- "Power/Rangers" became an Internet craze last week
- Its producer and director like to subvert pop culture ideas
- The film was a legal football for a time, highlighting creativity and financial issues
(CNN)Adi Shankar had the idea for "Power/Rangers" when he was 7 years old.
"This was before the Internet, and my access to TV and video games was pretty limited," the producer recalled Thursday, in the midst of the "Power/Rangers" frenzy. "So all you really had was (to) tell people stories. So I'd tell people 'Captain Planet' stories, and then I started telling them these dark 'Power Ranger' stories.
"And I got into trouble," he added. "Because the parents were like, 'This guy, he's ruining our children!' "
That was more than 20 years ago for Shankar. But the producer, now 30, got his wish when his dark version of the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," directed by friend Joseph Kahn, made it online -- and proceeded to rack up more than 11 million views on YouTube in less than two days.
In some ways, Shankar is still getting into trouble. Not only did the video explode the Power Rangers mythology, showing the impact of serving as "child soldiers," in Shankar's phrase, but the video became a legal football after the owner of the franchise, Saban Entertainment, claimed infringement.
First it was taken down from Vimeo and then YouTube. However, it was reposted in both places late Friday after lawyers reached agreement, Deadline reported.
Among the additions: a disclaimer from Shankar that his "bootleg" is "my take on the FAN FILM. Not a pilot, not a series, not for profit, strictly for exhibition. This is a bootleg experiment not affiliated or endorsed by Saban Entertainment or Lionsgate nor is it selling any product. I claim no rights to any of the characters (don't send me any money, not kickstarted, this film is free)."
Saban Entertainment has its own plans to reboot the popular '90s franchise with a theatrical film scheduled for 2016.
'An interesting experiment'
So who are these guys, anyway?
Kahn is a famed music video director, probably best known for Britney Spears' "Toxic," Eminem's "Without Me" (for which he won a Grammy) and Taylor Swift's "Blank Space." He's also handled a number of commercials and the films "Detention" and "Torque."
Shankar is a producer of such films as "The Grey," "Killing Them Softly" and "Dredd." This isn't the first time he's made a "bootleg" short. Previous videos have included one featuring Marvel's Punisher character and one drawing from Marvel's Venom character.
In a Reddit AMA, Kahn said that "Power/Rangers" was "self-funded." A special effects house, Ingenuity Engine, "worked six months on this and took a bath financially," he added.
Shankar declined to give a budget for "Power/Rangers," which was shot over a few days last year, but says it was mainly financed through favors and the principals' money.
"It was all favors," he says, noting that star James Van Der Beek "is one of my best friends." The film also starred "Battlestar Galactica's" Katee Sackhoff.
Both Shankar and Kahn like to subvert concepts and cliches. Kahn said he was drawn to "Power/Rangers" because "it was an interesting experiment to play with reboot culture and tone control. ... I didn't come into it to please a fan base, per se, but to experiment with pop culture."
And Shankar? Even his look tries to upset stereotypes. In the video he made to explain "Power/Rangers," he's wearing eye makeup like the 1970s Alice Cooper, a look he adopted "because I don't want to be (an Indian) stereotype," he told CNN.
'Kind of a war brewing'
Shankar comes by his outlook honestly. The Indian-born producer had an itinerant childhood thanks to his father's job, traveling frequently -- various Indian cities, China, Singapore -- before moving on to the next place. He came to the United States at 16.
He says he thinks of his childhood as "jarring," with the only constants comic books, movies and television.
"Just moving around so much, literally every two years," he said. "I didn't feel like I had a friend until I was 18. If you're moving to a different school, let alone a different country every couple years, it's kind of jarring as a kid. There was no consistency for me in a cultural context" except for American movies and pop culture.
He attended school at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he founded a successful ad agency, and then moved to Hollywood, which he describes as "a dream of mine."
Though both men were successful before, "Power/Rangers" has given them new visibility -- partly thanks to the bottom-up enthusiasm for the project. Both filmmakers wax philosophical about the impact.
"Internet changes things," Kahn tweeted after congratulating supporters. "New world, new rules."
Shankar observes that "Power/Rangers" is just another marker in a continuing debate between creativity, intellectual property and fan-driven culture.
"There's kind of a war brewing between the old world and the new world," he said. "The Internet has kind of been a nuclear warhead on a lot of businesses and a lot of industries. ... It's kind of bizarre to be thrown in the middle of it. I'm literally just a fan making a fan video."
It's not about dollars and cents, he added: "Is that what we're about? We're one massive consumerist mosh pit?"
In the meantime, he's got plenty of other projects cooking, including a crime thriller set in a world of both puppets and humans that's like "a really dark, violent 'Muppet Movie.' "
It all comes down to the same impulse that drove him to tell stories when he was 7, he says.
"I'm just a creative dude," he said.