Tag Archives: comics

The Punisher Lives

Bernthalisher

No doubt you’ve heard the news, Netflix’s Daredevil series is promising to come back with a figurative and literal vengeance in 2016 by finally bringing back the most popular “underground” character in the entire Marvel Comics Universe, The Punisher. This is tremendous news for the character’s fans who have for years been desperately clamouring for an authentic cinematic adaptation of Frank Castle, even before the arrival of the superhero tent-pole phenomenon.

There was the ultra low-budget 1989 Dolph Lundgren romp that arrived the same year as Tim Burton’s wildly successful Batman (but shared none of its success), 2004’s shameful display starring Thomas Jane (and to our chagrin, John Travolta), and worst of all, the 2008 travesty called Warzone (Ray Stevenson) that offended fans on basically every conceivable level.

Strangely, all three films seemed to get the casting down for Punisher pretty well; Dolph’s admittedly limited acting range actually helped in the portrayal of Frank Castle by giving him a really hollow, numb characterization that worked great. He was shocked, barely talkative, brutal, physically impressive. Doplh Lundgren’s Punisher may be the stuff of parody today but a closer look at his rendition is surprisingly on-the-money, even capturing Frank’s black sense of humour when he finds himself in grim situations. Louis Gosset Jr. was a great supporting actor too and brought genuine humanity to the proceedings. Some part of me believes that this version may have actually been the closest to the mark and might have even been a hit today with its 80’s B-movie feel.

Thomas Jane, many will say, has so far been the most successful casting choice for Frank Castle, and his actual portrayal was heartfelt and researched. This of course just made it worse when we had to listen to him recite nauseating dialogue and engage in awkward sitcom-type comedy sequences in the hopelessly tone-deaf 2008 film. Set in Florida (WTF!), this Punisher was barely recognizable as far as the grit and darkness of the comic book are concerned. Then there was the ridiculous plot, the lack of any interesting action or violence (in this case, a capital offense), and the scene chewing stylings of John Travolta. Punisher fans were left confused, frustrated, but most of all, severely disappointed.

A few years later we would get Warzone, a reboot of sorts that promised to set things right. It cast a more mature Ray Stevenson (who dazzled in HBO’s Rome), Dominic West (from The Wire) as Jigsaw, and gave the impression in its pre-release hype that it would finally give the fans the goods. Garth Ennis was involved, Tim Bradstreet was consulted, all the elements were in place for that R-rated Punisher fans had been praying for. What we got instead is a (somehow) even lower-budget piece of garbage that almost murdered the character itself. In a way it actually did; Punisher remained a sceptic topic of discussion in Hollywood with almost no chance of being ever given another big run until last week.

It now appears that Netflix has come to the rescue of Frank Castle in an absolutely unexpected and spectacular way. Daredevil, (the other similarly fouled comic book property) has made it to the big screen to resounding acclaim and opened up an entirely new chapter in comic-to-film adaptation. This humbly produced and intelligently executed marvel (of you’ll pardon the pun) has changed the game by opening up a parallel dimension where we can finally glance into the darker side of Marvel Comics, a side that may now get a fair shake and that has so far surpassed big-ticket properties like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of sheer storytelling, substance and maturity.

The new Punisher will come by way of Jon Bernthal, a casting choice that is likely to cause a bit of controversy (when doesn’t it?), but one that could be absolutely perfect. We’ve established however that the casting has never really been the problem with The Punisher franchise, so what’s it going to really take to make it work this time?

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How to Make a Fan Film (and not get shut down)

Venom Fan FIlm

Fan films are quickly becoming a phenomenon on the internet with a host of amateurs and professionals producing some of the most interesting independent cinema out there right now. Whereas fans films were once the sole domain of diehard fans, today they have also become a kind of a training ground for young filmmakers and a fun place to experiment for the more experienced ones. With every year it seems that fan films are getting bigger and better and some are even launching the careers of newcomers, propelling them into the big leagues. Clearly the fans want to see more fan films judging by the massive views and attention from giant media outlets like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and there seems to be no shortage of enthusiastic artists to produce them.

