“You tell everybody that we’re doing this for free. People have GOTTA know it; it’s not something that we want, or even can turn into capital, we’re doing it because we love it, and we’re not making a single penny off of it.” ~ Dominick Sivilli
I arrived to New York City via the 8AM train from Newark. The hunks of welded metal that made up the passenger car made more noise than I could ever imagine, my only previous experience with railed public transportation having come from media like ‘Death Wish’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ I realized how much faith these tens of thousands of commuters (not just in New York, all over the world in fact) actually put into the transport system; the cars to the front and to the back shot up, down, and around as far as the slack of the connecting joints would offer in an unnerving ricket, convincing any farmer-type that the machinery would soon fail due to wear and end everyone onboard. The deadly possibilities escalated as we crossed over the river and into the shade of the tunnels. The train stopped at the station, we departed for the nearby escalators, and we emerged at the base of the Freedom Tower.
I immediately knew what kind of city I was standing in: I was not able to crane my neck back far enough to see the entire building, let alone the top edge. I felt so small, and I was immediately engulfed in a sea of human beings, all with business somewhere else than right there. There were a pair of uniformed soldiers near the exit, observing the crowds carefully with Glock handguns strapped to their thighs. Police and port authority officers were peppered along the perimeters, but no one gave them any mind as they continued along their way. They were so nearly oblivious, so mentally far away from the collective even as they passed themselves. I was taken aback; coming from the Midwest, I’d never seen such a steady flow of pedestrians except at pro-gun rallies and the midnight premieres of the last three Star Wars movies.
I acquired a map of the subways and knew my instructions: take the G train to Greenpoint. I rode for an hour and took 3 separate trains to finally get to a McDonald’s in the right neighborhood, just next to the subway entrance itself. Within minutes, I met Dom and Lou.
Louis Maldarelli, the producer and co-writer, is a tall man, and his physical presence was imposing. I was honestly surprised at how large the man could actually be; this, however, came from my perspective of being a short man and dealing with accusations of being a hobbit in the years following the release of the Lord Of The Rings movies. Despite the threat of his large hands crushing my chipmunk-esque ones, he wore a black shirt that showed off Magneto from the original X-Men comics, which relaxed me a bit, as I knew now that I was dealing with my nerdy own.
Dominick Sivilli, the director and head-cracker, is much shorter, at least 4-6 inches if Louis stood up straight, though he is every bit as present. He wore a plaid cabby’s hat that struck me with some historical significance, given the presence of New York City and my frontier impressions that everyone who didn’t own a restaurant or was Jerry Seinfeld drove a cab for a living. It also signified an interesting juxtaposition between the entertainer and the peasant; I believe that it’s an appropriate assumption that taxi drivers are among the working middle class. It is also equally assumable that, in modern society, entertainers (especially filmmakers) are among the highest tiers of the richity-richy-filthy-stinkin’-rich. My image of knowing this guy only through the internet gave me a predisposition to think of him as somewhat high-fallutin’, though not necessarily snooty as could be surmised. No, my first meeting of Dom Sivilli merged the two together to create truth: an artist among the peasantry, the rustic jester. He even opened up the door to Louis’s car for me every time we got inside of it.
And indeed, they seemed to be just like every other human being I’d ever known. We shook hands, embraced, and took off. They introduced me to Eli Morales of Rollin Studios, one of their colleagues in the entertainment business. Eli was a shorter young man with glasses and a radiant, perhaps thoughtful reservation about his stature, but he was definitely knowledgeable and potentially charismatic. I would even go so far to surmise that he was a passionate man.
The sound stages were nothing short of remarkable. They smelled used, something that I assumed to be a good thing in the entertainment business, and the decibel level was significantly reduced from the previous concrete-lined lobby and stairwell. The walls here were padded with what I suspected to be some type of audio-regulating insulation to better control sound from stages and sets built within the stages; the roof seemed to go up nearly 50 feet, and walking the soundstage at the longest length was likely another 70 yards. Reportedly, productions associated with Liam Neeson and Justin Timberlake had recently used the building, and on the top floor, film students were working on something likely less noteworthy.
