Ali Mendes is the world-class exec behind the first live-action Pokémon movie, Detective Pikachu, and Enola Holmes.

Words by Fayola Douglas,
Brand Editor, Amplify.

As SVP of Creative Affairs at Legendary Entertainment, Mendes works to build on IP and is emphatic about the need to bring it to screen in a manner that rights holders are proud of and that fans love.

Nurturing a world

I think Legendary is probably best known for working with a lot of world-class IP. We are really lucky because usually we’re stepping into pre-existing fandoms and finding ways to bring stories and characters that have lived in audiences’ minds for years to the screen in a way that’s going to deliver on expectations. There are people who already love what this IP is. But also, we need to invite a new audience in who might not be familiar.

There’s a real challenge, a real responsibility. Structurally we function as a studio and a production company so we are executives, but we are also on-the-ground producers. When you are trying to build worlds like ours, which are huge and take years of your life, it’s helpful to be involved as a producer because you want to caretake them. These worlds are like children, they need to be raised and moulded with love.

Something I found with all material, whether it’s a giant piece of pre-existing IP, the most popular video game in the world or an original idea from a creator, is it always leads back to a strong concept. You cannot build a world without a strong concept at the centre. So, I think that’s something that all of the films we put out have in common. They all begin with what feels like a great idea that is combustible. There’s something in the concept that connects with people emotionally in a way that makes them care, it’s distinctive and it doesn’t feel like something you’re seeing everywhere else.

The world of Pokémon

Pokémon is a huge legacy brand that has been around for over 20 years and has informed the childhoods of millions of people. I think Pokémon’s success goes back to the very simple idea of collecting, finding your best friend, and it’s this creature that is going to make you a better version of yourself. And then together you’re going to be able to evolve and become more powerful than you were before.

We were very excited about starting the live action Pokémon franchise with Detective Pikachu as it is a character who comes to you with a certain emotional circumstance. When it comes to worldbuilding, that can sound like a very cynical term but really what that comes back to is who is this character and why do I care about them? From there, you can build an enormous world – as long as it starts with that kernel of something that’s really powerful. So, for Detective Pikachu, it’s a very simple idea of a man whose soul had gotten stuck in Pikachu’s body, and this man was a detective. Now this little character has an ability that no-one else in the world has, which is he can understand humans and he can understand Pokémon, and that makes him the best detective in the world. We loved that because there was immediately a lot of character stuff that you could do, and we always go back to that theme.

Reimagining Enola

We fell in love with the idea of Enola when Millie Bobby Brown brought the books to us. She saw herself in this world in a way that she felt like girls had never been able to be seen before. It’s about Sherlock Holmes’ little sister, who is just as capable and clever as he is.

We thought that was wonderful because she’s very distinctive from Sherlock. You have these two great minds, but because of who she is, being younger, and how she’s experienced the world, she is a different detective than he is. The world of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created is known throughout the world, and to have a character that has that much equity with people is rare. It was a wonderful worldbuilding opportunity to look at how you take something like Sherlock Holmes (which we’ve seen so many times before) and bring a new style to it, bring a new element to it that makes it feel compelling and like you have to watch it.

And we were very lucky that we had such great creative partners in our screenwriter Jack Thorne and our director Harry Bradbeer. Jack had the idea of taking this girl who’s alone in the world and giving her a direct relationship with the audience – having her talk to us, bringing us into her mind. It shows how she deduces things, but also her emotional experience in this world. We feel her character has been successful because she is unique and she forms a relationship with the audience. It all goes back to the emotional investment and the relationship that you’re forming with the world, with the characters.

Multimedia output

I think part of what’s unique about Legendary is that we have various content arms, and when dealing with big brands and big worlds it’s hugely helpful. Our film division and TV division work very closely with each other. With some of these bigger IPs, such as Godzilla and Kong, as the films are being developed, we’re thinking about other versions of these stories and if we could expand the storytelling for TV.

We’re in a world right now where audiences are consuming content in so many ways. You need to break through the noise when people are so distracted and they’re holding their screens in their hands now all day long. But there’s also an incredible opportunity because there are a lot of access points for audiences. Nerdist, which is a site that Legendary owns, has been really helpful to us in understanding what our audiences are engaging with. We think about how to reach audiences that we might otherwise miss and we spend a lot of time thinking about TikTok – as I think everybody does these days.

Our comics division is incredible. For all of our films, we put out original graphic novels and original comics and they’ve been really successful. Our Enola comic went out through our YA imprint and sold really well. That told us people want to keep engaging with this character – even when they’re not going to get another film for a year or so. That character is alive in them and it’s alive in their world, in their imagination.