Masi Oka Project Set at DreamWorks

Gary Whitta to Pen Script; D.J. Caruso in Talks to Direct
Borys Kit and Jay A. Fernandez
The Hollywood Reporter
June 7, 2009

DreamWorks has picked up "The Defenders," a family adventure project conceived by "Heroes" actor Masi Oka to be produced by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. D.J. Caruso is in negotiations to direct, and Gary Whitta is on board to write the script.

The story centers on a group of mostly teenagers from around the world who are involved in a multiplayer video game, each unaware of who they really are behind the cover of their consoles and avatars. They are forced to come together for a real adventure, becoming inadvertent heroes in the process.

DreamWorks will develop a video game simultaneously with the feature.

Oka, who will exec produce, came up with idea while playing MMORPGs -- massively multiplayer online role-playing games, in that world's parlance.

"You can be whoever you want to be," he said. "The question came to me: What if you had to live up to the person you created in the virtual world?"

Oka had met Kurtzman and Orci, whose Kurtzman/Orci Prods. is based at DreamWorks, at parties and taken a couple of meetings with them, hoping to score a role in one of their movies.

The pair was looking for "the kinds of movies that Amblin used to do, that combined an innocence with the adventure," Orci said.

Added Kurtzman, "We are staunch believers there are ways to update the tone of these movies."

Once Oka, also a fan of those movies -- epitomized by "The Goonies" -- learned that, he pitched Kurtzman and Orci his idea. The duo went for it, and Oka has honed the concept for the past year, collaborating with them as they worked on "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Kurtzman/Orci's Mandy Safavi also helped develop "Defenders" and will oversee for the company.

Oka and Whitta, who also plays online games, bonded over their love of the medium's "World of Warcraft." Kurtzman and Orci ensnared Caruso, with whom they worked on the 2008 thriller "Eagle Eye."

"D.J. brings a naturalistic sensibility to kids," Kurtzman said. "He also roots the implausible in a reality in a way that allows you to buy the world."

Orci likened online gaming to an obsession for some.

"People are expecting you to be there and to contribute; it's a team, sort of, even though it's virtual," he said. "Masi and Gary have put in countless hours in this world and have found a way to make it work for those that don't play the game, but also for the millions that do."

Whitta, repped by UTA and Circle of Confusion, wrote "The Book of Eli," an upcoming Denzel Washington action thriller from Warner Bros. and Alcon.

Caruso, repped by CAA and Media Talent Group, is attached to direct "Jack the Giant Killer" at New Line. "Eagle Eye" grossed $101.1 million domestically.

Oka, repped by UTA and Mosaic, begins shooting this week the latest season of "Heroes," on which he plays the time-shifting character Hiro. He said he is working on several other projects, including originals and adaptations, while enjoying the creative process and collaborating.

"I love 'Heroes,' don't get me wrong, but there's something about creating something from scratch that you don't get from being in front of the camera," Oka said.