Superhero Shorts: #TruthInJournalism
Welcome to another edition of Superhero Shorts where I take a look at a superhero themed mini-movie and ask a few questions with the creator. Last year I was lucky enough to talk with Thomas Jane about the short Dirty Laundry and this year the same producer, Adi Shankar came out with another amazing short film based around a different Marvel character called #TruthInJournalism and was gracious enough to spend some time talking with me about it. As usual, you can watch the film below or you can check it out at Adi’s YouTube channel.
One thing that’s great about this film, which can also be said about Dirty Laundry is how professional looking it is, which isn’t surprising since it’s coming from people who are used to creating major motion pictures. Even though the footage is black and white and grainy to look like an old documentary the acting is top notch, which isn’t surprising considering that Eddie Brock is played by Ryan Kwanten probably best known for True Blood. Just like Dirty Laundry, if you’re unfamiliar with the character, or you go into this film blind, it’s not immediately obvious that you’re watching a Venom movie. But what I loved is how many little details there are if you’re paying attention, from the quick change near the beginning, to the mention of the Emil Gregg case, to the much more obvious Daily Bugle newspapers. And the final reveal of Venom looks fantastic with great special effects that work well with the grainy black and white footage. I also really enjoyed all the dark humor throughout, and the post-credits sequence is a lot of fun to watch too. But enough from me, let’s hear from the producer himself, Adi Shankar.
Bubbawheat: I was a big fan of Dirty Laundry last year and whenever I talked with Thomas Jane I got the impression that he was the driving force of that short, and with Truth in Journalism I get the impression that you are more of the driving force. What was it that made you decide to put out another one of these shorts?
Adi Shankar: I did this AMA on Reddit and the thing I got asked most about was Dredd and the second most thing I got asked about was Dirty Laundry. And I was like this is really interesting because I had my whole filmography up here and I got a few personal questions about my personal life, but I’ve got my whole filmography up here and a film that just came out literally a few months ago and Fox spent like north of 40 million dollars marketing that and no one was asking me about that. So I got the message loud and clear, people really liked Dirty Laundry, it meant something to people. It’s weird when you live in the bubble of Hollywood, I lived in a world where people didn’t care very much about Dirty Laundry. I thought it was cool, I really liked it, I enjoyed the process of making it. I would say that Phil Joanou is one of my best friends in this town, but it was just something that a few of us as friends did. The idea that it had a life of its own was kind of news to me. Because you don’t really get feedback like that, especially as a behind the scenes guy.
BW: Another thing that I thought Dirty Laundry did really well was to hide the fact that it was a Punisher short until the end where it revealed the logo.
AS: Right, because you know it’s not a Punisher short, it’s literally a western. It’s got all the narrative structural beats of a classic Western. If you look at Ron Perlman’s character’s convenience store, it’s the saloon. And Goldtooth is the local criminal with his gang. And Thomas Jane’s character is the man with no name, he’s the newly appointed sheriff. If you look at it at that perspective with the prostitutes and everything, it’s a classic western story. The reveal that it’s the Punisher, it’s kind of icing on the cake I guess? But it doesn’t really add anything to the story. The Punisher is not driving the story, the story is driving the story. That was kind of the intention with Truth in Journalism as well, let’s make a cool mini-movie that kind of stands on its own two feet. And the fact that there’s a known element in it, that’s just icing on the cake.
BW: And there are a lot of little details packed into truth in journalism, there’s still the Venom reveal at the end, but for fans of Venom, there’s lots of little hints for those who know the backstory. I was wondering how much of that came from you, and how much came from writer/director Joe Lynch?
AS: Well I had an idea to take Man Bites Dog and mash it up with an anti-hero five years ago. And I was thinking you could do it with someone like Duke Nukem, someone like Judge Dredd, the list goes on. All your known anti-heroes, and the reason I thought it worked it was because the anti-heroes, especially in the comic book world tend to be really heightened, over the top, and act in a lot of ways like cartoon characters, but they’re gritty and grounded. And you’re throwing them in the ultra-grounded world and now there’s that disparity in the way he’s interacting with the world and the crew that’s following him around, I thought that would be an interesting dynamic. Obviously I got a lot of blank stares, that’s why it took me five years to do anything about it. People are like “what the hell are you talking about man?”, but after Dirty Laundry and the Dredd trailers had hit the net I sat down with Joe and told him this idea and he got it right away. He came back with a script a few weeks later and then it was all Joe. Joe really brought this concept to life.
