Shawn Shaman Gives a New Edge to Power Rangers in Red Rising
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
September 4 marked the debut of a fan film with a definite nostalgic flair to it, mixed with an undeniable modern edge.
Even with its modest 3 minute and 50 second duration, Red Rising is one of only a handful of entirely original fan films to ever pay tribute to the widely popular Power Rangers franchise. Specifically the original incarnation, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, which became a phenomenon during the mid ’90s.
The film sees Jason, the leader of the original Mighty Morphin team, morph into action against a trio of thugs in an alley. Though the Red Ranger’s helmet is the same one we remember, the rest of his costume has been changed. Gone is the trademark Power Ranger spandex, replaced with a red and white biker jacket and gloves.
Though the film had its share of limitations in terms of execution, director and co-producer Shawn Shaman, co-producer Carlos Shabo, and the rest of the cast and crew at Planetarium Pictures deserve a great deal of credit for being able to bring their unique take on Power Rangers to life, if only for a short time.
Primary Ignition recently corresponded with Shawn Shaman via email to discuss Red Rising, the challenges of making the film, and whether we’ll see more from this crew in the future…
For as long as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to make movies. When I was younger, my family owned a video store, I basically grew up in there. When I would watch movies, I wouldn’t just be in awe with the imagery, but I’d really want to know how it was done. So, I made that a goal. I wanted to explore every last bit of it. Not just directing, but producing, editing, lighting, and really understanding the tech that went behind film making. Back in 2006, WOW! Cable (Wide Open West) was holding a commercial contest. I decided to submit an entry, not really thinking anything of it. You never really hear about who wins those things. About a month later I got a call saying I was in the top ten…I was shocked. What we shot, it was pretty bad. I never thought I’d achieve that. About a week later I received another phone call saying I was the grand prize winner. My TV commercial went on to air nationwide where WOW! was available. That was when I knew I could do this.
2. What other projects had you worked on leading up to your work on Red Rising? Where else might we have seen you?
I’ve worked on several projects before Red Rising. I got my big break when I got to work for DreamWorks pictures during production of Real Steel. I started as an Office PA, but I was promoted to VFX Technical Supervisor about 2 months into production. There’s actually a sequence in the movie where I talked the art department into throwing my name onto one of the posters in the background. That scene made it into the final movie. The cool thing is, the visual effects team was nominated for an Oscar. We lost, but it’s still pretty neat to see I was a part of that. After that I worked briefly for Discovery Channel as a camera tech during a shoot here in Detroit. I also worked for Universal Pictures during production of The Five-Year Engagement, I was the Digital Media Manager. Earlier this year, an opportunity came up from a producer friend of mine. He contacted me and said D12 rapper Kon Artis (now known as Denaun Porter) wanted to shoot a music video with me. I directed that as well. You can see that and some of my other work on my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/
3. Before we dive into Red Rising, it’s definitely worth mentioning that Power Rangers just turned 19. That’s actually kind of scary, isn’t it? Do you remember when you first saw the show? Were you a fan from episode one, or did you jump on the bandwagon later? Do you have a favorite episode?
It is scary! I remember setting my VCR every morning just before the episode would start. I still have a few of those VHS tapes. I was definitely a fan since day one. Truth is, when I first saw they were doing Power Rangers… I thought it was incredibly similar to Voltron. So seeing Power Rangers as a live action TV show, I was pretty excited. It’s safe to say after the first episode I was hooked.
4. What do you think it is about Power Rangers that has allowed it to last as long as it has? What was it about the show that captured the imaginations of so many young fans?
I think it has a lot to do with the characters, their relationships, and the amazing things they do. It gets you hooked. It’s not just one superhero, it’s a team. I think people enjoy watching that. Especially after the success of The Avengers.
5. To even attempt to make a Power Rangers fan film is gutsy, because every story involves some kind of out of this world transformation, space age technology, and we certainly can’t forget the giant robots. Where did the idea for Red Rising come from, and how does one even begin to approach a project like this?
