Street Fighter High: The Musical: Interviewing the Masterminds Behind the Legend
From the creators of Street Fighter High, comes a new tale of love and lost, hope and betrayal, and singing and dancing? After their popular parody of Street Fighter High, Jennifer Zhang (producer) ended up deciding that a sequel needed to be made. If you haven’t heard of this parody, then you must have been living inside an empty arcade cabinet…somewhere in an abandoned arcade outlet in an abandoned town.
I recently had a chance to catch Jennifer Zhang (Producer, Juri), Hugh Jardon (Director), and Capcom’s Gerald Hom (E. Honda) and rounded them up for an interview. Cue Street Fighter select character music. Round one, fight!
Nerd Reactor: How did the original project, Street Fighter High come about?
Jennifer: It’s a nutty story, I suppose. The project really ended up being a snapshot of the two things I was really passionate about around mid-January 2010. For the better part of 2009, I had studied under the late, great Blake Snyder, and was furiously writing and revising a couple scripts using his “Save the Cat!” method (which I would recommend to any writers out there who want to jump-start their productivity, by the way). And on periodic writing-binge breaks, I was pretty obsessively Googling for news and previews of Super Street Fighter IV, which in retrospect, I was maybe just a little too stoked about. No, I take that back. I was just the right amount of stoked about it.
So one night, I was trolling the internet for gameplay footage on a break, and for some unknown reason thought to myself, “I bet Juri was a total bitch in high school.” So that kind of touched off this exercise where I tried to fit Street Fighter characters into the archetypes of teen shows.
You know when you have one of those ideas for a script that’s SO ridiculous, if you don’t write it down immediately, you know you’re going to talk yourself out of it? So I momentarily threw aside my more serious projects and dashed “Street Fighter High” off in a white heat. I did have a moment during the process when I thought, “What the EFF am I doing?” since there’s that line between “too stupid to do” and “too stupid to NOT do.” And then I wrote the words “yoga schwing” and I knew I had crossed that line into the latter.
Once it was written, there was really no going back. I was taking an acting class at the time and was looking around and it just seemed I could cast the whole thing directly out of the school. And so that week, I sent the script to my friend Carolyn McAllister, who convinced me we had to start pulling the key players together and just do the damn thing. And luckily, there was a hard deadline; I knew that if we could time the release of the fan film to sync up with the height of the marketing blitz for the new game, we’d catch a lot of that runoff from people searching for SSFIV videos, while also doing our part to pay homage to the game. From there it was all systems go.
What made you decide to do the next project as a musical? Was Glee a big inspiration? Or maybe High School Musical?
Jennifer: Neither, believe it or not! Truth be told, I was adamant about not doing a sequel after the first one. It had been fun, but it had also been such a huge drain of time and personal resources… and from a writing standpoint, I felt like I had fired off all the rounds already. The first one hinged on the novelty of the “teen show” gimmick, so I felt like a sequel would just be re-hashing all the old jokes.
But people were demanding it all over the comment boards, and when I went to Capcom’s Fight Club for the release of the game in Los Angeles, people were approaching me and asking directly. And still, I was thinking “absolutely not.” And then BLAMMO: Justin Wong hit me up on Facebook through Jordan – our Dhalsim – and expressed interest in appearing in a sequel if we ever did one. I started entertaining the thought, but told myself I wouldn’t attempt it unless I could think of a completely fresh spin. Days later, I was driving down the 101 when it hit me: “A MUSICAL!” And that’s when “no” became “YEEE-EESSS!” ::jazz hands::
The kicker was that I’m fortunate enough to be good friends with an amazing and established sound engineer and music producer: Glenn Suravech a.k.a. “Mosaic”. Once he generously offered to record and mix the parody tracks for us, I knew that the songs, at least, would be in expert hands.
That being said, will Zac Efron make a cameo appearance?
Jennifer: Zac Efron WISHES.
What challenges did you have to face when doing a sequel to a popular Street Fighter parody?
Hugh: Well, the biggest challenge I definitely faced was working with pre-existing material and how to improve on it without compromising what it was about the first short film that we absolutely loved. To a certain degree, there is less control with the director because… well… I’m practically the newest member of the team. But somehow, I had to find a way to gain the respect of the cast and crew, but also recognize at the same time that their opinion matters more than on an average film.
When doing a musical, choreography can be hard and time consuming. Was this the case when shooting Street Fighter High: The Musical?
Hugh: Absolutely. Know that the cast and crew are doing this as a labor of love, nothing more. Taking time off day jobs and trying to get everybody together proved impossible for rehearsals, when you have a cast of about 20 people. We ended up having to make ‘tutorials’ and posting them online for people to rehearse at home. After that, it was up to the discipline of the actors to actually rehearse those movements.
