Today starts our epic interview with Rajneel Singh, director of the classic Matrix fan film, .
If you’ve seen the 16-minute flick, you know that Singh can make a pulse-pounding action flick on a non-existent budget; if you haven’t seen it and you happen to dig Keanu Reeves’ second-best franchise, then you owe it to yourself to check the fan film out.
After you do, come back and find out how they did it, with the first installment of our multi-part interview with Singh.
So you made The Fanimatrix and it had a pretty dramatic effect on your career at the time; that was five years ago—what are you up to now?
I work as an offline/online editor and director for music videos, short films and TV commercials here in Auckland, New Zealand.
You made your fan film during the height of Matrix-mania; is that what inspired you to make the film?
Well, the truth is that the inspiration for making The Fanimatrix was mostly a series of coincidences over the course of 2002 and 2003, with very little interest in making a fan-film in of itself.
During 2002, I had begun taking Chinese martial arts—Wushu—as a hobby and I had joined up a particularly good school in Auckland; it had a few up-and-coming actors and professional stuntmen who came to the class to hone up on their skills. There, I made friends with Steven A. Davis, who co-wrote, co-produced and played the role of “Dante” in the film.
Steve has always been a major go-getter sort of personality and over the course of the year, he encouraged me to pick up a video camera and start making short films because that was my primary interest at the time, next to Wushu. We spent a lot of time making little martial arts fight videos and learning our film craft.
In 2003, Steve, myself and a handful of friends decided that we were going to entire that year’s 48 Hour Film Competition which is a nationwide, highly publicized, competition to make a 7-minute short film in 48 hours using a suggested genre, prop, character and line of dialogue. The prizes are always huge at this sort of thing and we figured that we would stand a good chance at making something interesting.
Sadly for us, this was the year in which the popularity of the 48 Hour Competition had soared to mammoth heights and in Auckland alone, they had over 300 team entries for only 120 team spots in our city. Consequently we did not get in, and found ourselves sort of stuck with a bunch of actors, filmmaking gear, locations we had scouted and got permissions to shoot in and we had nothing to do.
At the same time, we were in major hype mode for The Matrix Reloaded (as was the rest of the world). For Steve, myself and the rest of my Wushu class, it was doubly exciting since so much of our martial art is featured heavily in The Matrix saga. And while we were waiting anxiously to see if we made it into the final 120 teams for that year, we watched both The Animatrix and The Matrix Reloaded in our local cinema which turned us into major fans of the franchise.
And so, after receiving notice that we were unable to take part in this year’s competition, Steven decided, “To hell with it, let’s just make something anyways since we have all this stuff already organized”.
The following day, I had something of an epiphany and thought, “Why don’t we make a Matrix fan film?”.
At first, Steven wasn’t sure what I was talking about, however I sat him down and showed him the famous Star Wars fan film, Troops, and then explained that our list of resources was ideal for creating something like that. We had access to martial artists, stuntmen, safety gear, industrial locations and we knew a lot of goths at the time.
After thinking about it for a moment, he was suddenly struck by inspiration as well. He suggested that we make our fan film in the tradition of The Animatrix, i.e. that the fan film be very serious, self-supporting in its own narrative and perhaps try to add another dimension to the Matrix universe. Hence its name: The Fanimatrix—because it’s a fan film of The Animatrix.
And from that point on, we began calling in favors and writing the script.
So it sounds like you, your cast and crew had some ulterior motives for making a movie….
The primary goal of making The Fanimatrix was to teach ourselves about areas in filmmaking that we had little experience in—namely understanding how to create production value and the ratio of cost vs scale.
In short, we wanted to see how close we could get to something looking like the original Matrix film with the pitiful resources we had at hand. This was our primary motivation from start to finish—the realization that we had a benchmark (the Matrix feature films) that we had to aim for in terms of camera, lighting, editing, sound, music and understanding the relationship between all of these and how they work together to create an emotive and engaging film.
We could directly compare what we made with the original films and see what areas we came short in and what areas we had grown to understand.
The second motivation for making The Fanimatrix was to create an attractive package for—what was at the time—our major talent: action filmmaking. New Zealand has virtually no directing or acting talent that has a vast understanding of how action films can be put together efficiently and engagingly—particularly in the field of martial arts.
We felt that we had an edge in that respect and that we would be able to create something that would stand out amongst the static noise of other New Zealand short films which were focused more on strong story and drama, but little to no focus on action.
For us, The Fanimatrix was a test-case to see if we could produce something that may eventually lead to a film or product that would get us out of here and into Hollywood.
That’s a pretty big dream for a fan film—certainly one with a potentially bad downside. Would you say you’re a risk-taker?
I think all filmmakers have to be risk-takers. Making any kind of movie is one of the most expensive creative endeavours known to man and understanding that you have to break a few personal eggs to make an omelette is part of your growth as a professional movie-maker.
Film is a harsh mistress and she demands utter devotion, lest she eat you alive.
I recognize that many elements of The Fanimatrix was about myself being a risktaker—putting many of my personal fears and personal values on the line to achieve what I needed to achieve. I had attracted many friends to be in the goth bar without any ability to promise them anything—not even a good time (though thankfully they did seem to have that). I had to deal with the responsibility of shooting a handful of dangerous stunts (thankfully performed by professionals) without the support of a producer and stunt-coordinator to guide me and legally protect me. I also had to take the risk of ridicule that my first stab at professional filmmaking was going to be a fan-film which (at that time) was not prestigious and, of course, was laced with legal issues.
I consider myself to be a calculated risk-taker and I still work on this principle today. And the upside is that I’ve grown to really enjoy how much making movies puts me into new and exciting situations that any other career path would never have offered me.
Next Friday’s installment will delve into those situations and more—stay tuned!