We, Carlos (the producer) and I knew it was gutsy from the get-go. We started to discuss it last year, but I got caught up in other projects. I think we knew from the start the tone we wanted to set. When getting into something like this, you need to consider your limitations. What resources do we actually have access to, what kind of film gear do we have, etc. All those considered, we built the project up around that. All the characters in MMPR are larger then life. How would they look in a familiar setting, in the world we live in today? This was more of a pitch. We wanted to create a sense of community after the initial pitch was made. It’s kind of like a blueprint. People see what we are capable of and what we can create. We opened the discussion, and that was exactly what we wanted to do.
6 .Did any other fan films inspire your approach?
To be 100 percent honest, I didn’t watch any fan films prior to creating this. I didn’t want to have influence from anything that was done previously. I wanted to create my own blueprint, and then see where fans would want us to take it. If we are given the opportunity, we will build on what we’ve been told.
7. Some of the publicity I’ve seen done for this film indicates that you and the other filmmakers wanted to make this film look akin to Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Avengers, etc. Why is that? What went into deciding how the Red Ranger would look?
Well, we wanted to ground it a bit. See what the Rangers would possibly look like in our world. We definitely wanted to make it our own. Comic book movies today are either pretty dark, like Watchmen and the Dark Knight trilogy, or they have a family friendly appeal to them like Avengers, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. We didn’t want to create something dark, or go for that gritty look. That’s not Power Rangers. I wanted there to be a middle ground, more so towards the likes of Iron Man and The Avengers than The Dark Knight. But bringing some of that real world feel, I think helps relate a bit more. It’s not so superficial anymore once you do that. If we do another one, you’ll see more of this world we were building.
8. Let’s talk a little bit about continuity. Is this film meant to be a part of the ongoing PR continuity, or is it meant to stand on its own the way Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie did? Part of the premise of this film is that it takes place five years after the “last alien invasion.” Does that mean five years since Jason and the others saw battle? Or say, five years since whoever the last Ranger team consisted of defended the Earth from some kind of threat?
This is an alternate universe. It’s a stand alone thing. There have been many different versions of Power Rangers over the years, we didn’t want to just pick one and go from there. All fans have their own version of what should happen. We wanted to create our own, but with the original characters. Five years after the last alien invasion… five years since the team last fought together. Whether Jason had been exiled from the group, or just chose to quit, this was part of the story we were telling. But it wouldn’t just center on one Ranger, as I’m sure fans would love to see what’s going on with everyone else. A lot of what I’m seeing is people saying in response to the film is: “Zordon taught the Rangers to never use their powers for personal gain.” We don’t know what state Jason is in when he does this, as the story didn’t develop enough for this statement to be made. Maybe he’s become a rebellious vigilante type, using his powers for more then just fighting off aliens… after all it has been five years since he last fought them. Maybe he lost his cool and calm? Is it out of character, maybe? But a lot can change in five years.
I kind of want to keep the first part of that question open for discussion. It makes things a bit more interesting I believe. We have our intentions in developing that story over the next few episodes (should we do them). Yes, he’s had these powers since they were introduced to him by Zordon.
10. Our lead actor is Kelsey Bashi. What led you to choose him for the role of Jason? Was he simply a friend who was right for the role, or was there a kind of informal audition process?
Kelsey is a friend of mine, but that didn’t give him a walk on role. He had the right build and look for it. We had him perform a bit and interact with the other Rangers we had in place for other episodes. It worked, he did good and we ran with it.
11. How long did the project take to film? How challenging was it, if at all?
It took a total of five days to film, and it was incredibly challenging given the resources we had. As you can see, it was a night shoot. Our gear was really pushed to its limits. We didn’t have much to work with, and we’ve been saying we created something out of nothing, this is true. We had one camera, Canon T2i, with two lenses. Neither of which are good in low light. A decent tripod, a crane (which added nice production value), and a flood light. That’s literally it. All audio was dubbed later using an iPhone. So planning how to shoot this thing was huge. We built car rigs for the motorcycle shots out of 2×4′s (special thanks to our set’s swiss army knife Jason Salmo for that.) Then we got incredibly lucky when we got hooked up with the owner of the motorcycle. It totally looks like what the Red Ranger would own. Segi (the owner of the bike) did all the stunt work on the bike, Kelsey never even sat on it.
