The Mortal Kombat franchise has had its ups and downs over the years — it’s had wildly popular video games but less wildly popular feature films. But this spring, two new high-profile launches are joining the series’s mythos: a new edition of the video game and an an original web series, each produced by different divisions of Warner Bros. Mortal Kombat‘s adaptation into a web series, though, is less a story of corporate synergy and more a tale of happenstance. Here’s what happened:
For Kevin Tancharoen, to be 26 years old and have already directed a studio picture wasn’t too bad. But the film he had just directed was the 2009 remake of Fame, and the bulk of film credits on his resume were from the world of dance and choreography. Unfortunately, that isn’t terribly useful if you want to direct harder action and sci-fi, which Tancharoen did.
So, wanting to show Hollywood that his talents were more diverse, Tancharoen took $7,500, and (with no studio involvement whatsoever) made Mortal Kombat Rebirth, a seven-minute short film starring Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan. Tancharoen, a long-time Mortal Kombat fan, wanted to create his own take on the franchise, grounding the more fantastical elements of the world in reality and giving the world a gritty, almost noir-esque feel. The result is not just a demonstration of Tancharoen’s ability to direct martial arts action, but a full-on unsolicited proof of concept for a new Mortal Kombat film.
The short was never intended to have life on the web, Tancharoen told us in a phone interview, but that changed when he uploaded the video to YouTube to show some friends, and it was found by the general public. The Mortal Kombat: Rebirth YouTube channel is no longer online (YouTube says that it is “is no longer available because the user closed their account”), but that initial posting received almost a million views in less than 24 hours, eventually reaching more than seven million views.
But while fans clamored for Rebirth to become a legitimate part of the Mortal Kombat franchise, when Tancharoen was brought in to meet with the folks at Warner Bros., Mortal Kombat wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, Tancharoen was being considered as a potential director on Aim High, a teenage assassin series WB was producing in partnership with McG’s Wonderland.
However, according to Lance Sloane, the head of digital productions for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, midway through that meeting Kombat came up, and soon they were walking across the hall to ask Kevin Tsujihara, President of the WB Home Entertainment Group, what he thought about it. Once Warner Bros. was on board, the only real hurdle was getting Kombat creator Ed Boon to sign off on Tancharoen’s vision, which Sloane said was easy thanks to Tancharoen’s passion for the franchise. “[Boon] fell in love with [Kevin],” he said. “He totally got into it.”
The 10-episode series, with Ryan and White repeating their roles as Sonya Blade and Jax, is now in post-production in Vancouver, and will debut April 19, along with the release of the new Kombat game. Tancharoen’s believes the MPAA would have no trouble rating it a hard R.
Sloane said that the series will initially debut online, but Warner Bros. is hoping to distribute it on other platforms down the line. “Our division really wants to push the envelope and the technology,” Sloane said. In addition, “if the web premiere proves successful, we would hope to order a second season and keep the mythology going,” Sloane said.
So while Rebirth was not initially created for the web, its initial success online — followed by the opportunity for Tancharoen to bring his Mortal Kombat vision to live TV — has made him a believer in online video. The proof? Following Kombat, Tancharoen will be directing another web series for production company Red Lever — the reality competition The Chosen One, which will seek to crown a martial arts champion.
“I look at the internet and there are so many opportunities there, so many different communities to reach,” he said. “That kind of immediate response from your audience is just so special.”
When asked what his least favorite thing about making shows for the web is, Tancharoen’s answer stands out as somewhat unique: He doesn’t like not knowing what size screen people will be watching the show on. “No director wants people to watch their stuff on a cell phone — that’s the biggest drawback,” he said.
What’s his favorite thing, though? “Audiences get to see your work instantly — there’s no waiting around,” he said. “And as time moves forward, the internet is essentially going to be everywhere — your TV can access it, your Xbox, your cell phone. It’s just going to be the way people watch everything.”