Adi Shankar has become my new favorite person. Not only is he bringing an intense, animated version of Judge Dredd to the digital realm, he’s also savvy as f**k. He comprehends the digital space better than most I talk to, shits on the ever-changing notion of “celebrity for celebrity’s sake,” and in effect, counts many of his Hollywood peers as “doomed.” That’s playing it straight if I’ve ever heard it.
Adi, who was a producer on the Dredd film released in 2012 as well as men-versus-wolves odyssey The Grey (2011), has always been passionate about the animated universe. With his YouTube channel, Bootleg Universe, he now gets to play with one of his favorite comic characters. Judge Dredd: SuperFiend, an unauthorized series that takes the Dredd character and reintroduces the satire, will be Adi’s most high-profile online project to date. And judging by the trailer (below), it will be a-friggin’-mazing!
Dropping Oct. 27, the work is a collaboration of Adi’s passion and the writing/directing of The Junquera Bros. and will further the “Dark Judges” saga. Naturally, in anticipation of its release, we wanted to get on the phone with Adi and see what was happening in his neck of the woods. Turns out, he’s got a lot going on. Prepare to dive into the deep end of the philosophy pool regarding the future of digital entertainment. And be sure to jump aboard the Judge Dredd: SuperFiend train.
First thing: that Judge Dredd trailer … it looks f**king bad*ss.
Adi: Thanks, man.
Tell us a little bit about how this project came to be.
You know, no one’s ever asked me that … that’s a really good question. I’m a huge comic book nerd. When I was growing up — I was born in India, and then moved to China and Singapore, then I did high school for two years in Rhode Island, then Chicago — my parents currently live in Dubai and now, obviously, I’m in L.A. So growing up, my only form of continuity were these comic book characters. They had a deeper meaning to me than just disposable pop culture. With a lot of these series that go way, way, way back, they’ve evolved — they continue to evolve. Take Judge Dredd for instance. At a certain time, that was a very dark action-adventure comic and at other times, it was more of a satire. So I wanted to do something that was satire, you know, play to the satirical elements of it, because at the end of the day, Judge Dredd is a British comic book … it’s a British comic book about post-apocalyptic America; it’s all satire. I created this thing called the Bootleg Universe … and I enjoy viewing things through a different lens and as a child of the 90s, I wanted to mimic that Ren & Stimpy look with a little bit of reboot cartoon and throw in my trademark violence. Basically, I wanted it to look like a kid’s cartoon but with a lot of violence … maybe I’m just f**ked in the head, I don’t know.
Nah, that makes two of us. You were like an actual producer on the Dredd movie, correct?
That is correct.
So you mention that this was an unauthorized version of the Dredd (universe). Even though you were a producer on the film, could you not get the rights? Or because of Bootleg Universe did you not want to get the rights? What happened there?
Well, I had a very specific vision and I just wanted to do it that way. I made this for the fans … I wasn’t trying to sell this to Netflix or anything.
Have you heard from the people who have the rights? Or is this a flying-under-the-radar type thing?
Can I plead the fifth? (laughs) I don’t want to get sued but look: 2000AD (the publisher), they’re cool. You know, to tell you the truth, one of the things that always bothered me about the Bootleg Universe in general was that I liked these things — I thought they were fun, but we live in this consumerist mosh pit where everything has to be about box office and monetization and opening weekend and it seems weird to me. There were all these news stories going around and after I would do one of these things it would be like, “Oh Adi Shankar makes a pitch to Marvel for another Punisher movie,” and I’m like: “F**k you, this is not a pitch! I just needed to make it.”
You’re just a fan doing a fan thing …
Yes! And if I’m involved in the non-bootleg version of it, it is completely irrelevant. I’m just a fan doing a fan thing. So I find that weird. As a “professional” … I’ll never be a “professional” but the fact that I, in some way, shape or form resemble something that sort of looks like a professional … can disqualify me from making a fan film.
Do you think digital entertainment is the future of entertainment? Fan films and the like, or is it a fad?
