The second installment of Kevin Tancharoen's hugely popular web series Mortal Kombat: Legacy premieres next week on September 26th. And as you can see from the Legacy II trailers, everything has been amped up for season two.
Recently, we had the opportunity to talk with Tancharoen about the success of the first season, how he's changing things up for the second season, and also the latest developments on the Mortal Kombat feature film reboot. Read on to learn why the reboot will be a "war movie" as opposed to a "tournament movie" - and more.
SR: What were the lessons from season 1 that you wanted to take into season 2?
KT: With season one, we didn’t have a lot of time to digest and develop it. They saw my short film and they had a video game coming out, so I had four months to write, shoot, and edit it - which is no time at all. We were writing it as we were going. That’s why it was an anthology, because we didn’t really have the necessary time to draft an overarching storyline that was linear. So we decided to do an anthology, where each short kind of lives on its own. It was slightly experimental. I had a lot of fun doing it because it was a different creative for each episode.
For [season two], I wanted it to be linear. So the narrative is like a traditional television show or movie where there’s arching storylines that have a payoff and crossover to different episodes.
SR: From a character perspective, would season one be considered where you were introducing characters and then we’re going to tell their stories in season two? Or do you anticipate picking up any specific plots from those anthology episodes of season one?
In season one, we introduced some of the characters that will be in this season as well. The Sub-Zero/Scorpion storyline carries through. The Katana/Mileena storyline carries through. This season is about a portion of the tournament, like the first chunk of the tournament. So you’re going to be able to meet some new characters as well and we’ll do some flashbacks to their backstory and how they arrived to where they are at this point. We’re also introducing some very big characters that have a very big overarching narrative in this season, including Liu Kang and Kung Lao.
SR: The mythology of Mortal Kombat is just so vast, how do look at everything that’s come before when you’re scripting out a season? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I drew a lot of my inspiration mainly from the games. The ones that I grew up playing where 1, 2, and 3. Those were the ones that I really remembered. Also, we had the liberty to adjust it for this generation. Personally, I really love the 1995 movie, but would that work in 2013? Probably not.
It’s one of those things where I have such a great time watching it because it’s got such nostalgic value, and it was so well done for the 90’s. But we didn’t really take any inspiration from the films because that was its own separate thing and we wanted to do tell new stories and have it fit the tone that audiences nowadays are more receptive toward.
SR: Speaking of tone, there was a marked difference in tone and style from the initial short film to the first season. What necessitated that change from the hyper-realistic, very gritty tone to something that’s more sustainable over the course of a series? Should we expect in season two to see more of the same from a tonal perspective?
From a tonal perspective, when it came to Rebirth, I did that with my own money. So what genre do people immediately associate with something that’s low-budget? It’s horror, right? So I thought, “All right, I’m going to ‘horrorfy’ the Mortal Kombat universe,” because I only had my own money. I wasn’t able to do the kind of fantastical, mysticism that Mortal Kombat is known for simply because I’m not one of those guys who can open After Effects or Maya and do my own visual effects. I wish I was, but I’m not. So I took a more practical approach to that one and I had a blast doing it.
I know that Rebirth has some hardcore fans and also some hardcore haters - people like “Baraka’s not some sick doctor. That’s crazy.” So when it came time to do Legacy Season One, I was working with Warner Brothers and Netherrealm and we came to a nice middle ground as far as not having to be so tied to the mythology, but also making sure that it fit in line with the video game release.
That’s kind of the tonal approach that we attacked for Legacy, to keep it in the middle of what my instincts are – grounded, dark, and gritty – but keep the video game elements in play.
SR: In season one, the Raiden episode was the one that leaned the furthest toward being realistic and gritty because it echoed some of that horror movie sensibility.
Yeah, they let me do that one Rebirth style one. When it came to Raiden, his mythology is so expansive if it’s being realized on a fantastical level. Like, he’s the God of Thunder, and his realm is with the Elder Gods, and you have to build castles and temples. I was like, “I can’t do that.” So let’s figure out a different version of it.
I just happened to be scouting an abandoned mental institution in Vancouver and I was like, “Let’s do something like this.” I was very excited to see the reaction to that, which was kind of on both sides of the spectrum. Some people were like, “I really, really love this” and some people really, really hated it. I’m curious to know who won that battle.
