Adi Shankar is a film producer best known for the movie Dredd and his “Bootleg Universe.” A series of short films that are darker unofficial takes on famous franchises. They include Power Rangers, James Bond, and Mr. Rogers. He is also the showrunner of Netflix’s Castlevania anime series. GQ magazine put Shankar on their 2014 list of “Most Influential Global Indian Men.”
Screen Rant: Adi! Welcome to New York Comic Con 2018.
Adi Shankar: Dude, it’s really good to see you again…It’s been awhile.
SR: So fun fact. You’re like one of my first interviews, like ever. And this was back in the day when I came over to your place in The Grove. And we just shot the s*** about wrestling…
Adi Shankar: I know. It was an interesting time and I feel like the internet wasn’t taken seriously back then in the way it is now. Right? I feel like now, kinda the old guard truly just like bowed down to it and a lot of them have just gone like, “I don’t get it. Never gonna get it.” Half of them have quit. Some of them have…
SR: Well that was until you broke the internet with a lot of your videos, because that Power Rangers film that you did. Whoooo boy! That definitely broke the internet.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, that was an interesting time. It was an interesting time in my life…
SR: Reflection…Yeah, so I gotta ask you. Castlevania man, that’s amazing. And I’m so happy that you picked up and started doing that property because I remember old Castlevania, and I’m sure that you remember it too, the…Nintendo…ahh…little cartoon they used to do…
Adi Shankar: Captain?
SR: Yes. Captain N, right?
Adi Shankar: Yeah!
SR: Captain N and Mega Man and all those guys.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, but Mega Man was green in Captain N. Yeah, he was like green.
SR: Now you pretty much put video game franchises, I think, in a cinematic form or even in television style form back on the map with Castlevania because it’s quite amazing. But I want to ask you about some other things like Witcher. Because I know that that’s now a thing and I know that video games have struggled to find their footing when it comes to big screen adaptations. Why do you think that is?
Adi Shankar: I mean there’s not really a blanket answer. I think that there’s a few factors at play, right? One is definitely like.. I mean for awhile there was a technological aspect to it, right? Until CGI got to a place where you can really like create these worlds. Let me put it to you this way. Infinity War is probably the best movie I’ve ever seen at this point.
SR: Really? Ever?
Adi Shankar: I can’t watch a movie more than twice. I mean if I loved a movie I’ve seen it twice.
Adi Shankar: There’s something about it just because you know it’s a story…I’m like “I’ve heard this story. I’ve seen this story…move on show me something else.” Infinity War I’ve seen it eleven times.
Adi Shankar: I mean I just keep watching it over and over and over again.
SR: And it’s not like it’s a short watch, it’s a pretty long movie.
Adi Shankar. Yeah, I love it! You know when Thor enters the battlefield, but it opens with Stormbreaker like decimating…there’s all these awesome moments. I think a big part of it is that that film would not have been possible without, not just the advent of CGI, but also where CGI is today due to all the advancements in it, right? Even the process of making films, it used to be more of a craft. Directors used to be more craftsmen. It was more of a physical activity. Live-action movies are starting to emulate Pixar movies in terms of their development process.
SR: That’s really interesting that you said that because I’ve been kind of noticing a small trend like that in Hollywood. One thing that I do have to ask, speaking of video game movies, Snowpiercer are you familiar with that?
Adi Shankar: I tried to get involved in Snowpiercer.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, so I was doing this movie back in the day called Corsica 72, a gangster movie set in Corsica, in the island of Corsica. I sent it…the script was written by the dudes that wrote the last Bond movies, [Neal] Purvis and [Robert] Wade. And I sent the script to Park Chan-Wook, who did Oldboy and all of those movies. And Park signed on and then the next thing I knew I spending some time in Korea and I got to know the Korean filmmakers and all of a sudden hear about this movie, Snowpiercer. And I’m like. “Dude this is awesome! This is Dredd on a train. This is exactly what I need to be doing!”
SR: That’s awesome.
Adi Shankar: Weird tangent.
SR: No hey, I would love to see your touch on it. You have your own Bootleg Universe, so maybe we can revisit that world sometime.
Adi Shankar: Absolutely. Yeah.
SR: I think you were going to say in the works. Hopefully. I was hoping and crossing my fingers that you were going to say was it’s in the works. Snowpiercer bootleg universe in the works. You are giving me a look right now…
Adi Shankar: I mean there’s a Snowpiercer TV show coming out…
SR: There is…The reason I brought that up though was because it’s like a side-scroller video game.