When shooting the video, did you have any inspiration to draw from, or did it came naturally?
Hugh: I think the inspiration came from the different material given to me by the producers. We obviously wanted to spoof a lot of films, so sitting down and understanding the nature of the spoof and why it is funny was where the inspiration came from. I don’t think it came naturally, I think it came as a collaboration with the cast and the producer.
What’s your favorite part in shooting the Musical?
Hugh: Trying to keep my mouth shut when somebody does something really funny. But seriously, I think my favorite part was being able to enjoy shooting a movie once the cast feels that I have given them permission to try certain things and try new things as well. It created an air of creativity that I love and allowed all of us to express ourselves creatively. Of course, my job is just to make sure we all stay on the same page and not get unfocused on the final vision of the film.
Hey Gerald, this one’s for you. Did you personally choose E. Honda, or were you forced to don red makeup and a thong?
Gerald: Jennifer was originally going to cast me as a regular background student roaming the halls as background scenery. Before she told me this, I was telling my friends that I was going to be in the sequel to Street Fighter High. All my friends, including I were wondering if I were to be casted as E. Honda. So when I got around to discussing my role with Jen, after she told me that I was just going to be a student, I told her that I assumed she was going to cast me as E. Honda. She then said “Really!?!? You want to be E. Honda?! I NEED an E. Honda!! If you want, the part’s yours!”
So that’s how I became E. Honda. Oh and by the way, I didn’t wear a thong, I just wore my cargo shorts under a kimono. I was about to go shirtless too but Jen decided that was a bit much (Sad Panda D:) and told me to wear the shirt she made instead.
I was so looking forward to E. Honda wearing a thong. Speaking of thongs, have you guys ever considered using “Thong” Cammy. I’ve seen her around somewhere. Oh yeah, it was at the SSF4 release party.
Jennifer: “Thong” Cammy was the original plan, but my friend Megan was portraying the part and it came down to making sure she was comfortable on set. Big props to her for showing as much cheek as she did. Since the first film, though, I have to say I have met several “Thong” Cammys at events and conventions, and they’re all very nice. Thong Cammys are good people, possessing of callipygian grace. I am happy to know them.
Some of the actors in Street Fighter High are cosplayers we’ve seen at Street Fighter events and conventions. Were any of these events used for gathering some of your actors?
Jennifer: Sorta. The first film was casted mostly from my acting school and through actor friends of our production team. The only real cosplayers involved with the original Street Fighter High were Jordan Brown a.k.a. “EDG” and one of the Associate Producers on the film, Joey Rassool.
When we were casting the second one, Jordan, Joey and Associate Producer Emerald Ivy were integral in putting the word out there through social media and emails that we were looking to fill out the Street Fighter roster. And then it was cosplayers to the rescue! On top of that, there were some amazing and recognizable folk who volunteered to boost our profile by making appearances, including Capcom’s Gerald Hom who bravely took on the role of E. Honda (we call him G. Homda now), and the beautiful Milynn “GamerChick” Sarley, who’s our Sakura this time around. The makeup of the cast is about 40% actors, 50% cosplayers and 10% other awesome people… and every single one of them gave 100%. I love them for it.
Can’t wait to see Ibuki. Please give her plenty of face time in Street Fighter High Musical! 😀
Jennifer: Our Ibuki is portrayed by the gorgeous, glamorous Faye Mata, who embodies the character perfectly. And don’t worry; she’s got plenty of face time and lots of thigh time.
Yoga Schwing! Where did the idea come from that Guile has yellow fever for Chun-Li?
Guile doesn’t have yellow fever for Chun-Li. Guile has Chun-Li fever for Chun-Li. I mean, she’s Chun-Li! I don’t swing that way, but after enough drinks, I don’t doubt that even I would have Chun-Li fever for Chun-Li.
Try saying that three times fast. Now I’d like to know which cast is the best SSF4 player and which character?
Jennifer: Well, from our cast, Jordan Brown (our Dhalsim), Timothy Peter (our Hakan), Will Magno (our Guy) and Matthew Lewis (our El Fuerte) I know are phenomenal at the game. They routinely kick my ass all over Xbox Live. Jordan mains Juri, Tim and Will main Guy, and I’ve seen Matt do some serious damage with Balrog. And then of course, there’s Justin Wong, who operates on a whole other transcendent level of SSF4 virtuosity.
Well, Justin Wong shouldn’t count, that’s not even fair for the other guys. What did you think about the other fan-made Street Fighter shorts like Street Fighter: Beginnings End and Street Fighter: Legacy?
Jennifer: I loved them. Thank goodness some people were actually doing fan films that took the franchise as seriously as it deserves! Their fight choreography was insanely well done, as was the cinematography. I don’t think I’ve watched either one any less than 5 times already. Why they didn’t each score movie deals immediately afterwards is baffling to me. Or maybe they have! I wouldn’t be surprised.
