You can read part 1 of this look back at Dragon Sukuro-ru (2009-10) here.
The plot was also a source of many of the problems with how things went down. The Dragon Scrolls themselves were never properly explained, nor why they were so important. The opening voice over in Episode 1 basically tells you all you’ll find out about the scrolls, instead of explaining them properly, which once again should have been done in Episode 1. Scrapping the entire script and starting from scratch may have alleviated this. The overall story wasn’t bad, but there needed to be a clearer sense of why things happened the way the did in the first episode, and not leaving the audience to guess who the hell was who and what the hell they were doing. Even if the Producer and Executive Producer went with it, it was my responsibility as the Director and Writer to notice this and take action. Once the show was pared down to 3 episodes, the script should have been written from scratch rather than keeping the framework of the original 16 episode script, even if that meant losing some actors or having to change the fight choreography.
What’s the overall theme?
That’s a question you’ll not see in the first episode, nor in the other two scripts. There was not overarching theme. Was it Revenge? Redemption? Greed? Who knows? What would the heroes have learned to better themselves? Was the lesson one of Lao Feng’s flaws? A theme would have helped me guide the characters and story. Let’s take Batman Begins as an example. The theme of that film was fear. Bruce Wayne’s fear. Gotham City’s fear of the underworld. The Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Gul using fear as a weapon, and Batman doing the same. It gave a focus to the story and Bruce Wayne amid all of the action. The audience understood what the theme ultimately was: conquering your fear. Bruce did it by dressing as the thing he feared most: bats. Had Dragon Sukuro-ru had an overall theme, it would have focused the characters and plot. That would have made the entire production that much better and faster to produce.
Damn Mike, are you looking for Peter Jackson to produce this?!
The first draft of the script damn near had a cast of hundreds and spanned half the damn planet. Now as Austin Texas is one of the coolest cities on earth, you won’t find locations that can stand in for China, Japan, Korea, and California. Really. I aimed for the moon with a peashooter. I should have taken a more realistic look at the funds and casting and locations available and let that enter my thinking as I wrote the script, but I did not. I went with the attitude that “we’ll figure it out.” Even when the script scaled down I didn’t scale down the ambition, and kept far too many characters involved, even after removing entire story lines. Silly Mike, epics are for kids (kids named Peter Jackson, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg.)
Rounding Up the Troops
Directing was a much harder chore than I thought it would be, not to say I thought it would be easy, but there are certain skills that need to be developed to do it successfully, and the first would be trying to navigate the crew, actors, and locations and trying to get everything and everyone on the same page. When the show first started, myself, the producer, and the cameraman were in lockstep with what we wanted to to, but as things changed, and the series pared down, we sometimes were at odds on the changes that needed to be made. I agreed with many of them, and disagreed with others, but I was so overwhelmed with trying to wear so many hats (writer, director, location scout, Production Assistant, props man, etc. ) that I didn’t jump on the table for what I thought was the right way to go. Of course there is no way to know if I was right, but the point is I didn’t speak up. The speaking up part also hurt me in regards to the actors. Because many of them were working for free on this, I found it hard to instruct them on what I needed, or I wasn’t able to communicate my vision properly. This placed them in an awkward position many times.
A Punch is Just a Punch, and a Kick is Just a Kick
We had started the practices for the fights nearly a year before we started shooting. Some of that is because we had to make so many changes, and we had different cast members leave for various reasons, and I also was in Jackie Chan mode, trying to perfect the fights the way he does, which he sometimes takes a few months, which is fine… when you pay the stunt team. We also had actors who didn’t know martial arts and had to be taught by some of the other stuntmen, which took up even more time (as good as they were, we should have made sure the actors we used already knew martial arts if their part called for it, which would’ve saved a bunch of time. The actual fights, as you can see, went on for far too long, and took too much away from the story. 9 minute fights are just too long, no matter how well choreographed it is. I should have fixed this in editing, but didn’t. I was too in love with what I saw. Just like with writing, a director has to be dispassionate in regards to their own story to do what is best for the film itself. If something ruins the pacing, then it’s gotta go, no matter how great the director may think the scene or fight is.
The World Still Turns Like a Tornado Kick
Despite the things that went wrong, there were some things that went very right, and I still had a blast making the film, and am preparing to take the lessons I learned and try again, this fall in fact. I was able to meet a fantastic group of people, all of whom kicked ass, especially Cry Havoc Choreography, a group of Austin stuntmen who really know their stuff. The show was able to get the filmmaking bug planted in me, and I have since returned to college to get a degree in film. I also met my current Choy Lay Fut sifu Santanu Rahman because of the show, and that has been a great change for my life.
So there we have it. A LOT of lessons learned for the future as I plan another production. Thanks for indulging me! I’ll keep you all updated as things get going. Thanks for reading! Now back to the reviews! Choi Lee Fut and The Expendables 1 and 2 coming this week!