Promo Still: The whole cast of the promo: Me, Izzy, Matt, Jessica, & Gregg.
In the fall of 2015, we gathered with some friends and made the raddest promo videos to ever promote an '80s-themed comic about a nerd turned satanic ninja. If you've somehow missed our video gifts to the world, you can watch them here.
So how did we manage to pull off such a totally radical feat? Great question. In fact, I'm making this blog post to tell you exactly that. In order to keep this from being mega-massive, I'll break it into two parts, with this part covering the pre-production.
I'll also be peppering this with pictures taken during the production, so if you don't give a fuck how the promos were made, you can just scroll down and enjoy the eye candy.
As most Satan Ninja fans probably know by now, I've been into making videos ever since I was a kid. Back then, my friends and I would use my family's camcorder to make terrible improvised action movies, comedy sketches, and animated Lego shorts (I've slowly been editing them and tossing them up on YouTube). So making some kind of live-action Satan Ninja video was something I'd been thinking about ever since we first launched the comic.
I thought that making an awesome promo video would not only be fun, but also a good way to get the word out about our super awesome creation. So the money we had set aside for the comic's advertising budget was spent on a nice camera and some other filmmaking equipment.
At first, I intended to make the Satan Ninja promo video into a single short-film that would try to capture the feel of the comic. Sort of a what-if scenario that could take place in the comic's universe. It would've featured Veronica getting lost on her way to a party and then getting harassed by punks until she's saved by Satan Ninja Eddie in a bloody battle.
Promo Still: Jessica, Me, Izzy, & Gregg.
I wrote a script and we were gearing up to enter production—but then Kung Fury came out and fucked up our plans. I realized that our little no-budget '80s-inspired short would seem super lame in the wake of that radical beast. So Jessica and I decided to change course a bit and I re-wrote the promo script into a series of cheesy mock '80s commercials instead of a short film. My original script for the short film got re-worked into the "I Got Somethin' I Wanna Show Ya" promo video.
Photo by me: Jessica done up as Veronica.
Casting was easy. Jessica and I are two of the best actors we know, and, since we're the comic's creators, it made sense to give us the most prominent roles. So I wrote the parts of Veronica, the lead punk, and the Dad, with us in mind.
Promo Still: Jessica as Veronica, me as "Coke Guy."
Jessica didn't want to be known for just playing a bimbo valley girl, so I cast her as a punk chick as well. Of course, that presented the problem of her having to play two characters in the same scene, but we'd seen enough Van Damme movies to feel confident we could pull it off.
Photo by Michael Cook: Jessica as a blue-haired punk.
The casting of Eddie was a no-brainer. Ever since we started making the comic back around 2008, friends of ours had been pointing out that our main character, Eddie McCarthy, looks a lot like our friend Matt (Jessica swears it wasn't intentional). And since Matt had previous acting experience, he was the obvious choice to play our comic's main dude.
Photo by Jessica's Mom: Matt as Eddie.
Our friend Izzy had agreed to do hair, makeup, and help us with the wardrobe, so I cast her as one of the punk girls since she's a babe and she'd be on set anyway. And our buddy Gregg (er, "George," as he goes by on screen) had recently starred as the villain in the post-apocalyptic micro-budget film American Holocaust 2000, so I figured I'd cast him as a scuzzy punk to help ensure he'd be type-cast early on in his acting career.
Promo Still: Izzy & Gregg as "punks."
The only hiccup I had in casting was the part of the Boy. We considered casting an actual twelve-to-fourteen-year-old in the role, but we realized we didn't know any and we'd feel totally creepy auditioning stranger's kids for the role. So we decided to have Jessica play the part, since she kind of sounds like a tweenage boy naturally and being done up like a dude would be a nice counter-weight to the sexed-out roles she typically plays.
Photo by me: Jessica as the bane of my boner.
Props & Costumes
For several months prior to the shoot, we slowly acquired outfits that we felt could match the '80s theme. Most notably, we managed to find a high-waisted thong-style leotard, which Jessica has since worn to a few conventions.
Photo by Michael Cook: Jessica as Veronica in workout garb.
