The Big Picture
- Captain Laserhawk is an amalgamation of video games and ’90s nostalgia, featuring alternate versions of Ubisoft characters in a dystopian techno reality.
- Creator Adi Shankar discusses his collaboration with Netflix and the importance of different animation styles in the series.
- Shankar reveals that he has other projects in the works, including the Devil May Cry anime series and original scripts for future shows.
Netflix recently debuted a brand-new adult animated series, Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix, after a pretty lengthy wait for fans ready to feast on this “amalgamation” of video games and ‘90s nostalgia. In an interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub, creator Adi Shankar talks about the ideas behind Ubisoft’s Far Cry: Blood Dragon spinoff series and the moves he made with the creatives to bring this universe to the screen.
Captain Laserhawk was first announced back in 2021 when it was confirmed that Shankar would be teaming up with Netflix again after spearheading the Castlevania series. In the new six-episode series, the alternate versions of popular Ubisoft characters will band together in a dystopian techno reality of America—now called Eden—in 1992 to fight the corruption that’s ultimately consumed the nation. Dolph Laserhawk (Nathaniel Curtis) is a super soldier who’s been arrested and placed in Supermaxx, where he’s made the leader of a misfit team of rebels. The series features the vocal talent of Boris Hiestand, Mark Ebulué, Caroline Ford, Shankar himself, and many more.
During their interview, Shankar discusses working with Netflix again and how they’ve supported him creatively since joining forces in 2015. He talks about the many different animation styles used in the series and why they were important to the story, why even the characters fans will see use different animation styles, and if a Season 2 is in the works yet. The creator touches on other projects he has in the works, from his other Netflix video game adaptation, the anime series, Devil May Cry, to a mysterious video game he’s lending his artistic vision to. For all of this and tons more, check out the full interview in the video above or you can read the transcript below.
COLLIDER: How are you doing today, sir?
ADI SHANKAR: Dude, I’ve wanted to sit down with you for years.
Listen, you’ve had a restraining order against me, and as soon as it lifted, I said, “Let’s do this interview.” It happened to coincide with a new show you have coming out, so it all worked out.
SHANKAR: Yeah, and you know, through this process of the restraining order, you really blew up. Listen, you’re like the Barbara Walters of the geek world. Not even the geek world now, it’s just the pop culture. You’re the Barbara Walters of pop culture.
I don’t necessarily think that way, but I will say that I have been very, very lucky the last number of years, and I’m very grateful to everyone who reads Collider and tunes into our stuff. I really am. Alright, let’s jump into you because we’re not here to talk about me. You’ve done a lot of cool stuff, if someone has never seen anything you’ve made before, what’s the first thing you want them watching and why?
SHANKAR: Captain Laserhawk. It is the amalgamation of everything that’s come before it. It’s all the learnings of the 14-plus years I have been running around this business in a Netflix series.
First of all, let me start by saying how much I enjoyed the series. It’s six episodes, it starts streaming on Netflix soon. I have a million questions about that, but I still have more curveballs to throw your way. If you could get the financing to make anything you want, like the dream thing, do you know that project?
SHANKAR: So, I think there’s two categories of things, right? One is original stuff because I would say Captain Laserhawk. You tell me if I’m wrong here because you’re Frosty, but Captain Laserhawk is original. It’s like an original thing, right? Then something like Devil May Cry, something like Castlevania, that’s IP-based, right? It’s a reinterpretation of the IP. So, I literally have original scripts just sitting around that I’ve developed and kept in my back pocket for the next moment I have heat and I’m, like, blowing up, and I can be like, “Bam, here you go. Two seasons, done. Let’s go.”
So you have that thing, you’re just waiting.
SHANKAR: Yeah, I have actually three of them, like three different things that I poured years into, meticulously fucking sculpting these different universes.
Is the Bootleg Universe over? In the beginning, you did some things, and I’m just curious if that chapter of your life is over because you sort of entered a more mainstream area.
SHANKAR: No, no. No, it’s not because I feel like there’s a rebellious nature to these the fan films. When you say the Bootleg Universe, you mean the fan films, right? These unauthorized fan films that got a reaction. I’m not going to stop rebelling, but I think as you grow older, and you discover yourself more, and you get more in touch with your soul’s journey, maybe the expression of it changes.
