Valiant Entertainment has an ambitious slate of films in development at Sony Pictures, but the company’s characters are coming to live-action a lot sooner than that. As announced Saturday at New York Comic Con, Valiant has teamed up with Bat in the Sun productions — the producers of YouTube hit “Super Power Beat Down” — for “Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe,” a six-episode live-action web series scheduled to launch in late 2017, slated to include a wide variety of Valiant’s shared universe of superhero characters.
“Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe” — starring “Arrow” vet Michael Rowe as Ninjak, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” fan favorite Jason David Frank as Bloodshot, pro wrestler John Morrison as Eternal Warrior, among others, and directed by Bat in the Sun’s Aaron & Sean Schoenke — is only the first project from Valiant Digital, a new division of the company aiming to bring the company’s characters into the digital space, and reach a new audience along the way. No further projects have yet been announced, but the official press release says Valiant has plans for “live-action, animation and emerging media.”
CBR News spoke with Valiant CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani, Chief Operating Officer Gavin Cuneo and Associate Director of Development & Digital Media Josh Johns (all three of whom serve as producer on the “Ninjak” web series) about “Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe” and the broader goals of Valiant Digital, including looking to reach the audience Saturday morning cartoons left behind, and how the web series — which is separate from Valiant’s film plans — came together, and why Ninjak was the right choice for the main character.
CBR News: Let’s start with the broad strokes: “Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe” has now been announced, and it’s clear there are further plans for Valiant Digital as a whole. What inspired the formation of this division? When did it become apparent it was something Vailant needed as the company continues to evolve?
Dinesh Shamdasani: We’ve talked for years now, since we’ve launched, that our plan was a long-term plan — slow and steady growth. This is the next step in that plan. We feel like we have come into publishing and we have built ourselves a really strong universe of really well-reviewed comic books that sell really well. Our goal has always been to bring new fans to those books.
You take a look around the space, and you can’t deny the incredible popularity of digital media at this point. Just look at YouTube, and you can see how high those views are, and how burgeoning that fanbase is. We took a look at publishers from the past, and looked at their trajectory and how they built themselves into these big global brands that allow new fans to come over to their comic books, and we saw there was a space that doesn’t exist today: Saturday morning cartoons from the ’80s and ’90s. DC had “Batman: The Animated Series,” Marvel had “X-Men” and “Spider-Man.”
That space doesn’t exist anymore. We took a look at the demographic, and found they had migrated to online content. So for a couple of years now, we’ve been building this division. Josh has been heading it up for us, and the goal is to build live-action or animated content that appeals to the next step in our fanbase, so we can get them excited and emotionally invested in our characters, and then bring them back to comics.
Josh Johns: The goal is still to tell a great story. That’s what we want to do across the board. But we see this space that has so many people in it, both that are familiar with Valiant and a lot that are not familiar with Valiant, we think if we can bring our storytelling abilities that we brought to the comics to the digital space, that’s our goal right there.
Cuneo: You can’t really deny the size of the digital audience out there, just look at YouTube as an example. We have an opportunity to really reach a huge, huge swath of comic fans who may be reading comics, maybe love comics film, love comics television, with our digital division. It’s also a younger demographic that we’ll be able to reach will really high-quality content and high-quality storytelling.
Shamdasani: One of the reasons we’ve started to become so aggressive about Valiant Digital is that we’re starting to near the releases of some of our other big media events. We see this as a very unique and effective bridge to bring audiences into the Valiant fold in anticipation of those events.
We do 40 conventions a year, and we are making new fans at every show. They may be fans who never heard of Valiant before, they may be fans who have heard a lot about Valiant but haven’t had a chance to dive in yet. There may be fans of Valiant from the ’90s that haven’t walked into a comic book store in 20 years and see our banner and go, “I love Ninjak! I love Bloodshot! I didn’t know you guys were back.” For us, it’s a case of, how can we get in front of potential fans in every avenue possible? You can’t dispute the audience size of the digital space at the moment.
Johns: Valiant is always looking for great creators that are going to help elevate these amazing characters. There’s a wealth in talent right now on the digital space that are telling amazing stories, and these are the kinds of people we want to be telling Valiant stories. We want to look where a lot of creative people are doing some of the best work out there right now, and that makes it an easy decision to go to the digital space, because these characters deserve to be everywhere.
At one point did it become clear a live-action web series was the right move for the first Valiant Digital project — and that could do it at the level you wanted? And why Ninjak as the main character?
Shamdasani: What we’re doing here, and I think people will see when they see the first footage, is unlike any web series that’s ever been produced. Our goal here — and this is going to sound crazy but ambitious — is to create the best series that’s ever been produced for digital. Better than anything Marvel or DC has done, Hasbro, etc. To give you an example, the first episode has 15 locations alone. That’s more than the majority of independent feature films. We have this incredible cast. We have TV-quality — and you can argue even better than TV-quality — special effects. Our goal is to fit somewhere in that Marvel/Netflix, DC/CW range, if not better, in terms of production value, quality of storytelling, quality of visuals, etc.