Of course, thrift stores proved to be a good source of retro clothes, like those worn by Eddie. The glasses worn by Eddie and my Dad character had both belonged to Jessica's mom back in the '80s. Speaking of Jessica's mom, she actually cut off some of her hair for me to glue on as a mustache when I played the Dad. Completing my Dad costume was a cheap wig I bought at a Halloween shop about a half hour before we started filming that scene.
Photo by Jessica: Me channeling an angry '80s dad.
The blonde wig Jessica wore while playing Veronica was only eight bucks on eBay, but it was shipped from China so it took a month to arrive. We were wary of using such a cheap wig, but we were pleasantly surprised when Jessica tried it on. Izzy did a great job styling it and doing Jessica's makeup to bring the character to life.
Photos by me: Jessica as Eddie's Dream Babe.
The most difficult thing to figure out, costume-wise, was how to portray Eddie in his Satan Ninja from. One of the inspirations for Eddie's Satan Ninja getup was the jacket Michael Jackson wore in the "Thriller" music video, so I figured I could buy a replica of that and then we could repaint it or something, but it turns out we didn't have to. I managed to find version of the Thriller jacket that already had the colors inverted, so it was mostly black with red stripes. The collar was nothing like Eddie's jacket, but I thought it was close enough for our purposes, especially after the sleeves were chopped off and spikes were added to the shoulders.
Photo by Jessica's Mom: Matt as Satan Ninja Eddie.
But there was still the problem of the most important prop: the Shinobi Fist of Hellpower. The glove is the dark heart of Eddie's costume, so we wanted to do it right, but neither Jessica nor I had much experience making props. Luckily, we happen to be friends with Jay Barron, a professional prop/model builder and mastermind of the Evil Duck Workshop, who agreed to help us out.
Obviously, the glove in the comic is inspired by the Nintendo Power Glove, so I figured that would make the perfect base for Jay to work with. It took me a while, but I finally managed to purchase one from eBay for a decent price. I felt a little bad handing it over to Jay to be gutted, but it's not like the Power Glove was actually useful for anything anyway, despite how badass Lucas made it look. Jay did a fucking amazing job, even rigging it so the glove's pentagram can glow—so awesome.
Photo by Michael Cook: Matt as Satan Ninja Eddie. So bad!
I wrote the script in a way that would prevent us from having to worry about the Satan Ninja's lower half, but I realized it might be hard to avoid showing his waist, so Jay was kind enough to agree to make the pentagram belt for us as well. Unfortunately, it can barely be seen in the final product, but hey, it's awesome that we have it for the future.
Originally in the comic, Eddie's hair wasn't going to change when he shifted into his satan ninja form, as can be seen in some of the early promo art Jessica did, like the header image of Eddie or the Power Glove parody wallpaper. But we eventually decided to give Satan Ninja Eddie more of a metal rocker appearance, so we gave him longer, bigger hair and changed his hair color to black, which goes well with his red eyes. For the promo, we decided to stick with the now outdated look for Satan Ninja Eddie so that we wouldn't need to get a wig for Matt.
Photo by Jessica's Mom: Matt attempting to recreate the image of Eddie next to the Satan Ninja logo.
About a week before our big day of shooting, I realized we were missing one of the most important props. In my script, every commercial has a character at some point flip through an issue of our comic. The problem is, we had sold out of our comic, with the exception of a few remaining copies of issue 1 with the original cover, and we didn't want to use that. Fortunately, Jessica recalled that she had sold an issue to one of her former high school art teachers who lived nearby, and he was fine with lending it back to us so we could use it in the promo.
The drawback of casting myself in the promo, is that it'd prevent me from always being behind the camera. So I needed someone else on set who I could trust to be the cameradude. Fortunately, my longtime pal and bandmate Michael Cook happens to be a great photographer and cinamatographer. He agreed to help out with the promo by co-producing, doing the lighting, acting as a secondary cameraman, and allowing us to record in and around his studio.
He also took a bunch of badass pictures during the production, like these two:
Photo by Michael Cook: Jessica Safron as herself.
Photo by Michael Cook: Me as myself.
That's enough pre-production talk. The next part will cover the actual shoot itself, and I'll edit together a behind the scenes video of us making it.