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Producer Adi Shankar Explains Film Financing & Why He Keeps Creating Illegal Bootlegs Like Power/Rangers

I can’t say that I can absolutely go out into the world and finance my own independent film after watching Dredd producer Adi Shankar’s breakdown of film financing, but I definitely have a better understanding of the process:

There are, as you’d expect, a great variety of other resources which covers all of that in greater detail, such as Edward J. Epstein’s book The Hollywood Economist 2.0. For example, Shankar explains how the most important part of the independent film finance formula is pre-selling to international distributors, but how exactly does that work in a more practical sense? Epstein explains, assuming you already have a script, director, and notable actor in place, you would actually need to retain a foreign sales agent, who gets 10-20% of the sales, to assess which each market is worth, and negotiate contracts with each foreign distributor. The distributors actually get all theatrical, DVD, electronic, and television rights for the film in their territory. However, those distributors don’t typically pay you any money until the film is completed and delivered. The same goes for any foreign subsidies/tax credits you might receive for shooting in a specific state or country. As such, you have to turn to things like completion bonds, bank financing, and independent investors, all of which adds up to you paying out substantial fees to different groups thus leaving the amount of money you get to put into the actual film far smaller than your official budget might indicate.

You know – kind of boring, dry (possibly outdated) material to talk about (although I oddly find it fascinating), which is why Shankar’s video is so awesome because he lays the basics of it all out there in such an entertaining way.

This video is just a small part of what has been a surprisingly busy week or two for Shankar. First, he released the totally illegal, very R-rated Power/Rangers short movie starring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff, giving us an honest-to-goodness kind of badass version of the hokey children’s show Power Rangers.

That went viral quicker than you can say “cease and desist order,” although one of those came pretty dang quick from Saban Entertainment (they’ve since worked that all out). Then, before we’d really moved on from that he dropped James Bond: In Service of Nothing, an animated 007 parody adventure imagining the Sean Connery James Bond as an old man. That, too, went viral before MGM’s lawyers came along. For a lot of us, this was our introduction to Shankar’s “Bootleg Universe,” a series of high-profile, completely unauthorized short film interpretations of well-known movie/TV franchises, featuring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten in a French New Wave-esque version of Spider-Man’s Venom, Thomas Jane in an even more violent Punisher, and an animated Judge Dredd: Superfriend.

It seems as if the increasing notoriety of the “Bootleg Universe” is somewhat overshadowing the fact that Shankar also produces legitimate movies like The Grey, Lone Survivor, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and Ryan Reynolds’ black comedy The Voices. He maintains that his bootleg videos are not meant to be pitches; Power/Rangers isn’t his attempt to get the job to make that Power Rangers movie which has been percolating for a while. This isn’t like when someone intentionally leaked that Deadpool test footage to drum up public support and force Fox into giving a full film the green light. Shankar just really loves the Power Rangers, Joseph Khan (who directed Power/Rangers), James Van Der Beek, and Katee Sackhoff. He explained as much to ComicBookResources:

Maybe I’m just a weirdo, but I don’t look at any of this stuff as really different. Just because a movie is in theaters, I don’t look at it as greater than something on television, or more prestigious than something on YouTube. If something is entertaining, it’s entertaining. The Bootleg Universe is just another form of self-expression. It’s a creative outlet. I’m not trying to leverage this into something else. This is not a pitch for these characters. I have made, and will continue to make, traditional movies.

A lot of it is like social commentary, too. You can turn these characters inside out, but you can also make interesting points about who we are as a society by reinterpreting them. You look at both Power Rangers and the Bond one that went up, and they are thematically similar. They are about how we, as a society, weaponize people. We give them privileges and then act completely shocked when they flip out at the end of the day. They are also about the role technology plays in our lives today.

However, considering that all of this has coincided this past week with him also explaining just why the realities of film financing means a Dredd sequel probably won’t happen does make me wonder: How does he afford to make these Bootleg movies? Part of their appeal is in how much they really do look like legitimate movies. You can accomplish way more with special effects for far cheaper than ever before, but it still costs something. And is he profiting off of these videos? He did address that last part, referring specifically to the buzz surrounding Power/Rangers:

I’m not profiting off of it in any way, shape or form. I’m glad people enjoyed it. I can’t allow myself to get attached to that, because it’s going to affect my work going forward. I’m going to have expectations. What I did find interesting was the chatter around it, that narrative that it presented, so to speak.