As Dominick visited with the crew on the top floor, me and Louis fired the opening shots of our business: the vision of the MMPR project.
“We’re worried about telling our story first. You have to set up the world and the story first, and then it’ll be time to satisfy everyone.”
There was inevitable truth. Introducing their new world, characters, and storyline is a necessity, and it’s been what I’ve been screaming about for years. The lack of a good story makes a chain of unexciting events that has no place being in your life. Part of making Power Rangers grow up was creating a cohesive, interesting hook for those of us already familiar with the world it exists in, building on it with original content, and then gluing it altogether within the franchise. Louis made clear that their priority were those precious few steps in creating the original content and making it entertaining enough to be accepted so that the journey can continue within the mind of the audience.
Whilst visiting the basement level and being shown the electrical closet that was the setting of the first mini-episode, we discussed, among other things, the massive outpouring of what appeared to be jealousy at the original inception of the project from the Power Rangers fan community; it seemed that everyone had their own ideas to do something similar, and I’ll admit readers, that I did as well. Knowing these guys beat me to the punch, something I considered original and my own, was infuriating for about an hour. I came to the realization that the continuation of the Power Rangers canon doesn’t belong to me, or any other individual for that matter; it’s OURS, and Dominick and Louis understand it. From the ashes of countless fanboys’ dreams came the allies of the production; numerous members of the crew that have done work in the past months for them came from volunteer fans that wanted to contribute something. There is, however, always one bastion of hateful resistance that Power Rangers fans can always rely on, a constant ‘dark side’ of our Force.
“We’ve been lobbying it on RangerBoard, but no one has anything good to say about it. And nobody on there likes the negative opinions. It’s like those people hate everything.”
We set off for our next location: it was run-down, wrecked, trashed, and probably infectious. The building itself was previously a bank early in the 1900’s that was shut down and turned into a seedy meeting place for fictional evil-doers; they had literally used it as a location for the villains in a Batman fan film they had worked on weeks before, but any other self-respecting city that wasn’t the size of a banana republic would have turned this building into dust and vacant lot years ago. On the way in, Louis mentioned that they have viewed nearly half of the Power Rangers franchise, though this tally does not include RPM. This surprised me, and he expected it; he knew that the term ‘Project Ranger’ had been used before MMPR, and inquired as to its place in the story. I explained it lightly and urged them to watch RPM immediately.
The spaces were strangely tight and definitely a relic of retro New York architecture, built in a time when the average man ate gruel, had an average height of 5’6’’, and looked forward to the end of the Spanish-American conflict in Cuba. Yes indeed, this place was cramped, and upstairs was a dadgum apartment ripped right out of How I Met Your Mother; kitchen, living area, and bedroom were within PACES of each other. It looked great for squatters, but we had no intentions of partaking in urban camping; this was an available location.
Somehow, the conversation turned to Tommy Oliver. I had to bring it up:
“Be honest with you, I’ve been holding back asking about the Tommy thing….but what do you have to say?”
They opened right up. It seemed as though they NEEDED to tell someone about it; the information was so steady and so layered that the conversations had to have been taking place for months.
So here’s the skinny, Morphin’ Legacy: they HAVE been talking to Jason David Frank about reprising his role. The Tommy backstory seems to have been crafted around JDF’s current physical state, the MMPR Tommy’s exile creating the plausible reasons for tattoos and large muscles.
JDF has previously refused, citing that he does not want the Tommy character to be made a subpar rendition to what he believes the character to be, and believed the exodus backstory to support the idea of cowardice and ineptitude.
There have been multiple discussions between Dominick/Louis and JDF/his manager; it’s all still in the neutral zone, but they don’t intend to lose JDF without a fight.
