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Feature Tue Jul 14 2009
About a month ago, there were sightings of a film crew lurking around the Bridgeview Bank in Uptown, shooting scenes for what was rumored to be a new "Green Hornet" web series connected to the film being developed by Seth Rogan. We tracked down that film crew to find out what's going on.
The Green Hornet web series turns out to be produced by local indie producer Eric Neal. He and Pek Pongpaet, who plays the Hornet's sidekick, Kato, were nice enough to answer a few questions.
So, first things first: Is this directly tied to the Green Hornet film?
Eric Neal: Absolutely not. We've been very careful to let anyone and everyone involved know that we're in no way connected with the film. In fact, we'd only referred to the show by a psuedonym title until just recently, to keep those lines from crossing. Our show has been in the works for some years and it's just coincidence -- or fate? I don't know -- that both versions are congealing at the same time.
Who all is involved?
Neal: The show is being produced by SIGSALY Entertainment. Right now I'm the head writer and director of the series but eventually we hope to expand and have a roster of both positions.
How did the Green Hornet project come about?
Neal: I'm part of that die-hard Green Hornet fan community. We're as passionate about the Hornet as Batman fanboys are over the Dark Knight. I grew up watching the show in syndication, listening to the radio shows (I know 'em all fairly well), and have a few of the film shorts from the '40s. When I say "grew up watching," that means starting to watch them when I was a kid and never stopping -- I'll drop whatever I'm doing to catch it on TV even now. I've also been listening to the old radio shows since I was a kid, and I'm a big comic book nerd. I recognize the campy elements that are in the [TV] show, but fans like myself who've grown up with the show look past that, and we see the potential for the show, for what it was meant to be. It's just a really cool premise, I just love the idea of a guy who is a little different from most superhero stories, in that superheroes are by and large vigilantes, and the Hornet is a vigilante too but he's a different kind because people don't know him to be a vigilante, the believe him to be a criminal. That was one of the big draws for me toward the subject matter. The show in the '60s, despite the camp, was always a show that took itself seriously, and I've always wanted to see the bar raised a little bit, if you will, to take that show to that next level -- strip away the camp and give it the treatment it deserves.
So ever since I began my screenwriting career, I've been dying to see the next version of the Hornet happen. I wrote a bunch of versions of a spec script before Kevin Smith's studio deal was publicized, but working outside the studio system, the chances of my acquiring the rights for the script to see the light of day were nil. But that's why God created fanfilms. The show was initially going to be a short film but we decided we could give the supporting characters much better treatment in an episodic format.
Can you tell me anything about the story?
Neal: We're starting with an origin story that will show how Britt meets Kato and how he becomes the Hornet. Pretty much the same thing you'll get from the Gondry/Rogen film, except different. Suffice it to say, though, that we're taking whatever foundations are already there and filling in the gaps as creatively as possible. We're taking the best of the best from the radio and TV series and fusing them together in a contemporary setting. The series will move chronologically so that we'll watch Britt grow as a crimefighter and as the publisher of the Daily Sentinel. The biggest difference with our show than you might find elsewhere is we're going far more character-driven. The key flaw with the TV series of the '60s was the villains were flat and cartoony. We're going to improve that with a nice rogues gallery of villains played by accomplished actors. No camp and as little tongue in cheek as possible. There will be plenty of action, but action is almost a no-brainer: an adrenaline-fueled fight sequence is far easier to create than believable character development. The bottom line is we're staying as true to the source material as possible while raising the bar a bit.
Where does the story take place?
Neal: Good question. Previous versions of the show were set in a nondescript "city." Any markings were just generic brands, such as "Metro" police, etc. The closest resemblance to an actual city was probably Detroit, since that's where the radio show has roots. So we're staying true to that formula and creating a fictitious city as the backdrop. But of course it'll have ties to Chicago more than anything. For example, we specify that one of our original characters who's a judge attended Chicago University Law School. Why? Cause it's a respectable university... and they let us shoot there. [laughs]
Pek, you play Kato -- how did you come to be involved?
Pek Pongpaet: I originally met Eric on Craigslist when he was looking for a fight choreographer for a short he was doing. Since I knew martial arts, I thought it would be fun to help him and also get a glimpse of what being involved in a production would be like. Fast forward years later and Eric had the idea of doing some sort of Green Hornet production. He hadn't decided what format it would take whether it was a short, feature or a web series. Since I sort of fit the bill of Kato (being Asian, doing martial arts and having a small frame), he asked me if I'd be interested in the role. I gladly accepted since at the time I was training wushu pretty intensely still and thought this was a very exciting project to be involved in. I do have to say, I'm honored to be chosen for this role. These are very big shoes to fill and I hope to do it justice.
Neal:Pek was the first piece of the puzzle. I met Pek in '06 (I think) when he auditioned for an unrelated short film I was producing. Soon as I saw him, my brain screamed, "Kato!" The short got shelved, but I told Pek maybe a month later, "listen, I'm putting together a Green Hornet short film and if you don't play Kato, I'm afraid I'll have to murder you." Or something to that effect. Actually, don't print that cause Pek terrifies me.
Pek, you've done some physical acting before, as a body model for the Mortal Kombat videogames. Is this your first speaking role?
Pongpaet: I've been involved with the Mortal Kombat video game franchise since 2002 as a motion capture talent and fight choreographer for five Mortal Kombat games. That entailed performing the in-game moves for various characters and also doing the fight scenes for the cinematic intros. The performances were definitely more on the physical side as we acted out fight scenes. All the voice acting were done by professional voice actors. This production will be my first speaking role.
How challenging is the role for you?
Pongpaet: It's definitely a challenge since this is my first speaking role. I've never had any formal acting experience but I'm always willing to learn and put in the time. However I have been formally training in the martial arts for very many years so I feel pretty comfortable playing the fighting parts. Also, the pressure of playing a role that was originally played by the great Bruce Lee is very intimidating. I don't think I could ever do him justice if I tried to play Bruce Lee playing Kato. I hope people will be accepting of the fact that this may be a different rendition of Kato inspired by Bruce Lee and other great martial artists whom I draw inspiration from.
Are any other notable Chicago actors involved, Eric?
Neal: Kim Bendix is playing Lenore Case. Kim's been acting since she could walk. It's in her blood -- she's related to Oscar nominee William Bendix. Edward Dennis Fogell, who owns the Chicago Actors Studio, is one of our baddies. Ed's been in tons of stuff since the early '80s. Walt Sloan is a very prolific local actor who's been acting for about the same number of years. Outside of Chicago, Kevin Croak is a Wisconsin actor who's been in around 300 films -- industrials, commercials, etc. He'll be playing one of the top heavies in the series. So no household names, no Vince Vaughns or Dennis Franzs, but very seasoned and accomplished actors. [The actor playing] Green Hornet will be the last piece of the show that's revealed.
When will the web series debut, and how many episodes can we expect?
Neal: The site will be up very soon with all the bells and whistles (stills, promo photography, character profiles, actor bios, etc.) Some promo and teaser scenes will be airing over the summer until the pilot airs during Sweeps Week in September. Viewers can expect at least six episodes, possibly 13, for the first season.