Well, you also, with Captain Laserhawk, managed to put in things that are not expected. I was not expecting things that happen in Captain Laserhawk and the way you do certain things on that show, so maybe the DNA of the Bootleg Universe beginning is in the shows you’re making
SHANKAR: 100%. I mean, Captain Laserhawk is part of the Bootleg Universe. It is the natural extension. It is the logical extension of where you go with these subversive fan films that are deconstructionist takes on IPs I grew up loving. Ultimately, that is 50% of what Captain Laserhawk is.
Castlevania ran for four seasons on Netflix. It got incredible reviews. Were you surprised at the level of the reviews you got for the show?
SHANKAR: No, because at the time, it was so different. I feel like the way video games, video game adaptations, and intellectual property were being approached was always, like, in one box. Then Castlevania was doing these other things, and I’m like, “Okay, I know this is going to work.” I was surprised as to how mainstream it became.
Sure. Was it always designed as a four-season show?
SHANKAR: Well, you know, there is fifth season.
There’s a spin-off thing now going on. Am I wrong about this?
SHANKAR: How do you define a spin-off versus a derivative versus a…
There’s also the element a lot of people don’t realize, that when you start a new title, there are new contracts. It’s a business thing, too.
SHANKAR: It is a business thing.
So, one of the things that I was surprised by is how much animation has become your thing. When did you realize or when did it happen, or did you all of a sudden awaken to the fact that, “Wait a minute, animation is the thing. I’m gonna be doing this?”
SHANKAR: So I moved out here to do animation. This was my goal. When I first moved to LA, this was around 2008/2009, I made an Excel spreadsheet of all the different brands I dug growing up, everything from fucking G.I. Joe to Voltron to just everything. And I was like, “Okay, what is the brand? Who owns it? Who’s optioned it? What’s going on?” Because my goal was to do hard R takes on these different brands, right? I’m like, “Let’s do hard R G.I. Joe, let’s do hard R Voltron.”
I even got a meeting with Marvel, believe it or not. This is before Disney acquired Marvel, so Marvel was an independent company. There was a guy named Eric Rollman who was doing their animated stuff, and they partnered with an Indian company called Tunes to make Wolverine and the X-Men that ran for, like, two seasons. I found out there was a weird contract thing coming up, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I can swoop in there and do Age of Apocalypse with X-Men.” And I went in, and I was pitching the Marvel people, and then they were like, “How old are you? Who are you? What is going on? How did you get in here?”
[Laughs] Exactly. “How did you get this meeting?”
SHANKAR: [Laughs] “How did you get this meeting?” It was kind of that, right? So this was always where I wanted to land, in animation. I didn’t want it to be my only thing, but I loved animation. Part of this is growing up in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia; adult animation is like a thing. It’s just a normal thing. It’s just a fact of life. No one goes, “adult animation.” They don’t even say animation sometimes.
I don’t think people in America fully understand how much animation and anime is a part of the rest of the world.
SHANKAR: Right, so I was confused. Then I came here, and then when I spent time in America in the ‘90s, I was obsessed with X-Men: The Animated Series and a variety of other American cartoons. Then, as you get a little older, they just disappear. You know what I’m saying? Like, you’re watching Saturday morning cartoons, you’re obsessed with them, you’re buying the toys, you’re obsessed with the commercials, and then all of a sudden, you reach a certain age, and then everyone is supposed to stop watching cartoons. I didn’t get it. I’m like, “Where did they go?” I was expecting them to age with me.
Not in America.
SHANKAR: No, no, it just stops. It just stops. Then, when you look at the X-Men: The Animated Series, they had very adult-oriented storylines. When you look at the pilot, “Night of the Sentinels,” freaking Morph dies. You get a main character dying in the pilot of a kids’ cartoon. So, it was already laying the foundation for what came next. So, to me, it was more like, “Why doesn’t this exist?” And then I happened to just show up, and now, as you said, I’m associated with adult animation.
This is something that I’m happy that this is being done. Let’s jump into Captain Laserhawk. How did you guys decide you wanted it to be six episodes for the first season, or was it story-based? Was it budget-based? How did that number come up?
SHANKAR: It’s a Netflix thing. They kind of just come, and they’re like, “The algorithm says six.” “I’ll take it!”
I will say, for a lot of shows now, it used to be 10, then it went to eight, and a lot are going to six, which is fine.
