Written by: Miguel Douglas
Interview: Roby Behrens – director of Cowboy Bebop live-action short
by Miguel Douglas on December 05, 2010
With the possibility of a live-action Cowboy Bebop film in the near future, many fans of the series speculate on the results of such an endeavor. With a sense of uneasiness felt by fans throughout the world, fan creation ultimately provides an outlet to ease such fears, and in many cases, correctly show mainstream producers how it’s done. Director Roby Behrens has taken the initiative in this regard, delivering a fantastic homage to the classic series by re-enacting a famous scene from its very first episode. You can read my interview of Roby regarding the short film, its creation, and his future plans below.
How did this project come to fruition?
I have always had a passion for nullifying the notion of a fourth wall in cinema. That is to say, anything that holds people back from fully engaging a scene is something I would consider to fall into the category of breaking the fourth wall. Animation is a good example of this. I’ve always seen Cowboy Bebop as pushing the boundaries of anime into realism. In order to emphasize realistic tendencies in the fight, I wanted to remake the scene in live-action. At the time, I felt it was all very possible and I wanted to prove it to the world. I also felt that high quality fan productions are few and far between on YouTube. I wanted to make one.
Are you a big fan of the anime series?
I am a huge fan of the series and I derive much inspiration from it.
Are you a fan of Japanese animation in general? If so, what are some other series/films you enjoy?
I love a wide variety of Japanese anime as well as animated films. I have been following One Piece and Naruto since high school. I have seen the full series of FLCL dozens and dozens of times, each time drawing something new from it. I’m a big fan of Shinichiro Watanabe and I loved Samurai Champloo as well as Ghost in the Shell. I have also re-watched and enjoyed every Studio Ghibli film/ Miyazaki production.
Are you a fan of Asian cinema? If so, what are some films you enjoy?
I have been following Beat Takeshi’s films for a long time. I also gain a lot of inspiration from Akira Kurosawa and his body of work. My favorites of his include Yojimbo, Stray Dog, and Rashomon. I respect Kurosawa because he is a master of timing and patience. He also employs a powerful sense of minimalism in his work with sound and set design. There is also a very touching film that I saw recently entitled Densha Otoko (train man).
How long did the project take to film in its entirety?
The project took 3 weekends to film, I ended up editing a year later.
Were there any difficulties that you came across when shooting?
We were shooting on multiple formats because of our limited access to equipment. A lot of the cameras that we used were big and not conducive to the reproduction of high-angle, freehand shots. Some of the footage was shot on a JVC 100u and captured to a firestore. A firestore is a harddrive attached to the camera by a firewire cable. With a big camera and a delicate harddrive running to it, we had trouble with camera dexterity. Some of the footage was shot in standard definition on a Sony PD170 because we were unable to gain access to high definition cameras at the time. The high angles were shot from a ladder. Reproducing shots was also very difficult and we had to refer to the scene and our storyboard many times.
Where were the shooting location(s) for the film?
We shot the film at a building on the UC Santa Cruz campus. The quad that we shot in is located just outside of a redwood forest and has a beautiful view of the ocean. We spent a while scouting in pre-production but none of the downtown locations felt right for a solid fight scene.
The editing of the fight scene was nicely done. Did you have to do many takes to get the feel of the scene just right?
Each shot took around five takes, the table flip took a few more. I’ve had previous martial arts experience and we just had to stay high-energy during the shoot. Thanks for the compliment!
What is your favorite part of the film? Why?
My favorite part of the film is the high angle front-flip dive kick towards the end of the fight that is followed by a series of punches. The fight scene was more exciting to edit and film. A lot of the fighting looked slow and weak in the raw footage. We made it feel natural through a use of time-remapping in post production (speeding up and slowing down footage).
Are you happy with your work? If not, was there anything you believe you could’ve done better?
I am happy with the project, but I do not feel that it represents our current abilities as filmmakers. We shot the project in poor quality last year and nowadays, we would do much much better. A few of the shots looked especially inexperienced before the fight and the dubbing is a bit weak. Although I was able to fix the color to an extent, there is a visible difference between the camera qualities.
How is the public response for the project so far?
People seem to enjoy our live action production. I receive a great deal of friendly comments daily. We currently only have around 12,000 views on the video, but we’re expecting it to rise when my channel gains popularity and when the Fox version of Cowboy Bebop film comes out in theaters.
How do you feel about the various mainstream live-action adaptations of Anime that we see today? Any that you personally enjoyed? Disliked?
I am typically disappointed by live action adaptions of anime and games. Sure, they get the characters and plot across cinematically, but it seems like filmmakers and studios tend to take certain liberties with projects. For example, live action Dragon Ball changed many character appearances and great deal of plot elements from the original series. In live action films, the color grading is usually not reminiscent of the animation’s original color schemes and the characters are often miscast as a result of studio restrictions, popular actors, etc. Hopefully Shinichiro Watanabe will be working closely with whoever directs the Cowboy Bebop film. People often say Keanu Reeves is a bad choice for the film because of his inability to act care-free. I feel that Keanu Reeves is not ideal for the part because is lacking Spike’s aloofness. If he can summon his personality from Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, he may be okay. A pet-peeve of mine is that people often criticize actors instead of filmmakers for bad acting. Bad acting should be attributed to bad directing and bad producing, not to the actors themselves.
And finally, do you have any plans to expand the project further? A sequel perhaps? Full-length film?
I’d like to remake more scenes at some point in time. A great deal of the shots would most-likely require the use of a green screen later in the series. The next remake that I plan to produce is the first fight scene between Jin and Mugen in Samurai Champloo. This would be a tad more ambitious than Cowboy Bebop because of the acrobatics and complexities, but I feel that it would blow all my previous projects out of the water.
- Big thanks to Roby for being kind enough to answer these questions.
You can view the film in two versions below:
First video is in English and the second in Japanese.