We recently had the chance to sit down with Derek Lebrero, Ubisoft Toronto’s Employee #1. As the public face of Ubisoft in Toronto we wanted to find out more about him: who he was, how he became the first employee of Ubisoft’s new studio, and what he thinks of the Toronto video game scene.
Would he reveal to us the location of the new Toronto studio? Would he tell us which triple A franchise the company was bringing to the GTA? Find out after the jump.
Will: You’ve probably answered this many times, but why Toronto, why now?
Derek: Well that wasn’t my decision. *laughs* Why Ubisoft Toronto? It seems like a natural step. It’s Canada’s major city, and there’s a lot of talent here. From what I saw today, everybody seems to be in to gaming. You had this event, Gamercamp, and it oversold. I spoke to them earlier this week and they said there was going to be about 125 people—and today there was over 140. I think Ubisoft Toronto is just a logical step.
Will: And the Provincial government helping out I’m sure didn’t hurt either.
Derek: As far as I know they helped out in Montreal as well. I don’t know the exact figures, but Ubisoft Montréal is over 1800 people. Man, it’s a great place to go to work every day, and I’m sure anyone who is going to work at Ubisoft Toronto is going to be pretty happy to be working at a gaming company.
Lucas: Are you Ubisoft’s public face and the go-to guy for other gaming companies in the area?
Derek: I’m not on the business side at all, you’d have to talk to the CEO, Yannis Mallat. The way I see it, I’m on the side of the public and I get to work at Ubisoft. I get to document the development of Ubisoft Toronto. When I’m answering questions or comments on the Facebook page, it’s the public I’m dealing with. I have carte blanche: “here’s your page, you’re kind of like the insider. Just let people know.” They have questions, they say “I want to apply,” “I want to be a game designer,” I give them the contact info for recruitment. I’m just trying to make it easy.
It’s interesting that people are talking between themselves. Facebook fans are actually answering each other’s questions. Someone will write “I want to do this, what should my demo reel have?” and someone else will respond to them. I’ll get on there and see this dialogue going on, and it’s like “Whoa, thanks for doing my job.” Thank you, Gamer79!
Right now we’re waiting, because they’re negotiating the location. I can’t wait to be able to say where the studio will be. A lot of people are saying it’s going to be Liberty Village, because they think they saw it in a video where I was interviewing on King and Dufferin. I’m from Montreal, so I didn’t realize they’d pick up on these things. I was just doing a little thing to the camera where I spoke for a second, and people were like “Hey, you’re at King and Dufferin!” How do they know that? There was a McDonalds in the background—how did they know which McDonald’s? Someone said, “Oh my god! Jade Raymond was outside my window? I work across the street, why didn’t you tell me?”
Lucas: Do you find that people do that? They find all the little details in everything you do?
Derek: Yeah, I became hyper-conscious about that really quickly. At one point we did a video, I came here with Yannis Mallat. They say at one point in the video something like, “We found it. I think we found our place.” We were in a car, so I had to blur out the whole window and what was outside the window. Everyone was commenting, saying how foggy it was outside that day. The funny thing is, the only thing that was in the background was a fence. This was after the whole King and Dufferin thing. If they knew where we were based on McDonald’s, they would probably be able to recognize that fence from somewhere. So yeah, I made it rainy and overcast.
Lucas: That’s funny. So dealing with gamers can be good, because they can answer each other’s questions, but it can also be kind of weird, because of certain attitudes that are strongly anti-corporate.
Derek: I’ve found everyone to be really positive. I’ve never had to delete a comment or suppress anything or flag something or anything like that. I guess they see the Facebook the same way I see the Facebook page: it’s for them. So why would you have anything negative to say? I’ve done videos for Ubisoft. I’ve been really lucky that people seem to like what I do, and I like what I do, maybe that reflects.
Like we were joking about earlier, there was someone speaking at Gamercamp who was very adamant about the whole indie-versus-commercial studio.
“I don’t want work for the man, I just want to work on my little indie art projects and stuff like that.” That’s great, go for it. Personally, for me I like working at this large corporation where I get to be around thousands of people with similar interests. It’s a wonderful place to go to work every day. The indie thing, in terms of filmmaking, I’ve done that before. When I started, I was doing personal projects in my parents’ basement. It wasn’t for me. I like being around other creative people, I like going to that environment every day, being with the team.
