“I figured no one was going to care about this,” says Harris. “I didn’t know there was such a great story there.”
Now that documentary, Console Wars, is a reality. Available on CBS All Access, the project is an entertaining, unvarnished look at key a piece of gaming history. It chronicles the rise and fall of Sega, which introduced Sonic in 1991 to combat Nintendo, the undisputed market leader in the space.
Console Wars took a winding road which saw the 2014 Sony hack jeopardize its future and COVID-19 derail the planned SXSX premiere the filmmakers had waited years for. But the idea endured. In addition to becoming a best-selling 2014 book from Harris, there’s also a limited series in development at Legendary Television.
The documentary taps into the current of ’90s nostalgia running through our culture, with rare footage from stores and gaming events that were pulled from hours of painstaking research. But its true strength lies in its strong cast of characters that includes a Vietnam vet turned Sega power player, a draconian executive who ruled from Japan, and Tom Kalinske, a toy exec who took the reins of Sega of America and brought his team to greatness.
“The story is about this guy bringing a team of misfits together and challenging a Goliath,” says Harris.
Before Console Wars could become a reality, Rosenberg had to find someone to take his clients’ passion to the next level. In January 2012, he set a meeting with Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg about lending their names to the doc. Harris and Tulis had gained some heat writing comedy scripts, but this was the first time they’d met with a pair of A-list decisionmakers. It proved to be a life-changing moment.
“Rather than just being EP on the doc, they said, ‘you know what, we are going to help get the book published, we’ll write the forward, we’re going to help finance the doc and we would love to make this into a movie,” Tulis recalls Rogen and Goldberg saying.
When power player Rudin eventually called Rosenberg with interest of helping, the first-year manager thought for sure it was his UTA mailroom buddies pranking him.
“I swear to you, it was like two minutes. ‘I love this. This is a movie. I’m going to finance the documentary and I’m going to help your first-time author get a big splashy publishing deal,’ ” Rosenberg recalls Rudin telling him. “A month later, the movie is set up at Sony, we sell the book at auction to Harper Collins and the money is in the bank for the doc. Without him coming in like that, I don’t think it would’ve gotten made in this way.”
Fast forward two years and the team was putting the finishing touches on the documentary while developing a feature film version, too. Harris was riding high from reception to his Console Wars book, which was on its way to becoming a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in gaming history.
But a speedbump was ahead. Rogen and Goldberg were about to be at the center of an international incident when their North Korea satire The Interview saw Sony suffer a November 2014 cyberattack the FBI later linked to North Korea (though questions still remain).
The hack saw thousands of emails leak, including embarrassing exchanges between Console Wars producer Rudin and then-Sony head Amy Pascal. In the aftermath, Pascal exited her post at Sony. The studio and the producers of Console Wars had bigger fish to fry, putting the future of both the documentary and the narrative feature film set up at the studio in jeopardy.
“We didn’t know if the doc would get made,” says Tulis.
Time passed and the team maintained hope. Eventually, the rights lapsed at Sony, and Legendary snapped them up in 2018 after a bidding war, with Rogen, Goldberg and Rudin still on board. The Console Wars team had already shot 80 percent of the interviews, but added even more, and brought on House of Cards composer Jeff Beal and noted doc editor Doug Blush.
By early 2020, Console Wars was nearly complete after being acquired as CBS All Access’ first documentary. Harris and Tulis are working at a breakneck pace trying to complete it in time for a splashy SXSW debut, only for COVID to cancel the festival.
“I turned on my phone and I had 20 texts, and called up Jonah and found out we canceled,” Harris recalls of getting that news.
Still, they remain happy that it’s finding an audience on streaming.
With the documentary out the door, now the team is setting their sights on the limited series, which dramatizes the events of the doc and the book. American Vandal writer Mike Rosolio penned a pilot that is described as reminiscent of Moneyball in the vein of Halt and Catch Fire, with a dash of the California episodes of Mad Men. Kong: Skull Island filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts is attached to direct.
Given all the ways its been sold and connected with audiences, Console Wars feels like an obvious home run.
“I admittedly saw dollar signs immediately,” Rosenberg says to laughs from his clients.
But both Harris and Tulis felt their Hollywood futures were uncertain when they met with Rogen and Goldberg back in January 2012. After all, they’d just had a major disappointment. Just as they were about to shop around a dictator-themed comedy script about a ruler living in exile in New Jersey, Sasha Baron Cohen announced his own movie The Dictator, killing any chance of theirs getting made.
“It was such a blow,” says Tulis.
But it also taught them a lesson about their niche in Hollywood.
“In the end, we are trying to find stories that are different and unique,” says Tullis. “Hopefully, nobody out there is doing the same thing because they are so out there and very research-focused.”
Harris parlayed Console Wars into a successful career as an author, and is currently writing a biography of Larry David, with participation from the Seinfeld co-creator.
Says Harris of building a career thanks to Console Wars: “The one project I wanted to do for non-commercial reasons was the one that led to things.”