Adi Shankar is pretty young when compared to a lot of other producers in Hollywood, but has managed to make a pretty big impact because of one, primary thing: passion. Although he’s had his names on notable theatrical releases like The Grey, Dredd, Killing Them Softly, and Broken City, franchise and genre fans likely know his name from a series of fan films that he calls “the bootleg universe.” In these, he gives an alternative take on very well-known characters, and came out of the gate swinging with 2012’s The Punisher: Dirty Laundry starring Thomas Jane, returning to the role that he had played in an official film from 2004.
It didn’t stop there. Collaborating with director Joe Lynch — co-host of GeekNation’s “The Movie Crypt” podcast — he introduced a unique take on Marvel Comics’ Venom with a darkly comedic short film, and recently made news about his short POWER/RANGERS due to a slight conflict with that franchise’s owner. Now, Shankar is back with his team to bring a vision of James Bond in a new short entitled In Service of Nothing, which asks how the original Ian Fleming conception of the British superspy — most effectively played by Sean Connery — would exist in today’s world, as a spy past his prime and with his license to kill now revoked.
Unfortunately, In Service of Nothing has been pulled from its hosting services, and Shankar released a statement on the matter:
I have the utmost respect for MGM and the iconic character of James Bond, and although I believe my video is clearly a parody of James Bond, I will refrain from reposting it online out of respect.
Today, we got an opportunity to sit down with Shankar to discuss the “bootleg universe,” his motivations behind the creation of the specific films, his life as a producer, and the prevalent ideas he wants to express through the release of these unofficial, unauthorized short fan films.
GeekNation: One of the things that I found really interesting when doing my research for this interview is that you studied business, theater, and communications when you attended Northwestern University. On its face, it looks like those three disciplines are all serving you very well in your job as a producer on multiple fronts. You have to do all of those things in your job, it seems. As a creative person that has an aptitude for business as well, do the bootlegs help in outweighing the creative side with the business side of things, or do you manage to keep the balance between creating and business pretty well already?
Adi Shankar: I think I already kind of naturally do that, but also, with the bootlegs what’s interesting is that it’s 100% creative. There’s no business. But, the only restriction then is monetary, because you don’t have a massive budget to do it.
GN: Does the passion have the ability to replace the energy you’d normally get from having studio resources, or is there something else to it?
AS: Yeah, I think that’s it. It’s almost like a weeding out process, because you can’t really be involved in one unless you’re 100% passionate. No one’s doing it for a paycheck. Instead, by default, they’re doing it because they’re super, super passionate.
GN: Oh, absolutely. A lot of your work has found a great home by using these characters and universes from genre fiction. You’ve said before how much you loved “Power Rangers” and the “X-Men” animated series.
AS: Man, what’s awesome about the “X-Men” episodes is that they still hold up.
GN: They do! I know you’ve referred to super heroes in the past as “modern classical myths,” so does that come from being a comic book reader? Do you still read them today?
AS: Yeah! I don’t read them as much anymore, I weave in and out of comic books. So I’ve read a lot of comic books, and then I stopped. I stopped because, you know, comic books in the 90’s were sort of just printing money, then it just got way convoluted. Then it became, “Oh! Let’s add an ‘X’ in front of everything!” (laughs)
GN: (laughs) Yeah, exactly.
AS: Then, I think around the early 2000’s, when [Marvel] created the Ultimate universe, then at that point it got interesting again. And I like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, I loved it.
GN: Me too! That’s probably my favorite X-Men run ever.
AS: Yeah! And I was actually telling someone the other day that what’s cool about the X-Men is that every time a new writer comes in, they totally reinvent what the X-Men is. I love how Joss Whedon came in with his run on Astonishing X-Men, they were like a peacekeeping task force. And the reason that they wear superhero costumes is to have the world think they’re superheroes! Because that’s what the world knows. It’s little details like that, that just shows how the X-Men brand has always been about reinventing what they are, and what their purpose is.
GN: Absolutely! On that note, have you ever had comics creators that are involved with characters you’ve bootlegged tell you how your work may have affected theirs in creating new comic stories with those characters?
AS: All the time, I actually get that a lot. I don’t want to name names, because comic book creators especially can be nervous about that, so I don’t want to call anyone out. But yes, I’ve definitely gotten that, in a good way, from a lot of creators.
GN: That’s great to know. Well, moving onto the actual films, it seems like for a gritty type of aesthetic that seems really prevalent in a lot of your work, both with these shorts and in theatrical releases. What is it about grittiness that keeps you coming back, and do you think that approach has been effective in connecting with your audience?