What might he do next? Captain Planet, taking the point of view that with what we’ve done to the environment Captain Planet and the Planeteers have already lost and would be labeled eco-terrorists:

I had this whole idea for a movie where it opens with a montage of Captain Planet being shot down by a rocket. Gaia, the spirit of Earth, has brought them all together. She’s surrendering to a private military, but they gun her down. She’s dead. They kill the spirit of Earth. These kids are disbanded, but we learn the fire guy is out there. He’s the lone badass. He’s the vigilante of the group and is still fighting, even though he doesn’t know what he is fighting for.

He’s become ruthless. He’s running around and being like, “Fire,” and using it to burn people alive. They finally summon Captain Planet again, but the Earth is dying. He draws his power from the Earth, so he’s weak and can’t fly and half his powers have been dulled. He can still fight, but he’s not super shiny Captain Planet. He’s weak Captain Planet.

Of course, there was supposedly an actual official Captain Planet movie in development as of 2013, and Funny or Die did its own series of parody videos with Don Cheadle playing a version of Captain Planet who became a d-bag super villain.

Source: ComicBookResources

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  1. Although I have never watched Power Rangers and had absolutely no idea what half that bootleg film was about, it was really impressive! Years ago, I watched lots of Star Wars fan films and the production was just terrible, the acting was horrible and I just knew the people making them were just fantasizing.

    Standards have really gone up in the last ten years. Actual actors are actually participating!

    I think that there is potential for these unauthorized films to exist alongside legitimate films especially if the franchise isn’t actually producing new material. For decades, franchises such as Star Trek have been able to thrive even with so much written fan fiction around. These days, there’s more video fan fiction around that’s good quality too now.
    Also I can understand the studio perspective in wanting to protect their licenses. (I’m also thinking of a really angry conversation I had with a misandrist who tried to portray all male My Little Pony fans as perverts because a small minority from 4chan deliberately seed search engines with X-rated MLP material to upset children.) That Power Rangers movie is inappropriate for children but just seemed more of a “mature audiences” rating than R-rated.

    1. I did watch the first American iteration of Power Rangers, which is the version of the show that ended up in The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers Movie, and from what I can tell that’s the version this short film is keyed off of. There have been a crap-ton of spin-offs since then which I know next to nothing about, but I still remember a lot of the version I saw, meaning I understood all the references to the one Power Ranger who turned on them and love triangles and the reveal of the villain in the final moment. Even so, there were a ton of inside jokes I didn’t get.

      The one thing I really want to know is how exactly Shankar is paying for these Bootleg Universe movies. He keeps saying that he doesn’t profit off of them, and they are not meant to be pitches for feature films. So, he is paying out of his own pocket off of the money he makes on movies like Lone Survivor? Are the actors just doing them for free in exchange for the attention it will bring them? I know that camera and computer technology has progressed to the point that Gareth Edwards made the ultra-low budget Monsters with big movie-quality special effects he simply created on his own laptop, and a movie at this year’s Sundance was actually filmed entirely with iPhones. Even so, Power/Rangers clearly had some money sunk into it.

      Personally, all of this has opened me up to this entire world of fan-made films I didn’t know existed. Like you referenced, I was aware of the many Star Trek videos over the years, but after writing this article I kind of went down the YouTube wormhole and watched a bunch of fan-made films. Some of them are very not-good, some aren’t particularly amazing but do look remarkably feature-film ready, and some are kind of awesome, like this one about Spawn, which is a character I don’t even know that much about due to having forgotten most of that old HBO animated series and the one dreadful live action film:

      There’s a Justice League Dark fan film, more Harley Quinn-related films than I can count, on-going series of videos about Nightwing and Teen Titans, a Mega Man movie, etc. I get the legal/financial implications for the rights holders, but I kind of love how so many people out there are choosing to express their love for comics and video games and whatever. I didn’t even get into all of the various Doctor Who things out there, be they live-action or animated.

      1. I think Shankar probably is paying out of his own pocket. I am curious about his motivation though. Maybe this is just his way of his expensive way to express his fandom just as I have spent thousands of dollars on accurate wearable Star Wars costumes. However, his pitches are more impressive than Neil Blomkamp’s successful Alien 5 pitch.

        The cynic in me says that maybe the actors have a lot of spare time because they are not at the peak of their careers. However, there’s a part of me that says that these actors might just love their job and are willing to do things for free. So many times, I have heard Bryan Cranston say that he and his fellow cast members are the luckiest people in the world for being paid to do what they love. So, maybe this isn’t just an unpaid gig but a unique opportunity to become a character in an alternative world and live out adventures. If somebody asked me to sacrifice a couple of weekends to work for free in a different city and meet other enthusiastic people, I’d take it.

        Look at this cast: !

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