Saturday, December 29, 2012

Interview with Assassin's Creed's Shawn Baichoo...

Shawn Baichoo

CBNAH - First up, Shawn, it was nice meeting you at the mini Montreal Comic Con. What were some of the main highlights for you at the con?

SB - I was very impressed by the amount of cosplay I saw. There was quite a lot of it at the Montreal Comic Con earlier this year (and I must admit I was guilty of doing the same - if you saw a Spider-Man walking around there's a good chance that was me!), and even more of it at FanExpo in Toronto before that. I love seeing people's passion for what they enjoy expressed so honestly. And by its very nature, a con is the perfect place for people to indulge in that side of themselves without fear of judgement. So it's a great atmosphere to be in. I also really enjoyed talking to fans who came by to chat or get things signed. As a huge gamer and an avowed geek, it's really great to be able to relate to people who enjoy the same things I do.

CBNAH - What made want to go into acting?

SB - I've always had a very active imagination, and I'm a very creative person. But when I was younger I always saw acting as an impossible goal, because all the actors I saw in films and on tv were these larger than life heroes that I enjoyed immensely (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis), but didn't seem real to me. Hollywood was this far-off place that was as mystical to me as the actors that came out of it. And Montreal isn't exactly a mecca of movie career-launching opportunities. So I went into the sciences instead (as I excelled in those areas at school). But my active and creative mind grew unhappy with bio-chemistry studies, so I finally switched to an acting program, deciding that it was worth a shot if it would make me happy, and I haven't looked back since. As an actor I get to live all sorts of different lives and experiences, and to me that's the greatest reward.

CBNAH - While attending Dawson College, what was the greatest piece of advice that a professor or fellow student gave you about acting?

SB - I forget who it was, but someone once told me that there is no such thing as luck. That "luck is when preparedness meets opportunity". I've steered my career by those words, and they've served me well. Study, train, be committed and prepared, and when the opportunity presents itself, go for it. It's a simple but effective formula.

CBNAH - Your first acting roles were on the YTV shows Student Bodies and Big Wolf on Campus. Looking back, what are some of your fondest memories on the set of those shows?

SB - Hanging out with my fellow vampires when we shot "Fangs for the Memories" was a real blast. That was my first ever part, and I remember very clearly hearing the crew shouting "roll camera", "sound", "speed"... a pregnant pause, my heart skips a beat, I think "This is it! I'm actually an actor now!" and then the inevitable "action!".
I also have fond memories of the other episode I shot the next year, "Invisible Merton", which was my first big part in anything. They died my hair blonde, I had three stunt doubles/stand-ins... it was very cool.

Assassin's Creed III

CBNAH - Your name has been associated with the Assassin's Creed series. You voiced many different characters in the franchise. Who's your favorite character to act in the series and why?

SB - That's a tough one, as I've been lucky enough to get cast as some really fun characters to play. But if I had to pick one I'd have to say it was Machiavelli. I have a habit of playing slightly more manic or 'big' characters, so playing Machiavelli was a nice challenge, as he was calm, measured and precise. A close runner-up is St├ęphane Chapheau though, in ACIII, as I really got to go wild with him. I actually haven't played the game yet (it's on my to do list!), but I look forward to it so I can run into myself!

CBNAH - Outside of your voice acting in AC, you've done motion capture for the series as well. How did you get involved on that side of the production?

SB - I'm glad you asked that, as it relates directly to one of my earlier answers! A few years ago I arrived early at a voice studio for a booking, so as I waited I went to sit with my friend (and very talented voice director) Simon Peacock, who was having lunch with someone I didn't know (a wonderful guy named Sylvain Bernard). We were introduced, and when Sylvain told me he worked for Ubisoft I asked him in what capacity. He told me motion capture, which immediately piqued my interest, as I had only vaguely heard of it before. I asked him how one could manage to get such work, and he told me it was largely a question of getting the right gig for the right project. Then I did something I'd never done before: I went on to list to him all of my training and abilities that would surely be relevant to motion capture (basically trying to sell myself as a good candidate), and expressed my fervent desire to try it some one day. He told me he'd keep me in mind, and a few weeks later I got a call to come and do a half day. It went really well, I saw that I indeed had a knack for it, and he started using me more regularly. When I landed ACII, the voice and MoCap went hand-in-hand and the rest is history. I've worked fairly regularly for (mostly) Ubisoft ever since. So my preparedness (my skills as an actor and fighter, my love and knowledge of games, etc) met with opportunity (meeting Sylvain), which equate to the luck I feel for having such a great job.