AS: To varying degrees, I would say yes. (laughs) You know, ‘gritty’ is a funny word, because at some point it borders along the lines of self-parody. So, if you make it too gritty, then it’s just funny at that point. To an extent, that’s why POWER/RANGERS is a parody, because it’s just so gritty! And I think in a lot of ways, when you talk to any comedian, they’ll tell you that the funniest stuff isn’t knock-knock jokes. The funniest stuff is what’s real. They tell a joke and you realize, “oh yeah, that guy’s right!” That’s funny.
So similarly, if you look at both POWER/RANGERS and James Bond, both of those bootlegs, they touch on similar themes in the sense that they’re both about weaponizing people, and the repercussions that come down the road from that. They’re both about technology’s role in our world today, but at the same time, they’re basically poking fun at these properties. POWER/RANGERS is parodying this idea that the most popular TV show in the 90’s was about child soldiers who were weaponized. Bond is parodying this idea that they put this random dude, who’s really like a completely reckless adrenaline junkie and alcoholic, and we gave him a license to kill anyone he wants.
GN : (laughs)
AS: (laughs) What’s going to happen to that dude later in his life? He’s not going to be able to give that up and say, “Thanks for the watch! I’m going to go retire now!”
GN: That’s the idea that I found interesting about both POWER/RANGERS and now Bond, is that there’s a psychological toll with any person that’s transformed into a weapon. But then, the audience is encouraged not to think about that. Which seems dispassionate, don’t you think?
AS: I would 100% agree with that. And again, parody and humor, the best examples always come from truth. I studied improv in Chicago before I made movies, and before I did anything, really. The book they have you read is called Truth in Comedy. Basically, the whole point of it is that if you want to be an improviser, just bring truth to the stage. Even though the truth may not be funny to you, to others it’s f***ing hilarious. Your truth may not be funny, but to others it’s hilarious! And that’s really what parody is. So, if you say that James Bond is an old man, and he’s kind of a douche bag, and he’s trying to pick up girls at a bar. He may think he’s being really suave, but really, he’s just talking to a prostitute.
AS: you know, that’s funny!
GN: There’s definitely an inherent absurdity that you’re not aware of if you’re a kid watching a Bond movie that becomes more obvious as you get older.
GN: You’ve demonstrated before that you have a strong knowledgebase when it comes to other fan films, so I’m guessing that you’ve seen a lot of them. Is there any one in particular that may have inspired you to make your own, or if it was a more gradual realization that this was something you could do, and excel at, while also expressing yourself. Was there any one that stuck out?
AS: You know, I saw Batman: Dead End when I was much younger, before YouTube even existed, and I thought it was really cool. But at the same time, I didn’t want to just do the same thing. Case in point, my Judge Dredd bootleg Superfiend is very different from the movie. So it was a gradual process, but I realized that it would be kind of funny to explore these characters in kind of a weird, wacky way.
GN: Absolutely! Well, we already talked a little bit about the concept in POWER/RANGERS of children being weaponized to fight in an intergalactic war, which I think is an inherently powerful idea, even with the comedic aspects of its grittiness. When did that idea first come to you?
AS: Well, the POWER/RANGERS idea I specifically had when I was 7 years old. I mean, I’m a huge nerd, and I sit at home. After all, I make these, right? So, I’m sitting at home, and I’m always wondering and thinking about these things. I’m like Jason Lee’s character in Mallrats. I’m always wondering “what would this or that be like?” So when I was seven, I thought, “it would be really cool if I was a Power Ranger!” Except, I’d be weaponized. I wouldn’t be able to focus on school or anything else, so that’s where the kernel of the idea started from. So once I realized I wanted to do POWER/RANGERS, this is the way I wanted to do it.
GN: I remember when you first released Dirty Laundry, it wasn’t immediately obvious that it was going to be a Punisher story, which I thought made for a great surprise. But across these movies, you’ve had people like Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Katee Sackhoff, and James Van Der Beek. Pretty big names. What’s the process like in enlisting their help, do they react enthusiastically?
AS: Yeah! I’m only really doing this with friends, so they’re totally onboard.
GN: I remember when that Punisher fan film The Dead Can’t Be Distracted was shut down awhile back, people came to you for your opinion almost immediately because you made Dirty Laundry, which didn’t get shut down. So, when asked about it, you were very vocal about that filmmaker overpromoting the work before releasing it, but is POWER/RANGERS the first instance of a copyright owner coming to you after a film’s already been released?
AS: Yeah, that’s never happened to me before.
