Your upcoming movie Orient City: Ronin and the Princess - in
a few words, what is it about?
It is a hand-drawn
samurai spaghetti western. It combines the characteristics of the American
Wild West with the architecture of Feudal Asia, inspired by the styles of
steampunk and anime. Itís a lot to digest, I know, but it actually all
makes sense. Traditional western haunts such as bars, brothels and
barbershops feature characteristics such as Chinese rooftops, dragon
gargoyles, Chinese lampions and bamboo construction stands.
Orient City was
built vertically on top of four rocks connected by the channels of water
at their base. A city whose poor dwell at the bottom, quite literally.
They live in favela-like neighborhoods, carved into the rock walls but
featuring a distinct oriental-style. As the city rises up, connected by
stairways and cable cars, so do the classes and high society lives an
opulent, wasteful lifestyle above the clouds.
In the center of
it all is Boshi, our hero. Or the closest thing to it. Heís a fallen
samurai who spends most of his time in an opium den. Heís hired by a man
named Rooster to protect a wealthy family. Set up to fail, he winds up
bonding with the daughter, Nessa. The little girl would rather become a
great warrior than a princess and when sheís left all alone she must do
Orient City: Ronin and
the Princess is quite a wild genre mix - so how did that come about,
and how much fun is it to play with all these diverse genres in the way
actually didnít even start with an idea. Zsombor Huszka and I were on
the road promoting our graphic novel R.E.M.
and Zsombor was sketching a samurai Batman art print called
Dark Ronin. As
it took shape, we started spit-balling ideas of what this world could
beÖ And Orient City was born.
I grew up a child
of the 80s, so Star Wars basically defined my childhood.
Iím not trying to compare the two, but the ability to make a
world that never existed and see it come to life is very exciting. It is a
lot of fun to world build. Itís actually a dream come true.
(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Orient
City: Ronin and the Princess?
The world itself
has been inspired by a lifetime of westerns, samurai films and everything
in-between. Itís hard to
pick just a few. I think Tarantino once said, ĎI steal from every single
movie ever made.í And
speaking of Tarantino, I know he inspires ZsomborÖ
how he picks a genre or a type of movie, lifts all its elements and then
exaggerates everything, even its flaws.
One of the main
elements of the story is the relationship between Nessa and Boshi.
Two films that have similar themes to ours are Leon: The Professional and Man
on Fire, but I hope ours is unique and can stand on its own.
Do talk about your
co-director and lead animator Zsombor Huszka for a bit, and what's your
collaboration with him like? And do also talk about previous
collaborations, and how did the two of you first meet even?
He is based out Budapest and was actually a member of the Hungarian national fencing team.
Heís also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt.
So heís not your traditional artistÖ and it gives him a very
good perspective on the action scenes because they are coming from actual
Even though we are
a world apart, we have a short-hand working together.
It started almost immediately on my graphic novel R.E.M., which he
got off a test page. Itís weird to write things down on paper and then
have someone take that and turn it into almost exactly what you saw in
your head Ė or, usually, make it better. I rarely have major art notes,
usually it is smaller tweaks.
He did all of the
artwork for the film I produced, With
You, by Grammy-nominated electronic music artist Dirty South based on
his album of the same name. And then when I made my directing debut last
actually did hand-drawn animated titles and they were nominated for an
Excellence in Title Design at this yearís SXSW festival, against massive
films like Spectre and Avengers:
Age of Ultron.
can you tell us about the look and feel of Orient City: Ronin and the
Princess, and how much influence did you have on the design of your
We spend a lot of time going back
and forth on design work. The style and art is definitely Zsombor, but
itís hard to say where my input starts and stops on the artwork, and the
same can be said about his influence on the script. I put it to paper, but
itís really both of us. Itís a very fluid and symbiotic relationship.
If you at all can, also talk about the style of
animation of Orient City: Ronin and the Princess for a bit!
most important guideline we keep in mind is that everything from the
smallest details to the choreography of a fight scene has to have both
Western and Asian movie elements in it. If Zsombor creates a typical
western wanted flyer, he makes it a scroll and puts it on rice paper with
faded Kanji symbols on it.
you can tell us about your projected voicecast yet, and why exactly these
Right now, Dave
Sheridan is going to be voicing a role. Iíve worked with him before and
he really believes in the project. Heís
better known for comedies like Scary Movie and Haunted House, and the
horror film The Devilís Rejects, but Iíve seen him do drama and he is
Past that, I
donít want to project. I
will just jinx myself.
As far as I know, you're currently running a
fundraiser for Orient City: Ronin and the Princess - so do talk
about your campaign!
we are currently on Kickstarter. Our goal is $30,000. That takes into
account the money you need to pay Kickstarter (and Amazon for credit card
processing), as well as rewards/shipping.
It seems like a fortuneÖ but the reaction to the art itself has
been amazing and I can only hope enough people want to see this come to
film itself, which you can get as a digital download, DVD or Blu-ray, we
have some traditional things like a T-Shirt and two versions of a
full-sized movie poster.
All of the
rewards are based around the artwork.
We have a series of art prints that reflect samurai or wild west
culture. My personal favorite
is probably The Dark Ronin (Batman as a Samurai) Ė which I mentioned is
the start of this whole world. Backers can also get personalized
commissions; from more classic black & white images to very stylized
colored versions that put them into the world of Orient City.
Something cool that relates back to the film is drawing someone as
an ink-washed avatar. Because the film is traditional animation, we
thought it appropriate to offer animated cels. You select a frame (out of
8 from the final film) and we are going to print each layer of animation
on a cel Ė which is going to look very cool once framed.
sounds interesting, check out the campaign. There is a ton of artwork that
will give anyone a good idea of the look and feel of the film, and at the
end of the intro video is the opening shot of the film Ė which is a long
boom-up through Orient City, from the water to a saloon.
