Published on January 1st, 2012 | by George Sakalis0
Interview: Thousand Pounds Action Company
Interview by George Sakalis
Thousand Pounds Action Company is a team of talented actors, martial artists and stuntmen/stuntwomen. They’ve exploded unto the Internet with their “Real Life Steet fighter Ultra Combos” series, and kept up with the “Naruto Shipuuden: Dreamers Fight” and “Arkham City” videos.
Now they’re busy working on the second part of the Naruto fight (be at ease fans, it’s coming) as well as teaming up with Capcom for a short commercial film which will coincide with the release of “Street Fighter X Tekken” game. And they are preparing a new web-series called Clandestine.
They are also a group of the coolest “geeks” out there! First and foremost, they are fans who deliver fan service. Oh, and they can totally kick some ass. Extrahype, recently had a chat about their work, inspirations, their and their plans for the future.
Note: Unfortunately, a few members of the group (more specifically: Brendon Huor, Mickey Facchinello, Amy Johnston) were not available for the interview.
Extrahype: Ok. So you’re a group of people making videos, where you brutally kick each other’s asses. That much we can see over at your YouTube channel. But how about you tell us who you guys are? Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Christopher Cowan: My name is Christopher C. Cowan. I’m the director, editor/vfx and camera operator for our shoots. As an anime/manga/gaming/comicbook fan, I have a huge interest in helping to properly adapt these genres into a live action format.
James Young: James, born and raised in England. I have worked/trained in martial arts my whole life. I was teaching for 8-9 years before I got into the movie industry.
David “Dax” Bauer: I’m originally from Wisconsin, teach math and SAT prep by day, and do stunts at night. I enjoy video games (obviously) and all-you-can-eat buffets. It is my dream to resurrect the martial arts comedy genre. That’s the Sparknotes version.
Vonzell Carter: Vonzell Carter, I am an actor with a lot of physical training, a lot of imagination, and a lot to share. And I’m a video game junkie; mostly fighting games and RPGs. I have a Master’s Degree in Acting from CalArts, and outside of my work with TP, I act, choreograph fights for stage plays, write, and direct film. I’m also a movement junkie; I’m very much into expression through the body…probably why I’m so into martial arts – but also yoga, dance, exercise, clowning, mask, and gesture work.
Darren Bailey: We started off as a trio of college friends/filmmakers from the Midwest. After a lack of interesting work in LA, we put our schooling to use to make some fight sequences with a blend of special effects. Over time, the rest of the team joined in various ways. One of the things we clique on as a group is our passion for creativity. Each of us has multiple talents and we encourage each other to bring out the best of those skills in our films. We joke around a lot, and have no problem trash-talking one another during a video game. We bring this same carefree and fun attitude to sets. We have fun. We love what we do, and our projects are better for the lack of bias during production. At its core, we see ourselves as cool nerds, including the girls.
EH: Thousand Pounds Team: What is it and how did it come to be. And what’s the story behind the team’s name?
VC: What we are is best described in our mission statement at 1kpounds.com, but from my perspective, we’re a production team specifically built to generate visually stunning action scenes, inspired by the styles of video game and anime visuals, and bind them to a compelling story with powerful characters under high stakes situations.
DAX: Chris, Vonzell and Darren started Thousand Pounds because they weren’t satisfied with how far they had gotten in the entertainment industry. They wanted to change the game by trying fight scenes. They filmed a fight and put it on YouTube.
VC:It was New Year’s Eve 2009. Chris, Darren, his wife Nicole, and I had Christmas dinner days before, and remarked on how the years are going by without another solid collaboration between us. During our college years (spent respectively at Ohio State and Miami University of Ohio) we got to know each other, and had worked with each other extensively in various film projects. The plan was for everyone in our crew to come out to L.A. and continue the epic madness. Those sessions were few and far between, even though everyone had been out for more than a year. We decided to get together and rectify that. So, New Year’s Eve, we met up, grabbed my DVX 100B, found a park, and made a point to shoot, edit, and release something on the new year. Round One was the result. It did well. We got excited, vowed to create more, and the seed for Thousand Pounds had begun its growth.
DB: Chris, Vonzell & I knew after the first couple short films we made together that doing this as much as possible would feed our souls.
DAX: Darren then contacted me after seeing a fight I did with Lazy Brown Productions up in Chicago, asking if I would like to collaborate with them some time. I told them to wait six months, as I was about to move to LA at the end of the school year. I then brought in James, who I trained with, and then we inducted Brendon, brought Amy on, and then Mickey.
