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Tetris CEO Maya Rogers told me that the movie Tetris is really about the biggest business development deal of all time.
Naturally, he’s a little biased. After all, his father was the brash guy who saw Tetris’ potential, snuck into Nintendo to meet with its CEO, and tracked down the rights to an obscure agency in the Soviet Union and a developer named Alexei Pajitnov.
The film premiered at the South By Southwest show in Austin, Texas, and will get a special screening at next week’s Game Developers Conference. TetrisJohn S. Directed by Baird, it’s a biographical piece of fiction that captures the essence of the deal. oh, and the car chase didn’t actually happen in the soviet union.
The film tells the story of how Hank Rogers, Maya’s father, tracked down Tetris creator Alexei Pajitnov in the 1980s and secured the rights to the block-stacking game for Nintendo. There are some Hollywood embellishments to the story, but it tells the story of what it was like to go inside the communist regime of the Soviet Union and find yourself under contract for all the rights to the game.
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Maya Rogers said her father and Pajitnov are still great friends and business partners. I spoke with him at the recent Dice Summit. I watched the movie and I will share my impressions at the end of this week. But it was brutal to see characters I met in real life on the silver screen.
The show will air on Apple TV+ on March 31.
Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
Can you tell me about it? Tetris movie?
Maya Rogers. Yes, it’s biographical. It will be released on March 31st on AppleTV+. It’s the story of Hank Rogers going to the Soviet Union and securing the rights to Tetris. It’s really the story of Hank, Nintendo and the Game Boy, and of course it’s based on the premise of his friendship with Alexei Pajitnov. We are beyond excited! Someone mentioned to me that this is the first story that goes behind the scenes with the people who made it happen. It is not a fictional story. That’s what really happens in the gaming industry. Most people don’t realize how crazy the history of Tetris was, this game was coming out of a communist country.
The character of Hank is played by Taron Egerton, who is a wonderful actor. I’m in the movie too, as is my 10-year-old self, a little Japanese girl, and so is my mother. It’s also a celebration of Asian representation, headlined by Japanese-speaking actors. It’s a story that transcends cultural barriers. It is interesting considering what is happening in Russia today. This story is about human connection and how Hank and Alexei came together over their love of video games. It’s about the common language of games.
GamesBeat. How did it start?
Rogers: It was kind of a crazy start. In the past, we had a deal that was in the works, but it never materialized. When that happened, word got around that we were making a Tetris movie. The famous director said: “I want to make a Tetris movie.” I contacted that director because he had said something publicly. That relationship didn’t work out. But we were involved from the beginning, starting with the script stages and hiring the writers. The script that was created was so good. So much happened. The cases were postponed. But in the end it went to Matthew Vaughn, who directed the Kingsman series, a very famous British director. He fell in love with the script. Then he contacted Apple.
GamesBeat. Has it always been conceived more as historical fiction, biographical, as opposed to pure fiction?
Rogers: It was always going to be biographical, yes. It was kind of like “Argo” or “The Social Network,” something a bit serious based on a true story. Hank and Alexei experienced it. When they told the story, they said: “Our story was even more interesting than what we’re trying to create as a Hollywood version.” Sure, there are some embellishments to what happened, but most of it happened. People will probably watch the movie thinking it didn’t happen, but these things really have happened before. We are beyond excited!
We saw the film for the first time in October. Hank was crying. It’s a family story, our family heritage. And again, going back to what Tetris has become today, people don’t know how this game came to be.
GamesBeat. I think what was even crazier to me was that you got the rights back and you could split the money with Alexey. I forget how long it took.
Rogers: I think it was in 1996 when they got the rights back so he could be paid directly from Tetris revenue. They are now co-owners of IS. But again, this goes back to their handshake friendship. That’s why they’re still partners today. They fully trust each other when it comes to what is happening with IS.
GamesBeat. This is an amazing non-fiction story. Does the film go that deep into the story or does it end at some point in time earlier?