I think you either adapt or you perish. And it is not the future, it’s the present. And this is survival of the fittest. And I don’t care who you are or how big your celebrity is, your star power. You either need to adapt to the digital world or you’re going to perish in the next five years. And that goes for everyone.
That’s a bold prophecy.
Oh, it’s not a prophecy, it’s happening already. I’m literally describing events that are happening as we speak.
So you feel like celebrities who have tried and failed at the online universe, you think they’re pretty much going to be done as “celebrities”?
Well, I don’t think the concept of celebrity exists anymore, in the way that we think of it. And it’s interesting that you use the word “celebrity” and not “movie star” because if we’d done this interview from the 90s, you’d have said “movie star.” You’re using the word “celebrity” because there’s been a bifurcation of the word “celebrity” and it detached from the word “movie star” and they are no longer synonymous. Reality stars, tabloid fixture-type people have gone to extentuate that and it’s really a good thing for the art form if you look at it, because guys like Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner, Benedict Cumberbatch, they’re not “movie stars” in the traditional sense of the word — they’re really great actors. Removing the word “celebrity” from “movie star” has purified the art form. I think fame really has no value, unless it’s targeted. Just because people know who you are doesn’t mean you can sell them anything. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to show up. And most importantly, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to care.
Case in point: everybody on the planet knows who the Incredible Hulk is. Lets go back to the early 2000s — everybody on the planet knew who the Hulk was, not everyone knew who Wolverine was. Wolverine was always an obscure character. In fact, Wolverine was a late addition to the X-Men. The thing is, Wolverine had a die-hard, hard-core fan base; people who knew Wolverine really gave a shit. People who knew the Hulk didn’t really care; they knew of him but no one really cares, the same way no one really cares about General Electric as a company but they know what General Electric is. The word “celebrity” needs to go and there will be someone who coins a new phrase. I think the word going around right now is “influencer.” I think that’s a little more accurate. Literally you can only have credibility — it’s not about “reach” or “bandwidth” — it’s about credibility, that’s it. It’s having credibility with an audience.
(laughs) I think you just gave my favorite answer to any question ever. I notice that you worked on The Grey, which is one of my favorite films ever. So what’s a cool story from your time on The Grey?
The movie originally starred Bradley Cooper and he dropped out and Liam Neeson replaced him. Nobody knows that one.
How did you become a producer? How does one become a producer?
I don’t know … you just kind of buy the right pair of skinny jeans … I’m kidding. I don’t know, man. Like here’s the thing: I get asked that question a lot now. I do a lot of events where I talk to kids and try to motivate them, and I answer that question a lot and I always say the same thing. I say, “The way Matt Damon and Ben Affleck broke into the movie business is different than the way Quentin Tarantino broke into the movie business, which is different than the way Soderbergh broke into the movie business.” Basically, the point I’m making is the business keeps evolving. This is what I find really, really weird: the movie business completely has a tectonic shift every three years where the business model, the metrics, everything becomes unrecognizable. Every three years, tectonic shift. The jobs completely change. The power dynamic between the jobs completely changes. You go through certain eras and directors were all-powerful. And you go through other eras and suddenly the producer is all-powerful. Then it’s “the studio is all-powerful.” And then there was the era of the movie star, the $20 million movie star and they were all-powerful. Like you didn’t have a movie unless you had Julia Roberts. So, literally, the guy that knew Julia Roberts was the greatest producer on the planet in that era. And you have the caricature of the guy in the 80s who was on the phone yelling at everyone. What these all go to show is, the job keeps changing, but the title stays the same … which is weird, you know what I’m saying?
So what is a producer now then?
I think people are figuring it out. I think it’s being redefined. I think all the jobs are being redefined. You have to look at the internet as a nuclear warhead that dropped over all industries — but especially Hollywood. It completely decimated music and they were forced to adapt — it comes back to my adapt or perish mentality. People still want to be entertained — now more so than ever.