We went to the biggest space in this building, which appeared to be some kind of parking garage or storage area; I continue to associate it with vehicle storage because there was a decommissioned 1990s-era NYPD cruiser parked in there behind the thing above. They told me that they literally picked it up from a merchant days before the filming of the teaser trailer, and it risen as an unsung star in the whole identity of the MMPR fan project; those who did not discount Zedd’s chair as a recliner of some sort could easily see its perfect contrast to the total reveal of Lord Zedd and the return of the Z-staff. I believe this thing is gonna see a lot more butt before the end of the production.
We had lolly-gagged enough. The sun was at the highest point in the sky, and it was time to eat.
The Thai joint seemed a bit out of place. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of an Asian restaurant that shared a street with a sign in Polish that appeared to be advertising a lawyer or a public servant of some kind (whatever this guy was, he was an ‘esquire’). Still, I was told that any food in NYC was worth having, and there would be no disappointment to be found anywhere. The restaurant was small; if I was a Fire Marshall, I’d probably only allow 50 people to be served at one time.
I won’t tell you how good my shrimp curry was, even though it was some of the best curry I’ve ever had in my life (this is not a title given out without epic reasons). I will not discuss the Singha beer that was had by one of the guys, or the amazing smells this place gave off. Without divulging details, I will press the idea, dear reader, that during our meal, Louis and Dominick revealed the most important elements to the MMPR project and why I believe it deserves not only support but total success. The story will be woven into the Power Rangers continuum in more ways than they currently care to divulge; it is VERY clear, however, that more former cast and crew members are getting in touch with them by the day and showing interest.
They told me a little bit more about the plot of the series: the blue Ranger, played by Dina Cataldi, is a Silver Guardian employee that discovers more than she bargained for with the renewed activation of the Power Coins. She soon finds herself recruiting an unlikely (and yet somewhat sensible) assortment of new heroes to don the Power Armor, including a police officer, an underground competitive fighter, and female twins protesting the Silver Guardians. There are several secret Power Rangers easter eggs that will factor greatly into the new plot, and Louis explains to me that this is part of the final product; any leaks, predictions, or spoilers will take away from the experience of watching it. In my opinion, this is the mark of a truly professional filmmaker; to have the total confidence that their audience will love the elements they create and retain the ability to totally control and foresee the viewing experience of the average fan. This isn’t ego; based on certain elements they revealed, it will ALL completely work and will simply floor me personally when I get to watch it.
This brought us to a short conversation about the show LOST and our mutual love for it. The guys are drawing much inspiration from the aesthetic tension brought on by knowing absolutely nothing except that there is something important that we, the audience, do not know, and the amount of content that is not known, needs to BE known, and teases at revealing was an absolute blast to experience during the show’s six season run. It appears that they are intending to take a page from the smoke-black book of mysteries and tweak it into the ultimate nerd viewing experience. These men understand what is necessary to completely entertain us.
We finished our perfect meals, which seemed to have been seared and steamed personally by the oriental gods of cooking, and began walking back to the car to get to our next destination: the studio belonging to the guys making all the awesome props. On the way to the car, I realized I’d never been around this many Italians at the same time; I then realized that my town never had more than one Italian in one section of town at any given time. This is the literal truth, and I didn’t know what to be more astounded at: the fact the frontier states were made up of northern European immigrants that REALLY wanted to get away, or the fact I’d adapted perfectly to behaving around Italians like they were normal people. I digress.
We arrived to the studio building, which was a large, multi-story one made of brick that basically rented the rooms out to aspiring artists of all kinds; there were music production groups, painters, and our guys, the sculptors. However, the stairs killed me, and my excuse was that I was still recovering from attending the 150th anniversary reenactment of Gettysburg, which isn’t uncommon as far as my body is concerned; sometimes I feel the soreness and the rashes up to 3 weeks following my return home. This is also a digression (probably more of a bad excuse for having man-cankles) but let’s keep going, reader.
Upon entering the studio, my first thoughts were of nostalgia and familiarity. It was hot and smelled like highly advanced arts and crafts, the ghosts of chemicals and necessary sciences hanging in the air that might or might not be dusty. I grew up spending lots of time in a pottery studio with my father and his associates, and this seemed like any one of the ceramic dens that I spent so much time in. There was hardly any semblance of order or organization; the privatized ideas of where things should go was apparent and, in my opinion, the truly creative should not be expected to keep tidy, else lose time doing actual work.