Adi Shankar: Absolutely!
SR: I’m not the first person to make that reference, it was Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] who actually is doing the Metal Gear Solid film. But it really is, because I think that a lot of video game movies can kind of learn from that. And I just want to talk about that because I heard that you have an opinion on Witcher that’s coming out I heard through the grapevine.
Adi Shankar: Oh, I’m super excited to see it. I’m super excited to see it you know? It’s an interesting world. You know what I find interesting about The Witcher is that it’s like based on books, but then these video games came out and are way more popular than the books. So, I wonder how the author emotionally feels about that you know what I mean? So it’s like, “Oh you did the novelization of these video games. How does that feel?” He’s like…Because you know that he has hears that all of the time. You know what I mean?
SR: And there has to be a lot of folks that think that it was a video game before it was a novelization, so yeah, I’m sure that that’s the case. I do have to ask you something because the bootleg universe gave me…the perfect Venom that I wanted to see. Venom just came out just the other day. You have the chance to see it yet?
Adi Shankar: No. I mean I haven’t. I started off just being like yourself a massive fan and somehow now have a career doing this stuff.
SR: A very successful one by the way.
Adi Shankar: And it’s weird like…I haven’t even seen The Punisher TV show.
SR: Oh really!?
Adi Shankar: No I haven’t seen that either. I have a really hard time. I don’t know what it is… It’s not like I have a beef or anything. I’m excited that these things exist. I’m excited that these things have fan bases. It really gives me a reference point to talk to people, right? But, like I’m happy that the iconography that you and I grew up loving is now mainstream and it’s not this, like, niche thing. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. For some reason, I don’t go see them. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.
SR: In Venom’s case you may have made a better choice on that one because I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. But you know, the Bootleg version of it…I wanted to that. I wanted to see that Eddie Brock. What you did with it was so brilliant to me. I mean I really really liked it.
Adi Shankar: …I try to work with collaborators on it. So on the Venom one, Joe Lynch. I try to work with people who are either fan’s of the property or fan’s of the genre that I’m trying to put the property in. Right? One or the other. So with the case of Punisher: Dirty Laundry, I always looked at The Punisher as a character that’s really…he’s a throwback to a Western. He’s like a guy from a Western who’s just being put in an urban setting. You know? In a city setting. But you look at the beats of the most cliched Western…You could see…Guy going into a new town, sees lawlessness. Okay, that’s how Dirty Laundry opens. Then he goes into the saloon to have a drink. That’s going to talk to Ron Perlman having the Yoo-hoo. And then he acts against…so it’s like…that team that I put together was people that weren’t necessarily Punisher fans, but these were like Western people. These were all people that would complain to me like, “You know what we need? We need a great Western.” And I’m like, “Absolutely. Let’s just set it in the city and call it The Punisher.”
SR: That’s interesting that you say that because I’ve noticed that a lot of superhero movies nowadays are kind of doing this thing where they’re kind of mashing up genres with the superhero genre. I mean we’re seeing it a lot lately. And I do want to ask you, back to Venom real quick. What are some of the essential ingredients that you think are necessary for creating a good Venom on screen? Because you did it well.
Adi Shankar: That’s a great question. I don’t think that you can necessarily tell a Venom story through Venom’s point of view. I think that’s red flag number one. He’s not really an anti-hero, right? We have lots of anti-heroes in comics. Punisher’s an anti-hero. At times Wolverine’s an anti-hero…Venom’s something completely different. So if you are trying to tell a story from his point of view, it’s not really going to work unless you are really doubling down on the fact that he’s an unreliable narrator.
SR: Sure. It’s very interesting that you said that because Todd MacFarlane was in here yesterday and pretty much said the same thing.
Adi Shankar: Really? Dope.
SR: Yeah. He said that there are a lot of anti-heroes out there, but he always created Venom to be a villain. And telling it from that point of view is a lot different. But he didn’t feel…like he should tell anybody what to do, but that was his opinion on it. So that was very interesting.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, you really just need Adi Shankar to Kevin Feige the shit out of the Spider-Verse.
SR: I’m on board with that. If you wanted to take a crack at any of those Spider characters in MCU, who would they be?
Adi Shankar: I mean all of them! I would Kevin Feige the shit out of that. I would be literally be competing head on with the MCU.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, I go big.
SR: Sony, Avi Arad, you heard it here first. Get them on board man. I would love to see what you can do with Kraven the Hunter. You know what I mean?
