Fan Films@24 Panels: Interview with Shawn Baichoo of PUNISHER: NO MERCY

Punisher-No-Mercy-Promo

The Punisher: No Mercy is an original short fan film based on the character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr, and Ross Andru. The fan film stars Shawn Baichoo (Assassin’s Creed series, Deus Ex), Amber Goldfarb (Assassin’s Creed: Liberation), James Malloch and Giancarlo Caltabiano and is written by Davila LeBlanc and Shawn Baichoo, and directed by Jason Ambrus.

Kombat Krew Films claim they are a “part of a new breed of fan films currently changing the face of independent fan cinema, combining hardcore comic book enthusiasm with professional filmmaking know-how.”

The following is an interview with Shawn Baichoo.

Nuno Xei: It may seem like a strange way to start this interview, but I have to ask… Why a bald Punisher?

Shawn Baichoo: Ah, one of the most popular questions. You know, to be honest, when we first started shooting this, I really didn’t think it would be an issue. I figured people would be aware that it was a fan-film, and as such, it would have constraints for casting, budget, effects, etc. Some differences are to be expected. There’s no way we could have made everything perfect, so we chose to focus on the bits that really mattered. And though it does come up fairly often, almost everyone who likes the movie doesn’t care, as that minor detail is eclipsed by the story, acting, pacing, fighting, dialogue, etc.

The biggest (and simplest) reason why my Punisher is bald is because I’M bald. That’s it. I started shaving my head years ago, and I liked the look. When it came time to shoot the film, I thought it was rather fitting. Frank is a military man through and through. Why wouldn’t he have a shaved head? His having no hair has no bearing whatsoever on the character or story, so I figured it wouldn’t matter.

Nuno: Of course! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking as a defensive comic fanboy, who expects everything on paper to be preserved on film, I ask because I love discovering details behind something’s subtext or concept.

Shawn: I realize that some fans only want THEIR exact vision of their favourite characters on screen, something that usually matches perfectly with what they’re used to seeing in their favourite comics. But this is not realistic. Comics, by their vary nature, are not based on any kind of human standard. Frank in the comics is 6’1 and 200lbs, or oftentimes portrayed as even bigger (and don’t even get me started on the portrayal of women). There’s no way we could find someone who had ALL the physical attributes AND the required skills (acting, fighting,etc), in Montreal (where we shot), and for free (!). And I wasn’t about to sacrifice what really mattered for the sake of giving the guy a head of hair.

Nuno: A wig option never came up then, huh?

Shawn: We didn’t even consider a wig, because I know I’d look stupid in one, and I find myself far more intimidating with a shaved-head look. Isn’t that the point of the Punisher, anyway? To be intimidating? His hairstyle never helped him kill anyone. 🙂

Nuno: And what you were left with was a representation of Frank Castle as this angular-faced, pale-skinned–err–I’ll just say it, “skull-faced” badass.

Shawn: We realized that with my angular face, the scarring, the bruising and my performance, a really intense Frank Castle emerged. I find we nailed the essence of the character in both look and feel. To me Frank’s not a person — he’s a force of nature, a herald of Death. He’s more of a symbol than anything else. He’s not supposed to be relatable in a human way. He’s a concept. The giant skull on his chest represents that. In my opinion, as long as that is respected, the rest is optional.

Nuno: Hell, Hugh Jackman is what, over 6-feet? Wolverine is described in multiple resources as barely breaking 5-feet. Earlier on in Marvel, Nick Fury was an old grizzled white man, but Samuel Jackson not only directly influenced the comic appearance of the Ultimates version of Nick Fury, it’s now the Marvel proper Nick Fury (Jr). And now there’s Jamie Foxx as Electro in Amazing Spider-Man. Perry White in Man of Steel. Anyways, I can go on a crazy tangent on this topic alone, so I’ll reign the A.D.D. in right now!

What’s your favourite Punisher storyline and/or writer? Which do you feel influenced your version the most?

Shawn: Without a doubt, it was Garth Ennis’ 60 issue run on the Punisher Max series that made me a huge Punisher fan. It was the first serious take I had ever seen on him, and it was perfect. I loved how he was old, ugly, grizzled and scarred. No silly gimmicks or sidekicks, just the neverending war on crime and his unwavering commitment to it.

Though the script for our film is an original one, Ennis’ style and characterization were a huge influence on it. So was Tim Bradstreet’s (cover artist for the series) incredible artwork. It influenced our lighting, and our casting (for me as The Punisher — Bradstreet draws a much more ‘realistic’ [and thus accessible] – Punisher). My favourite issue has to be “The Slavers” from that series.

Nuno: I saw a filmed interview online of you quoting one of the lines from a Punisher comic. What was the motivation for constructing your short film on the power of that specific quote?

Shawn: It all started with “Welcome Back, Frank” which, though it was not part of the Max series, was still the beginning of Ennis’ take on the character. It was campier and sillier than the Max stuff to come, but it’s still vintage Ennis. That’s where my favourite quote comes from:

“The first thing they do is freeze. Like always. So number one’s a freebie. Then they wake up. Freak out. For the rest I pay full price.”

