Interview: Mike Fass – Street Fighter Reunion
Last week our very own Dale Cantwell got in touch with Mike Fass from ‘Street Fighter: The Later Years’ for a quick Q&A session. Mike both produces and stars in the series as our favourite rotating Russian ‘Zangief’. The show finished up this year on College Humour but the team are now hard at work with the TV continuation; ‘Street Fighter Reunion’. Mike gave us the low-down on filming the original hit, how things are coming along with the upcoming series and his own history playing Street Fighter.
Street Fighter: The Later Years:
How did the idea of Street Fighter the Later Years initially come about?
Sam Reich is a brilliant young writer, producer, actor, director and even editor, you name it, and he had just been hired by College Humor as Director of Original Content for their newly launched division, CHTV. For his very first assignment, he and probably his DP, Vince Peone, came up with a sketch about a temp agency for out of work superheroes. It was a good premise but, the more it developed, the more it began to look like “The Incredibles” so they tabled it and substituted the popular Street Fighter II characters from the 1990s, then shifted the premise to that of a look at what’s happened to a couple of them since their tournament days had ended. This led to a kind of open ending, suggesting a continuation and, finally, a full blown web series.
Was there even a plan to have any of the New Challengers (Cammy, DJ, Fei-Long and T Hawk) in the Later Years?
No, not at all. Sam wanted to maintain the focus of the show only on the first and most classic of the Street Fighter II characters, the Big Twelve, as I call them, so that the humor would always directly relate to those who best remembered the SFII experience. He thought that adding any more from, say, Alpha, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Hyper Fighting, etcetera, would blur the immediacy of the pinpointed comic references into obscurity.
We really enjoyed Street Fighter the Later Years, our favorite scene was when you first entered the ring and Bision gives a proud applause of your outfit. What was your favorite scene?
Well, first let me say that, when we did that scene, I was standing there half naked as Zangief who was unveiling his new UFC style MMA fighter look, updating his image from that of a pro wrestler, and I didn’t even notice the sight gag that was happening right in front of me! And it truly was a “sight” gag (laughs). Sagat is turning his face away in disgust and covering his eye, yes, but he covers his PATCHED eye and turns that one away while his supposedly good eye is, nevertheless, looking right at Zangief! I only noticed it when I saw the premiere like everyone else and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing! I still don’t know who’s idea that was but it was brilliant! I’ve had several favorite scenes but one of my very favorites is the scene in Dhalsim’s cab where we recreate the opening titles of “That 70s Show”. That was riotously fun!
Street Fighter Reunion
How difficult was it to get the funding to make the transition betweena web series to a television series?
Tremendously difficult, although it shouldn’t have been. To have just come out of one of the biggest web series on the planet and spin off from it into a television series seems so logical, I thought. Then I realized that most investors are, at the very least, my age and so they don’t seem to understand either the cultural importance of video games in general or Street Fighter II in particular to an entire generation that came right after them. I’m a Late Boomer myself and there isn’t a single person in my family, except for my youngest cousins, who had even heard of Street Fighter during the nineties! Heck, even I knew about it! From my perspective, you couldn’t have gotten through that decade without being confronted by SF2 ads on the subway platforms, in the comic books, in stores, on the streets and on TV! Yet most of my generation seems to draw a blank about anything culturally significant that happened during that period and it embarrasses me a little. The other age relevant factor is that it was a web series and, again, by the standards of people my own age or older, not worthy of notice. You have to remember that a web series in 2008 is just like a television series in 1948. Television was seen as srrictly an information medium. It’s where you went for news about agricultural equipment or the progress of weather baloons but there were these crazy young people at the time who tried to add entertainment to it and most older people were not going to recognize television as a proven entertainment medium. Even sponsors felt that way and paid only a pittance for air time on those early shows. Well, that’s how my generation, and up, sees the web. The internet to them is a place where you go to check your email once or twice a week but a web series? What’s that? So, even with all the worldwide accolades, the tens of millions of viewers, the Best Series nomination at this year’s YouTube Awards and even Kevin Yamada’s Emmy nomination and Raw Le’Jba’s starring opposite Nicholas Cage (himself a big SF:TLY fan) in the new “G-Force” feature film and also starring as Tomahawk in NBC’s “American Gladiator”, older investors still didn’t “get it”. It’s been an uphill battle but we’re finally just about there now.
