Director Kevin Tancharoen discusses Mortal Kombat, how his short film accidentally went viral, a Cyrax vs. Sektor episode and much more.
Back in June of last year, an intriguing video hit the internet for a new version of Mortal Kombat entitled Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. The short film featured Michael Jai White as Jax, Jeri Ryan as Sonya Blade, Michael Mullins as Johnny Cage, and Ian Anthony Dale as Scorpion. The short caught on like wildfire with over 10 million views on YouTube. At the time, it was reported this was actually test footage shot to gauge interest in a Mortal Kombat movie for Warner Bros. While the motion picture isn't happening in the immediate future, Warner Premiere ordered 10 episodes of a Mortal Kombat web series, which will debut soon, although a specific release date has not been announced yet.
Director Kevin Tancharoen is the driving force behind both Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and the Mortal Kombat web series, writing and directing all 10 episodes. I recently had the chance to speak with Kevin Tancharoen over the phone about this exciting new project. Here's what he had to say.
Are you still in production in Vancouver right now?
Kevin Tancharoen: I'm actually in Vancouver doing post-production now.
We'd always post whatever Twitpics you'd send out. They'd always get a pretty good response.
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah. I keep tweeting these random photos here and there and I'm glad that people are liking what they're seeing so far. Hopefully that can carry on to when the actual episodes air.
When the Mortal Kombat: Rebirth short hit, it was huge. No one really expected it. It was wonderful to see. Can you talk about where that whole thing came from? There was talk it was supposed to be a movie first, and that was test footage to gauge interest in a movie.
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah. I didn't intend for it to go on the internet. Ever. I had always thought that doing a reboot, I guess that's the term, of Mortal Kombat, would be really cool, and I had an idea on how to do it. It was one of those weekend projects, where everyone happened to be in town and I had a lot of equipment. I basically was just going to use it to, not only say that we could make a Mortal Kombat movie, but I had done nothing but dance stuff and performance-driven material my entire life. All I wanted to do was do a genre film. I wanted to do action and sci-fi and horror, and I just knew that nobody would say, 'Hey, the guy who worked with Britney (Spears) and directed Fame should do this action sci-fi movie we have.' So, I decided I had to make a proof of concept that I could handle that kind of material. I did that and, the way it ended up online is I'm not really a YouTube savvy tech guy. I'm technical when it comes to editing and ProTools and that kind of stuff, but not with YouTube. I wanted to send a video to a colleague of mine to get some feedback. It was like a two-gig file, and I had no way of sending a two-gig file, neither one of us had an FTP. Someone said you could send a private video on YouTube or Vimeo, and just make it a private link. That's what I did, and somehow, that private link wasn't so private. People ended up getting the link and started to copy/paste, copy/paste. I mean, it was still a private link when people were watching it, but then everyone got a hold of it. I found out about it going up on YouTube when it was trending on Twitter. I originally was nervous because I thought someone beat me to the chase, that kind of thing (Laughs). I clicked on the link and it was my video and I thought, 'What the hell?' Thank God people liked it, because that whole plan could have backfired in the worse way possible, if people were tearing it apart. I hope we get the same kind of response when we release these episodes.
That's an awesome story.
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah, it's a very interesting story, and slightly embarrassing, but it did have a good outcome, so I don't feel so bad to share it.
In the short, we saw Jax and Scorpion and Sonya, but in these Twitpics we've seen a few new characters. Can you talk about Blue and the other new characters we'll see?
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah. We're really doing a lot of the iconic characters, so we have Sonya, Jax, and Kano, which is a new character in that realistic world. We're going to do an episode with Scorpion and Sub-Zero, but it takes place in ancient Japan. The whole episode is in Japanese and you see the depth of Scorpion's family and clan and how they got murdered, etc. That one is going to be very epic, because of the iconic characters. We're doing Rayden, of course, because you can't do Mortal Kombat without Rayden. We're doing Kitana and Mileena and we're also doing a really, really cool one. The one that I'm most excited about is Cyrax and Sektor.
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah, they're the two robots. One, you have a chance to do fighting robots, so I was pretty excited to do that one. It's going to be great. That one is going to be so much fun.
Can you talk about the through-line connecting these episodes? Is there a world domination sort of thing that is underlying throughout these stories?
Kevin Tancharoen: There is an underlying storyline for most of them. Some of them are just introductions into the characters' back story. The idea of the tournament itself will always be a through-line that you just can't ignore, since that's the foundation of the story. That's not put in the forefront, though. What's put in the forefront is the emotional journeys of the characters. Now, I know that's a weird thing to say about Mortal Kombat. The tournament is just a given. That's kind of why everyone is around each other. We need to find out their motive for going to the tournament, that's what makes it interesting. If it's just a bunch of guys who want to go and beat the crap out of each other, that's cool for like five minutes, but if you don't have any motivation, or you don't know where they come from, or what their back story is or what's at stake, it's pointless. That's what we're trying to achieve in all of these, that you get insight into all the characters, so that when you do see them in the tournament together, you know why they are all there, and not just that they're there to show off some karate moves. I think it makes it much bigger and much more interesting.
