From Werewolves To Tom Clancy: Davidson Native Helps Turn Video Games Into Movies For Ubisoft
There’s a minor character in the new movie “Werewolves Within” named Charlotte. But that’s not the horror-comedy film’s only connection to the Queen City.
The film wouldn’t have made it to theaters and video on demand were it not for Davidson native Margaret Boykin. She’s the director of film development at Ubisoft Film and Television. Yep, that’s the same Ubisoft known for making mega-hit video games like the Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Tom Clancy's franchises.
“Werewolves Within” is a reimagined version of a 2016 game developed by Red Storm Entertainment, a Raleigh-area studio owned by Ubisoft. In the game, players have to figure out which person in a medieval village is really a violent werewolf in disguise. The film version takes that concept and applies it to modern-day America, with a forest ranger (Sam Richardson of “Veep”) and a mail carrier (Milana Vayntrub) trying to sleuth out who’s human and who’s lycanthrope in a snowed-in Vermont town.
As a producer on the project, Boykin was involved every step of the way.
Growing up in Davidson, she was more an avid reader than gamer, but she wasn’t a stranger to video games, either. Nintendo, she says, was “the main social activity” at her house for her brother and cousins.
“That was the way I got to hang out with the cool kids was watching them play Zelda and Mario Kart,” Boykin said.
She’s … a lot more familiar now — though she didn’t start her Hollywood career with a goal of adapting video games into movies.
Boykin went to Barnard College in New York, where she majored in English but studied film and creative writing. In college, she got a gig as a research assistant for a screenwriter who was working on the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and quickly fell in love with the job.
“I didn’t grow up knowing about the role that a screenwriter has or that a producer has,” Boykin said. “It was a really fun window into the industry and showed me that it could be an actual career path, which was really exciting.”
One thing led to another, and Boykin wound up in Los Angeles, where she worked at United Talent Agency and as a producer at Columbia Pictures. Then she learned about the Ubisoft job in 2016.
“I was really excited about working somewhere where the sort of mandate was just, ‘Hey, we have this incredible library of games and titles and we really want to create cool movies and TV shows based off of those titles,’” Boykin said.
That’s what she’s been doing since. She says it’s a good feeling to know that fans are generally excited to see a game they like get turned into a new medium. But she says there’s a lot of pressure, too, in making sure that the finished product keeps the spirit of a franchise that’s built a following.
“As someone who loved books growing up, I think about it that way,” Boykin said. “I loved the Harry Potter books, but I also love the Harry Potter movies, and our sort of mantra is you have to make very different choices to make a great movie or TV show than you do a great game. So we work really hard with our game teams and with our partners on the filmmaking side to just tell a really good story, and we hope that's what will keep fans happy.”
The idea for a film interpretation of “Werewolves Within” came from screenwriter Mishna Wolff, who took part in Ubisoft’s Women’s Film and Television Fellowship — something Boykin started as a way to help create more opportunities for women writers in the entertainment industry. Participants get to pitch ideas for reimagining Ubisoft-owned intellectual property as film or television concepts.
“It’s kind of the first fellowship of its kind in the game industry,” Boykin said.
Other movies in the Ubisoft pipeline right now include live-action-animated versions of the Rabbids franchise, which follows mischievous rabbit-like creatures and has sold 20 million games, and the 2003 game “Beyond Good & Evil.” There’s also a forthcoming film adaptation of online action game “Tom Clancy’s The Division” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain.
“One of my favorite parts about this job is that our projects are as diverse as our library of titles,” Boykin said. “We have everything from a funny werewolf movie ... to a movie about rabbits in space, so there’s a lot going on.”