And then we met the artists themselves, Adam and Jason Short, brothers pursuing artistic endeavors that their hearts and bank accounts called for. It was then they brought in everything they’d been working on since the end of the MMPR Kickstarter and dazzled me right away.
“Morphin’ Legacy exclusive right here!”
The faces of the morphers were made from a 3D printer and were surprisingly stable. They felt rough and fiberglass-y, and I was somewhat afraid it would fall apart like bad Styrofoam, but these things clacked together like iPhones. I’d heard much about the potential of 3D printing (mostly from people debating whether or not you can download a gun), but seeing how precise the edges and dimensions were simply expounded everything I’d considered within the possibilities of the project. Someone asked if the new armor design would be made of the same material and 3D printed; reportedly, the armor is to be vacuum-formed.
“Sounds good. I don’t know what the hell that means.”
“Me neither. Good work, guys.”
“You know, vacu-form? It’s how they make Stormtrooper armor from Star Wars.”
“Oh, Star Wars, cool.”
And that was pretty much every conversation held inside the studio. Various forms of the exchange were delivered in the span of around 20 minutes in-between brainstorming and other tech-jargon that neither Italian could process. However, the discussion did turn back to storylines and the potential it had for bringing former actors back into the mix, as well as the recent SPD fan film pitch made by Matt Austin, who played the green SPD Ranger in the series, which seemed to come about after the MMPR boys talked to him. Overall, though, the Short brothers turned out to be equally crazy fans of Power Rangers, and when Adam mentioned he still collected the toys, I knew the props were in good hands.
On the way out, my mind went to how much I loved my hat, and how dumb I had been to not contribute to the Kickstarter for an MMPR hat; there’s also a small piece inside of me, after doing so much for the MMPR guys and being so involved, that wanted to give it free advertisement on my forehead. I asked Louis:
“If I gave you guys $20, would you be able to get me a hat?”
He basically said that they’re not allowed to take any donations or anything anymore. The Kickstarter was the only way to financially support the project; a lot of people don’t know it, but due to the whole non-profit nature of the project, they must tread lightly. No more money is being taken in, and in the firstplace, they don’t need it; they received more than double what they asked for, and as a result, we in the audience are getting loads of extra content that wouldn’t have been produced otherwise. Basically, for anyone who DOES want a hat, they’ll have to wait for the next fundraiser.
They started talking about other shooting locations they had available and the credentials of their stunt team. Not only is there talk of getting access to an abandoned military base nearby, but the fight director is big-time, squeezing in working on MMPR between The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and TMNT. The stunt team itself consists of 10-15 guys who will be portraying as-of-yet unidentified neo-goonery belonging to Lord Zedd.
We began trekking back to the McDonald’s that would serve to be my Alpha and Omega in my trip to Brooklyn. I asked along the way if the story would get very specific as far as Lord Zedd’s plan to gain revenge or do some damage; would he be targeting the humans’ agriculture this time around, or will it matter?
“No, it’s not gonna matter. He’s not gonna be trying to poison the water or anything, but his presence in the firstplace is the thing that’s really going to be important, and we don’t think leaving the threats ambiguous is a big deal. Nobody’s gonna hate it; it’s the story, it’s always about the story.”
I suddenly harkened back to conversations with CupOfWater03; he, as well as anyone else paying attention to the MMPR presence, knew that there was a lot of love and inklings of hate spread all across their history on the internet and made him curious to know if they acknowledged it, or had any thoughts on it at all. The logical answer was no: functional adults, as these gents appeared to be (even as Dominick pulled his shirt off to combat the heat in the studio), don’t ruminate on negativity, lest the quality of their societal contribution be made unpure. I felt the urge to ask, and their answer surprised me:
“You guys know you’ve got a ton of people that are panning the concept and the project. What do you have to say to the ‘haters’ out there?”
