Don't call them fan films.
Producer Adi Shankar, whose latest project was the bootleg film, "Venom: Truth in Journalism," likes to distinguish the glossy, short adaptations/reinventions of the grittier side of the Marvel universe from your typical three minute short with teens in hockey pads playing "Batman vs. Robocop" for the camera. He's responsible for last year's "The Punisher: Dirty Laundry" which returned Thomas Jane to a worn-down version of the New York-based vigilante who simply wants to do his laundry.
The producer, who's also behind the feature version of "Dredd," Joe Carnahan's "The Grey," and the Brad Pitt-starring "Killing Them Softly" answered a few questions recently about the value of fans bringing comic and video game creations to life, how Marvel and the "Mortal Kombat" franchise are getting it right, and how Japanese game publishers are getting it very wrong.
Adi Shankar: It’s simple. Marvel comics are awesome. I’m a fan. My few successes in mainstream Hollywood can’t and won’t change that. Also, Andy Warhol made a Batman fan film. True story.
Geek: A "Mortal Kombat" reboot has been brewing thanks to a series of shorts (with Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan, and other stars) from last year. In announcing that they were bringing "MK" back to the big screen, what do you think Warner Brothers was responding to there?
Shankar: In my opinion WB, a company that has a rich tradition of innovation, is responding to three things. They are acknowledging that "Mortal Kombat" is awesome. They were ahead of the curve in realizing that they can use YouTube to make their IP, which peaked in the mid 90’s, relevant again and part of the zeitgeist in 2013. Finally, Kevin is clearly an immensely talented dude who was failed by the studio system on his first go around, and we love comeback stories. I don’t know if the movie will ultimately get green lit, but the fact that it is in development is a huge win.
Geek: How do you feel about videogame companies like Square-Enix who will C&D a fan project out of existence?
Shankar: I’m speaking in generalizations here. In the 80’s and 90’s Japanese gaming companies were on the cutting edge. The great console games were almost exclusively Japanese imports and almost all iconic gaming characters were Japanese.
Today American based videogame companies are light years ahead both in terms of content creation and in building a rapport with fans. When was the last time Square-Enix created something relevant? Nintendo, a company that should be as ubiquitous as Disney, last week shut down a "Metroid" fan film. Those companies are out of touch and shutting down fan films is just one of many examples of this. Valve, Activision, Guerilla, Bethesda, are some examples of innovative companies who are nurturing their existing IP while developing new games, who have openly embraced the fan film community with companies like Machinima acting as a conduit of sorts.
If you alienate the fan base your precious IP will lose its cultural cache, it’s that simple.
Geek: We've seen Marvel, to some extent, embrace the live-action shorts strategy in the second phase of their films, creating featurettes with side characters and situations based around the movies. What does it gain them?
Shankar: The one-shots grow and deepen the universe. Remember the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is shared.You can tell a different type of story on the web than you can in a feature film or on television. Some stories don’t deserve a 120-minute film and some characters don’t deserve a TV series but through a web short the audience can build a relationship with a character that will ultimately be a supporting character in a flagship film or television program.
Geek: Along the same lines, what do you feel like fan-made shorts do for fan investment in these universes?
Shankar: It adds to the dialogue and it adds to a character’s cultural currency. In the same way that an actor doesn’t reach icon status in mainstream culture until he or she is parodied on "SNL" or the like, a character doesn’t reach icon status in geek culture unless there is fan fiction.