VC: As for the name, it comes from a Taijiquan proverb which states that 4 ounces of force is enough to move a thousand pounds. The four ounces, in my mind, was the imagination, our determination. The thousand pounds is our achievement, success, heck even our bodies.
DAX: So we wondered how much we could accomplish as a force of a thousand pounds.
JY: We are trying to do something different and affect the industry, that’s the goal.
DB: In a sense, what we do has Eastern influence on American stylization. Thousand Pounds has been a group effort from the very start.
EH: How many hours a day do you devote to training? I guess some hard work is needed, in order to pull off the stunts that you do.
DB: Training is encouraged on an individual basis, and occasionally we’ll meet in the gym or a shared martial arts class to train at the same time. It ranges on the individual from around 10-40 hours/week. Choreography and the filmmaking itself is also part of our training, not just time in a gym. If you count watching movies, anime and playing video games as training, the number is closer to 168 hours/week, haha.
JY: I would say it is about 6 hours a day of training. Ranging in everything from fights, acrobatics, falls, wire work, high falls, parkour/free running, choreography as well as fitness oriented stuff (weight training, cardio training). Most of the members of the group have had years of marital arts experience. Some of our members have been in martial arts for 20+ years.
DAX: When I had the time to train, I put in about 3-4 hours per day of katas, tricking and conditioning. Unfortunately, day jobs and shoots have severely cut into my training time, so I’ve lost some of my earlier athleticism. I honestly can’t wait until I can find the time to get back into shape. And yes, it does take some serious hard work to do what we do. It took me 9 months of daily training to learn how to do a back flip, and don’t get me started on butterfly twists.
VC: There’s never enough time, ha ha. However, being a performer, every moment of every day can be considered training if one is open and committed. Hard work is always essential, but even more essential is the need for balance.
CC: I don’t have the pleasure to train as much as the on-camera members do. But I train in traditional Shotokan Karate with team member Vonzell Carter, 4-5 days out of the week.
EH: How did you decide to start making videos?
CC: I’ve been filmmaking since I was around 10 years old, doing stop motion films with my Ninja Turtles. Filmmaking has been a passion that hasn’t left me since. As Vonzell said earlier, he, Darren, Nicole and I were sitting around and we decided to go out and shoot a fight scene. After doing so and being pleasantly surprised with the outcome, we then vowed to continue shooting choreographed fights throughout the year.
DB: Vonzell & I studied acting together in college, doing both film and theatre, and we met Cowan through a mutual friend, collaborating in several student film projects, shorts, and features in Ohio. Once they moved to LA, they continued to make both action and comedic films at a higher production level. YouTube served as a free means to display our content, but it was not an intention going into it, initially, to form into a full action team. That just kind of happened. We contacted different stunt people and martial artists, like Brendon, Amy and Dax, to see if they’d be in LA and could help us out with any projects. Instant friendships were made.
JY: Wanting to emulate our idols. Playing a lot of video games and reading /watching anime or manga we wanted to replicate and show that that kind of action can be done live, which so far Hollywood has failed to show. Mainly, we just love working with each other.
DAX: I guess part of it is that we are all creative people, and we weren’t satisfied with the offerings of both online and the entertainment industry as a whole. No one successfully pulled off the dynamic action and storytelling offered by video games and anime. We decided to make videos because we want to see that type of dynamic storytelling in a live action situation. We’re just making the type of videos that we want to watch!
EH: Did you expect all this success and recognition? How do you feel about it? It’s kind of a burden to have fans (and fanboys/girls) and fulfill their expectations.
JY: Not really lol, once Ultra Combos 1 went viral (after the success of Street Fighter) we figured we should ride the viral wave and see where it took us. We love our fans, they are amazing. Being inspiration for them is something amazing to us and very flattering. We are fans of the material we make ourselves so we want to see it done right as fans. It is fun to see what the fans want us to do though.
DAX: The advent of the Ultra Combos was a bit of surprise. We deep down knew that it was only a matter of time before our style of filmmaking caught attention, but the way that the Ultra Combo series became an overnight hit was a total shock. It changed the game for us, to put it simply.
DB: We thought what we were making was fun and cool, but the response from the online communities, especially the fans of our adaptive material, was overwhelming.
VC: It was a blur, and next thing I knew we had a lot of support for our work and an overwhelming desire from them to produce more. Never expected it at all. It is a gift and a challenge.
DB: Fans will either love or hate you. Some will hate great work just because their beloved characters are sacred to them in the form they were meant to exist in. Adapting them to live-action is a sin in their eyes, no matter how true to story/characters your film is. We’re fans first, filmmakers second. We never lose sight of that.
