This summer marks the 25th anniversary of director Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat feature film based on the popular arcade and video game franchise. It was one of the first Hollywood video game movies to break the curse of failed gaming adaptations and went on to collect over $122 million worldwide, and spawned official sequels, an animated TV series, and a new big-budget reboot next year.
However, Mortal Kombat has also inspired plenty of fan films set in the universes of Earthrealm and Outworld. One of the more acclaimed amateur projects hails from New Jersey filmmaker Christopher Barcia, whose 17-minute Mortal Kombat: Fates Beginning has been a sensation at film festivals.
Based on the original 1992 Mortal Kombat arcade game, Fates Beginning won Best Mortal Kombat Fan Film at the 2015 Urban Action Showcase Film Festival and Expo. Its plot is injected with a rousing spirit as Lord Raiden's Earthrealm fighters clash with Emperor Shao Kahn's Outworld warriors over the fate of Earth. Barcia's use of simple visual effects and effective casting made his homemade project a respectable addition to the Mortal Kombat legacy.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Barcia on how he shot his Mortal Kombat fan film on a shoestring budget, honoring the legacy of the iconic property, injecting a flurry of inventive special effects, and completing the handcrafted homage to score a near “flawless victory.”
How did this kickass Mortal Kombat fan film get started?
Me and one of my best friends, Victoria Simone (who acted as Kitana in the fan film), got together and started talking about the things we liked as we were growing up and one of them was Mortal Kombat. I was telling her how when I was little I loved the original games and the story and all the background of the characters.
She said that we should do a movie of how we’d want it to be if they did a remake of the ‘90s film. At that time I was a beginner filmmaker and she wanted to get into producing so it all fit together. I ended up writing a script and she loved it and it just started snowballing from there. We started getting things together and ran it on Indiegogo and it kept growing and growing.
When did the Indiegogo campaign start and how much did you collect to fund the film?
I believe it was at the end of 2014. The campaign ran for three months and we got over $3,000. At the time, for me, having done a lot of no-budget filmmaking, that was something astronomical. Then it was almost a year from shooting to editing to release in 2015.
What did this project teach you as a new filmmaker?
Mortal Kombat: Fates Beginning was my first major project where I wasn’t alone. I actually had a team! The first thing you realize is that people are doing things for you. I had people dedicated to jobs and learned more about how to manage myself as a director and stepping into that leadership role that I could use more today.
For every moment on set, there were so many stories of what happened while filming. I learned camera techniques from my DP Mathew Wijatyk, who was fantastic. We were using the original Blackmagic Studio Camera which I’d never worked with before. I got to see more of the technical side of things and understand why that results in better quality versus a smaller DSLR.
I was also able to learn how to use my AD to help control my actors and crew. And how to block different techniques with multiple actors and try different editing concepts. The film brought my filmmaking as a director to a whole new level that I would never have gotten otherwise.
The special effects in your movie are impressive for such a tiny budget. How did you accomplish the more difficult shots like Kano’s heart-ripping scene?
We knew we had to have some gore and Victoria said that CGI would take up a lot of the budget. We had the $3,000 but we could only take that so far and had to put it toward other departments. As much as I like VFX and CGI, I also like practical stuff and feel the two should meld together. We created a plan of what we could do practically, then use VFX to improve it.
So I bought a plastic medical replica heart that students use to study in medical school. It looked good but it wouldn’t look right bare in the camera. So we have the shot of Damien Colletti grabbing it and pulling it out, and in VFX we got them to add, through masking techniques, the heart shrinking and growing to get that pumping effect. The rest was sound editing. So we did a lot of those types of things where we had practical mixed with VFX to add an extra selling point.
The same with Sub-Zero’s ice ball. Daniel Pesina, who worked on the original Mortal Kombat games, showed us Chi-oriented martial arts movements to get the feel that Sub-Zero was forming something. In after-effects, my VFX editor used pictures of an ice ball and ice particles. My actor tracked it with his hands, and the motion is what makes the ice ball look realistic.
How did you decide to use motion comic sequences to enhance the story?
I knew we had a big story to pack into a short film, and there was no way we were going to be able to pull it off in a couple of days. I needed to give fans the whole story without chopping anything out. I thought what if there was an open narration by Raiden talking about what is happening so we could immediately jump into the tournament. Victoria’s best friend, Scarlett Menendez, does a lot of art and drawings and I saw her sketch something out when it hit me. What if I had these sideshow animations to enhance and tie in the story without going into full backstories? She did fantastic artwork for the film.
What were fan reactions to Fates Beginning when it first screened in 2015?
The whole labor of love of putting it out was quite the journey. The Urban Action Showcase Festival that we screened it at was coming up so we were rushing to finish it. When it finally came out and I saw it screened in New York City at AMC Times Square, and heard people react to the heart rip and Raiden’s lightning eyes and the “wows” was nostalgic, going back to when I first saw the cool moves in the Mortal Kombat games. It was pretty awesome.
Then when we got it released online as a thank you to the fans, many people were giving us a lot of praise for what we were able to accomplish with such little money. A lot of love came from fans all over.
What project are you currently working on and are there any plans for a Mortal Kombat sequel?
I'm gearing up for my first feature-length film, a witchcraft thriller, that’s going into pre-production right now, so I’m trying to stay steady with that. We still talk about possibly doing a sequel down the road given the right time and if everything fits in. Because I would honestly love to do it.