Adi Shankar: All of them. I mean Kraven is a great character. I mean, Spider-Man has the best rogue’s gallery.
SR: Rivaled by Batman, but I do agree with you.
Adi Shankar: So…I heard that there is a Morbius movie in the works, right?
SR: There is.
Adi Shankar: Then you gotta go to Marvel, or gotta go to Disney and make a deal, you know? Make a deal to be able to use Blade. Because you can’t do Morbius without Blade yo.
SR: I agree with you 100%. I think that a lot of people felt the same way about Eddie Brock and Peter Parker, using Spider-Man…
Adi Shankar: And it didn’t need to be an origin story, I mean now thinking about it. I mean I know nothing. I haven’t watched the film. I try to avoid all the stuff now. But now that I’m thinking about it, it actually seems pretty irrational to me that you would do a Venom origin story because his origin is actually not interesting at all. His origin is so defined by his loathing for Spider-Man, so it’s almost like you have to jump and ignore the origin and just you know have Venom exist and have Miles Morales exist. You know put him in the Miles Morales universe. Or, I mean Eddie Brock is Venom. I mean there’s Agent Venom and stuff, but maybe for another generation that’s a thing. This is another situation where I’m just going to be like dropping ideas and then like five years later it’s going to be like, oh all the things you were talking about five years ago or short films you made are like movies.
SR: Yeah, I mean give us the Curt Conners, pre-Lizard before he becomes the Lizard story I think that could be an interesting story too.
Adi Shankar: I mean the symbiote, the symbiote’s a weird one. It’s like…Venom in a lot of ways, once you remove Spider-Man and Carnage from the equation. He’s unfairly overpowered. He’s literally unfairly overpowered, right? So, you need someone that can stand up to him. Like an Captain America or something right where you can…
SR: Somebody that’s a formidable foe.
Adi Shankar: Right. Otherwise he’s just overpowered. Or put him in a detective story where you know, Eddie Brock has to rescue some children. And yeah the fact that he got these Venom powers is great, but his investigative journalism background is more helpful. Again I’m just riffing, I don’t really think about Venom. I try to not think about Marvel.
SR: You should be on Sony’s radar for a lot of these films, because I did see you very briefly at Morphicon. You’re Power Rangers was amazing. I really liked it. I’m a big fan of it. Saban on the other hand…but you know what, you broke the internet with that. I do have to ask you, did you see the 2017 movie?
Adi Shankar: Yeah.
SR: What did you think?
Adi Shankar: It just wasn’t…How do I say this? I don’t want to be that guy that shows up and starts trashing other people’s things. Because it’s just so, so, so tough to make anything. And so many man hours and women hours go into these…it’s tough. It’s like a back breaking process. I literally have like premature, you know grey hairs because of some of the stress that I’ve gone through and you know living the life of an artist. That film wasn’t for me. But that said, I don’t think I or you were the intended audience. It was made for kids. It was meant to reintroduce Power Rangers to a whole new generation, right? Which to me didn’t really make sense because everyone knows about Power Rangers. It is kind of one of those ubiquitous things, even if it’s the butt of a joke.
SR: It’s a pop culture thing at this point. I mean there’s a reason why it’s been on 25 years.
Adi Shankar: So you know I think, again origin…mistake. Right? It’s a mistake. It was cut, copy, pasted, pieces of other things that we had seen before. Right? And then the iconography that we’ve all come to know and love even though it is viewed through…even though I know that there’s people that think it’s corny and stuff. It’s still iconography. Don’t change the f***ing iconography. I don’t know if I can swear, but don’t change the iconography.
SR: You can.
Adi Shankar: And again it didn’t need to be Pacific Rim. It didn’t need to be like giant Zord battles. It’s almost like a bunch of executives got in a room and got together and said, “Oh teenagers with attitudes. Got it. We’re going to make an emo teenagers, with real teenager problems.” But the reality is like, one. those aren’t real teenager problems…of today and two, that line was always a misnomer. They weren’t teenagers with attitudes. They were teenagers that did really good in school, were wonderful members of their community, and did karate in their free time…the only guy that had attitude was Tommy and that was because he had a candle that was burning out his powers and he was justified. So the little tinge of attitude comes from Tommy and that’s not really attitude. You throw Tommy in the MCU and he’s like a boy scout.
SR: Yeah he’s the nice guy. He’s like Captain America Jr. If you had your crack at following up the sequel though, what would you want? Let’s freestyle a little bit about that..
Adi Shankar: Of a movie? Does it have to be live-action?