GN: I remember thinking when I was rewatching a lot of the bootlegs before this interview that the work is extremely effective in depicting violence. I think the first time I watched Dirty Laundry I felt a headache coming on after watching Frank kick the s**t out of people with that bottle of Jack. But it made me wonder if you thought there was something about the visual language of violence that appeals to you as a storyteller, or even as someone who makes parodies. Any other movies or shows that have inspired your perspective on depicting violence?
AS: Hmm…that’s a very interesting question. You know, I don’t really know what to say, because it’s really like an amalgamation of everything I’ve experienced. Violence just kept evolving and kept changing in movies. The Matrix was huge for me, but it wasn’t because of the violence, it was more because of how cool I thought it was. And I really have to say, too, is that it’s more about the idea. If you look at POWER/RANGERS, which, by the way, Joseph Kahn is the most talented filmmaker that I’ve worked with. Actually, probably the most talented that I know. But the whole kernel of that POWER/RANGERS idea was that Black Ranger fight sequence, and it built out from there.
GN: With James Bond, the last time that audiences saw a Bond that was depicted as being older was in Never Say Never Again, but it didn’t go very far, and certainly doesn’t go as far as your latest short. Was there something about bringing back the character that’s closer to Fleming and Connery’s Bond, now past his prime, that you wanted to come across primarily in the work?
AS: No, because it’s supposed to be a parody. It’s funny. We basically took this guy, who had kind of emerges as a serial killer, give him free rein to do all this stuff. They told him, “be a womanizer, be a killer, be an alcoholic, be completely reckless.” We then give him a license to kill, then we revoked it, so what does this guy do as an old man? He did not live a normal life, so he’s not just going to assimilate this society. But thematically, it’s very similar to POWER/RANGERS, because they’re both about weaponization of people, and the consequences of that down the road. And they’re both about technology’s place as a pervasive influence in our lives.
GN: Given the talk right now about technology and how it’s used for surveillance, I thought what you said in your video introducing the Bond short about not needing spies anymore because of the advanced technology we have now was really interesting. Do you think that the surveillance culture that we’re experiencing now made Bond a more relevant vehicle to explore the idea of technology’s pervasiveness?
AS: Oh, totally! Yeah, totally. There’s a line in it about how they don’t need him anymore. They need hackers and unmanned aerial drones, not spies. The interesting thing about Bond is that he’s basically like the Punisher, but he’s pretending to be Captain America. It’s interesting if you think about it that way, because he’s this dark, psychopathic dude, but he’s pretending since he’s fighting for his country.
GN: I know you’ve said that none of the bootlegs should ever be taken as “pitches,” since that would be completely missing the mark of what you and your collaborators are going for. Still, though, is there perhaps a degree of indictment on the current iteration of the franchise, or are you largely cool with what they’re doing?
AS: No! Well, first of all, I think a period Bond movie would be really cool. But no, I actually really like the Bond franchise, I think it’s great the way it is.
GN: Awesome. Well we’re about close to wrapping up, but are there any other franchises that you think could make a good bootleg down the road?
AS: Well, this isn’t a bootleg…well, maybe it’s a bootleg, but I love the idea of doing a modern “Captain Planet.” What would effectively happen is that [the Planeteers] would be labeled eco-terrorists. We live in this world which is where the nightmare, post-apocalyptic scenario for the people in the TV show. Everything they’re fighting against has already happened. We live in that world. So Wheeler is like the vigilante, and you’d see Gaia getting gunned down right in the beginning while she’s surrendering, and Wheeler is basically behaving like the Punisher. His ring is still active, so he’s using the fire and burning the bad guys, but he doesn’t really know what he’s fighting for anymore. And then at the end, they summon Captain Planet, but he would not be as powerful as he normally was. He can’t even fly anymore, because he’s powered by the Earth, and the Earth is dying. So he’s dying.
GN: Wow, awesome. Well, that was pretty much all I had, is there anything else you wanted people to know before we close this out?
AS: No, this sounds great! Thanks!
We’d like to thank Mr. Shankar for taking the time to sit down with us on what was, undoubtedly, a very busy day for him. You can continue to follow him and his work by following @adishankarbrand on Twitter, and by seeing the films he helps to get made on his official YouTube channel. Whatever’s next for him, GeekNation will certainly be keeping an eye out!
Latest posts by Chris Clow (see all)
- Original ‘Mortal Kombat’ Film Turns 20 Years Old Today - August 18, 2015
- ‘Alien 5’ Production May Be Delayed by ‘Prometheus 2’ - August 18, 2015
- Hugh Jackman Teases Other Comics Characters, Berserker Rage - August 18, 2015
- 343 Industries Responds to Backlash Over No Split-Screen Gameplay in ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ - August 17, 2015
- First Look at ‘Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection’ on PS4 in New Story Trailer - August 17, 2015