Sagat and E Honda appeared to be mortally wounded during the Later Years. Have we seen the end of them?
E. Honda’s a bit rattled but otherwise fine. The car on which he landed didn’t fare so well. You’ll see Edmond trying his best to work his way back into the good graces of his old Street Fighter buddies after what he’s done but, I can assure you, it won’t be easy for him. As for Sagat, I remember when I opened the script for the first time and read, “Sagat slumps to the floor, dead”. I gasped and said, “NO”! I couldn’t believe that they’d actually killed off one of the few SF characters who date all the way back to the original in 1988! I don’t want to give too much away but one of the strongest plot lines throughout the first season of “Street Fighter Reunion” will be all about Sagat’s death at the hands (or claws) of Vega. Have we seen the end of Sagat? I’m not at liberty to divulge that yet.
We heard you are interested in introducing old versions of Street Fighter 4 characters. Do you have any plans for bringing in Street Fighter 3 or Alpha characters?
Oh, absolutely. We don’t have the same constraints as “Later Years” did where that’s concerned. The humor is a lot more broad and there’s so much action and adventure to come that our feeling about it is, “the more, the merrier”. For instance, we have an actor who bears an uncanny facial resenblence to Dudley. I swear, if you straighten his hair, part it in the middle and give him a spit curl, you’re lookin’ at Dudley, man! It’s amazing. Also, there was a tremendous demand for characters like Cammy, Akuma, Fei Long and a few others from TLY and now we can finally deliver them. Wait’ll you see what’s become of Sakura, for instance! There’s a titanic battle between Akuma and Zangief in Episode 4 and, if things work out the way we’re planning, Cammy White will provide a real special surprise that we’re keeping under wraps until she appears.
In episode 3 of the Later Years Dhalsim himself says “we figure we’ve got three months before they sue us for using the characters” Now that you’ve survived those three months how did you manage to get Capcom’s support in creating Street Fighter Reunion?
Capcom were so wonderful! They loved us right from the start of “Later Years” and contacted Sam to tell him so. They also ran our series at several of their international websites and, by the second season, had even offered not only to produce the tournament but also the use of their actual headquarters for our shoots. Sam and company decided they liked their own digs best and dressed up CHTV’s headquarters to look like Capcom. One of the other many cool things about Capcom is that they allowed themselves to be portrayed in a comedy as a greedy and evil corporate empire that was not above killing people to turn a profit. That really elevated my already growing respect for them. I met with some very key people at Capcom and they’ve been so kind and so supportive of us and of this new TV project. We are currently in talks with Capcom’s licensing division to work out the necessary licensing agreements before we sell or lease the series to networks and distributors for syndication. After all, the merchandising alone is expected to bring in substantial revenue.
With Street Fighter there are a lot of contrasting story lines and disputes about what is considered cannon. How difficult was it for you to piece this together into one story and still please the fans?
Easier than I thought, actually. There are several challenging factors involved. First are the contradictions in the canon itself, such as the death of Charlie Nash. He died in the explosion of Bison’s Psychodrive device. Yet Street Fighter Alpha has Zangief and E. Honda teaming up to destroy it themselves. Zangief bashes it apart with his bare fists while Honda dives right into it and pulverizes it. Nash is nowhere to be found in this scene. If we ever have to address this issue, for instance, we would say that Nash was behind the device attempting to sabotage it when Frick-son and Frackski barged in to do it themselves, unaware that Nash was right nearby the whole time (don’t let Zangief know this; he cries easily). Second are the holes in the canon; areas for which no answer has ever been oficially provided. This gives us the freedom to fill in a few blanks. Zangief was never given a first name. The reason that Nikolas was chosen was because it was presented in one of the many fine SF fiction stories, this one by Bethany Cox and titled, “For love of country”, which, we thought, gave Zangief such a fascinating and tragic background that it SHOULD be canon and so we tell our story in continuity with that fine tale which beautifully filled in a large hole in a major character’s biography. The only alteration we made is in the spelling, substituting a K in place of the original CH in Nicholas to make it more Russian.