SR: No. I mean I’ll be honest with you, now that it’s in the hands of Hasbro. I don’t know why there isn’t a live action… I mean I saw what you did with Dredd…
Adi Shankar: Okay so, what I would do… You know I think Kyle Higgins has done a wonderful job with the Shattered Grid, so I would really just lean into that aspect of it…let’s just say it has to be a sequel.
SR: Let’s hear your version. I like this little pitch idea.
Adi Shankar: Yeah do that for fun and it ends up becoming a thing…
SR: And then you’re going to get all the tweets being like, “Can you just make this real quick?”
Adi Shankar: Yeah so I would lean into the Shattered Grid, open up the idea of the multiverse, Rangers from across dimensions. The multiverse right? But I think there’s a really amazing opportunity here where we never really explored where the Zords came from. Right? …So what if the Zords are really are from another planet and they come from one planet and that planet’s called Cybertron. And they’re really just like these devices where…you know how the robots in Transformers are basically sentient? What if they’re really just humans who took their minds and put it in the Cloud but the Cloud was a robot, so they’re basically like cocoons for humans to transfer their consciousness into. And these are early, so basically the Zords are basically the Dinobots and they’re just early Transformers before the consciousness, so they’re really vessels for the Power Rangers to upload their consciousness into. I’m leaning too heavily into the consciousness thing because I don’t know if that makes sense, but it makes sense to me…And then you set up the idea like, Godzilla happened and the world has to defend itself against one guy…Take Pacific Rim. people freak out about this stuff. And you can kind of lean into this idea that’s there’s this private military force that’s been constructed to take this out, called G.I. Joe. But they are really like WTF, we can’t fight these giant monsters that keep appearing, we don’t know where they are coming from. Oh by the way there are these kids…it’s almost like that Ultimate Spider-Man thing where Peter Parker had these powers but Nick Fury is like “hey we’re tracking you.”
SR: I think the Light Speed version of Power Rangers, which is like their first responders, I think that would fit perfectly with the G.I. Joe universe.
Adi Shankar: Absolutely.
SR: I think you just created the Allspark for the Hasbro universe, see what we did there? That’s actually a really good idea. I feel like that’s something that you should have a meeting about, with somebody not just a guy interviewing you but an actual meeting with somebody. Is it something that you have had a meeting about with somebody?
Adi Shankar: Ahh, I did get emails from Hasbro, yes I can say that.
Adi Shankar: Yeah I talked to Hasbro. But I don’t want to start any like weird rumor or anything.
SR: Rumors are started…
Adi Shankar: Yeah there’s always rumors about me. I’ve said this a few times in the past and I feel like it’s gotten misinterpreted as maybe me being ungrateful or looking down and I’m not. You know I’ve seen what Hollywood has done to a lot of people significantly older than me. I was able to break in at a super young age. A lot of the things we are talking about happened before I was even 30 and I wasn’t in a place that I could mentally handle the pressures of these big studio, corporate jobs, because they become jobs at a certain point. Right? And I kept saying, “I don’t want to sell out.” Really what I was saying is “I can’t handle this. This is really crazy there’s a lot of politics going on. I know how to express myself and make my own thing.” And that’s why Netflix has been such a great partner. Because you know Castlevania, they gave us complete, 100% autonomy.
SR: I was actually gonna ask about that, about the relationship with Netflix and how much leeway you have with Castlevania?
Adi Shankar: 100%. It’s completely autonomous. I mean they tweeted at me after the Power Rangers short came out. I went in for a meeting and they were like whatever you want to do, blank check. I’m like that’s crazy. But what’s been dope is Kanye West reached out to me earlier in the year, like top of the year and he’s been kind of mentoring me through some of this.
Adi Shankar: Which has been really wonderful, because I haven’t had like an adult in my life who is a successful artist who also navigates the suits and the business people on a very high level. I didn’t know who to like ask or who to talk to when these things were happening. Every time you drop something or a show comes out and it goes viral people are talking about it. Your phone starts ringing, people start calling you in for meetings and it’s kind of intimidating. Right? Because you are like dude, “I’m still a kid.”
SR: Which I’m sure he was too when he experienced a lot of the same things early in his career.
Adi Shankar: Yes. It’s been very, very great…In a lot of ways, he’s almost given me a blueprint in the sense that…you know his company Yeezy, they’re in fashion, it’s not like Air Jordans where Nike licensed Michael Jordan’s name. He’s actually designing shoes. He’s in so many different sectors that we don’t even know about. I mean he’s not a rapper. He’s a very successful rapper. But he’s not just a rapper. He’s kind of like Howard Hughes…He’s a lot like Howard Hughes. You know. Yeah and I mean that in the best way possible. Again having that example, just having that example of how to do things, how to navigate some of this has just been wonderful. And it’s prepared me…very well.
