In 2012, writer Mark Long teamed with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) for the graphic novel Rubicon, a modern re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal film, Seven Samurai. Swapping samurais for Navy SEALs, the story focuses on a group of five SEAL operators who must defend the residents of a remote mountain village from the Taliban.
The ambitious undertaking was conceived as a transmedia project that would include not only the graphic novel, but also a feature film, a video game, and a web series. The latter, called Rubicon: The Beginning, premieres exclusively on Machinima today. You can check out the pilot episode above.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to talk with Mark Long (who also co-wrote the web series) about the project and the unique role that transmedia has played in bringing it to life.
SR: Since the graphic novel has been out for some time, why did you feel it was important to create this prequel web series to show how the characters got to where they are?
Mark Long: I’m a transmedia designer and evangelist, so the pilot, while strictly speaking a sequel, is really designed to stand alone independently from the graphic novel. And that’s good transmedia design. When you look at it as a whole, it is contiguous and it has been designed to all fit together.
I love this type of creative project. It’s really stimulating to work in different media because each one has its own challenges and strengths. The webseries tells the story of a character that we see in the graphic novel die in the first couple of pages. You don’t need to read the graphic novel to appreciate the web series or vice versa, but if you do see both, you’ll come to a deeper appreciation of why the characters in the graphic novel are so profoundly saddened by his death and why it becomes the inciting incident for the graphic novel.
I’m also a fan of transmedia. Obviously, you’re a fan of that type of storytelling. Tell me about the genesis of the project – when you were involved with Chris McQuarrie at the beginning – how did you get buy-in to take this approach?
Chris is exceptional in that way. There’s a growing community of directors, writers, producers that are interested in these other media, games in particular. Every time I’ve done something with a real Hollywood screenwriter like Chris, I come away with a deeper appreciation of story and character, which is really all they focus on.
Chris is a willing partner and eager to see where we might go and has contributed in the way he can, given the career that he has. He’s been involved at every stage and the project as a whole was his idea. He wanted to do something with SEALs in Afghanistan, specifically SEAL Team 10, which is a real storied unit in Afghanistan. He suggested it might be something like the movie Zulu, and that captured my imagination. So I called him a couple weeks later and said, “You know what might be better than Zulu is Seven Samurai.”
He agreed immediately. You’ve got the warriors protecting the villagers and the complexity of opium poppies standing in for rice, which the bandits or Taliban are raiding the villagers for. I asked Chris if we could use his idea to produce a graphic novel, and he was delighted that we asked and wanted to contribute.
Speaking of the SEALs themselves, I know that Chris has a personal connection with the SEAL community through his brother, who was a former SEAL. Co-writer Dan Capel was a founding member of SEAL Team 6. From a character perspective, I think it was important to show that these guys are tremendously brave, patriotic, and focused, but they’re not perfect. They have personality flaws. How important was it to capture the authenticity of the SEAL community?
That’s a great insight and is rarely articulated. To most Americans, especially after finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, SEALs are really held up in the highest esteem and they deserve it. But you’re correct. They’re just human beings. And what we’ve asked them to do in these last two campaigns really exceeds what we’ve ever asked Special Operations forces to do. Their Op tempo is insane. They do so many missions that they just stopped naming them. It’s not unusual to talk to a Tier One guy and hear that over the last 4 to 8 years, they’ve done 40 deployments.
These guys are experiencing something that we’ve never put forces through. Predictably, they have difficulty being deployed into a war zone, then coming home and being expected to pick up the car and get their kids to elementary school, right? You can’t decompress that fast. And we tried to communicate how that comes out for these characters in both the graphic novel and the series. The main character in the series, Mike, has poor impulse control. He’s argumentative, moody; signs you see from these guys that range from being stressed out to PTSD.
It’s a complex thing that we’re trying to communicate and we’re really eager to see if people can see this nuance, because it’s important to us.
It’s ambitious to say we’re going to reinvent Seven Samurai because it’s such a classic. Was there ever a moment where you thought, maybe this is the wrong idea to do something that’s tied to such an iconic film.
Yes, but mainly when it leaned closer to the story. In the end, I felt like if you haven’t seen Seven Samurai, this book would encourage you to go see it. I really hope that will happen. I’ll tell you a secret, the transmedia we’ve designed with Rubicon in the middle, the web series as a prequel, and the movie as a sequel, is loosely based on the three Kurosawa classics. Seven Samurai is the graphic novel. This is really Yojimbo. And the sequel may resemble Sanjuro.
If you remember Yojimbo, this samurai comes to a town where two rival gangs are terrorizing a small village and he sells his services to both of them to play them off against each other. That’s a hint of where this story is going.
For fans of the graphic novel, or people who are coming to this entirely fresh, what do you want people to take away from the prequel series?
First, we’re just taking you on a thrill ride. In this short format, the extremes are really action and velocity and I hope you really see that in the pilot, and it’s where we want to go with the series. On another level, it’s connecting the two pieces of media so you guy, “Oh wow, it’s the same guy. Now I get why he’s so important in this part of the book.”
Rubicon is now available on Machinima Prime.