“Nothing.” Dominick’s inflection oozed a masked confidence, a very compelling nothingness hidden in the air it took to squeeze the word out. It seemed there were a few moments of silence, and I had to take the bait.
“Really? Nothing?” I was completely curious. They had my attention.
“Yeah. Everyone’s gonna see it. The haters, the fans, everybody who knows about it is going to watch it regardless. The haters want to see how this thing comes out as badly as the fans who love us.”
“EVERYBODY is going to want to see how it comes out.”
The truth made me laugh. It was so blunt and so directly unveiled; I suppose it had some layer of psychological condition to it, which was why the entire premise seemed to work. The hateful and the critical, though numbered and active, were still fans of the MMPR Facebook page and made their opinions known. They continued to read my articles, and most articles for that matter, and actively participate in commenting on social media to let their opinions be known. They may hate it, but they know it’s going to be SOMETHING. It intrigued me; I continue to think about it to this day, but I’ll save you the paragraph or two about how human behavior is odd. I’m sure all you future psychologists reading this are about sick of my shit.
We arrived back to the McDonald’s, which ‘only’ charged a dollar to access the ATM. Exiting the vehicle, and sticky with my sweat, I bid farewell to the noble artists. I took their hands, looked them in the eye, and asked the final question:
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“You tell everybody that we’re doing this for free. People have GOTTA know it; it’s not something that we want, or even can turn into capital, we’re doing it because we love it, and we’re not making a single penny off of it.” Dominick said, a hint of urgency in his eyes and vocal tone (where I come from, we call this a ‘twofer’).
“Yeah, we’re making this effort because it needs done, and we’re the ones to do it. You tell your readers that we’re not doing this in our backyards, we’re professional filmmakers doing a service to the fan community.”
The train that took me back to the huge parking structure seemed less scary than the one in. It had something to do with how the city affected me, how the experience of meeting Dominick and Louis and talking with them comforted my psyche with knowledge, or maybe I was numbed by the idea of how to even start this article. But I came to several very important realizations while physically among the artists and their palette:
I realized that New York may be the perfect setting for Angel Grove. The totality of how aloof the NYC populace appeared, as I had initially observed, was a fallacy, or I could not see through the veneer of what was truly there. These people had faced an enemy engaged in total war and prevailed. Their conflict was in the past and now ending in a land far away from that concrete jungle, the place they even now called home. They had reclaimed safety and security at some great cost, even now unknown to them, and persevered through countless threats and uncertainties faced year after year. The endurance of the human spirit was alive in this place, and for the next step in the evolution of the Power Rangers franchise, I’m now certain that there is no greater location than the heart of America.
They proved to me that life goes on after catastrophe. There is a hustle-and-bustle about their work that is undeniable and makes every single place in those city limits feel so much more breathable. If my point isn’t getting across, I’d go so far as to say that New Yorkers are the closest kin to Angel Grove residents: their city was literally torn apart by the truest evil and they persevered while heroes marched away to confront the enemy. When all seemed lost, they cleared away the debris and honored the events, giving thanks to the noble men and women that saved as many as they could and continued to fight as time moved forward. The blood of the heroes was spilled upon the rubble, but it radiated into the veins of the citizens, who declared that they would not soon submit to the entity that had besieged their homes and minds. Years later, we know that we have won, though the means be unknown and the thanks be undelivered personally. The uniform may have been passed to others, but the spirit of the resistance lived on.
New York City is certainly unique. The culture and its strength stretches through the brick and mortar, away from the windows and out of the sewer grates. It belongs to itself, and I do believe that, in the context of the story that we all love so much, the Power Rangers legacy has a place somewhere inside to begin anew, allowing the honor of the old to meet with the courage of the new. With a team that knows exactly what they are doing, a setting that represents a perfect societal replica of Angel Grove, and every dream unrealized by Saban Brands, what can go wrong?
Until next time: have courage and press on regardless.
QC by thebubbledragon