American McGee to Script Oz Pic

Renowned artist and video game creator American McGee (American McGee’s Alice) has been tapped by Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer to write the screenplay for the feature film based on his American McGee’s Oz toyline and upcoming video game. McGee gave us the scoop Wednesday evening during a phone interview.

“It’s my first official writing engagement with a major studio,” McGee comments. “The project’s moving forward. I literally just got back from our first official meeting to discuss writing it.”

Screenwriters Kevin and Dan Hageman were originally attached to pen the pic. “When we sold the project, [Disney] already had these guys in mind and were talking to them about some other stuff,” McGee explains. “They had recently come off of working with Steven Spielberg and had a lot of momentum in town. But I think the official line is that they ended up having creative differences.”

McGee is working from an original story he wrote and pitched to Disney and Bruckheimer. “There are actually three living versions,” McGee tells us. “One is the story for the game, the second is the synopsis/treatment that we used to sell the film’a more compressed version of what happens in the game’and then there’s an expanded version created for the novel. They all have a little bit of a different color to them but all have the same characters on the same quest.”

The Oz novel, co-authored McGee and Camden Joy, will be published by Warner Books. Video game rights are still being negotiated. Carbon6, the interactive entertainment franchise properties company co-founded by McGee and Anthony Jacobson, owns the intellectual property rights.

Described as a sort of prequel to what happens in L. Frank Baum’s original novels, McGee’s take on Oz takes place way before Dorthy and Toto arrive, focusing instead on a reluctant hero who comes to save the enchanted world. The filmmakers plan to blend live-action with a heavy CG element.

If your’re familiar with the unique twist McGee put on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with the video game and toyline, American McGee’s Alice, then you should know that this new vision of Oz will be very different from the movie you grew up watching on TV every spring. McGee’s vision latches onto the more sinister elements of Baum’s mythology and aims for a more mature audience. “It’s a war-torn Oz,” McGee explains. “We’re talking about something in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean, which Bruckheimer did with Disney and had a lot of success with. We want to create a similar tone, but maybe a little bit darker. Lord of the Rings may be the direction we’re going.”

McGee is hoping his new screenwriting gig will give him some clout as he shops American McGee’s Grimm, a screenplay he wrote that’s set in the world of the Brothers Grimm fairytales. “We’re out talking to directors about that project right now but we’ve kind of put the pitching on hold until we could announce that we’ve sold me writing Oz. But now that this has been announced, we’re going to go a little faster on selling Grimm.

According to McGee, the difference between his screenplay and Terry Gilliam’s upcoming feature, The Brothers Grimm, is that Gilliam’s film is set in a more real world, much like Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hallow. “This Grimm story I’ve written is set in an alternate universe, a fairytale world, and the characters in it are full of magic,” notes McGee. “The main character is a kid who’s the son of King Midas, but that’s about all I can say about it right now.”

McGee served as exec producer on developer/publisher Enlight’s recently released video game, Scrapland. He is now overseeing design on an insane new game titled Bad Day LA while he works to grow Crbon6 into a multi-media powerhouse.

“One thing we’re trying to do is prove that we can do it all under one roof, like what Blizzard and Pixar do,” says McGee. “When people look at all the different things we have our fingers in, they’re like, ‘God, you guys are all over the place.’ But the ultimate goal is to be a Disney-type organization but with the actual ability to do all the things that Disney does under one roof’from the print materials to the game to the toys to the film.”