Is Judge Dredd: SuperFiend your way of adapting to the “new age”?
No, it’s not. Literally, like … no, it’s not. Because I’m doing a horrible job of adapting to the new age. I’m sitting here making fan films for free. It will be a 23-year-old kid who figures it out and actually, like, rebuilds this town.
What’s coming up for you in the near future besides Judge Dredd? Have you got some other exciting stuff in the works?
Oh yeah … I have another bootleg that I’m going to drop in the near future that is really awesome and I’ve got Gangs of Wasseypur — a five-and-a-half-hour long crime epic taking place over two generations, that opens January 16. And I’ve got The Voices starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick, directed by Academy Award nominee Marjane Satrapi, opening … uh … oh, we haven’t announced a release date yet. I’m just going to say it’s opening. Ha, I almost gave you an exclusive story for which LionsGate would have been mad at me. What else do I have? I have a bunch of movies that I acted in, which are all in post and will be out in the next nine months.
Now you have a few acting credits already. Is that something you want to pursue or is it just a fun thing to do?
Well, I look at myself as a multi-hyphenate and I acknowledge that as an actor, you have no control. So it’s actually weird to me when people get pissed off at actors for being in shitty movies. They’re like, “Hey, why did you make that movie?” but the actor did not make anything — they showed up. To that point, as a producer, I’m super protective of what I do and what I put out because I feel like I have a connection to my audience — big or small. I actually don’t know how big the audience is, but I want to do right by my audience and my fan base. But as an actor, I will literally act in anything — I don’t care. I’ll act in a student film, I’ll act in a commercial. I love doing it. That’s the only way I get to stop being me and be someone else. Otherwise, I’m just stuck being me. And sometimes it’s really good, and sometimes it’s really f**king stressful.
On that acting note, but also kind of with your producer hat on, what did you think of that original Judge Dredd — the one with Sylvester Stallone?
I liked it! I’m 29-years old now — I was a teenager when I first watched it, or not even — so I liked it when I saw it. The production design was great and it was a fun Sci-Fi movie. I know what I’m supposed to say: I’m supposed to say, “Oh man, that movie sucked.” But it didn’t bother me as a kid, you know what I mean? As a kid, you’re picking up on different things than you are as an adult. And I’m a fan of Stallone. And of Rob Schneider.
Hahahaha, the much rarer fan.
No — Rob Schneider has a pretty sizable fan base.
Uh, well, no, I would say he did more than he does maybe … he probably still has a sizable fan base in what the lexicon of “fan bases” are, sure.
I’d want to hang out with a group of people and do a Rob Schneider marathon, I don’t know about you.
Doesn’t matter what I think — the interview’s all about you, my friend.
Hey, you were asking me earlier if these bootlegs are my way of entering the digital space. They’re really not. To tell you the truth, I can’t compete with a lot of the … and I’m not trying to compete, I don’t look at anything as a competition. I don’t believe in this artifical ladder that we’re all told exists. It doesn’t. What the kids are doing on Vine, what the kids are doing on YouTube, building audiences with their personalities … that’s the future, you know? This whole concept of the celebrity that’s a demigod that will descend and grace us with their f**king presence right before their project is coming out and then go back to the mountain and live in La-La land, that’s f**king over. What kills me is every time I see one of these talk shows, Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel, and some dude will come on to promote a movie, they’ll end up talking about everything but the movie. That level of hubris is insane to me. The implication there — what you’re effectively saying is, “The movie I’m a part of is so big and so important that I don’t even need to talk about it because you’re gonna hear about it.” But you know what? The internet has created so many options that that just doesn’t fly anymore. It’s funny to me. New world, man.
You know what, Adi? You’ve sold me. If you ever have that Rob Schneider marathon, man, f**k it. Call me up.
See what I mean? Adi Shankar is a pretty cool cat. I was thrilled to chat with him, am thrilled NMR can bring you that chat — and we’re even more excited that his personal take on Judge Dredd will be hitting the web very, very soon. Stay tuned, folks.