Over the past few years, Adi Shankar established himself as a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. As one of the most multi-faceted creators in the game, he is dedicated to keeping his finger on the pulse of his eclectic fanbase, while continuing to push his creative limits with every project. With a slew of high-profile projects on the way in coming months, such as Netflix’s recently announced ‘Castlevania’ and his highly anticipated ‘God and Secrets’ series for HBO, 2017 is shaping up to be his most ambitious and creatively satisfying year to date. While his creations are known for their unbelievable buzz, high-intensity action and mind-blowing visuals, at the heart of it all, Adi Shankar is a storyteller and his story is shaping up to be one of the best ever told. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Adi to discuss the process of finding his creative voice, his evolution as an artist, challenging the status quo in Hollywood and the lessons he learned along the way.
You are a great example of a guy who works to make his dream a reality, which is very inspiring. Let’s go back to your early years. What went into finding your voice creatively as an artist?
Oh, man! That’s a great question. I wish people asked more questions like that one because now I actually have to think and it’s not some robotic answer! Obviously, it didn’t happen overnight and it was a slow, gradual progression. For me, it was a big generational thing because a lot of the guys that I worked with early on were a lot older than me. They were way, way older than me and they were inspired by the crime movies of the 1970s and stuff like that. I learned so much from these guys, the Phil Joanou’s of the world, Andrew Dominic, Tarsem Singh and even a guy like Thomas Jane. Through people like this, I learned what it meant to have a point of view. Coming from a conservative place, growing up in China and India, that behavior was frowned upon. It was also a combination of people like yourself responding to some of the stuff I was saying. I mean, my whole life I had been told I was insane, completely bat-shit crazy and that everything I was doing was irrational. Then, one day, I started believing in myself!
You connect with your fans and are in touch with what they are thinking.
Yeah, they have really helped me find my voice. Ultimately, Hollywood is run by suits. Half the people who present themselves as artists are just suits parading as artists. All they’re trying to do is peddle a corporate agenda. It was amazing that the internet allowed me to circumvent that. That is the kind of thing you used to get blackballed for back in the day — having a voice and an opinion.
Building on that, you remain driven. What fuels your creative fire?
That’s another great question. It’s evolving. When I first got into this, the diversity issues really bothered me. There’s a feeling of loneliness that you get when you turn on TV or the movies and you don’t see anyone who looks like you who is a good guy. You also don’t see anyone who looks like you that is particularly competent, so you feel like you are destined to be the sidekick. Then, all of a sudden, Aziz Ansari popped. Then Mindy Kaling popped and all of a sudden diversity became a thing and Dev Patel popped. It’s crazy, Dev and I talked about this six or seven years ago. I was like, “Man, it’s got to be our generation. We’re going to shatter this glass ceiling. This is bullshit! We weren’t meant to play Apu or Hadji, the sidekick from ‘Jonny Quest,’ or the best friend in the romantic comedy who tells Ryan Reynolds what to say at the end. Fuck that!” That’s what used to drive me. I guess it’s still part of what drives me; feeling like I have this point of view and I’m allowed to share it with the world.
As you said, you didn’t grow up in the United States but you made it your home. In spite of the adversity you faced, you started to leave your mark on the entertainment industry. What’s your take on the American Dream in this day and age?
What it means to me and what it means to most Americans today is very different. What it means to me is that I was able to come here and express myself in a way that I was told was never possible. For that I will always be grateful. I will always say America is one of (if not THE greatest) countries in the world for that. Anywhere else in the world, I’m in jail with what I do! [laughs] I think America is going through a paradigm shift right now and there’re a lot of social, economic and structural issues that are creating these massive disruptions on every level, both in the private and public sectors. I think there is a tough journey ahead for the American Dream.
You have plenty of irons in the fire. What has you most excited?
My show, “Adi Shankar’s Gods and Secrets,” comes out later this year. It’s been a long time coming and it’s definitely a passion project of mine. It’s a project that is very near and dear to me and something I have put my entire heart and soul into. I hope people dig it when it comes out!
Obviously, you aren’t going to tip your hand too much when it comes to the project but I have a question regarding “Gods and Secrets.” What are the biggest challenges you faced and the biggest lessons learned from this experience?
Oh man, I could talk for an hour about all the lessons I have learned. I think I was kind of a control freak before this series. I was a control freak in denial of being a control freak, right? I had these great collaborators on the show which helped me through the process of it, technically, emotionally and personally, to be quite frank. I mean, there has been a lot going on in my life, both personally and professionally. As you know, I don’t announce projects. I’m always working on stuff and when it’s ready, it comes out. That has been my M.O. and with that said, I have four pretty big things coming out this year and I was doing “Gods and Secrets” at the same time. A big lesson was learning to trust the people around me in a way that I hadn’t trusted anyone before. I had to let them in any way that I hadn’t let anyone in before. As a human, I think that is the biggest lesson learned in a lot of ways.