SHANKAR: Which is fine. Six is better than one. You get one episode, a pilot.
You essentially made, like, a little over a two-hour movie that’s in six parts. Essentially.
You are using a lot of Ubisoft characters in your show. Let’s talk about going to Ubisoft and pitching them on what you wanted to do because it’s the first time that they’ve agreed to do something R-rated with their characters.
SHANKAR: Well, I was already working with Ubisoft. They’d reached out to me after the Bootleg Universe fan films, and I had a working relationship with several of the executives there. Look, I just wrote this up and sent it to them, and they were like, “Yeah, this is great. Let’s do it.” It didn’t really require a whole lot of convincing. I think, if anything, there was convincing on the other side to me that this was real, you know what I’m saying?
[Laughs] Right. They’re saying yes, and you’re like, “I don’t understand.”
SHANKAR: Because for years, you know, any time I would have any sort of hit or even a single or a double, you end up getting studio meetings. You show up, and they’re like, “So what do you want to do? What do you want to do?” And I’m like, “So you have the rights to Waldo, right?” And they’re like, “Yeah, uh-huh…” and then they all get uncomfortable. They’re like, “What the fuck is he talking about? Waldo?” I’m like, “Okay, so imagine a hard R Where’s Waldo?. It’s like The Bourne Identity where, you know, he’s…” and you’re like, “Wow, this meeting just went fucking horribly,” like, “I should not have said that out loud.” So, I was used to a lot of those, right? That was kind of the rhythm, and I’d leave them like, “Why can’t you just pitch something normal?”
Well, the thing is, though, A. I don’t think it’s in your DNA to pitch something normal, B. it’s boring, C. that’s the vanilla ice cream that makes no one excited. You have to mix it with sprinkles. Anyway, I want to continue. One of the characters I couldn’t believe was in this was Rayman. I just was like, “Wait, what?” So, where did Rayman come from to put him in this series? Not his origin but the idea to make him an integral part of this show.
SHANKAR: When I first had the download about this show—because the show came to me, this world came to me—I had six images that popped in my head, and one of them was this iteration of Rayman that you see in the show. That was, like, one of the first images that flooded into me, and that was part of the pitch. It was like, “And in this world, Rayman is the spokesperson for this fascist, dystopian company that is also a nation.”
I watch a lot of TV and a lot of movies. Generally, I can picture where everything is going. One of the things I commend you on with this was it takes a lot of turns that I did not expect. Talk a little bit about that. There are constant left and right turns that the audience will not see coming. When you were coming up with it, were you like, “It has to take turns the audience does not expect?”
SHANKAR: So my process is more intuitive than it is logical if that makes sense. So, subconsciously, yes. 100%. I am going through that. I’m like, “I want to take twists and turns.” But that’s because I like it when shows do that. Like when I was younger, watching movies all day, I didn’t like the thing where all of a sudden, okay, after the first act, you know how this is gonna play out, right? There’s a blueprint, and we’re just going to follow the formula. I don’t like things that are formulaic, which I think intrinsically is why I was subverting IP with the fan films because there’s something about things that are formulaic that, I don’t know how to explain it, but it makes me really sad. I feel this, like, glimmer of hope die. This isn’t just with movies. Even with video games, right? So I loved the game Knights of the Old Republic, the Star Wars game. It’s a classic, I loved that game. But the moment I realized, “Oh, okay, now I get the formula. You’re going to go to another world, right? And then you’re gonna have to collect X, Y, and Z items, and then you’re gonna get back on the ship…” Once I can see the blueprint behind the project, I just get a little sad.
That’s one of the reasons why, to be honest, I don’t play many video games anymore. One of the reasons is that, for me, from the outside, they’re all exactly the same. I don’t wanna say they’re all the same because people are gonna come at me for that, but exactly what you said, it’s equip this equipment, go do this… It’s basically built on a structure that’s become very formulaic. The games that I’d be interested in are breaking the mold.
SHANKAR: Then especially when you look at TV and film, which this is such an old business, such an old industry. So when you look at a genre, like, what is a murder mystery, right? You have this deep reservoir of reference material on what a murder mystery is and what it should be. Then there’s audience expectation, and what I find is if you subvert audience expectation too much, there’s an element where it just doesn’t work.