Third are the topics about which fans argue. Alex Finch’s portrayal of Blanka with a Mexican accent and saying, “Si”, rather than the Portuguese “Sim” as one would expect to hear from a Brazilian, set off a firestorm of debate that still rages today. What most fans don’t know is that little Jimmy’s plane crashed in the jungles of Brazil when he was a baby. We never knew from what country he and his mothet came but we do know that Blanks was raised by wolves and by electric eels after the crash. Since it was Dan and Sakura who discovered him, Blanka’s first human language was Japanese. How he wound up with a Mexican accent is something we will soon find ourselves having to explain. Another common topic of debate is the correct pronunciation of the Street Fighters’ names and all this brings us to our final canonical challenge, “Street Fighter: TLY”. Not only are there some glaring inconsistencies and mispronounced characters’ names but there are also so many unanswered questions and open-ended plot devices left hanging when the series abruptly ended that, although we’re a spin-off and not really a continuation of “Later Years”, we have to spend some of the first season addressing and tying up so we can move the series into an entirely new direction. Why is Bison alive again? If Ken and Chun Li are now an item, what happened to Eliza? What does Ken’s son Mel think of all this and why is there neither a scar on Sagat’s chest nor a tattoo on Vega’s? Some of these questions were going to be answered in TLY but College Humor gave the series the axe and Sam never got to explain. Thankfully, I still vividly remember Sam’s intended explanations and so we are working them into the new story so we can move on. Finally, even some sources that were not considered canon such as the TV series, “Street Fighter II V”, will find us in continuity with them to some degree simply because they were massively popular with fans, just the same, and many of them have accepted some of those plot permutations. Just wanna keep things familiar and feeling like the Street Fighter that the fans know best. That’s important to us.
Was Zangief always your favorite Street Fighter character to play as and how frequently can you perform the challenging “Spinning Piledriver” 360 maneuver?
Can I tell you a story first? It’s the best way I can answer this. Back in 1991, when Street Fighter II debuted, I was already in my thirties so I never had the pleasure of having grown up with it. I was very much aware of it, though, and it was around that time that I got my first really good look at an SF2 arcade console. It was in a pizza place in my neighborhood that I frequented. Men and boys, pigs that we are, immediately make mental note of which characters are the hottest sexually to look at and so I picked out the Muy Thai kickboxer with the eyepatch and the hairy bearded wrestler as the two sexiest characters in the game. I didn’t know their names. One evening, after the kids had finished playing and had left, I got a good look at the character select screen. I saw that the bearded wrestler with the Mohawk represented the Soviet Union. I also noticed something else. I thought that, were I to shave my shaggy Beatle hair down to a Mohawk, I’d look just like that guy! I remember thinking, as I suppose most actors do, that, if they ever make a movie about Street Fighter, I could probably play that guy. I looked at his name. Zangief. Tried to remember it but never really could. By 1994 there really was a movie version of it. Then a couple of TV series. I never had any idea back then, in that pizza parlor, that, fifteen years later, I would, in fact, be cast to play Zangief in a worldwide hit series. And I never even sought out the role when it was made available but that’s a whole other story.
