From Executive Producing some of Hollywood’s hottest films, to acting in them; Adi Shankar is unabashed about his bootleg film career.
Please tell us what drew you to a career in film, as opposed to some other career path?
It wasn’t necessarily that filmmaking had to be my career path, I just think it’s of our time. I always wonder if I’d be doing film had I been born in some other era, future or past. Chances are, I’d probably be doing something else, right? Film to me is just another form of expression. But, what’s cool about being alive during this century is that we have the internet, which has revolutionized the way we live and create. Even though I’ve been doing movies on the theatrical level, I’ve also been releasing some movies online that have been getting just as much attention as the mainstream movies I’m doing.
So, to answer your question, I’m just a guy who’s creating movies using the tools that are available to me at this point in human history. Artists exist to tell stories, until technology catches up to allow them to tell those stories better. A hundred years from now, I would probably not be working in film, I might be working on light density and holograms.
Were you always this creative with your thinking? Because, I would have never thought about all of that man. (laughs)
I was always a little different, and never fit in as a kid. In fact, I still don’t fit in. (laughs) But, I’m okay with that; now I understand why I never fit in.
How did you end up executive producing such high level, big budget films at such a young age?
With a movie like, “The Punisher,” for instance; Thomas Jane, who is an old friend of mine, actually put it together. You know, there’s this whole building process that takes place as you embark on whatever journey it is that you’re taking. It’s like that old (Lao Tzu) saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So, I didn’t just move to Los Angeles and have things handed to me. It was a process for me, just like it is with other people. At any point in your career, there are going to be people who believe in you, and those who laugh at you. But, as you continue to make certain progressions the number of people who laugh at you shrinks, while the number of those who believe in you grows. I think the biggest relief is when your parents start believing in you. Then, Christmas break isn’t so awkward anymore. (laughs) Before you have the parents onboard, it’s a little weird around the holidays.
(laughs) Yes! Usually, parents aren’t into it until you start making a living and they know you’re going to be okay.
It’s funny because, in my case, there aren’t a whole lot of Indian people doing what I’m doing. So, for that reason I actually look at myself as doing something noble, as opposed to it being about accruing resources in order to accrue more resources. I do a lot of speaking to young Indian people, and I talk about how the way things in (Indian) culture are. It’s set up in a way that encourages you to become a doctor or a banker, and that’s it. Anything outside of that is viewed as failure. By just showing up and doing something different, you’re changing things and making everybody uncomfortable. Where we, as a society, kind of screw up is the metric by which we define success. That definition we use ends up being a hindrance, and we find ourselves competing to fit in, instead of enjoying what we’re doing. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.
Everywhere I look, I see this person competing with that person, and it’s ridiculous. It’s kind of like, since we can’t be gladiators and kill each other anymore, let’s destroy ourselves by setting some crazy societal barometer that kills our individuality. It’s just silly.
I know, right? It’s pretty sad how things are set up. You recently did a film called, “The Voices,” with Ryan Reynolds, that got picked up by Lionsgate after doing well at Sundance this year. What was your role in that film?
I was the day-to-day producer, on the creative side. I worked hand-in-hand with Marjane Satrapi, who was the creator and director of the Academy Award nominated film, “Persepolis”. I moved to Berlin (Germany) to shoot, “The Voices.” I’m also an actor in this movie, which was a lot of fun. The movie turned out a lot better than I could’ve hoped. For me, “The Voices” is truly original because, nobody’s going to be able to watch it and compare it to anything else. So, I’m really excited about this film. I’m actually going through some trailer notes as we speak.
Let’s talk about your work on the internet because, you’ve got a mini-series online called, “Dark Judges”. Why did you choose to go on the internet with it, as opposed to going the mainstream TV route?
If you look at it, the internet is a mainstream platform now. There are far more projects being released online than in theaters and on television. Think about it, the online audience is much larger than the theater-going audience. The people who make stuff exclusively for the internet think I’m crazy because, they’re like, “Man you’ve got this gig where you get to have your movies in theaters. That’s awesome!” I’m like, “Is that really awesome?” (laughs) To me, the whole idea that we’re going to limit who can see what we create, when they can see it, and how they can see it is kind of silly to me.
It really is! It’s sort of an elitist approach to entertainment.
Absolutely! It’s completely an elitist approach to it. I grew up in Hong Kong (China), so my access to media was extremely limited back then. Had I grown up there today, it wouldn’t have been as limited. But, I know what it’s like to not have access to the same things everyone else in the world does so, in my opinion, limiting who can see a movie defeats the purpose of creating it.
If there’s one thing you’ll take away from talking to me it’s this; I am not doing movies for the money. I’m in it to impact the culture, and that’s it! Even if that’s just a small impact. You and I know that we typically have about 48 hours to impact the culture with a new film release. So, the idea that we’re going to put out a movie and stagger the release dates worldwide and then tell people that they can only see it in theaters. Then, in five months it’s on DVD? It’s too late man! You missed that 48 hour window. Why not have it in theaters, on DVD, on mobile devices, and everywhere else at the same time worldwide to maximize the 48 hours? Because, at the 49th hour some celebrity is going to do something stupid and then your movie will be an afterthought. (laughs)
(laughs) Right! Okay, so tell me what these three bootleg movies you’re doing are all about.
I basically make movies based off of characters that I don’t have the rights to. I do it with my actor and director buddies, and I really did it for the fun of it. I’d be like, “I really like The Punisher,” or some other character that I like, and just run with it. It’s funny because, when I go to Comic-Con, this is what I’m most known for. I get compared to the street artist, Banksy, a lot. I’m not doing it to create problems or be a rebel, even though that’s how it’s been positioned, I’m just doing it because I’m a fan. Screw it dude! If you’re not going to let me have the clearance to make the movie, then I’m going to go about it some other way. (laughs) It’s not my fault that your characters burned my retinas when I was a little kid, and now I have to express myself in a “bootleg” sort of way. It’s also not my fault that the actor you hired to play the character in your movie, is a friend of mine and he wants to be in my unoffical movie. (laughs)
(laughs) Wow! Keeping it real! Those relationships are so valuable. What advice on networking would you give to a young filmmaker who wants to work in this industry at the major studio level?
Just be yourself because, the moment you get caught up in pretending to be someone you’re not, or trying to be like someone else, you’re only going to end up being a crappy version of them. When you’re just being you, people can either accept that, or not. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re fitting in. Companies do this all the time. They’re always making a version of something another company created in order to compete in that space. For example: what’s the first energy drink? Everyone thinks it’s Red Bull, except in the 80’s there was a company called, Jolt. They invented the energy drink, but they called themselves a highly caffeinated cola because, they didn’t have the balls to say, “No! We’re something else. We’re different.” Instead, they said, “we have to call ourselves a cola because, that’s what everyone’s used to.” So, if you want to know how to network in show business, don’t be Jolt, be Red Bull. Have the balls to be yourself