Interview: Tancharoen On Mortal Kombat's Sudden Screen Rebirth

Gamasutra's editor at large Chris Morris talks to director Kevin Tancharoen on how the genuinely accidental YouTube release of his short spec film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth led to a gig with Warner Bros.
[Gamasutra's editor at large Chris Morris talks to director Kevin Tancharoen on how the genuinely accidental YouTube release of his short spec film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth led to a gig with Warner Bros. making live-action episodes ahead of the new Mortal Kombat game.] When the live action short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth hit YouTube in March 2010, people started buzzing. The film, starring Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan, was not only cool to watch, it was reverential towards the classic Midway-originated fighting game series. Director Kevin Tancharoen had hoped to use it to lobby Warner Bros. to sign him on to steer a reimagined MK film. While he didn’t quite make it to that level, the company has contracted him to direct a series of live-action shorts that will likely lead up to the release of the new Mortal Kombat game in April. Ironically, though, it all started with a mistake. “I am not the most technically savvy YouTube person,” Tancharoen tells Gamasutra in an interview. “What came out wasn’t the final product in my mind. I wasn’t done yet." "It was still in its rough phase, but I couldn’t send a 2GB file over email, so my friend said I could create a private page on YouTube and sent it to him to review. It turns out it wasn’t that private.” Fans and gaming outlets quickly found the video – which has since racked up over 5 million views. As it went viral, though, Tancharoen had no idea. “I looked on Twitter and saw MK was trending and thought ‘Oh God, did someone beat me to the punch?’,” he says. When he realized it was his film, his fears doubled: certain rights hadn’t been secured – including with his cast. “The actors could have quickly rebelled against me,” he says. “Thank God people liked it, because it could have gone really bad.” Instead of rebelling, the cast rallied. White, Ryan, Ian Anthony Dale and the rest of the actors featured in the video are currently in negotiations to star in the digital shorts. Tancharoen says there will be nine episodes in the MK live action series. Each will run for 7-10 minutes – and will explore the history of the characters in the game. (Some of the big characters, like Scorpion and Sub Zero might have their stories split into two parts.) Filming is scheduled to begin in February in Vancouver. Warner is still determining exactly where the shorts will be released – though iTunes is a likely choice. Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon is working with Tancharoen as he goes through pre-production. That was particularly exciting for the director, as his obsession with the franchise is … well, thorough. “We’re working together hand in hand,” he says. “I’ve got to admit, I had a little fanboy geek moment when I met him. I flashed back to when I was 12 or 13 and played the first game and was obsessed with it. … He was very, very happy with the short. He knows it took liberties with the universe of Mortal Kombat, but was okay with that. It blows my mind.” The series, of course, won’t be MK’s first trip to the live action world. A pair of films in the mid-90s met with mixed success, but lodged themselves in the pop culture mindset (especially the iconic theme song). Tancharoen realizes there will be the inevitable comparisons, but says he doesn’t feel a sense of pressure to compete with people’s memories of the films (though he, like others, prefers to forget 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation). “Everyone knows the techno song,” he says. Everyone knows the characters. It has that fun value to it. … We’re taking the essence of Mortal Kombat and the thrill you get from playing it and creating a new generation on it. I don’t think anyone is so tied to the original films that they can’t see another movie if it’s not shot like that.” While Tancharoen’s pet project certainly has gotten his foot in the door at Warner, he’s not forgetting this original goal. The series of digital shorts is good, he says, but he still hopes to take Mortal Kombat to the big screen himself. “The bigger thing for me, of course, is I want to translate this to a feature,” he says. “I would love to tell the stories that lead the character up to a certain point, then have them merge together in a big 3D movie.”

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