It was a costume issue, so we had to plan around it. The pants weren’t ready in time for the shoot, I was pretty ticked. But, sometimes productions throw curve balls at you and you just need to do your best to pull it off.
13. The music was an interesting creative choice. What went into deciding on the soundtrack?
Let me get this out the way now, Carlos never wanted it. He hated the dubstep. The intro is more metal/tech with it leading into dubstep during the fight. Originally, the motorcycle sequence was going to have Zordon’s voice over, basically going over the synopsis. I ultimately decided to leave that out. I wanted this to be more of a community thing, rather then us telling the story. Have fans come up with their own stories. Deciding on dubstep, again, was my decision. The whole emergence scene, with him getting into the shot, and then showing the technology of the suit, I felt like it fit. This isn’t the ’90s TV show. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about it, even people complaining about the metal/tech music in the beginning of the short. If I remember correctly, the first MMPR movie opened with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while the Rangers sky dived. I didn’t have that kind of production money, so I had to compromise a bi
14. At the end, we see our hero face some sort of green glow. Might this be a new villain calling the Rangers back into battle? Or could this be our old friend the Green Ranger?
Or could the Green Ranger be the bad guy in our version? Maybe he is the alien threat that’s on it’s way to earth. Or maybe he’s there to stop Jason from the rampage he’s on? There’s a lot of ways you could cut it. We do have the story line in place, but I’ll leave this part of the short up for discussion amongst the fans!
When the Red Ranger rises into frame for the first time. I love that shot. As a film maker, I’m my own hardest critique I think. It’s very hard for me to watch my work in front of others. When we showed this for the first time, I hid in the background. I knew it’s weaknesses, I am a film maker after all. I knew the limitations we had, but only I know that, not the viewer. No film maker wants to explain themselves as to why certain things were done a specific way when fans ask. There are things I would change, but I’m very happy with my crew and what we were able to do with so little. I’m happy with the final product, and stand behind it.
16. Is this the first in a series of short films, or is Red Rising meant to stand on its own?
We’ll have to see, it really does depend on how well this one is received. We would love to carry on with Rangers and explore all the other Rangers. Now that the cat is out the bag, we can get the community more involved. I think it stands on its own, but definitely leaves with a nice little cliff hanger.
17. How hard is it to promote a fan film, or ANY kind of film these days? What steps have you been taking to make sure it gets seen?
Fan films can be tricky. Once the word is out that you’re working on one, it basically promotes itself. I think getting community involved is huge in promoting the video. For an example, we let out exclusive behind-the-scenes images to RangerBoard.com, plus a poster with a date and time. Eventually we let the community see it a half hour before anyone else. Give the fans what they want, and everything will fall into place and the video will promote itself.
We have a ton of projects lined up. Whether it’s another Ranger short or not, I’m not sure yet. I can say this, if we go forward with another Ranger episode, it wouldn’t just be one. We would kind of have to dedicate to the fans at least two or three more of these. We do have other projects we would like to get off the ground, though.
19. Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a big thank you to the fans of the series. We made it to 10K views in just four days. The only reason why this was created was for them. Without them, there wouldn’t be a point. It wasn’t for self gain, or recognition. We have other projects we could have done that with. We are at an age in film making where it doesn’t have to be a dictatorship. It doesn’t have to be the filmmaker alone in the kitchen. We’re able to communicate in ways never before possible. Community film making. It’s a new breed in this industry, and I love it. We understand it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but we’ll sure as hell try.
Front page image, and images 1, 3, 5, 6 and 8 courtesy of Shaman. Image 2 from skipraid.com. Image 4 from orendsrange.blogspot.com. Image 8 from henshinjustice.com.