Rogers: It basically ends with Alexey getting the rights, yeah. It is that era. Only the beginning. It begins with Hank discovering Tetris at CES, as it had already been published by Spectrum Holobyte. It’s also the story of Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln and Hank Rogers really stepping in to protect rights from the Soviet Union. There’s quite a bit of spy fiction out there. There is no car chase that really happened. It’s the Hollywood part. It was an interesting time because it was right when the Soviet Union was collapsing. All these pieces were falling into place.
GamesBeat. How many years did this movie take?
Rogers: I have to look back, but I think it took six years. It’s not as long as people probably expect.
GamesBeat. Did it start with Apple or did it jump around a bit?
Rogers: Yes, it bounced from several companies.
GamesBeat. Funny how it lands when this whole trend is now a big deal. We have The Last of Us on HBO and a Super Mario movie coming soon.
Rogers: The film was shot during the hottest period of the epidemic. In January 2020, everything was closed. Initially, it was going to be shot in Moscow. Then they were going to shoot it in Berlin. But in the end they filmed in Scotland, because they found out that the same architect who built many buildings in Moscow worked in Scotland. The same buildings are there. In terms of making the film there, it worked. Unfortunately we couldn’t go there as the only way to get there was by train from London. It was very cold and you had all the restrictions. They also did some reshoots, as they do with most movies, and it took a little longer than expected. So really, it started in January 2020 and it was supposed to come out in 2021, but reshoots didn’t happen until last year. Now it’s coming here in 2023.
GamesBeat. Did you have control over the facts used in the script?
Rogers: Definitely yes. From the beginning, we dealt with the selection of the writer, Noah Pink. He wrote his draft, and then Hank and Alexey guided him through the entire script. Tetris company also presented the facts. We were definitely involved in every step. We have approved the script and the actors.
GamesBeat. How will it be released after the premiere?
Rogers: We officially premiere at SXSW on March 15th. Then we’re hosting a demo at GDC for the gaming community so they can all celebrate. It will then finally be released on Apple+ on March 31st.
GamesBeat. Now that the movie is over, what is Hank up to now?
Rogers: I think the question is more like, “What isn’t he up to?” He really is going to fulfill his mission to save the world from climate change. He works on the Blue Planet Alliance, bringing together all these non-profits around sustainability to try to change the world. He’s on that mission now, making the world a better place, a place to live so the Earth doesn’t die.
GamesBeat. I’ll have to talk to him about it one day. There are some things coming out of the Metaverse thread that might be interesting. She and Alexey still work together.
Rogers: They absolutely still do things together. The pandemic put a damper on things, obviously, but every year they get together and travel.
GamesBeat. And what’s the latest from The Tetris Company?
Rogers: We are working on a new mobile game that will be released at the end of March. That’s our biggest thing. We just launched Game Boy emulator on Nintendo Switch. It will be fun. I’m sure people will want to play it when the movie comes out. We don’t have other big games like for consoles. But we’re also working on an homage to Alexey’s original Tetris game.
GamesBeat. It’s still a strong IP overall.
Rogers: Very strong, yes. Of course, we also do other things like fashion and lifestyle products and now also entertainment. It was great to see the reaction on YouTube, all the millions of viewers of the trailer. But then of course the gaming press – the IGN video got over 4 million views. It’s so nice to see the gaming community get behind the story. Everyone knows the brand so well. It’s been exciting to see that, all the support and feedback we’ve gotten.
GamesBeat. The interesting thing people are saying about this whole Hollywood renaissance and games. the barriers are not so great anymore. People from both fields now understand each other better. They all grew up in each other’s worlds.
Rogers: They are complementary, right? It’s all fun. As I said earlier, this is the first movie to go behind the scenes of games, what it takes to bring a game out into the world. I think people are excited to see it. The people at DICE who put in the work every day to bring these amazing games to life, it’s great to know that people are going to see what they’ve been up to.
GamesBeat. This is almost a business development story.
Rogers: Yes! With a crazy entrepreneur. That’s what it takes, right? It’s almost surreal because we’re so close to it all. Sure, we loved the movie, but we’re a little biased. We thought it was great, but we also got a lot of great feedback. I can say for sure that it will be a good movie.
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