You made a big splash a few years back with the release of your Bootleg Universe trailer for “Power/Rangers.” One could easily argue that led to the “Power Rangers” film that just hit theaters. Have you seen the film and, if so, what are your thoughts?
Yes, I have seen it. I loved it! I thought it was great! Obviously, there was inspiration that was drawn from the thing that Joe [Kahn] and I did but that’s great! It’s amazing! I need that because I am a rabid “Power Rangers” fan. That was the way I saw the show as a 9-year-old! It’s crazy! I made this thing, put it out there and then, all of a sudden, the official franchise is now responding to it. The movie, in a lot of ways, is a reflection of that and it’s great! Literally the thing that influenced me was then influenced by something I had a hand in doing, so you can’t get any better than that! It’s a dream come true. The only thing that I will say to the Lionsgate folks is that obviously the film deserves a sequel. Obviously. They need to make the Green Ranger female. I think it’s time for a badass female Green Ranger. I think they should cast Lorde. She is mainly known as a singer but she is a fantastic actress as well!
As a fan of your creations, it’s exciting how you keep us on our toes. What are your biggest creative milestones?
There have been a few and I would say all of them have been the bootlegs. Those were the things I was passionate about and each of them kind of represent a different era in my life and my evolution as a dude who creates things. I think “Dirty Laundry” was a big one. I wanted to make it but I never knew there was an audience for it. I just thought it was cool. I didn’t even realize people knew who The Punisher was! I got an email address or a phone number for some dude at Machinima back in 2012. I called him and I said, “Hey, I did this thing for The Punisher. I don’t know what to do with it. Do you want it? You have a YouTube channel. Would you like to put it on there?” The guy I was talking to had no idea who Tom [Jane] was or who The Punisher was, so I literally thought, “OK, people really aren’t into this stuff. Cool.” I just kind of figured out how to make a YouTube page, which I didn’t know how to do back then. I realized it was so easy, so I posted it. The next thing I knew, it went viral! I thought, “Wait. What’s the disconnect here?”
The business changed a lot, even in the time you released “Dirty Laundry.” When we last spoke, I asked where you felt the entertainment industry was headed. I want to change it up this time as I think there is a more important question. Where are you headed in the next few years?
I hope I don’t sell out, man. I hope I don’t sell out. It was kind of tough. I remember when we were growing up, artists were artists and corporate suit types were corporate suit types. When an artist sold-out there was a huge outcry, “Oh man, he sold out!” Then, all of a sudden, everyone sold out and then selling out became the norm. I feel like what is happening is that the internet was a giant organism designed to fight back against that. Honestly, I hope the internet doesn’t become corporatized like everything else.
I can see where you’re coming from. Have you come close to selling out?
Absolutely! Absolutely! After the “Power/Rangers” short, I was getting literally everything that you dream about as a teenager trying to break in being thrown at me. Everything you can think of! So yeah, I came close to selling out and then I made “Gods and Secrets!” [laughs]
You are always looking for new outlets or new ways to tell the stories that intrigue you. Earlier this year it was announced you were bringing “Castlevania” to Netflix later this year. In that case you are bringing a game to the screen. What are your thoughts on doing the reverse and bringing one of your stories to the video game medium?
Absolutely! I’m even more into video games than I am into movies. I feel like movies exist differently for me than they do for other people. For me, they are just a method of communication and a way to communicate ideas. You are cutting together moments of a character’s life to convey a message or idea to people. It’s storytelling, right? Games do the same thing in a more immersive way. I’m not as into movies as I once was because they have become so formulaic and that is why I have shifted over to the TV side of things. By exploring the medium of TV, we are able to elongate the story and by doing so, the story starts feeling different and the beats evolve by lengthening or shortening. I’m actually talking to video game developers constantly. Some of the major ones have talked to me about possibly coming in and writing the new edition of a franchise. At the same time, some of the indie ones are asking, “Hey, would you want to work with us on a game,” where I would design the aesthetic color palette. I’m definitely going to take someone up on that in the next couple of years. One hundred percent! Next time we chat; you’re going to ask me about specific videogames!
I look forward to that conversation! Building on what we talked about today, I have one more question. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Never give up. Never quit. I think if I could go back in time and talk to myself from five years ago, I wouldn’t say too much because I wouldn’t want to affect the space time continuum, but if I had to say something, it would be, “Believe in yourself.” Even if other people don’t or what you’re doing seems a little off-beat, eccentric or weird, you just have to believe and the rest will fall into place!
Thanks for your time today, Adi! I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us in the years to come!
Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it and you guys are amazing! It’s cool because if I didn’t have you guys, it’s like I wouldn’t exist, so thank you! Thank you and I’ll talk to you again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.