DAX: We’re less focused on trying to please everyone, and more so on creating projects that we ourselves can pour our creativity, time and effort into. We want to create things that we will enjoy and be proud of, and we’re just happy that so many people enjoy them as well!
VC: But in so much as we are fans, we are also content creators. We approach every project like it’s our first, push ourselves, and make sure the story works. Our hardest fans are ourselves, so if we can fulfill our own expectations, we feel bold enough to share it with others and stand by it.
DB:The fans who love our stuff really, really love our stuff. They are the ones spreading our work to their blogs, forums and social networking groups. They are the ones saying Thousand Pounds is the first organization to do live-action adaptations correctly. We are only as popular as we are because of the support those communities have shown us. We’re in their debt.
DAX: We’ve been truly blessed the support. Though our fans now expect a lot out of us, I wouldn’t call it a burden, even though most of the comments on our videos and facebook wall lately have been “Where’s Naruto part two?” It’s awesome to take the time to really pay attention to small details and have fans call out and appreciate those details. (Like doing Naruto in Japanese or recreating the Metsu Shoryuken shot for shot.)
CC: This has all been a shock and an incredibly humbling experience for us. We’re just really thankful that viewers are appreciating and enjoying what we’re attempting to do. It gives us a lot of faith in what we’re doing and motivates us to continue doing so.
EH: What’s the Thousand Pounds typical process of creating a video?
CC: Sit around, play video games, talk about what might look cool on camera, everyone throws out ideas and then we go out and shoot it. But for bigger projects like Naruto, the process was much more lengthy and thought out.
JY: Haha, sometimes it is actually just a quick idea that we choreograph and shoot on the spot.
DAX: Like the Real life Ultra Combos, and Arkham City fight, we went out and made everything up on the fly.
DB: Often, they start out with a “what if” question. “What if we made our own Street Fighter Ultra Combos?” “What if Rock Lee and Naruto fought now that they’re older?” If the group gets collectively excited about a “what if”, we can then move into a verbal brainstorming of the possibilities within that world, and the logistics of what we can pull off on a shoestring budget. We look at who on our team could fill what roles on and off screen and discuss scheduling. Music is also a major factor in what we do. A song itself can inspire us to create something to match up with it, which was the case with “Tag Match“. Chris typically has a director’s-eye vision of what can happen in various movements of the score, and we each help elaborate the details and script once we have a skeleton to work off of.
DAX: On a project heavy in production needs, Haile, Lex and Chris (writers and director, respectively) meet in order to flesh out the aspects of the idea. What story are we going to tell? What are the characters’ motivations? Then we bring James in to start talking about what stunt gear we would need to be able to pull off some of the ideas. From there, Haile and Lex start preparing a script, while Chris begins cutting a music track. Once we have the track, we can begin on choreography and read throughs, where Darren and Vonzell coach the performers from an acting perspective. Then a rehearsal or two complete with reference footage, and we’re ready to shoot! Chris then does all the post production himself (I know, right?), and releases the video!
VC: What’s cool is every video has had a different process, from spontaneous creating to deep research into the material, mixed with an impulse to tell a unique story rooted in that universe. The dynamic of how we work constantly changes, so the only constant is we are 100% committed to what we do before we do it. Within the team, we work with this strange formula of ordered chaos, sort of like a jazz session.
DB: We have a weekly meeting where we talk about future pieces, current collaborations, and marketing opportunities on the business side of things. This helps keep us fresh and up-to-date as a team.
EH: What equipment/software do you use for making your videos. And who directs them?
CC: I shoot on my Canon 7D with a few lenses and edit on my Macbook Pro with Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects.
DB:Chris is almost always the lead creative director. He edits all our fights and does the visual effects. The whole team is involved in pre-production and production, while Chris takes over as a one-man-show for post-production and final upload.
VC: We list our equipment and software either in the credits or in the notes of most of our videos.
EH: The directing/editing in your vids is very dynamic. What’s your technique and what inspired it?
CC: I’m heavily inspired by Japanese artists, especially those who work in a digital field. For example, after I watched Final Fantasy Advent Children and took notice of the camera composition and editing, my whole view towards filmmaking changed. You’ll notice similar styles in the cutscenes for a lot of Japanese video games (Street Fighter, Tekken, Etc). The presentation behind videos like that are super inspiring. But watching anime and reading manga inspire me greatly as well.