As far as I know, there hasn't been a launch date set. Is there anything set in stone yet for when this will go online?
Kevin Tancharoen: I don't believe we do.
(At this point, a rep came on the line and said it would, "probably be the early part of April.")
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah. One episode will definitely come out before the game is released, and that's April 19.
OK. Will it be one episode a week for 10 weeks then? Is that what you're looking at now?
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah, that's how we're kind of approaching it, as of now.
Are you getting anything together for a possible DVD release also? Do you have extra footage or bonus goodies that you would throw on a DVD?
Kevin Tancharoen: I mean, I know that we have so much bonus material that I think people will find interesting. I hope it's successful enough that people will want to own it on Blu-ray or DVD. I think we'll approach that one step at a time, but I'm confident that we have enough material to fulfill something like that.
Are you looking for a Season 2 then? Would you still like to continue on the web or would you like to branch out onto cable or broadcast, or do you think the web is the best place for this now?
Kevin Tancharoen: I think that, with a property or a franchise which has the scope that Mortal Kombat does, I think it's interesting to use different mediums to showcase different parts of that universe. I think the web series itself helps motivate a bunch of back stories. I still think that a feature version of it would be gigantic, but it also works to do both. You have the supporting episodes on the web, that people will get into the origin stories and all that stuff. The movie is obviously the big event, and you see things like that happening quite a bit now. Like, for instance, I'm getting ready for Sucker Punch to come out, and, on the internet, supporting it, are a bunch of animated shorts. It's kind of like how The Animatrix opened up the world of The Matrix and made it much bigger. It's not in the feature film, but it made the universe gigantic, and you were able to see different stories with it. I kind of like doing both, to be completely honest.
The web series could be a stepping stone then, for many other things?
Kevin Tancharoen: Yeah, yeah, of course.
Can you talk about the kinds of special effects we can expect from the show?
Kevin Tancharoen: I'm working with a company out here called Gold Tooth Creative. They're very, very talented visual effects artists. They're really amazing at raising the bar at what people would expect from internet-driven content. We're pushing the boundaries to make this look as much like a big-budget feature film as possible. There are so many visual effects in every episode, especially the robot one (Laughs). They're like two Iron Man's fighting each other. You just can't have them be photo-real CG robots.
In the Cyrax/Sektor episode, do those guys actually talk at all? Or is it straight-up fighting?
Kevin Tancharoen: They talk when they're in human form. Then they get changed to robots, and there's a pretty epic fight scene when they're robots. We did full motion-capture for that and we're starting to put the layers on it now, and texturing and shading it and all that good stuff, to make it look photo-real and make it look like it's gigantic. That's one of the most intense visual effects episodes, because it's robots on robots. There's a certain level of expectations you have with fighting robots, because the material is out there already. We're just trying to make them as polished as possible.
Another iconic aspect of the game is that announcer's voice, who announces all the rounds at 'Fatality.' Do you have a voice like that when the fights are on?
Kevin Tancharoen: Oh, no, no. We treat the fights like they would be in any sort of realistic environment. We don't need that kind of structure to it, like Round 1, Round 2, or where the Fatality happens. It's more fluid and organic. But I am an avid martial arts film fan, so we're really pushing the boundaries with the fight choreographer trying to make it feel fluid but also gritty at the same time, so it feels more raw but there still is an aspect of martial arts involved.
Was there an extensive training period for the actors before you shot this, to get everyone in fighting shape, so to speak?
Kevin Tancharoen: I mean, I called everyone and made sure they were in fighting shape. We did do rehearsals and we shot a pretty extensive pre-viz with the stunt guys, to show all the angles and cut it together, so we can all sit down and watch it. With the short amount of time we had, that was all we could really do. It's not like we took them to boot camp or anything like that. They came prepared and ready to learn and we had a really solid pre-viz going on, so they could see how to move, what could change, what could not change, and work from there.
Is there anything else that you're working on after Mortal Kombat wraps that you can talk about?
Kevin Tancharoen: Right now, my attention is so focused on this. There are a couple of other things that I'm supposed to be working on, but I've had to put them aside for now. This is, one, a lot of work, and, two, it's too much fun. I have to just make sure these episodes come out as good as everyone is expecting them to be. I'm 100% focused on this right now.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about the web series, about why they should check out Mortal Kombat when it comes out online next month?
Kevin Tancharoen: Well, I think everyone has a nostalgic idea about what Mortal Kombat is to them. I don't think anyone has ever seen such detailed story lines about back story of Mortal Kombat. Some people just either know the original movie, or they know it as a fighting game. They'll be quite interested to find out how intricate the story lines really are. The visual effects are going to be amazing and the fight choreography is just a lot of fun. I don't think you'll find anything like this anywhere on the internet. To take an iconic franchise like Mortal Kombat and try to make that universe that much more bigger, I think fans will get a kick out of it.
Great. Thanks so much for your time, Kevin. I can't wait to see the episodes.
Kevin Tancharoen: All right. Thanks man.