Lucas: So back to your production company, Ubisoft was just one of your clients before. You had a lot of clients, what was working in that environment like?
Derek: I studied marketing in university, and then I studied filmmaking at the Vancouver Film School. I’d done a bunch of camera and video for a bunch of different productions. Then one day I got a call from Ubisoft and they wanted me to do a video. So I got in there, now 4 or 5 years later, it’s still going on.
Lucas: So how did you become employee #1? You’ve done some marketing work before for Ubisoft.
Derek: Yeah, in the past I’d edited, shot, and directed a bunch of teasers, trailers, behind-the-scenes, and developer diaries for various titles. At one point I got this phone call: “Hey, we’re opening up this new studio. We want you to document the development of the studio and keep people up to date on what’s going on.” I thought they were kidding because it sounded like a pretty awesome job.
It’s awesome, because there’s no censorship. It’s my page. I know what I can and can’t say. I’m not going to announce the location because that’s going to affect their negotiations. But I don’t have a big censor board around me. I don’t have a Ubisoft bubble around me saying, do this, or do that. I just do what seems natural.
I’m the guy behind the Facebook and the Twitter and I’m just trying to let people know what’s happening. And I want them to let me, to allow me to say where the location is, and to announce which triple-A title we’re bringing. Yeah, those are the questions I’m asked.
Will: I would say Assassin’s Creed 3.
Lucas: Assassin’s Creed 3? Set in Toronto?
Will: That’s the cool thing, as I’m playing through Assassin’s Creed 2, it’s looking like the third game is going to take place in a modern setting.
Derek: I know something you don’t know. *laugh*
The team on Assassin’s is great. I got to go to Italy with them; Patrice Desilets and Corey May.
Lucas: So what’s it like hanging out with the people who do the game design? Is it a bunch of savants? Rocking back and forth muttering about save mechanics?
Derek: There are some people who are very into their work. We were hearing at Gamercamp about indie development. Believe me, you have very indie people working at Ubisoft. There are lots of people who are very strong minded and strong willed; there is a reason why they’re there, because they stick to their guns and they know what they like and they know what don’t like. People like Patrice Desillets and Clint Hocking, creative director behind Far Cry 2. A lot of people do come from indie backgrounds: they would be doing this even if they weren’t being paid for it.
Lucas: So how are the trips? Do you feel like part of the team making the game, doing the behind the scenes stuff? Or do you feel like you’re seen as the guy making the video?
Derek: I’m friends with these guys. We hang out. It’s fun to go to work every day and to hang out with them, to be creative with them, and be creative with each other. They’re a great group of people.
But I’m not a designer. I’m not part of the dev team. What I’ve always liked about filmmaking and camera is that you always have the best seat in the house. If you’re a camera person, you could be in a riot, in the middle of two rival factions: you could be in the middle of Far Cry 2 with your camera, they’re going to fire by you and attack each other and walk right by you. You’re like a fly on the wall, and I love that aspect. I’m not part of the dev team, but I get to see it as a fan
Lucas: How much of that did you do from the beginning? How did the dev diaries work? Did they say show up on Saturday and we’ll do a development diary or could you just walk in at any time?
Derek: I did the dev diaries for Assassin’s Creed, I conceived and directed it, shot and edited it. It was a little one-man production; I worked with Christophe Martin who works in marketing there. For the making ofs, I got to go to Africa with the Far Cry 2 team and follow them around. We were attacked by lions in the middle of the night, sleeping in tents on the savannah. I love my job
Will: So can you tell us about your background in film? We looked you up on IMDB. What can you tell us about your first project, Thousands of Miles?
Derek: That was my film school. I decided to do a film, and of course, over-stepped my bounds. “My first thing is going to be a feature film shot all around North America” and it ended up being this big nightmare. *laugh*
Lucas: You wrote, directed, and starred in it, right?
Derek: Yeah, but I had some friends. We got an RV sponsorship, so we went in our RV from Montreal to Vancouver, to Los Angeles, and into Mexico and we filmed along the way. Everything fell apart, and we filmed that so a scripted feature turned into a documentary. It’s really good.
Will: The name of our site is DorkShelf.com. A dork shelf is where you keep your comics, your collectibles, whatever. So the question is what is on Employee #1’s dork shelf?
Derek: I have a Pillsbury Doughboy Cookie jar and I have an evil monkey Family Guy bobblehead.
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