DB: The Canon 7d, being small and high-quality, lends itself perfectly to this new way of viewing action. The camera is the audience’s eye, and he makes them part of the action, not just spectators.
VC: He can do these crazy techniques without any complicated rigging or equipment (I call him steady-cam hands) and very little by way of visual effects. It’s genius.
EH: Who/what inspires you?
DAX: Personally I draw a lot of inspiration from Jackie Chan. He pioneered the martial arts comedy genre with an irreplaceable fusion of acting, comedy, martial arts and acrobatics. He simply made action funny. My other inspiration, oddly enough, is Sonic the Hedgehog. The idea of continuing to press forward no matter what obstacles and troubles try to get in your way. Living life your own way, not compromising your values. An unwavering sense of right and wrong. No regrets. That type of thing. There are some awesome vocal tracks in the last decade or so of Sonic games that illustrate this.
JY: Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, the old amazing kung fu martial art movies, the amazing fight scenes that are put together with a great ensemble cast. But a big inspiration are video games/anime, how dynamic and sick the action is, we love to put that in live action.
DB: I am inspired by film itself. I love all film, all genres, foreign and domestic. I am inspired by actors and musicians. My hero is Charlie Chaplin. He was visionary, hilarious, and genius. Despite being hard to work with on set, he knew exactly what he wanted. He knew what worked and what didn’t before audiences did, and his movement was incredible. I know he influenced Jackie Chan in his comedic timing and flow as well, and Jackie has been a big influence for us all where action and precision is concerned.
VC: We’ve probably said videogames and anime 80 times already, lol. That’s our base. Martial arts wise, we look to everything, most notably Jackie Chan, Yuen Woo Ping, Bruce Lee, Prachya Pinkaew, Donnie Yen, Panna Rittikrai, and everyone else who is inspired by them.
EH: What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies?
VC: VIDEOGAMES. Though, I call that research lol. The team is a family, and hanging out with them when it’s non work related is a blast. Facebook is a virus, that I’ve caught. I read a lot of technique training manuals, either in acting, exercise or martial arts. I’ve really gotten into television on the Netflix. Programming has become much better recently.
DB: I enjoy soccer, video games, movies and seeing live theatre.
JY: Hang with the team, play video games, training is a huge hobby, learning different martial arts.
CC: Video Games, Read, Train Martial Arts, Goof off with my teammates.
DAX: A lot of our time has been dedicated to either day jobs or Thousand Pounds, but I do have a hobby of drawing cartoons. I started drawing my own comic book series when I was ten, and I’ve kept it going ever since. Martial arts comedy, of course. I suspect this has helped me visualize fight choreography so much better than I would have otherwise…
EH: Well, you obviously have an interest in video games and anime. Name your favorites!
DB: Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Naruto, Death Note.
Video games: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Resident Evil 4, Super Mario Galaxy
CC: Video Games: Street Fighter, SOCOM (1 thru confrontation), I could name more but I enjoy so many that this list would get pretty ridiculous. I will say that I have been playing a lot of Gundam Extreme Vs. Unfortunately it’s not available in the States unless you import it but I assure you all, it’s well worth it.
Anime/Manga: Naruto, Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist, Berserk. (Currently watching/reading Holy Land, Fist of The North Star and the Original Gundam Anime Series).
JY: Cowboy Beebop, Naruto, One Piece, Beserk. Assassins Creed, Uncharted, Batman Arkham.
DAX: Video games: Smash Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda, Resident Evil 4&5. Pokemon (If I had money to buy this game I would STILL play this! Don’t judge me!)
Animes: History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi. This was recommended to me by an old student of mine, and I loved it more than any other that I’ve ever seen (sorry Naruto.) It stars a protagonist that I can identify with (a kind hearted bookworm surrounded by martial arts masters that he strives to learn from by getting his butt kicked repeatedly) and the genre that I love: martial arts comedy. I’ve watched the entire series three times. In contrast, I’ve never watched any other series more than once.
VC: #1 VG of all time: Final Fantasy VII
#1 anime: Cowboy Bebop
I’m a sucker for RPGs and most fighting games. Of course I’m all in for Street Fighter. I love Kingdom Hearts, Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls, Grandia 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, F-Zero, Legend of Zelda Link’s Awakening, Super Metroid, anything with an epic score is always good…Full Metal Alchemist (both versions), Eden of the East, Deathnote, Gundam Wing.
EH: Which is your favorite video, from the ones you made?
CC: I’m probably most proud of Naruto. It’s been my goal to make that video for a long time now and to see it get such a positive response, makes me really really happy.
