MASTER AND APPRENTICE: An Interview With Filmmaker Shawn Bu

The early days of the internet proved pretty exciting for me as I dabbled further into the world of indie film and fan film forums. Back during my college years, all I had at home was 56k dial-up and so I would always use one of the lab computers on campus to entertain myself because their service made it a little easier at the time. And this was just when Crew Of Two released their hit Star Wars fan film, Duality, which you can still find online to date.

I even had friends who were huge Star Wars fans and were into rotoscoping and it all pretty much caught onto me during that time as I was familiarizing myself with the stunt community a bit more. From there, I would find myself a direct customer of the German website for Johannes Jaeger's martial arts epic, Kampfansage: Der Letzte Schüler, starring Mathis Landwehr in this, his first lead role, and I've been proud following him off and on ever since (that is, between now and back in 2008 when I didn't have any internet access for two years after our computer caught a sick bug and gave way).

And in that entire time frame, the Star Wars phenomenon had already gained a new footing with a trilogy of prequels starting with The Phantom Menace just a few years before Duality, and with actor and martial artist Ray Park would hit it big in perhaps one of the most pivotal and influential villain roles in the Gerorge Lucas-fathered saga, Darth Maul. The story behind that character's creation is beyond my knowing as I write this, but I think it's almost guaranteeable that Maul's presence, though less spoken back then, truly helped pave the way for much of what we see now in the Lucasfilm millieu, and even so on the small screen with the hit show, Star Wars: Rebels.

Point in fact, I can see how this would inspire an up-and-coming filmmaker or someone with a creative itch to take the character and build on it somehow and in some way, shape or form not only pays homage to the saga, but with such richness and substance that lends one the notion to seriously bang their head on the wall whilst asking themselves why they didn't think of this sooner on a feature-length sooner. To that affect, and as much as I'm happy that The Force Awakens and Rogue One have been major successes, I honestly hope someone at the studio has been pining in the background with that question - so much so that it sickens them. Because as far as I'm concerned, unless filmmaker Shawn Bu was in their rolodex all this time and they forgot, this was STILL a missed opportunity.

Just look at his most recent two projects centered on the character, as imagine through the authentic style, grace and gravitas of actor, model and cosplayer Ben Schamma front and center in Darth Maul vs. Jedi with Paul Cless. He last appeared in a thrilling, action packed vampire shortfilm called Kings from helmers Benni Diez and Marinko Spahic, the first of two credits opposite Landwehr with the second being German martial arts series, Lasko: The Fist Of God a few years later...

...And, obviously, the big kahuna, Darth Maul: Apprentice.

That was just over a year ago before accumulating now over 12 million views at least as of this article, essentially becoming a viral hit. I've been meaning to contact Bu ever since but I've been swamped and best chose to pace myself and be patient should the opportunity arise to do so. Gladly, it did, through a process of about a month of exchanging emails between my our busy schedules and especially his, I can finally present our discussion in our following interview. And just a forenote before you continue: Bu didn't exactly hint at what he might or might not be cooking up next, so don't hold your breath. With any luck, however, Bu's filmmaking career will hopefully grow to fruition, and ultimately serve as the continuing legacy of film through competent visionaries and artists like Bu who started small, and maintained with the right people in his corner; As a noteworthy mention, one of those people is martial artist, actor and stuntman Vi-Dan Tran who recently serviced stuntwork on the second season of AMC's Into The Badlands, so I hope you're tuning in.

For now though, I hope my interview with Bu brings you something for your fandom and support of independent action and sci-fi. And I sincerely hope this doesn't stop here, because anyone as provenly talented and competent as Bu is deserves nurturing and embolding. Darth Maul: Apprentice, CLEARLY, is exemplary of this very fact.

Without further ado, here is my chat with filmmaker Shawn Bu.

Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Shawn and thank you for taking the time to chat! How has 2017 been for you thusfar?
Shawn Bu: Well I just returned from a great vacation visiting my mother’s family in Singapore. I used the time to relax and recharge after some exhausting years, and I also got some new inspiration and motivation. At this moment I am working on a small Power Ranger related video with my brother Julien Bam for his YouTube channel, although it’s nothing like my Star Wars fan film as it is more of a comedic “teens with superpowers” fun video. Anyway, I’m looking forward to what this year has to offer!
FCSyndicate: Your Star Wars Fan Film, Darth Maul: Apprentice, was exactly what drew me in your direction on top of my own familiarity with some of the people with whom you worked on that project. How does it feel knowing how much of a hit that shortfilm has become? What comes to mind?
SB: It is unbelievable! When I wrote and envisioned the film I always had the whole film playing in my head and feeling it. Feeling how it would excite me watching it and also how other people would be moved by it. I wanted to make a film that many people could enjoy, and not just Star Wars fans but film fans in general. So, to see how successful and especially how fast it went viral was a big surprise and left me speechless for quite some time. But it also really gave me confidence, that the ideas I had in my head can really work and touch a lot of people. 