Well, they ultimately want to be on the train that they’re expecting, but they are cool with the individual cars being radically different than what they were expecting.
SHANKAR: 1000%. So when you look at the movie that movie I produced, The Voices, Ryan Reynolds, Anna Kendrick, Marjane Satrapi, who ended up being a mentor of mine – I love Marjane…
Kind of talented.
SHANKAR: Very talented. That movie was doing too many different things, I would argue. Then it’s your train analogy. The audience is on one train, another train, another train…
Yeah, it’s also when a film or when anything tries to do too much in one thing. But moving past all that, I wanna get back to Captain Laserhawk. Specifically, I really enjoyed the aesthetic choices that were made in telling the story. There are moments where it goes 8-bit, there are moments where it’s animation that you might be expecting, there are other moments where it’s animation you’re not expecting. It changes very quickly. It’s never too long in one thing. Who came up with that idea to constantly tweak the aesthetic?
SHANKAR: So my last show, The Guardians of Justice, was that, as well. Every few seconds, we’re shifting different animation styles – live-action, claymation, pixel art, old-school South Park 2D cut-out stop-motion. So, I wanted to do that again with Captain Laserhawk, partially because I wanted Captain Laserhawk to not just be, “Oh, this is this new world, this new universe, and this dystopian satire,” but I also wanted it visually to be a love letter to video games and the advancement of video games.
But as for the actual choices that were made, like, “Okay, now this is gonna be not just pixel art, but now this is gonna be like an homage to platformers. This is gonna be an homage to Metal Gear Solid.” 100%, all those decisions were made by Bobbypills, the animation studio. In the original drafts of the script, we literally had it in, like, “Okay, Dolph goes for a punch, and then it turns into this style, and then you cut, and then there’s…” It was all baked into the script, and then they were like, “Look, dude, we get what you’re trying to do. We love it, but let us do it.” And I’m like, “I mean, yeah, you should absolutely do this.”
I’m curious, as a producer, does the aesthetic choice dictate a budgetary need? For example, if you’re doing 8-bit graphics versus doing typical animation, is there a difference in cost or such a difference in cost that you stylistically can only do certain choices for a finite amount of time?
SHANKAR: So for Guardians of Justice, for instance—and I can speak to that because we literally put every element together and were sourcing it from all over the world—you find that certain set pieces, let’s call them set pieces, you can convey a large-scale destruction in pixel art for a far cheaper price point than you could in, like, photorealistic CGI. I guess what I said was, like, super obvious. [Laughs] I could have given you a better example.
What I’m wondering is because in Captain Laserhawk, and maybe Bobbypills made more of the…
SHANKAR: No, because, here’s the thing, Bobbypills is an animation studio, right? So they’ve got a team of really talented artists from all over Europe who come in every day to work on Captain Laserhawk. So, for them, it’s more personnel allocation. So the cost of making an animated– I feel like I’ve gone off the rails in how I’m talking about this, but it’s different than when you’re doing a live-action project, and now you need to go find a vendor to deliver you an asset, right? So, when Marvel makes, like, Ant-Man, they’re then finding a VFX house to do the VFX shots.
No, I totally get it. Ultimately, though, no matter what you’re making, you have a budget. For example, I just spoke to Matt Shakman about the Monarch [Legacy of Monsters] show that’s Apple TV. I was asking him, I’m like, “Look, you can only have the big Godzilla shots in so many scenes because those sequences are very expensive…” In my opinion, you have to figure out where you want Godzilla to show up in those 10 episodes because you can only have them show up so many times. So with Captain Laserhawk, my question is, are there certain things that cost so much or cost a lot more that you’re allocating, “Okay, we can only do this type of animation for 30 minutes of the two hours?” Do you see what I mean?
SHANKAR: I do see what you mean.
I just took a long way to get there.
SHANKAR: No, no, no. It makes a lot of sense. It’s harder to describe in animation than it is in live-action because in live-action, it’s more obvious. You’re like, “Okay, these world-ending destruction shots, we get like one of those an episode.” In animation, and especially because Captain Laserhawk is, like, old-school, it’s hand-drawn animation, it’s not as obvious to explain because it’s drawn, you know what I mean?
No, totally. We can move on to the next thing. So, the full title is Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix. How much did you debate that title? I’m curious how the full title came to be. Who came up with it? Was it almost something else?
