Steve Wang is one of the creative forces behind the American version of Kamen Rider called Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight. An entertaining action fantasy series for kids. It airs every Saturday morning on The CW4Kids. Mr. Wang talked with us about his long career doing creature effects and directing.
NERDSociety (NS): Steve, tell our readers a little about yourself and your career. How did you get into doing creature effects and directing. You’ve also done some acting. Which do you prefer and why ?
Steve Wang (SW): Well, I started my career as a special makeup effects artist back in the early 80′s. I am a creature designer, sculptor, painter and creature art director for such films as Hellboy, Underworld 1 and 2, Predator, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, Alien VS Predator: Requiem and about 100+ other films and TV shows. I always had a fascination with Halloween masks as a kid and wanted to make them. I am a self-taught artist and learned how to make masks on my own. It eventually led to a career in Los Angeles.
In 1985 I also started making my own amateur films which eventually led me to co-direct The Guyver, produce and direct Guyver 2. Also did another action film called Drive.
I also acted in my first feature film called Kung Fu Rascals. It was a $40,000 super 8 epic! LOL. I actually don’t like acting at all. It’s not my thing. I only did it because I was shooting a trailer for it and thought I can just play the part for a few shots but when it became a full feature film, I was stuck having to finish the part. I prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it. I’m a filmmaker at heart and I enjoy the creative process of making films.
NS: You directed the martial arts film Drive with Mark Dacascos. The film has a huge cult following and was very well-received. What was it like working on that film and what’s your opinion on Mark. I know he is coming on the Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight series at some point.
SW: Drive was an incredibly good and horrible experience all at the same time. It was good in that I got to work with Mark Dacascos (for the first time), Kadeem Hardison and Brittany Murphy and also my good friend and action coordinator Koichi Sakamoto. I think we made a really entertaining film together.
The bad part was that it got stuck in a political mess with the investors and after the film was done, tested amazingly with audiences and won a few awards at festivals including the Critic’s Award at Japan’s 2nd biggest festival and best international film at Fantasia film fest in Montreal, but it was taken away from me, recut, rescored poorly and released directly to video despite a theatrical offer from Dimension films and Trimark pictures. It left a bad taste in my mouth for 10 years. I decided to retire from directing and concentrate on my makeup career again. It was the best thing I could do as I rediscovered the joy of my first love!
As for Mark. He is simply awesome in more ways than I can describe! I love working with him. Not only is he incredibly gifted, he’s very humble, a total pro and a genuinely good human being. We always have a great time working together and Kamen Rider is no exception. He plays a big part later in the show and is fantastic in it!
NS: I’m a huge Guyver fan way back to the manga and original anime. You directed both live action movies. Which do you prefer and why ? Are there any plans to make another Guyver movie.
SW: I prefer the second one because the first one I had no control over the content. I got into big fights with the producer because he wanted to make a kids film and I wanted to keep the tone of the original anime. In the end, the film turned out like crap in my opinion. I did Guyver 2 on my own for less than the 1/4 the budget of the first Guyver, but in exchange, I had total control of the film. I consulted with Yoshiki Takaya (creator of the Guyver) in depth and in the end, he really loved Guyver 2.
I tried to make another Guyver film about 8 years ago, but could not find enough money to make a 3rd one. I am still trying to do something with the Guyver in the near future. Maybe if Kamen Rider proves to be popular enough, I can get a chance to reboot the Guyver franchise again.
NS: I read on imdb.com that you backed out of directing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie after disagreements over the production design with various companies involved. Was that a tough situation for you? Do you wish that you got to direct the Power Rangers movie ?
SW: I did quit that film after being on it for about 3 months, but it was not over production design. To make a long story short, I quit because they hired me for my experience in making these type of films but did not care what I thought of the script or listen to me on anything creative. I was treated like garbage by people who knew nothing about Power Rangers or cared to. In the end I did not respect my bosses and saw the production heading towards a giant train wreck, which it did.
