve been freelancing in the boardgame industry while working a full time career. I love a good day’s work, but, as my kids grew I started to realize the volume of time I was missing out on. For me, a Mice & Mystics movie means more than just a little financial security for my family. I have given up my career and I am a full time designer now. I care deeply about this industry and the people that make it so special. It is my firm belief that board games are the cure for the disconnect we all feel in this modern world. I feel we have an opportunity to bring people together. We have a gift that is so obviously important, it would be negligent to ignore.

If a Mice & Mystics movie grows our industry by demonstrating to the greater public how much more modern board games can do with story that speaks to the goodness that is in all of us. How laughing, taking on challenges, making decisions, honing our mental acuity, or solving puzzlesTOGETHER shatters the negativity that divides us. If it even has a chance to impact that, I will feel at peace.

Speculators

I see on the forums or on social media, people making all kinds of speculations about this. Maybe we have a lot of movie industry experts in our niche. I know I’m not one of ‘em. Maybe this little blog piece will help serve as an open account of my adventure so far, and perhaps ease some of the speculation.
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