SHANKAR: So I came up with the title. If you go back to the original press on it, it was originally Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Vibe… but we landed on Blood Dragon Remix.
I was just curious. When you went to Ubisoft and Netflix, and they got involved, obviously, this is six episodes, how much did Netflix say, “Hey, we wanna make sure you have, like, a three-season plan if this were to be a hit,” or is it based on your track record already, and they’re like, “We trust you. Let’s just make this one season?”
SHANKAR: It wasn’t the first thing you described. It wasn’t like, “We need to know who the big bad is of Season 3.” It wasn’t your typical kind of TV speak. It was more, “Hey, we trust you.”
SHANKAR: But there was also an element of, “Hey, we trust you. We don’t fully get what you’re doing.” [Laughs] Does that make sense? It was like a little bit of skepticism. I’m not saying they weren’t supportive. I mean, dude, again, Netflix has been like the ultimate gift to me creatively in my creative process, and they’ve let me do things and get away with things, you know what I mean?
Listen, I really appreciate that Netflix is making animation like this and doing things that are not vanilla ice cream.
SHANKAR: Right. But I think there was so much of this show that was in my head that was super obvious to me.
[Laughs] But they had no idea.
SHANKAR: Not just they, but no one did. Does that make sense? Because the show, in a way, is so tonally specific. It’s such a specific show that when things are obvious to you, you don’t necessarily understand that other people may not have the reference point and they’re not seeing what you’re seeing, so it forces you to get really specific in your language.
Sure. How long did it actually take once Netflix said yes to it actually getting on the air? Was it three years? Was it two years? What was that number?
SHANKAR: So technically, they said yes in 2020. So technically, they said yes, like, right after the pandemic. But they also said yes before that. There was some process that had to happen, like, you know, deals had to be closed. So I didn’t take it seriously because the whole time with this project, I’m just like, “Yeah, okay…” I kept waiting for someone, like an adult, to show up and be like, “You, stop. Stop. You’re doing it again. This thing that you do, you create chaos, you’re doing it again.”
So they say yes, and you build the infrastructure. You work with other people, you get the show on the air, and you make the six episodes. Say people tune in. Maybe it’s possible you guys are working on other episodes that I don’t know about, but my question is if the show is a hit and Netflix says, “We want more,” how quickly can more episodes be made?
SHANKAR: Do you think the show will be a hit?
I can’t predict anything anymore.
I really don’t know because the thing with Netflix is I love them because they make so much, but sometimes it’s hard to find their content. So I just don’t know. Let’s use an example: Wes Anderson has four short films that just came out on Netflix. No one is talking about them. No one. And this is Wes Anderson with, like, four or five short films. So what do I know? I would recommend Captain Laserhawk, but I don’t know if I’m a crazy person
SHANKAR: Yeah. But you have always– I mean, I remember going karaoke singing with you, New York Comic-Con, the year was 2013 or 2014, and you turned to me, and you said, “This movie John Wick, it’s going to blow up. Have you seen it?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I met with Chad and Dave. I know them,” I’m like, “Yeah, it’ll do well. I mean, they’re talented action guys…” and you’re like, “No, no, no, no, no. This is going to redefine how action movies get made for the next 10 years.” You literally said that to me, right? And that’s one of a plethora of examples.
But you see here, here’s the thing: I am not an expert in anime and animation, so I do not have enough of a point of reference to know what people are clicking on. But I enjoyed the sh– I kept on wanting to watch and figure out, “Okay, where is this gonna go? What’s the next thing?” So it’s just a question of people actually pushing play. But I don’t know. Anyway, let’s get back to my question, though, because we’ve evaded…
SHANKAR: I mean, I was also trying to dodge your question. [Laughs]
I understand. So, if Netflix says, “Hey, the ratings are good, we want more,” how long does it take to get more episodes on the air?
SHANKAR: Like, 24 hours.
[Laughs] So you’re saying there are episodes that could be being worked on now? It’s possible?
SHANKAR: I can’t confirm nor deny. That may have been a joke. That probably was a joke. Again, this is me trying to dodge the question.
I completely understand. Look, the fact of the matter is that it does make sense for them to make more than six episodes at once because the cost would be cheaper to produce more at once.
SHANKAR: Economies of scale.
Exactly. One of the things I’m curious about is you basically have evil Power Rangers in Captain Laserhawk.