BW: Was it Joe that picked Venom as that anti-hero?
AS: I believe so, I would have to say yeah… No, that was like both of us. We threw out a few names but at the end of the day it was Venom. Venom was our guy. I had a lot of weird concepts for movies, but what’s cool about this short and Dirty Laundry, especially Truth in Journalism is that it’s given me the confidence to explore my crazy ideas more. Like my dream movie for instance would be to do a hard R gangster movie like Killing Them Softly but set in a world where humans and puppets exist.
BW: I know the Muppets came back just last year and there’s always something different and unique dealing with a puppet compared to an animated character or a CGI character.
AS: Yeah, and they’re ripe for social commentary. It’s a lot of the reasons that science fiction works. It’s like “hey we’re making a commentary on our class system so let’s set it in a world where time is money like I’m.mortal, which ended up being called In Time. And it’s the same thing when you do it with puppets.
BW: Another thing that was actually new to me, I hadn’t heard about Man Bites Dog until I saw this and heard about how it inspired Truth in Journalism. How were you introduced to Man Bites Dog?
AS: I’ve always been a guy that watches a lot of movies and I’ve studied film my whole life. I didn’t grow up in the United States, I lived here for a couple years in the 90’s. So a lot of the “foreign” films and old school films were just stuff that was lying around.
BW: You’ve done a couple of these shorts now and they’ve both been based around Marvel characters, but they were both done independently of Marvel. Did you ever consider approaching Marvel with these or did it always seem like something where you could have complete creative control?
AS: I don’t mean this in any way to kiss anyone’s ass but I have a ton of respect for Marvel and here’s why: they always have a ton of respect for their intellectual property. They always get the essence of every character and that’s why the movies always work. But no, I’ve never thought about approaching Marvel because I was just doing these for fun, I did the first one for fun, people liked it. I did the second one because I found out that people liked it. The first one, the idea was never to get a job out of it. I’ve already got a job producing these independent movies. I’m really happy with where I’m at in my producing career.
BW: I’ve been following a lot of these shorts through this regular feature on my site and I’ve noticed that they have really improved in quality by leaps and bounds, Dirty Laundry included, and I think especially in the past year that there’s been a jump in quantity and quality, and I think that Dirty Laundry was a big inspiration for a lot of those that have come out in the past year.
AS: That makes me really happy to hear. A lot of them are fun to watch, like I was watching the Super Power Beat Down. The Batman vs. Deadpool one was pretty funny. What’s cool in those ones is that they’re having Batman vs. Captain America, and then Batman vs. Wolverine, but it’s always a different version of Batman. Like sometimes it’s the Dark Knight Returns version of Batman, and other times it’s more of a Chris Nolan version of Batman. Even with the Wolverine, one was like the Ultimate Wolverine. Fortunately or unfortunately it takes forever for movies to get greenlit, made, marketed, and put into theaters. It’s a cool way for these characters to come to life, obviously in an unofficial capacity.
Honestly I think it’s a cool thing, and I wish I was 13 again. Seriously, I remember when I saw that Batman: Dead End for the first time I was like “What the fuck is this?” I really had no idea, I was living in Singapore at the time and I watched it and I was like “Holy fuck!” and this predates the Nolan movies. So literally the only Batman I knew was the Batman of the comic books which was obviously darker and grittier, and these campy Joel Schumacher movies and Tim Burton movies which were awesome, but they were kind of their own thing, and this was like a serious movie. And then an Alien comes out and Predator comes out, and then two Predators, and even then you’re like “What the fuck? Where the fuck did that come from, that’s crazy!”
BW: I think that Batman: Dead End was really the first professional looking fan film and really inspired a lot of the fan films that came out in the next ten years or so.