SR: That’s awesome. That’s great. I had no idea about that.
Adi Shankar: I don’t really talk about it because…I didn’t need him to like, ya know, make me famous or something. That wasn’t the thing. It was more like I felt like maybe I was drowning because I was…I kept getting these opportunities and maybe didn’t necessarily know how to navigate them because it’s really fucking complicated.
SR: So it’s more guidance than anything else it seems like?
Adi Shankar: Yeah. It’s guidance, it’s also having a good example, a good role model. I’m a complete outsider to Hollywood. I’m an outsider to America. I immigrated here myself when I was sixteen. The first image I saw two days after I landed here was 911, Osama Bin Laden on the TV screen being like…and people being like “Fuck that guy.” And no one said this to me necessarily, but I all of sudden went like, “Oh man I kinda look like that guy.” And it immediately made me withdrawn and then I finished off my last two years of high school, I went to college and then immediately when I was in college like my winter quarter, end of winter quarter going into my spring quarter I was misdiagnosed with cancer. And I had all of this trauma from these things and that’s why I had…my response to this wasn’t to go deal with it. It wasn’t to talk to a therapist. It was to start creating stuff. To start doing stuff. And I felt like this quarter-life, mid-life crisis almost, you know where you are staring death in the face. I felt that at 18. I constantly felt like I was running out of time. I had to do everything possible before it was too late. I think the last year and a half has been the first time the I’ve really been able to just pull back and go, “Why do you do the things that you do? You know? How can you actually leave a positive impact on the world?” You know? Using the talents that I have because, you know for awhile I didn’t necessarily even realize that I had talents.
SR: Well you definitely have talents and you are putting them to good use and I’m happy to hear that you have guidance and somebody with experience similar to what you had. That’s very cool actually.
Adi Shankar: Yeah, it’s been…it’s really…it feels like a blessing and it was weird. It was in that school I went to…so I was out of school so I transferred to a new school in order to move to America. In order to be able to, I don’t know, be a part of this…to be a part of this wonderful country. Which is free and open. It’s like an open thing of ideas and I realized even as a kid, I was like if I move there I get to be creative. But I didn’t have the greatest experience at the school because I show up, I’m pretty much the only brown kid there and then 911 happened. A lot of it was in my head, but still as a kid you process things differently. But what was really nuts was that on the same day…I got an email from that high school that I have no contact with…I got an email saying your, “Hey, your 15th year reunion is this year. Are you coming because we’d like to have you speak to some of the students there.” And then Kanye called me. Literally the same day and I’m like, “Wow. This is really crazy.” I mean it was a blessing… It’s like you’ve been through this journey and you’ve been through some stuff and now you’re coming out of it.
SR: Yeah I’m happy that you’re on the right side of that. That’s amazing. They want me to wrap it up but I do have to ask one final question which we kinda touched on a little bit here. Because I would love to continue on this conversation hopefully in L.A. We can set something up. So confirm or deny, there has at least been talks with Hasbro and you…for something?
Adi Shankar: I can confirm that I have emails from Hasbro…about something.
SR: I guess that’s good enough for me. I’m excited to see everything that you do because you do it at a high level. You are doing a great job and you are paying a lot of service to me as a fan, but also doing it in such a creative way, which I latch onto man. And you have this great energy about you ever since I met you. I actually want to thank you, because if it wasn’t for you I probably wouldn’t even be sitting here.
Adi Shankar: Dude, you are a wonderful, wonderful interviewer.
SR: I’m over it about now.
Adi Shankar: No because you are really good at…you actually listen, right? You like listen to what the person is saying. You respond. And you’re actually processing like I can see you processing what I’m saying and it’s not just jumping to the next question… It’s great to have a conversation. I literally just deep dived into like crazy…how I had cancer and how people thought I was Osama Bin Laden. Like you know what I mean? You got that out of me and wouldn’t have just shared that with anyone.
SR: I’m happy that you did. And believe me and there’s many follow ups that I would like to do with mainly because, honestly I just like to pick your brain. I mean remember…we didn’t even touch wrestling, but even with that level that we both had a fondness for. But man I can’t wait to see you again back in L.A. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Adi Shankar: Dude, thank you for having me man.