SHANKAR: Yes, completely. And I play one of them.
We’re about to get into that, but we could talk about it now. You are the red Power Ranger.
SHANKAR: I am the red Power Ranger, yes.
Let’s talk about why you decided to be the red one, maybe because he has the most lines, and where the idea for the evil Power Rangers came from.
SHANKAR: That’s such a loaded question because I’ve worked on Power Rangers before, in an unauthorized capacity. So, the Rainbow Six were originally in it. It was always like the Rainbow Six because i can also move his name to excerpt is a big Ubisoft property. Ubisoft actually has a lot of Tom Clancy-branded games. Yeah, actually, Alex Larsen and I—Alex Larsen is one of the writers on the show—we were talking one day, and this came about because me and him were riffing. That’s how it came about. We were riffing. He’s great because he was like, “Dude, this is a fun nod to your work on Power Rangers and the thing, and you clearly love this.” I wanted, like, Megazord and that kind of vibe in the show, and then it just fit perfectly.
What are you actually most excited for people to see in the show? I know it’s a generic question, but I’m sincere with it.
SHANKAR: In a way, it’s not just one thing because it’s what you were alluding to in the beginning; it’s all the twists and turns. Because I’ve spent the last 10 years really studying all the subgenres that we are either spoofing, satirizing, or riffing on. I mentioned this earlier before the interview started: I’ve been dealing with some crazy chronic illness issues that nearly killed me. So basically, I went from being this, like, super extroverted dude who was crushing it in the Hollywood ecosystem, and I got to go to cool events and cool parties to the point where I couldn’t leave my house because I was constantly overstimulated. I didn’t really understand what was going on and couldn’t articulate what was going on. So, I spent a lot of time really going, “Okay, what am I gonna do with this time now because I’m effectively agoraphobic?” And I just really studied genre, subgenre, writing, screenplays, and I did a deep dive on this stuff. So yeah, I think it’s the subverting of expectations is what I’m excited for people to watch.
I feel like people our age and younger watch a lot more things than people older than us because they have less access to stuff. Like, you go to the movies three or four times a year, you have a couple of DVDs that you watch and repeat and TV shows, and that’s it. I feel like people now have a more baseline understanding of the tropes. With the show, I really wanted it to feel like, “What does a prestige TV dystopian satire look like? Okay, now let’s do the wacky cartoon version of that.” You know what I’m saying? Because on some level, you could totally see The Man in a High Castle, like super serious, it’s supposed to be an hour long, but we’re actually gonna spend 75 minutes per episode, like, really dark HBO-style take of this world, right?
You could totally do it.
SHANKAR: Yeah, you could totally do it.
SHANKAR: But I wanted to take that and go 22 minutes in a wacky cartoon, and using that to kind of not necessarily subvert, subverts the wrong word, but I hope to broaden the message. Make it more accessible. Because I want to use the language of anime, animation, cartoons, and Saturday morning cartoons and just amalgamate all of it. The other thing that you will have noticed having watched the show is it’s not just that the show exists in multiple animation mediums, but even the characters within the show, they have different art styles.
Oh, absolutely, and that’s one of the things I dug about it is that everything’s unexpected as it goes.
SHANKAR: The reason the characters have different art styles is I really wanted this to feel like a crossover show, like these are characters from different worlds, and they’re coming together. So instead of having one consistent art style for the whole thing, when you look at a character like Bullfrog and then you compare them to Alex, they’re from different shows, different worlds, so to speak.
Oh, 100%. I definitely wanna talk about Devil May Cry. When can fans expect to perhaps see this on Netflix?
SHANKAR: It’s dropping tomorrow.
Devil May Cry?
I was gonna be like, “What? There’s no chance it’s true.”
SHANKAR: There’s no chance it’s true. Maybe next week.
So, being serious, it’s next year, maybe?
SHANKAR: It may be next year.
Okay, I’m not gonna get that information. Can you say how many episodes it is in the first season?
SHANKAR: Less than 20.
Got it. Another avoid. Good job. Where are you in the production of the show in terms of, like, was it a really early announcement by Netflix to show that little tease, or is it one of these things where you guys are into it?
SHANKAR: Emotionally? Emotionally, I’m into it.
As in the physical production of said TV show. [Laughs]
SHANKAR: Well, it’s animation, so we’re not actually physically making it. It’s, like, drawing.