I have no regrets about quitting the film, my only regret was that the producers involved didn’t care about the film and it showed. I can go on for days about all the bad things that happened, some totally over the top and ridiculous. But hey, it’s Hollywood and that crap happens everyday. You either accept it or you get out. All I know is that I seemed to be the only one who wanted to make a good film and you know the old saying, “No good deed shall go unpunished!” LOL anyway, I know I could have made a cool Power Rangers film if only I was given a real chance.
NS: You’ve done creature effects for a lot of big Hollywood movies. Any personal favorite or favorites?
SW: I am really proud of Abe Sapien on Hellboy, Markus from Underworld: Evolution, Predator, Guyver Zoanoid from Guyver 2.
NS: Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight is currently airing on the CW4Kids and it’s been a great ride so far. 15 episodes have already aired. I was wondering if you’ve had any problems with the network over censorship or editing your vision for a kids show. The series can get very dark at times but the word “killed” is never used. Defeated Kamen Riders go to the advent void and never return. Is that the way the series was originally scripted or did you have to soften the show for younger viewers?
SW: We did have to consider the tone and content of the show when we wrote it. We always knew the demographic was going to be 6-11. We didn’t know the specifics of what can and can’t be said and done for a kids show, but things like saying “killed” was pretty obvious to us to be a ‘no no’. We made some changes after the show was locked, things that may have been too sexy, have religious overtones like saying “Jesus” or what not. But overall, we didn’t really have any real problems that caused us to change our vision of the show. Remember, it’s a kid’s show and we knew that going in. We just pushed it a little further because we liked the show to be more serious.
As for “Vented” being used in place of killed. Being vented is NOT being killed. From day one it always was exactly how it was explained in the show, “Trapped in the advent void.”
NS: How was it working with the cast and crew of Kamen Rider? We interviewed both Yvonne Arias and Matt Mullins. Yvonne is very sweet and Matt is not only a great guy, but an excellent martial artists.
SW: The cast and crew was great to work with. It was two small tight units and we had a very family-like atmosphere on set. Everyone cared about what they did and I think it really showed. Matt and Yvonne was always pleasant to work with as was Stephen and the entire cast all around.
NS: What appealed to you about translating and updating Kamen Rider for American audiences? I saw that the toys for the series are coming out in July. Have you seen them yet?
SW: The biggest appeal for me was that I was able to do just that and that’s bringing Kamen Rider to America. I was a huge fan of the show when I first saw it in 1975 and have stayed a fan since. It’s not everyday someone gets to do that! It was a dream come true. There were many obstacles that we faced doing this, the biggest one being the cultural barrier. I knew I had to deal with hardcore fans not approving of this. They are used to watching the original shows in Japanese, as were I. But you just can’t translate the show verbatim or it would seem very foreign to the American audience. There’s a reason why the subtitled versions of the show isn’t huge here in the US. So the challenge of re-imagining the show that the American audience can relate to without watering it down was appealing because honestly, we didn’t know if it would work or not. We just followed our gut to make something as cool as we could and hope that the kids will respond to that.
As for the toys, I’ve only seen pictures. I think the kids will love them. Bandai is smart in that they are making them affordable. In Japan, the quality is great but it’s also very expensive to buy and that doesn’t work well in the US.
NS: Do you have any future projects that you’d like to share with our readers? How can we find out more info about your current and upcoming projects?
SW: My brother Mike, Nathan Long and I are pitching other projects around town, but I really can’t talk about it until it becomes a reality. If any of your readers want to see some of my effects work they can visit my Myspace page. it’s www.myspace.com/stevewangfx
NS: Any final words for NERDSociety.com readers and fans of yours and Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight?
SW: Thank you guys for the support all around. I hope you will stick around to the end of all 40 episodes of Kamen Rider. There is a lot of cool stuff and story twists ahead and I hope you guys will enjoy the show as much as I enjoyed making it! AND BUY THE TOYS!