There has been one nagging problem in the making of these films that has yet to be properly addressed; the very controversial broad topic of violation of intellectually property rights. It would be fair to estimate that for every successful fan film out there, perhaps 3 or 4 per year brutally collide with the legal realities of borrowing licenses/trademarks/copyrights from giant entertainment conglomerates.

While companies like Lucasarts have shown a surprising (and business-wise brilliant) tolerance to fan films, even going so far as to publicly embracing them online, others like DC and Marvel have had the odd nasty reaction to certain fan-made projects. Some would say that to make a fan film (with any kind of solid production quality) is to reach into the lion’s cage and to tempt fate, but is it really that simple? Are these companies arbitrarily shutting down these fan productions as they come across them or is there a recipe for these disasters?

I believe there is.

Here are some of the items I have identified as “project killers” in my fan film-making experience :

1. Thou shall not under any circumstances make money: This is perhaps the ultimate commandment of making a fan film that will see the light of day. Even with the benefits and loopholes of fair use laws, selling or profiting from your fan film is just the most basic way to scuttle your ship and even run the risk of heavier litigation later on. Crossing this line can be done with all the best intentions. Maybe you figured you could get a little compensation for yourself and your hardworking crew for all those long hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe you wanted to cover the cost of the dvds/posters you printed for your fans. It’s a bad idea from any angle for the simple reason that you are generating revenue directly or indirectly with of a license that you do not own.

Accept right now that making a fan film will mean a personal or private investment, time and money, and remember that even fully sanctioned films don’t make their money back in the big leagues. As far as raising funds for a fan film through crowd-funding, that’s a bit of a trickier subject that I will cover some other time, but I will say that this is also a pretty bad idea unless it is done with utmost care and respect for the property holders.

2. Thou shall not make it look “too close” to the real thing: Mike Pecci can probably relate the most to this issue as it was the main focus of the cease & desist letter that his team was served by Marvel just days away from releasing their high-profile Punisher fan film, The Dead Can’t Be Distracted. There is such a thing as having your fan film look too much like the real thing, and holders of the copyrights have an understandable concern that their properties might be confused with the artistry of a heavy-hitter like Pecci. This case was a particularly unfortunate one as, if you read Pecci’s insightful journal about the rise and fall of the project, the filmmakers even managed to receive the blessings of the original writers and artists on whose works the film was based. Pecci recounts the numerous endorsements and approvals he’s secured from the authors, but ultimately hitting a solid concrete wall of Disney’s legal department.

The lesson: Make sure your fan film does not cross the line in terms of look/aesthetic by looking too much like the real thing. It may sound like a strange rule to respect but it’s called a “fan” film for a reason. This doesn’t mean necessarily that your work has to be sub-par or purposefully brought down in quality, only that it should try to avoid that red zone. Typical fan film micro-budgets and limited resources can be your friend in this regard.

3. Thou shall not attempt turn a successful fan film into a series: Look at it from the license owner’s point-of-view; even if you were lenient toward a first fan film by a young enthusiastic group of filmmakers and did not take legal action, now these same people are planning on putting these out a regular interval, every time risking to damage your intellectual property. Can you really blame a company for erring on the side of caution and shutting you down? This is not the same thing as making more than one fan film in a row, but rather committing publicly to borrowing a license and using it for your purposes indefinitely. Not the best approach.

4. Thou shall not make any claims about continuing or expanding on officially licensed content: A group of fan film producers recently ran into this problem with their project. While it is likely that the true nature of WB’s shutdown of this endeavour was focussed on the 100k the group was trying to raise to create a series (point 1 and 3), the studio also very likely became concerned by the fan film’s claim to “continuing and expanding” upon the already officially established Nolan Batman Trilogy. While this would have been a fun project to see, there were just too many aspects to Legacy for Warner Bros to take issue with legally.

The lesson: A fan film must remain squarely in the realm of fan fiction and should avoid overly-direct links with officially produced works by the license holders. With video game-adaptations there is a little more wiggle-room seeing as how you are riffing on a set story/game world, but caution is still advised. You have to walk that fine line between homage and originality and always keep in mind that you are playing with someone else’s property.

