Adi Shankar first landed on my radar when he produced a fan film about the Power Rangers that drew so much attention, Saban, the parent company of Power Rangers, tried to pull it from the internet. Shankar holds the record for being the youngest producer to have a number one film at the North American box office (The Grey starring Liam Neeson) and has worked with stars like Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But what he really wants to talk about are the fan films he’s created for his “Bootleg Universe” that are fresh takes on characters from The Punisher to Judge Dredd. With a Netflix animated series set to premiere later this year, I had an extremely candid conversation with him about the state of the film industry and his inspirations.
What first drew you to film?
I don’t know that I was really into film when I started making movies. I’m into storytelling and communicating ideas. There are other ways to do that than movies. Video games are another way. Poetry, painting, I kinda do it all. I mean, I don’t make video games yet.
Is that something you want to do?
I’ve been in touch with some developers. I’m exploring it.
Of the films you’ve made, you’ve primarily been the producer. What is it about producing specifically that you gravitate toward?
What I do has evolved so rapidly over time and I think the job of a producer is night-and-day different today than what it was even four or five years ago.
Why is that?
The business has changed. Movies have now become less important. Digital and streaming have overtaken film and traditional distribution mechanisms. The world went from having segregated territories of mediums to one global marketplace. You have 24 hours to make an impact before you’re yesterday’s news. That’s a reality that never happened in the film industry before. What a director does today for a sizable studio action adventure movie is different than what someone did twenty years ago. There’s been a seismic shift. Everything is effects driven and now most of the movie has been pre-rendered so you can watch the movie before you’ve even shot it. The job titles for working on a movie have evolved because of technology. It’s been disruptive because of technology.
Let’s talk about the movies you’ve made. You’ve worked with a few big names multiple times like Liam Neeson (Walk Among the Tombstones and The Grey), Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor, Broken City) Does that make the film making process easier when you have a rapport with your leads?
I’m in a place now where I just kinda want to work with my friends. There are background actors I’ve worked with multiple times as well. An actor is just an actor. How the general public views them and how the mainstream media glorifies them, I roll my eyes at that.
In the media, they’re just props. At the end of the day, they promote consumerism, they smile and sell toothpaste. We are perpetuating ideas that aren’t even real. The entire system [of fame] is built on a bed of fabrication.
I saw an interview with you where you said Dredd was not a big studio film but really it was an independent film. Then, you released a fan made short film on the same character. Why?
I make a lot of fan films, I just do. I care more about them than the real films. Look at the nonsense that comes out in theaters. It’s all the same, over and over, like Big Macs. People are recycling the same dead animal carcass and putting it in a blender like McDonalds. So I make a lot of fan films.
I saw Joseph Kahn tweet out the link to Power/Rangers the day it was made public and I’ve been enamored ever since with your fan films. I’m 33, so I was ten when Power Rangers was first on TV and a part of the generation who fell in love with it then. Where did your idea to do that fan film come from?
Well I’m in that same generation, I’m 32, and Power Rangers was my second favorite show on TV.
What was your first?
Yeah, I didn’t grow up here. I spent around two years here in the early 90s before I moved back to China so I absorbed all this American pop culture and that’s how I saw the show as a kid.
I’m sure you’ve been asked many times, but what was your takeaway from the new Power Rangers movie?
It was a new vision of it and it wasn’t going to be the same as the original. It was obviously drawing inspiration from Joseph and my Bootleg Universe fan film. They did a great job and it has a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than Ghost In The Shell.
I watched your Venom short film yesterday and I’m moderately obsessed with it. Where did your love of comic book culture originate? With X-Men?
Yes it started with X-Men and spiraled out into everything else. My favorite characters were Wolverine, Gambit, Cable, Bishop, Punisher, Ghost Rider – the anti-heroes who existed in such a glossy world. You know Venom started out as being a villain for Spider-Man but the whole time, I kept waiting for him to become better. He slowly evolved into becoming an anti-hero. He fits the bill perfectly of the kind of character I’m drawn to.
You said that movies have become less important. However, if you look at the numbers Disney is doing at the box office, the headlines read that it’s as robust as ever. While I’d argue rising ticket sales are making up for the lack of people in the seats, where do you see the film industry in the next ten years?
I see it kinda like the Titanic. It’s already hit the iceberg but the ship hasn’t split in half.
So where do you fit in with that?
Look, I’m just a storyteller. Film is just a way of communicating. I’ll find other ways to communicate and create. I’ll go back to painting or tell stories another way somewhere else.
What can you tell me about Castlevania, the animated series coming soon to Netflix?
Anything else coming up?
I’ve got another project called Adi Shankar’s Gods and Secrets coming out this year as well. Also, Joseph [Kahn] and I collaborated on a film called Bodied that will also come out this year.
My last question: How do you choose what projects you want to be a part of?
I have to really care about it passionately. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter how big the paycheck is or what sort of industry buzz I’ll get from it. I don’t give a rat’s ass about that. I look at this as an art form first and as a business third. Not quite sure what second is yet.