CBNAH - At the comic con you were promoting the Punisher fan film No Mercy. Can you tell us how this project came about?

SB - A few years ago I started up a collective called The Kombat Krew, which was comprised of former stage combat students, actors and friends who met up on Mount-Royal every Sunday to train together. Our goal was to explore stage combat (stunt fighting) through live performances and filmed projects. We did a number of live shows, and then last year we filmed an extensive 6-man battle up on the mountain that I choreographed. It grew larger than the sum of its parts as everyone involved put in 200%, providing costumes, make-up, cameramen, editing facilities, CG effects, the works. The result was far more impressive than we had planned (our initial idea was not to make a film, merely to record our battle). It's called Mountain Kombat, and you can see it here.

We decided that our next project should be a proper short film, with loads of pre-production work, a secure shooting location, a great script, a crew, etc. Basically all the trappings of a real, professional film shoot.

One of my good friends Dav (who also happens to be an award-winning writer) and I came up with No Mercy a few months later. Dav had purchased a number of super-realistic looking Airsoft weapons, and we were eager to use them in some project or another. I still wanted to choreograph more fights, and I had recently read the Punisher Max series by Garth Ennis. I've always liked the Punisher, but that series elevated him to such an incredible level that I was just totally taken with the character. This was compounded by the fact that all of the movies made about him so far had been awful. I was hoping beyond hope that the latest effort (Warzone) would be good, but it turned out to be the biggest disappointment of all. Just terrible. So Dav and I reasoned that a fan film of The Punisher would be the perfect vehicle for gun combat and stunt fighting, and I wanted to show the world that it wasn't that hard to make a good film about a great character with a lot of potential, without being cheap or campy or silly, which is the failing of all his films thus far. So I gathered my friends, got a crew, put my own money where my mouth is and shot it. We're still in post-production, but it's looking amazing so far. I can't wait to share it.

CBNAH - What's your thoughts on Thomas Jane's Punisher short film: #DIRTYLAUNDRY?

SB - I thought it was the closest that anyone has come so far to accurately portraying The Punisher. I thought Thomas Jane was a decent casting for Frank Castle (certainly the best to date), as he is a capable actor with the right look and physique. He was just wasted in the 2004 movie with a terrible script and poor direction. #DIRTYLAUNDRY is much closer to the mark, but, in my humble opinion, still not quite right for the character. I did really enjoy the fighting at the end though, very kinetic and well shot. I understand that my film will invariably be compared to his, but they're very different in style and content. And though No Mercy isn't a response to #DIRTYLAUNDRY (we had already started pre-production long before it came out), I'm thankful for the timing, as it pushed The Punisher back into the limelight, which will invariably help us when we release our film.

CBNAH - Playing Frank Castle is a tough task. Which Punisher comics did you read to find Frank's voice?

SB - The Punisher Max series by Garth Ennis is my 'bible' as far as Frank Castle is concerned. I'd also credit Welcome Back, Frank (also by Ennis) as a stepping stone, which started setting the tone for a grittier, darker Punisher. There's actually a few lines of narration in Welcome Back, Frank that I love so much that they're in the film, word for word. I also have to give a lot of credit to Tim Bradstreet, who did the cover art for the Max series. I love his rendition of Frank Castle, all hard shadows and angles. It was a more accessible Punisher to me (I'm not 6'1", 200lbs like he's often portrayed), so it heavily influenced the look of the film. We used a lot of the same lighting as Mr. Bradstreet in our filming. It looks great.

CBNAH - When can people expect to see No Mercy?

SB - We're hoping for a spring 2013 release. Editing is moving along great, but there's still a lot of work to do (original music, sound effects, CGI, colour grading). We're keeping our fans updated on Facebook, so feel free to follow and 'like' us if you want to be kept in the loop! We also have production stills, photos, videos and more on there.

CBNAH - What comics have you been reading lately?

SB - I'm currently reading Dark Horse's Conan (Vol.7), and I'm about to start Ultimate Spider-Man (the post Peter Parker storyline). And funny enough, I recently finished all 60 issues of Punisher: Max, again, because it's that good.

CBNAH - Lastly, finish this - 'Comic book nerds are hot because...'

SB - ... geek is the new chic. Count me in!

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