How much are you allowed to not say about the show?
SHANKAR: I did get an email saying, “Hey, Adi, when you’re talking about Laserhawk, please don’t talk about Devil May Cry.”
Oh, should we for real avoid it?
SHANKAR: I think so. Although, I think this funny rift, I think it’s hilarious. We can keep this in, too. I did get an email. It didn’t get sent to me; it got sent to someone else, and then I got a call, actually, literally last night, saying, “Hey, chill on the DMC stuff.”
What’s funny is, what people might not realize is how much this is not like an isolated thing. I know a lot of people who I do interviews with, and they’ll tell me, “Hey, just to let you know, I really cannot talk about said project.” You know what I mean?
SHANKAR: I think it’s a good sign, though, when you get an email or people tell you not to talk about it. That’s a good sign versus, “Yeah, just say whatever you want.”
Well, one of the things about Netflix is they like to promote something when it’s about to come out. So Devil May Cry—and I really don’t know—if it’s, like, a year away, they don’t want people talking about it. They want people to know it’s coming. That’s about it.
SHANKAR: Yes. And I was there when that realization got made. I don’t mean with Devil May Cry, I mean just in general. Because I’ve been working with Netflix now basically since 2015. It was around 2017 when one of my favorite execs there was telling me exactly what you said. It’s like, “We wanna harness the power of the internet right before the show is coming out.”
I couldn’t tell you what Netflix has coming out next year, even though I know some of them, because they are so averse to pushing next year. It’s always about what’s right in front of you.
SHANKAR: Right. I feel like they understand internet culture better than maybe some of the legacy studios to that regard because I feel like some movies get spoiled because you see the trailer, and then you’re like, “Oh, now I know the whole movie.”
The trailer culture makes me insane because the problem, and I keep saying it, but I’ll just say it to you, is that movie trailers are designed for people who go to the movies like two times a year, and you’re trying to entice those people to why should this be the movie they go to see, so you give them a lot. It’s not designed for you and me, who watch trailers, because we will put the entire film together.
SHANKAR: Dude, you, like, dissect it. Yeah. Infinity War and Endgame did a great job of this because you have these trailers, and they were all misdirects.
Yeah, there was still footage in there…I say this to everyone: if you’re gonna go see a movie, then don’t watch the trailer because you’re gonna have a much better experience if you’ve not seen footage. The problem is it’s hard to not watch because you wanna see it. So, it’s like, avoid the drug. Anyway, let’s switch to something maybe you can talk about. What other things are you currently working on that you’re allowed to say, or are you working on a lot of things that you’re not allowed to talk about?
SHANKAR: I’m working on a lot of things that either I’m not allowed to talk about or there’s not context for me to talk about it. Does that make sense? Where, if I tell you, for instance, I’m creative directing a video game – it’s not an original game, it’s based on a gaming IP that everybody knows, so that’s cool.
How long have you been working on it?
SHANKAR: A year. Well, arguably longer.
So you’re putting your spin on the video game. Is it something that will be out next year?
It’s still far away?
SHANKAR: Yeah, video games are like a thing, man. It’s a process.
Well, it also depends on how big is the budget for the game because if it’s a small game, it could be a year or two, but if it’s a big game, I mean, that could be five years.
SHANKAR: Exactly. Bingo.
So we’re years away.
SHANKAR: Yeah. Also, dealing with the looming threat of, like, plugs can be pulled on things at any moment. Especially given that we’re in this financial meltdown that is happening within the apparatus that governs what gets made and what doesn’t get made.
Oh, I can name so many filmmakers I know who, a week before they were scheduled to shoot, financing pulled out.
SHANKAR: Right, or Sam Esmael, Mr. Robot dude. His Metropolis show, the plug got pulled on it after he’d been working on it for seven years. You’re like, “Dude, how do you recover from that emotionally?”
Or Guillermo [del Toro] with The Hobbit. Years.
SHANKAR: Right, but I feel like Guillermo is like a boss here, where he constantly has, like, seven people courting him.
Sure. I just did a long interview with him, and the problem is he worked on that Star Wars movie, and then it didn’t get made. He worked on At the Mountains of Madness with Tom Cruise, but it didn’t get made. I think he said he has 30 unproduced scripts out of the 12 that he’s made.