VC: I like Tag Match the best. I’m a fan of story, and I believe that video still holds its own with the story that can be derived from it: both the backstory and the relationships between the characters. The music, choreography, sound design, editing, and effects all contribute to the story. Nothing is there just because it looks cool…even though it does!
DB: I love how “Tag Match” has so much depth and story without dialogue or text. The timing of the choreography to the music is still impressive to me. Of course, though, “Dreamers Fight”, in its entirety, was an undertaking and something I’m extremely proud of. It’s remarkable how quickly a 13-minute video has gained over 2,000,000 views, and it’s only the first half of the film. That validates our hard work.
DAX: I really liked our recent “Street Fighter X Tekken Release Announcement” because it showcased most of us as US. We also got to play around with comedy, and we still did some exciting choreography despite having a very limited amount of time to film. That being said, Naruto is easily the best thing we’ve made so far. I start watching the fight and don’t notice that 8 minutes of my life pass by. It is so well done in both performance, choreography, concept, shooting, editing, music… *sigh… I want to go watch it right now.
JY: We have quite a few that we haven’t released yet that are amazing, but so far it was the Batman Arkham City fight, we were playing with some new ideas and we loved what we came up with.
EH: You are making a promo video for the upcoming “Street Fighter X Tekken” game. How is it like to work with Capcom and Namco? How did the project start?
VC: We’re only working with Capcom on this venture. The lines of communication for this actually began with our Street Fighter fan film. Capcom’s reception of our video was great, and after Ultra Combos, we decided to try and get in touch with them for a possible collaboration.
CC: Capcom took notice. We had always expressed interest in working with Capcom and for them to let huge fans, such as us, do a project with them has been a complete dream come true.
DAX: It’s definitely nice to be recognized by your source material, and the opportunity is amazing. We’re really excited to figure out what we’re actually going to be doing!
VC: I hope this isn’t the last time we join forces officially!
EH: What’s next for Thousand Pounds? What can people expect from you in the future? Movies/TV/Web series look like the next thing to go for.
JY: This year is HUGE, Thousand Pounds will be HUGE in 2012.
CC: We’re looking at tackling all three haha. We have multiple projects in the works that fit to all of these categories but unfortunately we have to remain tight lipped. But you can trust that we’ll still be releasing new videos on our YouTube channel for fun in the meantime.
DB: We’re open to all of the above. We’ve produced 100% of our own stuff. No one on the team has made money from Thousand Pounds. We’ve actually lost money from investing in our own productions. The goal is to make this our full-time jobs, quit our “normal” day jobs, and do feature films, television shows, and more. We typically don’t announce many of the projects we’re working on. Right now, we have about 6 different pieces, some short, some feature-length. Some are original ideas and some are new spins to adapt other video games/anime.
DAX: We’ve been getting a lot of attention within the video game industry, and we’re looking forward to those possible collaborations. Our dreams lie in creating new material and bringing that style of dynamic action to a wider audience. We’re just going to keep pressing forward, like a certain blue, spiky haired video game character I enjoy…
VC: We will be sure to update our Facebook page as things develop!
EH: Finally, anything you’d like to say to the people?
CC: Thanks for supporting what we do! I can’t express how much we all appreciate it.
JY: Thank you so much to the fans! You guys are amazing, We love reading your comments and you really inspire us to keep going. We hope to blow everyone out the water with the upcoming Naruto Shippudden Dreamers Fight Part 2 and with the other projects we have this year.
DB: Abundant thank yous! We’re kids at heart, storytelling and flipping ourselves around for our own amusement, but doing it in a professional way. We are so excited to share with you the new ideas we’re working on for 2012. We love you all!
DAX: Thank you for all of your support thus far. We can’t express enough how touched we are by how much love and support that our fanbase has shown us. And patience. Definitely patience. We hope to make you proud!
VC: A big THANK YOU to those who support us, and believe in our progress and mission. A bigger THANK YOU to those who watch our work and have suggestions, feedback, and critique. We grow with everything we do, and in many ways, you contribute!! That’s one thing I hope remains very clear: we have perfected nothing. We are masters in nothing. We continue to learn and grow and develop how we create. We don’t get it right all the time, but we never put something out just because we can. And to those we inspire: I hope you find the determination, or frustration to get up and try something. Failure is much better than success, and the world is more forgiving than you think, even if YouTube isn’t.
So, if you want to learn more about Team Thousand Pounds and their work, here’s how you can find them:
Official Site: http://www.thousandpoundsaction.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ThousandPoundsActionCompany
Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/RivenX3i