We knew we could come in and do something that hadn’t been done before. None of our competitors are looking at this space. They don’t know what to do it; they know it’s a thing, but they are slow-moving. We’re an independent company, we’re not owned by a giant conglomerate, so we can move fast. We’ve been having conversations about this space for about two years.
Web series seem to fit our narrative best, our skill set best. We can do something that was one step removed from publishing, exhibits the traits of characters that seem to get people excited, allow us to bring our stories and know-how to a new medium. Ninjak was a perfect choice, because he touched so many different avenues of the Valiant Universe. He fits squarely in the espionage world; he has strong connections to our supernatural side of the Valiant Universe with Master Darque and Shadowman; he’s on Unity, which allows him to tap into X-O Manowar and the Harbinger world. He was a good gateway, because we knew we wanted to touch as many components of the Valiant Universe as the story organically let us.
Cuneo: With this series, and using Ninjak as a centerpiece, we’re able to feature a lot of different corners of the universe, a lot of different characters. As a result, when someone who’s new to Valiant sees this web series, they’re going to not only experience Ninjak, but they’re going to experience a lot of the Valiant Universe.
For our existing fans, who want to see these characters that they love in as many forms as they can, in this series, we’re able to give them many characters in a new medium that they haven’t seen before.
Johns: It’s an opportunity to redefine the conversation and redefine the space. You think “web series,” you think of a certain aesthetic. There are 15 locations in the pilot, we have an original score. All of the characters have their own score. We’re doing things with lighting and audio and special effects that you don’t think of in what you think of as a “web series.” Even our cast, we have major actors — Michael Rowe, Jason David Frank, Derek Theler — coming on this. We’re looking to reevaluate what it is to be a digital-exclusive series, and maybe take it to that next level. And our hope is, others will follow us, and you’ll get to see all of your favorite characters in this space, and companies will churn out amazing content in this space.
We’re not the first people to do this kind of thing. We’re the first people to do it in comics at this level. This is something video games have done very successfully for a long time in “Fallout” and “Far Cry.” We feel like we have the opportunity to redefine what it is to be a digitally exclusive series.
Shamdasani: To give you a sense of the kinds of people we’re bringing to this space, our stunt coordinator has worked on “Daredevil” for Netflix and a lot of the CW shows. Our costume designer has worked on many of the Marvel and DC films. The production design is top-notch. The graphic design is top-notch. It looks like the quality you’d expect from a feature film, because the people involved in it have built the future films people have fallen in love with.
The Valiant fans are going to lose their mind. They’re going to absolutely lose their minds.
“Super Power Beat Down” has obviously been a success, but this is a more ambitious project in terms of production value and storytelling. What made Bat in the Sun the right team to get involved with?
Shamdasani: We work with the big studios, and we haven’t announced a lot of it, but with many of the biggest players in terms of talent on the movie and TV side. We were looking for the same thing here: Can we find someone that understands the genre, understands the characters, understands what makes them unique, special and different and can help us drill down into that and accentuate that. What makes Valiant so special and different from everything else? Essentially, we’re looking for geeks that are really talented in the space they’re in. Aaron and Sean, from what you can already see from “Super Power Beat Down,” they love the space, they understand the characters.
Cuneo: We were huge fans of “Super Power Beat Down” and everything Bat in the Sun was doing. They create extremely high-quality content for extremely limited budgets. They were big fans of Valiants, and knew the universe intimately. We saw how big this could end up being.
With “Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe,” what’s the big picture goal for what it can bring to the company? What would make this a success, in the long term?
Dinesh: There are a number of things that will make this a success. Certainly, the audience is a big part of that. We’re building this to reach as wide of an audience as we can, and the early signs are pointing to an even wider audience than we initially anticipated — which is also making us redouble our efforts to make it even better.
Also, this is the kickoff project for the Valiant Digital division. One of the goals we have for this project is to kick this off and cement our ambition to build more digital content, and brand Valiant Digital as something exciting. It also will hopefully get people that are in the comic book space already — reading Valiant, maybe not reading Valiant — to further emotionally connect to the characters.
Johns: For us, we want to bring the energy and excitement you can find in a Valiant comic — that our editorial team and all of our incredible freelancers bring month to month — to the digital space. We want to reach that new audience. But beyond anything else, we want it to be good. We want to showcase digitally the same storytelling that we showcase in the comic. That’s the most important thing for me in developing this project, and making Valiant Digital a success.
This is a separate thing from the films, but in terms of the overall big picture, how do you see this project fitting in with Valiant’s already-announced film plans at Sony Pictures?
Shamdasani: This is part of a spectrum of content that we’re creating. Gavin’s always talking about how Valiant needs to be everywhere. Of course, we’re still very aggressive on the film, TV and video game side. There’s a lot of movement there. There are some really big things that have happened over the last several months in that space that we’re not ready to talk about just yet. Everyone involved is very aggressive, and I think we’re moving very nicely. I think everything we’re doing here, digitally, can help bring an audience to that in addition to what we’re doing on the publishing side.
Keep reading CBR for more on “Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe”!
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