FCSyndicate: How long have you been into filmmaking? Tell us how it all started for you.
SB: I think I've been into filmmaking since I was about seven or eight years old, and Star Wars kind of sparked my interest! Not just in watching movies but how movies are being made. It really changed me and I was trying to find out as much as possible about filmmaking. How does the magic work? 
Also around that time, my dad bought a Sony Camcorder that I then used A LOT. My interest in filmmaking only grew when I got older. I bought books, watched every making of I could find and just watched movies all day long.

FCSyndicate: What other films can you name that have had the most impact on your growth as an artist?
SB: Next to Star Wars, I have to mention Ridley Scott's Alien. While Star Wars sparked my interest on how movies are made, it was Alien that showed me what I really want to be in the future: a film director.
FCSyndicate: I understand that your Darth Maul project was your second shortfilm thusfar listed online that I knew of, and that it was a two-year effort. What was that process like for you during this time period?
SB: I actually worked on several short films before as a student, but Darth Maul: Apprentice was by far the toughest project I ever worked on. As writer, director and producer of this film I was not only the creative force behind it, but I also had to keep the motivation of almost seventy people alive for two tough years, including my own motivation. Also the film was a big risk. It would never generate any money, while still costing me a fortune. But I strongly believed that it would be film that a lot of people would want to see. It was a passion project...something I wanted to do my entire life. 
So, I had a lot of ups and downs during that times and endured a lot of things that didn’t work the way they should have...thankfully, also lot of things that worked out great! I was constantly on the edge. My goals for quality where very high because I knew that a fan film like this can only become something special if we get everything right: From the script to the actors, the costumes and designs, the choreography and locations, the VFX, etc. That’s the beauty of working together with so many incredibly talented people. It’s all a team effort that makes this possible and every single element of the film was a fight that we took on together.
Vi-Dan Tran & Shawn Bu (Photo: Patrick Suite)
FCSyndicate: How did you come up with the idea for a Darth Maul fan film in the first place? Tell us about its inception.
SB: My first short film was actually a Star Wars lightsaber fight that I did in school. I always wanted to do another one and during my time at the university the idea did come up a few times. With my friends, including Vi-Dan who did all the amazing action and Ben who played Darth Maul, I felt it was the right moment to do it, but at that time I was still thinking about a film set in the Star Wars universe with new characters. It was only when I worked with Ben on a project where he potrayed Maul that I realised how absolutely perfect his Maul actually is. So I thought it would be crime not to do movie about him! I always liked Maul and felt he was severely underused in the film(s), especially Episode One. So for me it was a great opportunity to tell people a little bit lore about this character. I then wrote the script as a direct prequel to Episode One.
FCSyndicate: I've been following Vi-Dan's work off and on as a stunt performer. How did you two meet?
SB: I actually went to school with a cousin of his. When I shot my first short film, which was a lightsabre fight film, Vi-Dan’s cousin connected us after watching it. Vi-Dan was already a martial arts expert and I wanted to shoot a film with him. We later went to the same film University in Germany where we started working on films together. We realised pretty quickly that we work together, very well!
FCSyndicate: What was it like working with Ben Schamma among such a talent pool as yours?

SB: Ben is incredible! He brings so many different talents to this project. He does his own make up...about four to five hours every day before shooting! He is also an experienced stunt man and action actor. As I explained earlier, his performance as Maul led me to idea to create film focused around this character. Ben really becomes Darth Maul. He studied this character for many years now, but his talent doesn’t stop there! He was also one of the sound designers on the film. Ben edited all the lightsabre sounds in post production!
FCSyndicate: Your film also builds itself somewhat around the apprenticeship of Svenja Jung's character next to that of Mathis Landwehr who plays her master. What led you to cast her for that kind of role? Tell us about her.
SB: The Jedi apprentice was the most important character next to Darth Maul and casting her was not easy! First, I was looking for the right actress to fit the part - wuo can act as well as filmfight. After a while of searching, however, I realized that I had to decide between the acting or the fight experience. In the end for this part, the acting experience became more important and Svenja Jung’s portrayal and execution of her character's fighting skills and prowess was something that Vi-Dan had to create with her through training, choreography and sometimes using a double. Still, Svenja did all the wire stunts herself!
FCSyndicate: Are there things you look back on when watching your shortfilm that you wish you could have done differently? What are some lessons you've taken with you since then?
SB: There are a lot of little things that I wished to have done differently or maybe just better,  ranging from directing and pacing to VFX and action or logistics. The whole project was a giant learning experience. Things I took from it are definitely the importance of a good pre-production and preparations! And also, to find the right people work with who understand you and share your vision, and is able to see things the way you do. The project also showed me again and again how important every single person in the cast and crew is and how every single talent combined creates the film.
FCSyndicate: Can we expect anything more from you in the near future with regard to film? What can you tease for us? ☺
SB: I am always looking for the next big thing. My goal is to direct feature films in the future. But It is still to early to talk about anything specific. I can only say that I am very much into Science-Fiction. 
FCSyndicate: Any last words for our readers?
SB: Thank you for the interest and appreciation of our film! The film was made with the intention to entertain and excite fans of Star Wars, fans of action and fans of movies in general. And I am very happy and thankful for the support the film still gets after one year. May the force be with you!


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