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“Dredd” Producer Adi Shankar On Why He’d Rather Make “Bootleg” Versions Of Comic Book Properties Than Pitch Marvel

Shankar may have booted himself off the Dredd franchise with his webseries Judge Dredd: Superfiend, but he’s okay with that.

“Dredd” Producer Adi Shankar On Why He’d Rather Make “Bootleg” Versions Of Comic Book Properties Than Pitch Marvel
[Photo: courtesy of Adi Shankar]

The fact that 2012’s Dredd even exists is kind of amazing. It’s based on a British comics property–2000 AD’s Judge Dredd series, created by John Wagner–that was adapted to film in 1995 with Sylvester Stallone in a Golden Raspberry-nominated performance in the title role. That film earned less than half of its budget back in the domestic box office, and currently enjoys an 18% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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So the idea that Judge Dredd got a second chance in Hollywood is surprising. Even more surprising is that the 2012 Dredd film is so passionately beloved by its devoted fans that they’ve committed to an ongoing campaign to convince the studio to pursue a sequel.

That may or may not happen, but the film’s executive producer, Adi Shankar, got tired of waiting. Instead of seeking studio approval for a Dredd follow-up, this week he released the six-part animated web-series Judge Dredd: Superfiend on YouTube. That series is 100% unsanctioned and unofficial, what Shankar describes as a “bootleg” take on the property.

Adi Shankar

It’s not the first time Shankar has gone this route, either. In addition to Superfiend, Shankar has produced two short films involving Marvel characters that the entertainment juggernaut had no connection to: 2012’s The Punisher: Dirty Laundry and last year’s Venom: Truth In Journalism. In the meantime, he’s also received producer credits on movies including last year’s Broken City and Lone Survivor, the recent Liam Neeson thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones, and the forthcoming Ryan Reynolds / Anna Kendrick crime / comedy vehicle The Voices. So how do you balance following your creative passion for telling stories using characters like The Punisher and Judge Dredd with the rather rigid demands of a Hollywood studio system that isn’t usually excited to see unofficial products made for no money?

Just Do Whatever You Want

“I don’t give a fuck, man,” Shankar says on the phone more than once a few hours after Superfiend hit the Internet. “It’s all right. I’m 29 years old, I’ve made 10 movies, whatever.”

Shankar likes to talk about his youth (“I’m super young. I just turned 29. I’m the youngest person to have a No. 1 movie,” he says) and his determination to make things on his own terms. And there’s definitely an appeal to watching a guy who has produced hit movies for major studios spend his free time making Internet-exclusive films and cartoons that will probably piss off the property owners.

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So when I ask him if he thinks that Superfiend might hurt his chances of being involved in a potential Dredd 2, he doesn’t mince words.

“Oh, absolutely,” he laughs. “I’ll probably get booted from the franchise.”

Still, for Shankar, that’s a fair price to pay to tell the exact Judge Dredd story he wants to tell, in the way he wants to tell it, at the time he wants it told. “I’d rather actually make something and thank the people that turned the movie into a success than sit around with a thumb up my ass,” Shankar says, giving credit to Dredd’s fans for inspiring him to pursue the web series. “That’s just how I roll.”


Give People What They Want

In addition to risking alienating the owners of the Dredd rights, Shankar also decided to take some chances with how he released Superfiend. Rather than roll out the series slowly, to build an audience, he decided to make each of the short episodes fully binge-able, releasing all of them to YouTube at once.

“People just want to binge-watch things. They just do,” he says. “The whole, like, ‘and come back next week!’ thing? That’s just so ’90s, or early 2000s. I love 24, but the whole, ‘Duh duh duh, plot twist! Come back next week!’? Come on. What people really want is a choice. I want a choice.”

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Shankar takes issue with the idea that anybody should dictate to audiences what, when, or where they can watch the things they want to see. When I ask him about Christopher Nolan’s plan to release Interstellar to theaters with a 35mm projector early, he scoffs.

“The whole idea of movies being in theaters is just stupid. The idea that someone’s going to tell me that no, you have to drive to that theater and sit down in it and park and deal with all the people? That’s just not the reality of the world we live in today. Some people want to watch shit on an iPad. Who are you to tell them not to?” he asks. “But it’s a generational thing. I’m 29. I’m sure when I’m Christopher Nolan’s age, I’m going to be complaining about all kinds of changes.”

Do It For Yourself, Not As A Backdoor Pitch

“I’m uncomfortable being part of the establishment. If I were to talk to a psychologist, they would tell me that these bootlegs are my way of rebelling,” Shankar admits. “People used to ask me last year, ‘What’s the thing that you’ve done that you’re most proud of?’ I would always say it was the Punisher bootleg.”

Shankar is proud of the Punisher: Dirty Laundry short film he made–which starred Thomas Jane, who played the character in 2004’s film version–but he wasn’t trying to convince Marvel to turn the property over to him and Jane for, say, a proposed Netflix series or something. In fact, the insinuation that he might have had that on his mind seems to bother Shankar.

“I got really, really pissed off when I dropped the Punisher thing and everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is a pitch to Marvel.’ No, fuck you. It’s not a pitch,” he says. “I’m doing it to do it. I’m not doing it to get a reaction.”

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For that matter, Shankar says, even if there were a Dredd sequel in the works right now–which, he’s clear to say, there is not–he’d probably still have gone on to make Judge Dredd: Superfiend as a bootleg animated series.

“It wasn’t a reaction [to the lack of progress for a sequel], I just wanted to do it,” he says. “Maybe there’s a parallel universe out there where the sequel’s in production–would I still have done this? Probably. This is unofficial. It’s set completely outside the continuity of the movie.”


Don’t Do It To Get Rich

Shankar is aware that his tendency to make unofficial, bootleg versions of big-dollar properties could have negative consequences for him. (Though he also admits that, if Marvel did approach him about doing a Punisher Netflix series, he would take it.) But win or lose, his motivation for all of this is creative, not financial. All he really wants, he says, is the freedom to do Judge Dredd, or the Punisher, or Venom the way he wants to see them.

“That’s why I like doing them. That’s what it’s all about,” Shankar says. “It’s always collaborative, but it’s kind of like a tree: you get to plant it exactly where you want to plant it, and then it’ll grow and become a tree. You can’t control the branches, but you’ll at least get to control where you’re planting it. I’m not a control freak, but the early nurturing phases don’t get muddled or watered down. I’m so not motivated by money–I don’t give a fuck. I got into this because this is an art form for me. That’s all it is.”

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About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club

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