AS: Which is interesting because I noticed two trends after that. There were like these “professional” looking fan films, and then you had the fan trailers, like there was one called Grayson which was the Nightwing Robin, like Batman’s dead and they were like “stay away” and then you see Superman and Green Lantern, but it’s like a trailer for a movie and it was a cool concept I thought. But I mean it was those professional looking short films where you were like “What the fuck is this? It’s amazing!”. And what I feel like what people jumped on at first wasn’t the contained stories, like with both Dirty Laundry and Truth in Journalism, if you had an hour to tell that story it doesn’t make it any better. It’s a story that you should tell in ten minutes and it was told in ten minutes and it was awesome. What I thought was interesting was in the beginning was that what a lot of what people were harping on was the fake trailer trend, not the short story trend. Like Mortal Kombat and other stuff of that ilk.
You know, another guy who worked in the short narrative space and blew up because of it was Neill Blomkamp because District 9 was based on one of his shorts “Alive in Joburg”
BW: I can tell that you’re a big comic book fan, how did that start?
AS: I’ve never actually told anyone this, but you know the reason why I’m so in to comic books is because when I was a kid we would move every two and a half years and it would always be to a different country. Like it was in India, then it was Hong Kong, then it was Singapore, and when you’re moving every two and a half years it’s really hard to make friends because people already have friends and you come to a new place and you like are the new kid and you’re getting ready to leave again and it’s really weird. But the thing I always had were these comic book characters because they were always there, there was always an element of consistency with them. And everywhere I went, people know who they were. Like you couldn’t talk about your buddy Joe in Hong Kong to people in Singapore, but you could talk about Wolverine.
I was always more of a Marvel guy, and it started because of the X-men animated series in the 90’s. I remember I didn’t even see it first, I saw a trailer for it and I was like “Dude, I don’t even know what the fuck that is, but I need to see that!” and after the first episode I was like “Holy shit that was awesome!”. So I was always a Marvel guy, but here’s why. I always felt like the DC heroes were less proactive. Their origin stories were less proactive, it was like bad shit happened to them so they were victims of their environment. Where Marvel heroes felt more proactive to me, like Captain America goes and gets the injection to become Captain America. It was more like them overcoming what happened to them, and they didn’t feel like victims of their circumstances, and the DC heroes are like “this dude’s parents got murdered but he still hasn’t gotten over it”.
BW: Except maybe the Hulk.
AS: Even the Hulk, because the comic book was about him getting over the fact that he was the Hulk. It was about him dealing with it versus with Batman was like *boom* his parents got killed and that’s going to dictate the rest of his life and every decision he makes from now on and we’re going to deal with that fact. That’s why I loved Flashpoint Paradox because that ending is like you’re setting a new continuity, because Batman which is like year one, or year two or three. When he is still young Batman who’s still friendly and wants to hang out with Barry Allen and now he’s been given this note from this apocalyptic version of his father who is Batman and he’s crying and he’s like wow. Now this is a cool piece of character development where you’re developing who this guy is. By the way, the Flashpoint Paradox is the best movie of the year thus far.
BW: And to wrap things up here, there’s something that I ask everyone I talk to for my site, what’s your favorite superhero movie?
AS: I’m having a hard time answering this because it’s a toss up between Dark Knight Returns pt 1 & 2 and Flashpoint. Ok, it’s Dark Knight Returns part 1 & 2 which I count as one movie and Flashpoint Paradox, with the asterisk that I don’t consider Escape From New York and Robocop superhero movies.
BW: For my site, I did actually count Robocop as a superhero movie, though I haven’t seen Escape From New York. I mean, he’s got super powers, somewhat of a costume, and even though it came out afterwards he had a comic book.
AS: Would you count the Terminator as a superhero movie?
BW: It’s a fine line, but I would not call Terminator a superhero movie, it’s a tough call but I’d go with more of a sci-fi movie.
AS: Whatever Terminator is, that’s what Robocop is in my opinion. But there is a great, I think Frank Miller wrote this Robocop vs. Terminator. There was this comic book, and it was sweet.
Thanks again for talking with me, I had a great time. And if you would like to hear the rest of our conversation where we go more into some of the DC Animation titles, and X-Men comic arcs you can listen to the audio right here. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.