I always thought that quote encapsulated the Punisher in a nutshell, as he reduces something as significant as murdering a half-dozen mafiosi down to a cold, calculating mix of tactics and psychology. So we built the film around that concept, a “day in the life of Frank” so to speak as he prepares his plan, executes it with cold precision, deals with unforeseen complications (Elektra), and then leaves.

The narration lends itself really well to that too, because I find spoken dialogue gets much trickier to pull off when you do live action. It’s easier to stay closer to the comics that way.

Nuno: My memory of the first Dolph Lundgren Punisher is so faint it’s mostly nonexistent. I, for one, actually enjoyed Thomas Jane’s Punisher and was ecstatic at the Dirty Laundry fan film iteration. Finally, War Zone was never watched because of the terrible reviews that blew up after open weekend. It was demoralizing. What are you opinions of the previous Punisher films?

Shawn: Like you, I don’t remember the Lundgren one — it was too long ago. But I would certainly be curious to see it again, especially in light of all the Punisher movies and fan films that have cropped up since. And I get the feeling that some of it, at least, would probably be truer to the character than some of the more recent attempts at bringing Frank to the big screen.

I think Thomas Jane is the best casting of Frank we’ve seen to date, and he’s a fine actor. I just don’t think he’s ever been used to his full potential, being the victim of bad directing and, especially, a weak script. His fan film is definitely the closest we’ve come so far, being really nicely shot, great production values, and I enjoyed the fight scene at the end. But that said, I didn’t feel that it was quite true to the character of Frank Castle. The Punisher doesn’t quit. He doesn’t give up. Ever. In my opinion, he would never stand by while kids were being beaten and women being abused. I want to see a gritty, determined, ruthless, cold, effective Punisher, someone who doesn’t have to get his ass kicked for 45 minutes just so we can root for him at the end of the film when he eventually wins.

As for War Zone… not to disrespect all the hard work that was put into it by the cast and crew (it was shot here in Montreal, and I know some of the actors who were in it), but it was a bit of a mess. It went the camp route, which I found didn’t work well at all for The Punisher.

So the common thread here, in all the films I’ve seen to date, is that the core — the essence — of the Punisher and his stories hasn’t really ever been captured, I find. So that’s why I made my fan-film. To see if I could capture it instead of complaining about it all the time. And I think our team did.

Nuno: Tell us more about the Kombat Krew! How long has it been in operation? What are some projects your group has worked on? Did I hear correctly (or read elsewhere) that Punisher: No Mercy pretty much started as a project of love so that Kombat Krew could highlight their love for stage combat?

Shawn: The Kombat Krew has been around for about 3 years. It’s a collection of actors and stage combat enthusiasts, comprised of friends, colleagues and former students of mine (I teach stage combat in Montreal). We started training together up on the mountain (Mont-Royal in Montreal) every Sunday during the summer, and eventually I put together a 6-person, 3 vs. 3 fight involving the group. It was a fun project to work on, and we decided to film it for our archives. But then a whole bunch of people got involved (because they thought it was a really cool project) and it turned into a short film instead. You can see it here:

It wasn’t initially planned as a film, but we were so happy with the results that we decided to make another one — which eventually turned out to be The Punisher: No Mercy — but wanted to approach it like a real film production instead. That meant an actual script, location, pre-production, etc. The idea always was to showcase our combat skills and our love of choreography, and we thought PNM was the perfect way of combining all the things we wanted to explore.

Nuno: Any other projects planned for the future? Will your No Mercy Punisher ever make a return to the fan film circuit in the future?

Shawn: No Mercy took almost two years to complete, and though it was immensely rewarding, it was also a LOT of work. I’d love to do more, but my approach would have to be different. For starters, we’d need more money. Everyone who worked on this did so for free, and gave 110%. I could never ask that again of the people I worked with. I respect them and their time too much. BUT if we had some measure of crowd funding, I think it would certainly be possible.

No Mercy was actually written with a prequel in mind, which covers Elektra’s encounter with the goons sent by Rizzo to double-cross her. If you notice in the film, when she shows up, she’s already slightly bruised, and she only has one sai. There’s a reason for that…

Dav (the co-writer) and I also talked about a sequel, one that would see a Punisher/Elektra team-up, as they face-off against another Marvel character, this time a villain. I won’t give it away outright, but let’s just say he’s got really good aim… 🙂 This, again, would depend on fan reaction and demand, and the availability of funds. But I’m certainly open to the possibility of more.

No Mercy was our first serious attempt at a film, and I think we did pretty well. Fan reaction so far has been staggeringly positive, much more so than I expected. So that’s really encouraging.

Nuno: On behalf of 24 Panels Per Second, I’d like to thank you for your time! It was wonderful to hear some behind the scenes thoughts on Punisher: No Mercy and I look forward to seeing future work come for you and your colleagues!

Shawn: Thanks for the great interview!

NunoXEI

Nuno XEI is a programmer and designer by day; artist and writer by night. Always entertained by his overtly energetic pug, Mogwai, and forever distracted by ideas and projects, it's a wonder anything productive actually gets done at all. Currently, the biggest project being worked on is a 272-page comic project called "Raven Nevermore" and an 88-page graphic novel called "Koroo, the Black Lion" for his small press, XEI.IO.

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