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You know – kind of boring, dry (possibly outdated) material to talk about (although I oddly find it fascinating), which is why Shankar’s video is so awesome because he lays the basics of it all out there in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