There are probably other things to consider when making fan films in order to protect them from the chopping-block, but avoid these major areas and you should be in the clear. I’d love to hear any other ideas and suggestions as well on this subject, particularly from anyone that has dabbled in fan films or is thinking about taking the plunge.

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The Punisher: No Mercy (Fan FIlm)

https://www.facebook.com/ThePunisherNoMercy
https://twitter.com/NoMercyFanFilm

An original short fan film based on the character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr, and Ross Andru, Frank Miller (Elektra), and property of MARVEL (Disney).

Screenplay by Davila LeBlanc and Shawn Baichoo.

Expect no deals, no compromises and no mercy in this fan-adaptation of Marvel’s foremost anti-hero, The Punisher! In “The Punisher: No Mercy” Frank Castle pursues his dark crusade of brutal justice against criminals who prey on the innocent. They may think they’re above the law, and they may be right, but they’re not above punishment, they’re not above HIM.

Starring:
Shawn Baichoo http://www.shawnbaichoo.com/ (Assassin’s Creed Series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Outlast) as Frank Castle/The Punisher
Amber Goldfarb http://ambergoldfarb.com/ (Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, Helix, Being Human, Lost Girl) as Elektra

Directed by J. Ambrus https://vimeo.com/user2954516
Cinematography by Jean-Maxim Desjardins https://vimeo.com/jmdesjardins
Original Film Score by Shayne Gryn http://www.shaynegryn.com/

Also Starring:
James Malloch http://www.jamesmalloch.com/ http://jamesmalloch.tv/
Giancarlo Caltabiano http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0130733/
Kristina San http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5019958/

Produced by:
Shawn Baichoo http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1064687/
Amber Goldfarb http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2916096/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Gregory Bowes http://www.chimeragames.ca/

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Origins

The Son of the Wild AgeIt is almost impossible to catalogue or quantify the force that drives storytellers to pursue their craft, but memory sometimes allows them to pause and reflect on the little moments that shaped them into tireless raconteurs. My earliest memory of having been deeply captivated by a story reaches back as far as the tender age of four (the furthest age a majority of people claim to be able to remember). I can recall little else from this period of my life, but with an almost shocking certainty I can clearly remember someone bringing me the first comic book I had ever seen in my entire life. Not a cartoon, or comic strip, but a bonafide comic book with impressive splash-page illustrations and pulse-pounding action. The hero’s name was Rahan, a kind of visual facsimile to the legendary Tarzan and Conan (both whom I would come to adore later), but a character that was, is, and will be in many ways far superior to all of the aforementioned ones. Rahan is still a bit of a mystery to me; he was a blond-haired caveman that sought adventure in a pseudo-prehistoric world of bloodthirsty dinosaurs and evil pygmy shamans, but every challenge he encountered Rahan would try to solve using his intellect, and even very rudimentary science. He was equal-parts detective, warrior, scientist, and philosopher, and I still don’t think I have ever since read or seen such a wonderfully strange combination of elements in one character or story. The plots were absolutely compelling, never stale, never over-reliant on cliches or tiresome morality plays. Rahan would overcome incredible challenges and obstacles often by avoiding violence and using his head, but if the situation was desperate, he could more than hold his own in any conflict. The art was also shockingly ahead of its time, superbly rendered by a French artist most people have never heard of (Andre Cheret). There was nudity but never inappropriate or gratuitous. It was sometimes violent and graphic but never made me feel hostile or alienated. In short, Rahan was magnificent, and still is even after all these years.

Obscure or forgotten works like Rahan can not only be instrumental in our evolution as artists, but in some cases they may have triggered the very instinct or desire to pursue storytelling. Sometimes going back to a source or to any material that filled us with so much amazement as children can really open up the mind to fascinating introspection, and perhaps even provide clues to the style and form that still characterizes our works in the present. The key is not only to remember where you came from, but to go back there often and revel in those precious moments that first set your mind on fire.

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