Last week, director Joseph Kahn dropped his "dark as f*ck" POWER/RANGERS short. Soon, it was pulled from the internet, but now it's back in full NSFW glory. So what happened? In an exclusive interview, Kahn explains how the internet saved his short. Plus why he doesn't think the real Power Rangers show should be this dark.
To find out more about the creation of this exceedingly dark "deboot" take on a children's franchise — and how its removal from YouTube pissed off fans so much it's now BACK online — we reached out to director Joseph Kahn (Detention) via email. And after a few back and forths, we got an inside look at the creation of this bloody gem, why he wanted to make it, and how he truly feels about fan fiction and Howie Mandel — along with a handful of exclusive behind-the-scenes images, including a Billy Cranston Rolling Stone cover. (Hot!)
io9: Last week your POWER/RANGERS short was pulled from Vimeo and YouTube. It seems like it took a concentrated effort from Saban to get it pulled. Do you know why they so aggressively went after this video?
Joseph Kahn: I would say the Black Power Ranger in bed with naked girls, doing coke, then blowing the brains out of a bunch of North Koreans probably factored into it. The stabbing, cursing, and Van Der Beek gropey hands probably didn't help either. Then 12 million people in two days looking at this stuff probably freaked out a few people. I dunno. Just speculating.
What happened to get it all back online?
Kahn: In a nutshell, the internet screamed so loud everyone around the world heard it. I literally heard reports of people in IRAN saying they loved the short before it was pulled. That is a very strange thing to think about — how somewhere in Iran some mullah is slamming on his keyboard like where the fuck is that Power Rangers fan film? Yeah, that's not easy to shut down.
Did Saban apologize ? What was the end agreement? Did they come to some sort of "this looks bad for them" realization and break or did they legally not have any ground to stand on?
Kahn: I can't really talk details but you can see there are now extra disclaimers at the start of the short, new titles, and on YouTube, an age gate, and a nicer demeanor from me with an awesome new haircut. As to why they relented, I can't speculate. I still feel strongly we are protected by Fair Use and parody laws. I had zero intention of making any money on this. I was giving it out free. I had something to say with this short. But ultimately I'm just thankful Saban graciously allowed us to put it out. It's the right call and I respect Saban for it.
Isn't that kind of scary that a corporation can shut down someone's art like that, and so swiftly without really any due process? How does that make you feel as a creator?
Kahn: The implications of that I think are obvious. But what are we really losing by capitulating? The scarier thing is the implication of story in and of itself. Story is the most fundamental building block of human civilization. It's the historical scaffolding we build our moral codes on, and it ultimately synthesizes into mythology, religion, politics. For most of ancient humanity story was a malleable art form that changed due to the error proneness of verbal communication. Only in the modern age of the printed word do we expect perfectly influctuate narratives.
This gets even scarier when you realize every story being told to you is copyrighted and owned by someone. And especially when it comes to the young, their stories are owned by corporations. Comic books, movies, television, whatever, the youth is only being told stories by businessmen. So when you combine this idea that the vast majority of morality tales told to young people are controlled by corporations with a legal restriction that these tales cannot be personally interacted with, there's some pretty absurd results. Like if this were true, it would now easier to to change and start a new religion than tell an alternate story about Power Rangers. You literally have more control over Jesus than Tommy Oliver.
Look, I make commercials for a living, so I know the shakedown. You may not agree with what we did with the Power Rangers, but you must feel more powerful as a human being if you live in a society that lets artists critique the imagery that dominates your lives. Whether it's Banksy fucking with Ronald McDonald, Warhol with Campbell's [soup], or us with Power Rangers, you want to let artists interact, test, and kick the tires being sold to you.
Have any interesting people reached out to you due to the massive success of this short film? Or wanted you to basically "deboot" another project in a similar manner?
Kahn: Howie Mandel said he wanted to work with me on Twitter. That was random. What was randomer was I saw him at another table at lunch the day before the short came out. What I'm saying is, Howie Mandel is a glitch in the Matrix, and the Matrix wants me to do a reboot of The Matrix.
Do you enjoy fan fiction?
Fuck no. I can barely stand a lot of mainstream blockbuster movies as is. Why watch stuff that's even sloppier than the professional sloppy stuff already out there?
But if you're talking about written stuff? Slash porn is awesome. I've tweeted Yoda/Chewbacca stuff in the past. No one retweeted it.
Part of the comedy of your Power Rangers film was that it was a sensationalized version of fan films. Was that the intent? To have fun, but also kind of shine a light on the ridiculousness of fan films and reboot?
Kahn: People overstate the how the comedy works. It's like that annoying indie audience member that laughs at every line in a movie theater regardless if it's meant to funny or not to publicly jump ahead of everyone else, including the filmmaker. I'm going to cheat and plagiarize a bit of what I said in Reddit:
"It's a parody in that it is a conceptual straight faced hyperbole. Every scene is straight-faced and serious and believable. If you watched it and enjoyed every minute of it dramatically, literally - you're not stupid, you're honest. That's what I wanted. And when it ended and you laugh and go what the fuck did I just watch, you're acknowledging you just legitimately enjoyed a fucking Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie where they fucked porn stars, did coke, and blew people's brains out a face value. THAT'S irony, THAT's the comedy, THAT's the parody."
And yes, there is also a definite agenda from me to technically outshine the source material. That's part of the bootleg experiment. Most fan films are failed attempts to match the quality and ideas of their desired properties. Guaranteed creative stalemate and the fans know it, so the fans let their guard down and willingly humor a sub par experience. So I wanted to sucker punch them with a "real" movie while they were being gentle. By making the short actually good, it's sabotaging the audience's implied politeness toward the amateurism of fan films. All bets are off literally on frame one of POWER/RANGERS.
Were you a Power Rangers fan as a kid?
Kahn: I can't front that I was ever a fan of Power Rangers. Most people when they do projects always say they're fans, but 90% are lying just to please the fans. I was already shaving in 1993 when Power Rangers came out. It was aimed at 12-year-olds. I would have been weird as hell if I was going into clubs raving about a reappropriated Sentai show for kids. I would have never gotten laid (which I didn't anyway so what did it matter). It was an interesting experiment to play with reboot culture and tone control. When I finally made it I was fully invested in the characters and the property but I didn't come into it to please a fan base, per se, but to experiment with pop culture.
Would you want to make a full length Power Rangers movie?
Do you really think Power Rangers should be gritty rather than fun?
Kahn: As a short, yes. As a tv show, no. This fucking thing is for kids. I'm not a monster.
AND NOW, behind the scenes video and the aforementioned Rolling Stone cover