Exclusive Interview: Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s Kevin Tancharoen

SuperHeroHype: When you were younger and you were playing Mortal Kombat in your living room, were you planning this series in your head as you played the games?

Kevin Tancharoen: I mean, I was really young when it came out. I was very obsessed with the first one. I think the second one was my favorite. I’ve always dreamed of doing something in the Mortal Kombat world, but I never thought that anything like this would ever happen. So I was very excited to be able to take these characters that I’ve known and kind of roll with it and had a lot of fun. The things I was obsessed with as a kid were like Mortal Kombat, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and a lot of anime, so this was definitely like a kid in a candy store.
SHH: How far were you into production on the first season when you started thinking about the second?
Tancharoen: Some in the beginning. I’d always known that if we were lucky enough to move forward, I would want the second season to be about the tournament, but the first season we kind of wanted to experiment with a bunch of different styles of storytelling and telling different origin stories. It was definitely segregated, they were all kind of on their own. The Raiden lived in its own universe, the Kitana & Mileena were obviously anime. This time it’s more of a layered style of storytelling, very much like television or a feature film and I was very happy to be able to do that version for this season. I think  season one was just to whet the appetite for the fans and this one is going to be definitely a lot more drama as well as more action.
SHH: How different would you say your pitch was for the second season compared to the first?
Tancharoen: They were pretty different, because like I said, the first go around I pitched a bunch of different stories and this one there was an arc, a character arc, which relationships would be in the forefront. So it was definitely more character-driven as opposed to stylistically-driven in the pitch. It was more about why we should tell these stories with these specific characters and that’s kind of how this one was positioned.
SHH: The cinematography in the trailer for season 2 is quite beautiful. What would you say your inspirations were for the visual look of the series?
Tancharoen: The DP on this one his name is Scott Kevan and I’ve worked with him a handful of times and we have a very similar style. We love the Dan Mindels, the Larry Fongs, and we kind of reference a lot of Fincher’s compositions because they’re always very clean and symmetrical. Even more so now than his earlier films. We just basically took a lot of those screen grabs and said, “This is the color palette we want for the tournament, this is the color palette we want for the flashbacks. Here are some really cool images for the fight scenes,” and we’re both very detailed when it comes to shot listing. I think a lot of the things that have frustrated us was the handheld style of shooting and how it went a little overboard. In certain cases the handheld really adds to the storytelling. We like to get into the rehearsal room and really make the shot list as detailed as possible as opposed to, “do the fight from top to bottom and we’ll shoot it from different angles and sizes and we’ll edit it together later.” So that’s kind of the approach we took for everything and that’s just the way we’re used to working.
SHH: I can only assume the fights are as heavily choreographed as your shot lists, but how often would you say there’s room for improv in the fights?
Tancharoen: For sure, it differentiates though. I like that kind of spontaneity, whether it be in the rehearsal room or when we get on set and there’s some kind of problem with the blocking. I definitely leave that door open, and a lot of our actors in this case are trained martial artists and they had ideas about things that would make the fights better and we all collaborated so it was unified.
SHH: Mortal Kombat is one of those game series that has a lot of mythology spread throughout all of its games. What were the things you wanted in the first season that you didn’t get that may have ended up in the second or something you wanted in the second that you didn’t get?
Tancharoen: I’ve always wanted to do the mythologies with Goro, Reptile, and Baraka, but unfortunately those characters are really hard to achieve in live action without a big budget. So we have to tell a lot more different stories, which I think is a good exercise and a good way to get us into the crazy mythology that is Mortal Kombat, because there are so many stories that intersect each other within this mythology. So they’re up to game nine now and over the course of those nine games the mythology has been kind of changed for the video games. So we were able to lay out all of the stories and handpick what we thought would work nowadays and tweak it so some of it was easier to understand, but those are the characters that I hope to do in the future that I was unable to for just pure budget reasons.
SHH: How involved is NetherRealm and Ed Boon in the production? 
Tancharoen: They’re very included in all the earlier discussions. Ed Boon reads all the scripts and gives notes on the mythology when I’m way off. They’ve offered notes and suggestions and we work hand in hand and it’s actually been a really great process. Unlike other video game companies, they don’t force you to adhere to certain rules for the game because they know this is a new medium.
SHH: You’ve set a really high standard for video game adaptations with this series because people really like it and that’s clearly different from other video game adaptations. What do you think it is about other adaptations that causes such a disconnect with fans?
Tancharoen: I think that whether it be producers or directors, they didn’t respect the source material enough. Like they almost thought it should be silly because it is a video game. There was an era where comic book movies were treated the same way, up until this past decade where they’ve been treated as the go-to tent pole, very serious, super important films. But I think that they just carbon copied what they saw in the video game and did the whole “wink and a nod” cheese factor to it. I think that tide is turning now, with the advancements in video games and the level of dramatic storytelling that is involved in video games nowadays, I think the shift to film is going to take a turn. You see games like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and Uncharted, these are rich stories and in crazy environments and taken very seriously. I think the next generation of video game adaptions are going to be just as important and serious as graphic novels or comic book movies.
SHH: Is this online format something that you’d like to do more with in the future? Or was it more something you just wanted to try and do with Mortal Kombat?
Tancharoen: I think online digital content is eventually just going to be content and I don’t ever want to shy away from it, because I think that it’s a very unique format that offers a lot of room for creative risk. You can take those risks right now online, digitally, and test out different things. I also think that this medium is just incredible for certain properties that might not work on television or film. I think between DC and Marvel and all these big companies, if they’re not going to make a film franchise out of some of their ancillary/cult classic favorites they should do a digital series based around them. Would I want to see an Iron Fist digital series? Absolutely. Do I think they’ll put him a feature film? Probably not. I think it would be great. I know Adi Shankar has done a very similar thing with some of the Marvel properties like The Punisher and Venom. If it wasn’t for online content, those things wouldn’t exist and I think fans want to see that.
SHH: I don’t know how secretive you’re being about the upcoming season, but if you could, could you give us your favorite scene from the new season without any context around it.
Tancharoen: My most exciting thing is how drastic of a turn we’ve taken Liu Kang’s character. Because up until now he’s been a boy scout, just a guy that can do no wrong and save Earth every time. I think that characterization is dated now and I like the way we took him in this season, it’s going to be very, very different than what you’ve seen in the past. The first scene you see of him he is drunk, alone, and in a bar. That kind of paints an image of the Liu Kang that we’re doing.
SHH: Are you still on for the big screen version of Mortal Kombat? 
Tancharoen: We’re still pushing through on that. The script is in a good place, we’re just kind of figuring out the budget and locations and that whole process is where we’re at.
SHH: Will the continuity from the online series carry over or will you be starting fresh?
Tancharoen: I think everyone’s intention is to start fresh because we want “Legacy” to live on its own possibly for multiple seasons, and when it comes to Mortal Kombat, it’s been around for 20+ years. We’re going to take the mythology and add another layer on it so it can live on for another 20 years, or more! I think this is a unique opportunity to set that ground work.
Mortal Kombat: Legacy II debuts September 26th on Machinima. You can watch the new trailer below.