SR: I can tell you that I’m in the former camp. That was my favorite episode of the first season.
Thanks. I had a lot of good, fun times filming that episode because it was so creatively different and that tone is something that I really enjoy.
SR: Tell me how the profile of this project has changed given the overwhelming success of the first season, in terms of studio backing, budget, cast additions. How has the success of the first one really enabled you to do more in the second one?
It got more supporters behind it. The budget didn’t necessarily change, but what it did allow me to do was to go after a cast. Because nobody is really making a lot of money here, it’s more of a passion project and everyone was coming to do it because they love the project and they love the franchise. Even getting people behind the camera involved. It became a labor of love at this point after seeing the first season and just how well it did.
SR: Are you finding that web video is becoming increasingly easier to pitch and get people on board with from a studio level down to the actor level? It really seems like this is the logical place to go to create new media.
For sure. I think that there are a lot of people that are playing catch up right now, because at one point people were just disregarding the “web series.” Let’s be honest, everything that I digest right now from a content level is digital. Like, I’ll buy World War Z on my Apple TV and it’s streaming. Or Netflix, it’s streaming. Anything that I watch, I kind of stream to my television.
I also think that there are a lot more people that know they have to utilize digital content because all it does is support other brands and franchises. I think it opens the doors for the resurgence of the indie film. You can take more of a risk knowing that it can be VOD, that it doesn’t have to be sold at Sundance to go to a limited amount of theaters. You can put it out there for consumers instantly.
I also think it works for some titles and characters that don’t warrant a feature film or TV show. For example, I really hope Marvel does a digital channel where they take some of the characters that may not necessarily be in The Avengers films or have standalone movies and go make some digital versions of them. Would I watch a digital series about Iron Fist? Yeah, I absolutely would. I think there are multiple avenues when it comes to utilizing the platform.
SR: It’s really cool to see different people taking the opportunity to use this medium, yourself included, because then you get news like, “Hey, people actually do care about Mortal Kombat,” and then you get to make a feature-length film.
Exactly. I think it’s fun. I see a lot of fan films and I just love that the Internet has allowed a lot of creators out there to just go and make something. Like, that Portal short was awesome. I recently saw some Dragon Ball Z short that was great. They made a Naruto short that was awesome. I mean, there’s so many things out there that people are making on their own, and I like to see their take on the franchise because it’s so different from what the studios are developing.
SR: Speaking of the differences between producing for the web and producing for a studio, tell me what the process has been like as you’re developing the feature-length version of Mortal Kombat.
It’s been great because it’s kind of been reverse-engineered in a weird way. The fact that it started as a fan film, then turned into a series that was based on fan-driven material, and then turned into a movie – it’s earned a little bit of leeway when it comes to working in the development process. You’ve proven that certain things work already. It would be very different if it were the other way around.
SR: From a plot perspective, would the movie focus on the tournament? That seems like the way to position a first Mortal Kombat movie, no matter where you go.
We’re definitely going to be focused on the tournament, but it’s not going to be a tournament movie. Because when you try and do a tournament movie, you’re already pushed up against a corner and a wall as far as your structure. You meet the person, you train the person, and the end of it is the tournament. And I don’t want to be forced into that style of storytelling because we’ve seen those movies before. We’ve seen The Quest. We’ve seen Bloodsport and Enter the Dragon. And now those movies have turned into dance movies. So it’s not necessarily a tournament movie. Is the tournament a central focus in the film? Yes.
For the feature film, as opposed to calling it a tournament, I want to take it more as an approach of war. What’s a war movie like? There’s many different versions of war films and 'Mortal Kombat' lends itself to being more of a war film.
SR: If you could leave your fans with a one-line tease for what they should expect to see in season two, what would it be.
I think they should expect to see a lot more action, a lot more drama, and a Liu Kang that no one has ever seen before. I’m very excited to see the reaction and what it’s going to be to that in particular.
SR: Hmm…a Liu Kang that nobody has ever seen before. Is the Bruce Lee influence still central to the character?
Nope, not really. He’s not the Boy Scout, all good monk that everyone knows him to be.
What do you think of Tancharoen's comments on the new Mortal Kombat film being a "war film" and what are you most looking forward to in season two of Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Let us know in the comments.
Mortal Kombat: Legacy II will debut online on September 26, 2013, only on Machinima.