“He is constant like the Northern Star. He is like the Grim Reaper. He is the angel of death.”
These are the epithets a small group of cosplayers, actors and choreographers use to describe Frank Castle, the Marvel antihero known to fans as The Punisher. Castle has had a rocky history on the big screen, but this group of Canadian fans hope to finally do the character justice with their new fan film, The Punisher: No Mercy.
The idea for No Mercy began with Shawn Baichoo, a motion capture artist and voice actor for Ubisoft Montréal. After designing a cosplay of The Punisher based on artist Tim Bradhseet’s iconic design, Baichoo began to wonder if it would be possible to bring the character to life.
But the real fuel for No Mercy came from what Baichoo refers to as “nerd rage.”
“Me and my friends often spend an inordinate amount of time trashing (comic book) films and wondering, ‘Why did they have to change the origin?’ or ‘Why did they have to give him a love interest? Or give this guy a sidekick?’” Baichoo said.
He argues that, “comic books shouldn’t be tough to do.”
“Why can’t they just stick to the comic? Everything is in there,” he insists.
Baichoo’s background in stage combat helped him approach No Mercy from a unique angle. Working with Amber Goldfarb, motion capture and voice actor for Aveline de Grandpré in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, he decided to start with the final combat sequence in the film and work backward.
“We just figured we want to shoot guns, and I want to fight someone,” Baichoo said.
“We started choreographing before we even had a script,” said Goldfarb, who co-stars in the film as Marvel heroine Elektra.
Once the idea had gained some traction, Baichoo found Jason Ambrus, a filmmaker whose recent work includes the sci-fi short film Imprint. After a brief discussion, the two instantly found a creative spark.
“The words almost got in the way of getting to know [Baichoo],” Ambrus recalls. “There was just something there. I said, ‘I think you should let me direct this film.’ And to my shock, he said, ‘OK.’”
Ambrus was excited to have the opportunity to direct a film like No Mercy. He said that his expertise is in making low-budget films look like their better-financed counterparts.
“I believe there’s a place between Hollywood and independent film, where you can merge the best qualities of both,” he said.
He points to high quality fan films like Portal: No Escape as his biggest inspiration for No Mercy.
Relating this back to Baichoo’s “nerd rage,” he notes that audiences often complain that movie adaptations don’t live up their expectations. But Ambrus feels that angry Internet comments and heated late night conversations are hollow.
He calls No Mercy a “physical response” to that discontent, and he believes it represents a paradigm shift in the industry.
“I have a very strong belief in new independent cinema,” Ambrus said. “I have a very strong belief in what this new technology is doing for democratizing an art form that has been held hostage for almost half a century.”
He added, “If you fancy yourself a filmmaker, this is the time to vote with your camera.”
And with the help of Goldfarb and Ambrus, Baichoo is voting loud and clear.
Having produced No Mercy, he made this challenge to the major Hollywood studios: “What the **** is your excuse? I’m just some guy with some friends and I can do better than that. You have millions of dollars – what is your excuse?”
In translating The Punisher to the screen, Baichoo, Ambrus and co-writer Davila LeBlanc cite the work of comic book author Garth Ennis. While the film does not directly follow any Ennis story lines, the filmmakers felt that his approach to Frank Castle was the truest to the core of character.
“The Punisher is so simple that people have trouble understanding how simple he is,” Ambrus said. To work around that conceit, “(Ennis) tells the story through the supporting characters, through the people in the city who are affected by his uncompromising, boogeyman character.”
This drive for authenticity carries over to the design and portrayal of Elektra. Baichoo and Goldfarb stated that the costume and look of the character of both The Punisher and Elektra were born out of practicality. They know clothes are feasible in hand-to-hand combat; for them, that meant no ultra-revealing slips or high heels.
Goldfarb says, “We wanted to portray a very honest, practical, grounded assassin version of Elektra. When she’s hired to do a job, she gets it done.”
And because she’s wearing an outfit that a human can actually fight in, Goldfarb stresses that “she will kick your ass.”
The Punisher: No Mercy is an entirely non-profit endeavor on the part of the filmmakers, and was entirely paid for via the No Mercy Indiegogo campaign. It will premiere at Montréal Comiccon on September 14, 2013, shortly before its wide release on the Internet.
This article was published in its original form in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on September 10, 2013.