Once the budget's in place, what's
the schedule? And even if I know it's waaay too early to ask, any idea
when and where Orient City: Ronin and the Princess might be
released onto the general public yet?
We will be
done with everything by December 1. That gives us time to not only finish
the animation itself, but we have scheduled enough time plus a pad to put
together/create all of the rewards.
First stop is the
general public, because thatís who backs projects on Kickstarter. Itís
truly amazing to have the ability to connect directly with people that are
willing to spend their hard earned money backing projects. Thatís who we
are making this for. We will
most likely apply to festivals after that, but itís about this core
audience first and foremost.
projects beyond Orient City: Ronin and the Princess you'd like to
now the main focus is on Orient
City: Ronin & The Princess.
year I directed my first live-action film, Suburban
Cowboy. Itís a small filmÖ a gritty thriller that is being sold
right now, so I try and keep myself busy and not freak out about that.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
donít come from a background where a career in the arts was realistic so
I went to Villanova University and studied Accounting, for no other reason
than it was supposedly hard and I was good at it. I spent a year overseas
studying Economics and Political Science at Cambridge University - and
when I was there I realized I was destined for another life. It was
the first time I left the bubble that was my life, and really took stock
of it. The books I was consuming in large quantities all had one thing in
common Ė they were about filmmaking. Not the racy, exciting side of
HollywoodÖ but books on lighting and editing and screenwriting. It
dawned on me that people actually do this for a living. These movies that
shaped my entire life werenít created in some magic fantasy land.
I came back, transferred to a university that offered film production
close to home and eventually got accepted to the Peter Stark Producing MFA
Program at USC, which was a turning point in my life. It opened up a lot
of doors and surrounded me with like-minded people for the first time.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Orient City: Ronin and the
out of grad school at USC, I produced the CG-animated film Battle for Terra: 3D, which came out in 2009 through
Weíve got a great voice cast with Chris Evans, Ron Perlman, Evan Rachel
Wood, Dennis Quaid and a lot more. We actually built the animation studio
from scratch Ė so instead of dealing with a live-action production crew,
I was figuring out the optimal temperature for a render farm and then
figuring out how to get a 15-ton condenser on the roof of a high-rise in
Los Angeles to provide that cooling. It was intense and not at all what I
had learned over the years of film schooling. I put that to use in my
follow-up live-action feature, the VFX heavy White
Space, which is still in post-production.
Do talk about your company Spoke Lane
Entertainment, and the philosophy behind it!
goal is to grow into a shop where genre creators are constantly
approaching me with their projects and building something substantial.
Each project builds on the last and so far itís really just been
films and books created by myself. There
are a few projects that are being developed, whether films or graphic
novels or manga series, by other creatorsÖ but they arenít ready yet.
I donít know if I have a philosophy or mandate. I have diverse
tastes. That said, I probably wonít be making a romantic comedy or
straight up comedy anytime soon. Iím not the type of person to slap
something against the wall and see if it sticks. Iím too obsessive and
this is too hard
course also have to talk about your graphic novels, and how does scripting
a graphic novel compare to writing a screenplay?
I am the creator
behind Harbor Moon and R.E.M. Ė two very different books. I learned a lot making Harbor
Moon. R.E.M. is a very personal story.
Itís probably the smallest thing Iíve created, but the one I am
currently most proud of. Itís a striking and beautiful book. Itís a
dark, thriller/drama about a scientist trying to beat sleep. I wasnít
really thinking about Ďtarget audienceí when I pulled the trigger on
donít know how to write a comic. Thereís
a specific format that is used and since the things I do are done
internally I donít have to follow the rules. My script is basically a
bastard cousin of a screenplay. I
make sure to pull out every detail that isnít on the drawn page.
Then pass that off to the artist. The layouts are easily the
longest in my process Ė because itís so open to interpretation.
writers, whoever else who inspire you?
working director is David Fincher. But
Darren Aronofsky with Pi and Ed
Burns with Brothers McMullen
are two films that I saw and thought Ė films arenít made in some
fantasy landÖ I love these
movies and I think I can do this.
City is hand-drawn, I would be remiss to not mention MiyazakiÖ and specifically
Princess Mononoke. But I guess
Ghost in the Shell
is the one that stands out the most. It was the first
time I saw an animated film that was definitely not for children. It
wasnít until then that I realized I wasnít alone in the world. It
transcends animation Ė itís one of my favorite films, period.
How long do you
want this interview to be, cause my list is long. Very long. I will give a
specific list for Orient City - my favourite Westerns and animated films:
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Once Upon a Time
in the West, The Man Without a
Name Trilogy (cheating I know), Unforgiven, McCabe & Mrs.
Miller, Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid, Young Guns, The Searchers, Wild
Bunch, The Good, The Bad
& The Weird, The Proposition.
Honorable mention: Rango.
Iron Giant, Pinnochio, Ghost in the
Shell, Akira, Alladin,
Alice in Wonderland, Spirited
Away, Grave of the Fireflies, The Lion King.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
question. I try to stay
positive cause movie making is hard enough.
But if I had to pick one film that I truly hate: Crash
by Paul Haggis.
movie's website, Facebook, Kickstarter, whatever else?
out the Kickstarter page. All we ask is that you give us a chance. The
opening shot of the film is at the end of our intro video.
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
was fun, and challenging to think about some of this stuff.
I just hope I donít come off as this pretentious filmmaker that
thinks they have it all figured out.
for the interview!