Is it a coincidence that the actor who plays Dan is also the voice actor for Fei Long in Street Fighter IV? He’s such a stud muffin.
Jennifer: It’s half coincidence, half the-universe-looking-out-for-me. People were clamoring for a Dan in the sequel – moreso than any other character. I had had such great luck Googling cosplayers for the part of Dhalsim in the first movie, I was hoping lightning would strike twice. And easily, the best-looking, most charismatic Dan cosplayer I could find online was this fella who went by the handle Lord Masamune. So I put out a general S.O.S. to the cosplayers on our cast to help me track down this elusive Lord Masamune, and they were quick to tell me it was Matt Mercer. ::FACE PALM:: Of course it was. I couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize him as the creator of the brilliant web series “There Will Be Brawl”, which I had enjoyed just a few weeks prior, and which I understand is now going to be available on DVD.
So I got in contact with him and let me tell ya, WHAT a sweetheart. He hopped on board immediately, even though he hadn’t donned a Dan Hibiki costume in years, and had already made for himself a solid career in showbiz since then.
But to answer your question (finally): No, I didn’t know when I casted him as Dan that he was actually also the voice of Fei Long in the game. And humble Mr. Mercer didn’t even tell me. Weeks later, we were all on the set of Jace Halls’ upcoming music video when his friend and our “Guy” in the cast, Will Magno, enlightened me on that delightful little trivia nugget and I almost fainted dead away in my Juri costume.
And yes, Matt is a total studmuffin – a beautiful person inside and out. The radiance of his personality is only rivaled by the golden shimmer of his glorious, flowing mane. He reminds me of a young Kevin Sorbo.
I’ve noticed from the new trailer that it’s going to have Marvel characters like Psylocke and Rogue. Any chance of seeing Spider-Man or Wolverine?
Jennifer: Unfortunately, no. There is a very specific reason for why Psylocke, Rogue and Jubilee are in this one, that I’ll let you all discover that on your own.
The production quality has gotten better. What was the difference from filming the first one, compared to this one?
Jennifer: Well, on the first one, we couldn’t have anticipated in a million years that we’d actually garner a fan following. I would say the major difference from filming the first one is that this time, the entire production was infused with a consciousness that there were thousands of fans we desperately didn’t want to disappoint. And of course, there was no point in doing a sequel if we didn’t take it to another level in every respect.
So I decided at the outset that I was going to literally go for broke to make sure this had the highest production value possible. And thank the heavens for our director Hugh, who helped me complete that mission by bringing quality, skill and professionalism on a level I could never have dreamed. Because at the end of the day, you can throw as much money as you want at a film, and unless you get talented people to do something great with it, you’re going to get bupkis. He also made it possible for us to shoot Street Fighter High: The Musical on the RED One Camera, which – if you know your cameras – is a huge deal.
Oh la la, the RED One. The best gaming movie ever was shot on the RED One. Does Gamer ring a bell? Ok I’m kidding. Ever been contacted by a big name studio yet for a television or movie deal?
Jennifer: ::smiles:: Dreams come true, kids!
But aside from things I can’t quite divulge at the moment, I can say that one of the greatest thrills in the wake of shooting this film was being offered the chance to meet and pick the brain of Jace Hall from “The Jace Hall Show” and ABC’s “V.” It turns out that in the daunting world of filmmaking, there are some genuinely helpful and enthusiastic industry juggernauts who want to encourage newbies like myself to push the envelope right off the table.
I believe Ono-san tweeted about how he thought the trailer for Street Fighter High: The Musical was terrific. You should totally plan on influencing him to create an actual videogame based on the high school years!
Jennifer: Oh god, can you imagine having hadoukens reduced to bro-style chest-bumps? Or in the vein of a high school musical, a Street Fighter Dance Dance Revolution or something?
Dear Ono-san and Makers of Street Fighter,
Please don’t let Jennifer anywhere near the development of your games.
No, but I was extremely flattered and thrilled when I heard that THE Yoshinori Ono tweeted the trailer and thought it was terrific. To have someone as influential and inspirational as him to recognize your work, even just on Twitter, is mind-blowing and humbling. Domo arigato, Mr. Ono.
So when can we expect to see this bad boy?
Jennifer: Early to mid-August is what we’re projecting! We’re all crossing our fingers that you enjoy it! Some great friendships were forged and wonderful memories made in this whole process, so for viewers to like it as well would be the ultimate icing.
And there you have it guys. Go check out their Street Fighter High Facebook page and Official Street Fighter High site for updates and news. Once it’s out, we can all bug Jennifer again to complete the trilogy. Yoga schwing!