A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to interview all the main cast of the new Disney / Jerry Bruckheimer movie, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. We also got to interview Mike Newell, the Director and Jordan Mechner who invented the original computer game back in 1989 on the Apple 2 computer.

I’ve already put up the interview with the Prince of Persia creator, Jordan Mechner which you can see here and we still have interviews with Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, and Sir Ben Kingsley but today we get to hear from the director of the movie, Mike Newell.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is released in UK cinemas this Friday, 21st May and you can check out my review here.

How Hard is it to make a movie based on a computer game?

We went through a big evolution. When we started, one of the things I said to Jerry Bruckheimer was, ‘I’m not in the generation for video games, does it matter and if so, how much does it matter?’

At that stage, everyone was aware that we had to make a story that was a general audience, not a game audience that had real scope and epicness to it, character, action, romance, comedy and all of those things and then little by little we discovered that the gamers themselves are very vocal, they had websites and all sorts of stuff and asked, when are we going to make a decent movie out of a video game?

I took it seriously in that I knew I had to understand the game and I tried to play it, got three steps to some revolving knives and had to get my assistants to play it for me! I would watch and take notes on weaponry, clothes and that sort of thing. But there wasn’t enough plot to make the movie like this, there wasn’t enough fusion between the two.

A couple of weeks ago I showed some of the movie to a group of gamers in San Francisco to see what they thought but, we won’t know for sure until they start saying on they’re websites if we’ve succeeded or not.

Are you ready for the critics?

I’m never for the critics, they’re always punishing and you can never understand why then don’t think that it’s the best movie ever made and you’re bitterly hurt by any other response.

Do you feel that you have made the best game conversion to the movie possible?

No. And the reason I say no is because I didn’t conceive of it as anything I should do. I wasn’t making a video game, I was making a great big movie. I was making a Bruckheimer movie and there is now such a thing as a ‘Bruckheimer movie’, it’s a genre. What I then did was to put up roots into the game and I cherry picked bits out of the game. I picked some shapes of the weapons, costume, the moves. But I didn’t set out to make a movie of the game, I set out to make a movie of a very good script about an absolutely fascinating thing which is what happens to people when they discover that a fable is real. This thing starts out as a fable and then this thing turns out to be real it’s a terrific shock. The example I use for myself is it’s a story like Noah, except instead of rivers you’re drowned by sand. For exactly the same reason, you’ve committed some indescribable sin and the gods are not going to let you get away with it.

In 1995 there was the 4 Weddings and a Funeral Mike Newell, then 2005 Harry Potter and now Prince of Persia – How has this happened?

I remember my then agent and my then lawyer sitting around a pool in LA and pleading with me saying, ‘Just do Harry Potter, you can do the tiny little movies after’ and I said ‘oh OK!’

I loved doing HP cos I could make a kind of film of it that they hadn’t done before. Daniel Radcliffe asked me if I’d been watching films for this. I said yes, I said I’d been watching paranoid thrillers like North by Northwest and I could see a way of moving that movie and I knew I’d have a good time and could also make it funny. Then Jerry asks you to make a movie and it’s like someone coming along to make a space movie or a cowboy movie and with PoP I really liked the story, I loved the idea of turning real people into a fable, and you have to say yes. I’ll make small films again I very much hope.

Did you cast Jake and Gemma and if so, why?

Yes. I’ve known Jake since he was a small boy, since he was about 10, as I knew his mother and father, then I knew him slightly through Mona Lisa Smile and through his sister, Maggie. I thought Maggie was great and I was surprised there was acting in the family as his mum’s a writer and his father’s a director but there they were. I’d seen him and I thought that what I had to have was no a prince, I had to have a trickster, an anarchist, a rebel, someone that would down the social scale from the rest of the royal family – this kid’s no royal, he’s from the steet and I had to have someone who had an anarchic sense of humour.

With Gemma, I was looking for a very particular thing. I seriously thought of going into Bollywood for that character. They’re staggering looking girls and some of them can act too! (Laughs!), and I didn’t expect to find her in this country. I met Gemma and I adored her. I met her sister, her mother, her father and all that but she’s a terrific actress. And I sort of fell in love with bits of her.

Which bits?!

I love her neck!

Did you have to fight for Jake?

I wouldn’t say I had to fight for him but he wasn’t an obvious choice. I introduced him to Jerry and they talked to him several times as he’s a huge investment. An awful lot of money is riding on his head and then he was convinced.

How did you transition from films like Four Weddings with no computer graphics (CG), to Harry Potter to Prince of Persia which are extremely CG heavy?

It’s what happened to the game (the business of making movies) in my lifetime. When I started, it was at the time of the Vietnam War and I didn’t go anywhere near the war but the equipment I used in TV was completely radicalised around the war because they had to have a sound camera that you could literally hold in one hand or they couldn’t run with soldiers. They designed one and it was called an Atrar. They said it was silent but it actually had a kind of clicking noise. That revolutionised the whole business making movies were made for TV, as suddenly you could make movies for TV with equipment half the size.

I remember there was a movie I wanted to make and I had to have one huge scene that was the last victory celebration of the last world war. There was a scene in The Strand and I had to do it. I had to fill the scene and I couldn’t do it, it was a tiny little movie. Someone told me that there is a thing that they’re working on where you can double, tripped, quadruple a crowd and somehow it’s done electronically but they didn’t understand how it worked.

Then I got a job with George Lucas who made a series in the this country called ‘Young Indy’ about the man before he became Harrison Ford. And George was adorable, he said you can cut it, but I will then re-cut it and I will fly you to San Francisco and I’ll show you why I’ve re-cut it, what I’ve done and what I can do. Young Indy was a kind of  flying test-bed for all the stuff they do now. I remember he showed me a shot of a field gun and he said how many do you want, I said ’16’, he said ‘easy’, flicked a switch and there were 16 field guns. We directors were educated in the evolution of the technology right from when I started work with the 16mm sound cameras right the way through to now and it’s a constant evolution, things just don’t stand still.

Are you surprised at where you’ve come to and do you worry about the future?

I worry some times, and I think the other thing that happens is ‘the game’ of making movies which is always a game played with money, one of the things is that these techniques lend themselves to certain subjects and not to other subjects. You always get a comedy made because making people laugh sells tickets, but dramas are very much not a thing of the present. Because a man and woman getting wound up about their relationship in romantic settings is not as interesting as $200m spent on cavalry charges, magic knives and that kind of stuff. And so, the marketplace reacts, they believe badly to drama, well to comedy as it’s a constant, and so it’s changed the game a lot. Everyone moans at the amount of money it costs to make a movie, but it’s kind of expected.

Would you work on another computer game movie in the future?

Guys like me come for the script, the characters, the situation, it’s all of those things, it isn’t a simple ‘find me a video game and I’ll go to work at all’.

Has it changed you or just changed your craft? Is there a Mike Newell before 2005 & after?

I hope there is! I’ve found a film I really want to make now which is about a man murdered in a very dreadful fashion but in a very ordinary pig London. But it’s very shocking and very surprising and doesn’t require any of this technology and at the same time it ought to be something that will make people sit up and get the movie made but it’s very difficult to get that sort of subject made.


Prince of Persia is released in the UK May 21st. You can see interviews with all the cast on HeyUGuys so stay tuned or check out all our Prince of Persia Coverage here.