SHANKAR: I feel like Guillermo would like Captain Laserhawk.
Yes, I do think Guillermo would like Captain Laserhawk, but he also loves animation, so I think anything animation, but that’s a whole separate thing. So basically, you can’t really say other things you’re working on. Are you working on any other animated projects?
SHANKAR: Yes. I am working on other animated projects. That is correct.
Are they all at Netflix, or are they over at different places? And are there more than three?
SHANKAR: I’m being courted by other places, so that’s interesting.
That’s a nice feeling.
SHANKAR: It’s different…because there’s like a sadness to executives now in Hollywood. I’ve been doing this for a while. Post the streaming wars, the strikes, the Me Too movement, the economic shifts. It feels like there’s a lot of, one, job insecurity but also just like sadness within the ecosystem.
It’s a very unstable time.
SHANKAR: Right, it’s an unstable time. When I started in this business, everyone assumed that what they were doing was, or at least it felt that way, that what they were doing was the most important thing in the world, right? Like, “Oh my god, we’ve got this movie coming out. It is the most important thing. It’s gonna change the world.” And now it’s like, whatever that delusion was, I feel like it was helpful because it created an optimism within the apparatus and the ecosystem that is entertainment. That is gone. That is gone. It just feels like despair and sadness, and I’m not like that. I’m, like, happy and running around. I’m like, “Yeah, I got to make stuff!” But yeah, there is a sadness, and Netflix has been wonderful. I mean, this isn’t a Netflix thing because they’re in their own…
Sure. I know people that are making stuff at Netflix, and they’re also making stuff at Apple and other places exactly at the same time. You don’t have to have a marriage to just one company.
SHANKAR: Right. No, but I’m saying, Netflix has been, in the time that I’ve been working with them, very internationally minded. So, it’s not like an LA-based company.
No, listen, I mean, think about what they’ve done with South Korean content and blowing it out around the world. Also, I don’t think people realize, for example, with Captain Laserhawk, say it doesn’t do well in America, but it’s the number-one show in Asia; that’s enough to keep it on the air.
They have 84 countries.
SHANKAR: They’re programming for the world where it felt like, when I first moved here, movies were programming for Hollywood. You were trying to look cool in Hollywood.
That’s one of the reasons why any time I speak or read or see people talking about box office, if you’re not talking about the global numbers, or at least bringing it into the conversation…Say a movie makes $10 million in America, but it made $100 million globally, you need to tell the audience, “Well, it didn’t do well in America, but globally, it made $100 million.”
SHANKAR: Well, this is how I this is how I broke in, right? I was working in the international foreign sales distribution arm of the movie business, where you realize, like, “Oh…” It used to be that 90% of the revenue from a movie came from the US, then it became 30%, and 70% came from international. Obviously, there are exceptions, things like comedies, dramas, but the genre that I exist in—action movies, action thrillers, sci-fi—like, 70/30.
Sometimes it’s 90% America, 10% global, and sometimes it’s 10% America, 90% global. You have to think with the global audience, which is why it’s so important to always talk about global numbers. But on that note, I’m just gonna say, I really do hope sincerely that the show is a huge hit for you, and I’d love to see more stuff like this that is not vanilla ice cream.
SHANKAR: Thank you. I really appreciate that, man. I’m so grateful to Ubisoft because, in a way, I’ve glossed over this as we’ve been talking. I’m like, “Yeah, they said yes,” but it was more than just saying yes. It was like saying yes and then paving the road. Even a little thing, like when you go out to pitch the show, I go out, and I have network meetings, pitching it here, pitching it there. You’re with the head of the network, and they’re kinda like, “Come on, dude. They’re not gonna let you do this.” So one of the brothers that owns Ubisoft, Gérard [Guillemot], he actually came to the pitch meetings, which that was super meaningful. I don’t know, I just felt really– I was like, “Wow, I feel really supported. I feel really seen,” you know what I mean?
But also, I’m sure he’s very excited about what this could also do for some of the characters. They’re obviously very smart to think outside the box because, again, I keep on going back to vanilla ice cream, but I don’t wanna see vanilla ice cream. I wanna see stuff that’s different, and at least they’re smart enough to do something different.
SHANKAR: Yeah. Then obviously, I don’t know what vanilla ice cream looks like. I literally start at fucking an amalgamation of Rainbow… [Laughs]