But the answer to your question is that, although I knew the 360 + Punch maneuver to execute Zangief’s fearsome Spinning Piledriver, I have never had occasion to use it! I’ve never been a serious gamer and I certainly didn’t grow up in the age of video games. I knew all his special and super moves from my exhaustively extensive research on the character. I had to learn everything there possibly was to know about Zangief if I was to portray him in a way that is familiar to his fans and won’t disrespect in any way their sense of familiarity with him nor their nostalgia for him. That’s right. I had never even played Street Fighter in any form! I should be ashamed, I know, especially when folks point out to me that I’m missing the true Street Fighter experience until I actually play it. I have to agree but I will also point out that, as the man who plays Zangief, I get to REALLY step into the ring with Chun Li, actually enter the fighting stage with Akuma and square off against Guile in the flesh in a pizza place owned by M. Bison! Only I get to say that and it helps me to work off some of my guilt over not being an authentic gamer. The other thing that gives me solace is that I know I’m in pretty good company. John Wayne never served a day in live military combat, David Carradine never had any martial arts training for his hit series, “Kung Fu”, and Brian Wilson never surfed. So, although I honestly don’t know how well I’d handle myself on the joystick, I can promise you that you will soon see me pull off a Final Atomic Buster against a major opponent which will emcompass two German Suplexes followed by two Spinning Piledrivers as high as thirty feet in the air! That makes me feel better.
You recently attended the SFC event in New York; did you get a chanceto play Street Fighter 4? Were you impressed?
It was my grand public humiliation (laughs)! I was with the producer of Street Fighter Devotion and he was playing SF4 opposite a Sagat player as Ryu which was appropriate since he’s known as the top Ryu impersonator in the world. At one point he let go and shoved me up to the console! I tried desperately to remember everything I’d read and, by some sheer dumb luck, I found myself actually holding my own against Sagat. I did lose that round but not too poorly. Then came the final round and I performed so pitifully that I saw my Ryu character sprite in contortions of pain and facial expressions of agony that I had never even known were programmed into the game! I got my ass whipped and I turned to walk away in defeat when someone shouted, “You let down the Motherland!”, and the crowd laughed. Like Zangief, it was pathetic and funny at the same time. That said, Street Fighter IV is AWESOME! The graphics and animation, plus the paint and ink motif, had always blown me away in the test runs of the game I’d been watching all year on videos from Tokyo. To be right there watching and even playing it was even cooler! Ya gotta love the double irony; here I am, a man world famous for portraying one of the biggest Street Fighter video game legends and I’d never actually played that game! Then, the very first Street Fighter game I finally do play is Street Fighter IV! A game that the majority of even the most ardent SF fans have never even been in the same room with, let alone played!
You’re obviously a fan of the Street Fighter series. Are there anyother games you really enjoy?
These are probably a bit before your time but I was a master of Sega’s Star Trek game on Vectrex. The only other guy besides myself I’d ever seen blow up the Klingon mother ship (the game’s final stage), repeatedly, was one of my best friends, Charles Herrion, himself a champion of many Sega games. I was also a champion of Bandai computer games like Combat Pilot, Space Chaser and Sub Search but, for the most part, I especially enjoy the really cool 3-D board games from mygeneration, Which Witch? being among my all-time favorites.
Out of the cast, yourself included, who would you say is the best at Street Fighter? Have you held a cast World Warrior tournament to put this to the test?
I daresay it would be pretty embarrassing if we did. I know that a few of the cast are actual gamers like Sean T. Krishnan who plays Dhalsim. I saw him hold his own as Dhalsim against Sam Reich’s Zangief on Super Nintendo. Gotta ask the others about it and get back to you on that but I do know that the oldest among us who are in our late forties (me at 49), fifties (TJ Glenn as Vega and Nick Raio as Guile) and seventies (Luis De Mechazurra as M. Bison) definitely predate the video game era. Of course, even that won’t stop Bison from getting all Psycho Crusher on me if I get out of line. But most of us have real martial arts skills which we will finally get to use on each other in “Street Fighter Reunion” so I’m guessing that’ll turn out to be the best World Warrior Tournament of all.