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DMG Using VR Pitch to Sell Studios on Brandon Sanderson ‘Cosmere’ Adaptations (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 5/3/2017 Brent Lang
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Talk about an elevator pitch!

DMG is taking an unusual approach in how it’s trying to sell the major studios on its planned big screen adaptation of Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel series “Cosmere.” The media and entertainment company is spending “seven figures” to create a 15-minute virtual reality experience drawn from “The Stormlight Archive,” one of the books in the series. It wants to use the technology to demonstrate to wouldbe distributors that the author’s vision has a scope and scale akin to those of J.R.R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin, two fantasy icons whose works have been embraced by Hollywood.

Typically a studio pitch consists of a screenwriter talking up their plans for a particular film, while deploying the most evocative language at their disposal. Sometimes these meetings won’t relay simply on words. There can be visual props, such as storyboards or concept art. Producers may even cobble together a sizzle reel consisting of pre-existing footage from other films in order to give backers a sense of how their money will be spent. But virtual reality seems novel. It’s a sign of the interest that interactive content is drawing from a movie business trying to figure out new ways to engage audiences, market films, and, now, secure green lights.

There’s a lot on the line and good reason for DMG to spend this kind of cash this early in the films’ development. The company didn’t just acquire one of Sanderson’s novels. It bought rights to his “Cosmere” universe, a vast group of interconnected sci-fi and fantasy stories. It hopes to make not only movies, but also television shows, games, and other types of content.

DMG has committed to spending $270 million, which will cover half of the money needed to back the first three movies made from Sanderson’s series. It’s looking for a partner to shoulder the other half and to help market and distribute the films.

DMG is two months into production on the virtual reality experience. Initially the virtual reality programming will be available only to potential business partners. However, at some point, DMG plans to offer the experience to consumers. The experience is being produced through Arcturus, an interactive media division that DMG recently launched.

Sanderson told Variety that he’d already seen some of the virtual reality experience and had been impressed with how they adapted the fantastical worlds that he’d created on the page.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “You see all these storms and fighting and canyons filled with alien life.”

When DMG signed the deal with Sanderson, it likened acquiring the “Cosmere” books to buying up a comic book universe. Sanderson’s books unfold in a number of different worlds and time periods, but are unified by an intricate system of magic that drives the plots. His literary work has sold some 15 million copies and he has an intense social media following.

Sanderson said that he’d received “nibbles” from Hollywood in the past, but was won over by DMG’s intense courtship. Executives from the company flew to his home in Utah to try to sell him on collaborating.

“I thought maybe they’d want to option one book or a story, but they told me they’d dug into everything I’d ever published,” said Sanderson. “It stopped me in my tracks. They’d read my whole canon. Nobody had ever done that.”

DMG is fast-tracking an adaptation of Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings,” the first in the author’s series, “The Stormlight Archive,” and has hired screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the writing team behind several “Saw” films, to adapt the book. DMG founder Dan Mintz will produce the film, with Sanderson and Joshua Bilmes serving as executive producers. DMG is simultaneously adapting the first book in Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series, with F. Scott Frazier (“XXX: Return of Xander Cage”) adapting.

Sanderson said he is a movie buff, but maintains he will only take a consulting role on any film adaptations of his work. He’ll be on the set, but more as an observer.

“I knew early on that I didn’t want to write the screenplays,” said Sanderson. “Me writing screenplays would be like Michael Jordan playing baseball — I’d do okay, and maybe get into the minors, but I’d rather focus on what I do best.”

In addition to the Sanderson deal, DMG has has been actively acquiring literary properties, recently nabbing Ken Liu’s “Grace of Kings” trilogy. The studio’s upcoming projects include John Curran’s political drama “Chappaquiddick” and the Ed Helms and Owen Wilson comedy “Bastards.”

Sanderson does have some standalone projects that are not included in the DMG deal. Those have also drawn interest from studios. In January, MGM nabbed the film rights to his novella “Snapshot,” and his book series “The Reckoners” recently landed at Fox with Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps banner producing.

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