Talk about your fan films - - especially your anime/manga ones. Maybe some of them get the costumes right, but how many have ever had fight choreography that truly, honestly kicks you right in the gut? And while we’re on the subject, you probably can’t think of too many that have ever gone the extra mile and had all their entire in authentic Japanese, can you?
The Thousand Pounds team have been producing kick ass fan films of a whole new caliber - - tributes to the likes of NARUTO, STREET FIGHTER and TEKKEN that play as good (if not better) than all the major studios’ attempts at live action adaptation. Thus, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat with these dudes and pick their brains about their past projects, their Otaku cred and their ambitious new series, CLANDESTINE.
Get yourself into a readied stance - - this was a good talk.
ANIME VICE: It's usually best to leave introductions up to the interviewee. So, on that note, what is Thousand Pounds and just what part do you play in it?
Haile Lee: Thousand Pounds is a group of talented filmmakers and collaborators who come together to make epic action films adaptations based on anime, manga, and video games. With the successes of our previous works we are now taking the next logical step and creating our own IP and tackling a bigger project. The main overall goal of Thousand Pounds is to mix great dramatic story-telling with action no one has ever seen before.
I am a writer / director within the group and I have co-directed a lot of the well-known projects from Thousand Pounds with Chris Cowan. CLANDESTINE, our next project, was a collaborative effort created by Chris Cowan, Lex Randleman and I.
AV: Earlier this month, you released a rather ambitious NARUTO SHIPPUDEN fan film showing Rock Lee and Naruto's rivalry coming to an alternately furious and humorous boiling point. Since comedy's a large part of NARUTO's appeal, what's your philosophy on conveying different sorts of ones and personalities through the art of movie fighting?
CHRIS COWEN: When it comes to original projects, I think it depends completely on what kind of feel you're going for. But if you're doing a fan film on an existing world, then it's key to stay as true as possible to the source material. If you do that, then the themes, tones & personalities should shine and shine true.
AV: Diehard Otaku will surely appreciate knowing that these projects take authenticity to heart by having dialog that's entirely - - or almost entirely - - in Japanese. What were the motives behind such a bold choice in presentation?
HL: I'm a stickler for authenticity. If I'm going to be invested in a creator's world through movies, comics, games or anime, I want to know and see what exactly the creators of the world wanted you to see. You lose that in dubbing, censorship, translations errors, etc, and it begins to feel like this "third bastard child" of a product that the creator doesn't even know about.
In the world of NARUTO, it is so heavily rooted in the Japanese lore and culture (even with Naruto's speech impediment, ha) that doing it in English, I personally feel, is wrong... So, I told Chris, "If we are doing this, we are doing this in Japanese..." and he completely agreed. And that was that ha.
CC: After a couple months of knowing Haile, I had mentioned what he thought the odds were of pulling off the NARUTO short film I was doing in Japanese. At the time he was thinking “Nooo way.” Haha. I was thinking the same, but I wanted to ask to be sure.
A few months passed and we were actually about four weeks out from shooting the short film. I was looking over the English script and it didn’t sit right with me. I was thinking, “Okay wow, this is actually going to happen and we only get one crack at this, and it would be best to do it as true to the source as possible.”
I called Haile again and said,”Alright, we’re about to shoot and it’s definitely happening. I know we’re four weeks out but is there ANY way you think we could try to make the Japanese possible?”
Haile sighed and pretty much said, “You know what? Let’s make this happen.” From there Haile bent over backwards translating the script, cross checking his old Japanese NARUTO manga to make sure the characters spoke the same way they do, trained our actors to speak the lines, directed and coached them during dialogue on set and he even did the voice over work for Naruto.
Was it hard? DEFINITELY Haha! But was it worth it in the end to us? Absolutely!
AV: Yeah, we couldn't help noticing that Haile provided the voice of Naruto. What’s the story behind that?
HL: Oh! I had to teach Donald and Brendon (Naruto and Rock Lee, respectively) how to speak enough Japanese for the role. Brendon picked it really fast and wanted to use his own voice but from the start we always planned on dubbing over Donald.
After we had a rough cut, I voiced Naruto as a place-marker until we could find a voice actor to come in and do it, but Chris started to get attached to my performance. Haha!
He ended just saying, "Why don't you just do it...?" And that was that.
AV: The Thousand Pounds team identifies themselves up front as being big fans as well as creators, and obviously there's plenty of passion for the shows and games you've paid tribute to already. Let's really test your Otaku cred, though - - what are some of your other favorite anime and manga series?
CC: Haile put me on to Berserk a while back and I have to agree with him that it’s the most epic manga out there. The story couldn’t get any better (but I’m sure it will! Haha!) It’s just painful waiting for each chapter to come out!
Other series that I’ve watched and been a fan of: COWBOY BEBOP (my first introduction into Anime/Manga – I watched the first episode and was hooked. Finished the rest of the series & the movie in about 24 hours! Haha!) FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD, DEATH NOTE, KAIJI, HOLYLAND, SWORD OF THE STRANGER. Now, I’m currently catching up on the GUNDAM series as well as ONE PIECE.
AV: Up until now, Thousand Pounds has been producing fan projects based on the likes of NARUTO, STREET FIGHTER and TEKKEN, but your next project is an original. Has this all been a track of training and escalation?
CC: Absolutely it has. Over the past few years we've grown as filmmakers and storytellers. Being able to show fans that we can handle some of their favorite IP's without completely ruining them was a key step. We've gained the trust a many people in that respect and now, in hopes that their trust carries over, we're ready to show everyone what we can do with our own title.
AV: What's the 411 on CLANDESTINE?
HL: The story takes place in modern day and is about a young woman learning she's the lost matriarch to one of four feuding supernatural clans. We follow her journey as she is dragged into a dramatic war for control which constantly pushes her to make decisions that affects numerous lives with dramatic consequences. It's the ultimate feudalistic drama, meets GODFATHER, meets the X-MEN.
Haha! I know it's a lot - - just wait till you see it - - it's going to be something you have never seen before... in a good way.
CC: Go to our Kickstarter! Everything we’ve created and released about it so far is there. We only have a few days left to raise our goal, so we’re revealing more and doing updates almost daily now. The project name on Kickstarter is CLANDESTINE: FOLLOW THE PATH.
Check it out, and if you like it, help us make it real!
AV: Lastly, you say in that KickSsarter - - "If someone else made a martial arts film like CLANDESTINE, we wouldn’t have to." How would you best characterize CLANDESTINE's style of martial arts action? Does it have more of an anime influence?
CC: CLANDESTINE’s style of martial arts is definitely influenced by anime. It’s gritty but you’ll definitely see those types of anime moments as anime has influenced my shooting and editing style greatly. Even though we’ve released an Eagle choreography test and have a Lion test on the way - - those still won’t compare to the type of action in the series. I think (and hope. Haha!) that people will be blown away.