I recently interviewed the Kirby brothers of K&K Productions to learn more about this project and share it with the Dragon Ball community.
Haven’t heard of Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga?
Here’s their Dragon Ball movie introduction video to bring you up to speed.
They’re running a fundraiser at IndieGogo, so be sure to contribute.
Today you’ll learn where the idea for a live action Dragon Ball Z movie came from, why Dragon Ball Evolution failed to please fans, how the brothers made their casting choices for Goku and Vegeta, and discover what it’s like to film a special effects laden film on an independent’s budget.
Now let’s turn up the heat and go Kaio Ken x4!!
Get Ready! The Saiyans Are Coming!
Derek: Hi Harry, George. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
Harry: Hello, Derek.
George: Good morning.
Derek: There are a lot of Dragon Ball fans who are looking forward to Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga, but not everybody knows about it yet, so I want to get it out there. I love Dragon Ball and want to share this with others.
As a general intro for those who don’t know, who are K&K Productions?
Harry: We’re two brothers, Harry and George Kirby. We both used to work in television, for Sky TV, a big broadcaster in the UK. I worked there first for 6 years and then my brother was there for 3 years. During that time we were kind of doing our own stuff and we realized that we could do it on our own.
We started our company about 5 years ago and we’ve been full time with it for the last 2 and a half. We started with corporate work and recently music videos, and we always entered into film competitions and 48 hour challenges.
George is very good with special effects, and doing those films helps us improve those effects. Pushes us farther.
Derek: What originally got you into film? Why make that your career?
George: We both grew up watching film, a lot of anime, played computer games, those sorts of things. That made us a very visual based type of imaginative people. Harry, being older, went to university and did live TV production, something media related. I kind of followed up and that was our entry in.
Derek: You did that for a few years and decided enough is enough, let’s do it our way. Now here you are making Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga. Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
George: We always said, “It’d be so cool if we could.” We would mess around with effects with energy, Ki blasts, things like that. We thought it would be cool to do a full on production, but years ago we didn’t have the skills, the technology or the time. It’s always been in the back of our minds.
Harry: We’ve hit the point where our production company is doing well, and now we know we’ve got the friends, crew, and equipment. Now’s the time.
If someone had said to me 5 years ago that you’re going to have all this equipment and the resources you have now, I would have jumped on it to make Dragon Ball Z. It’s the first thing that comes to mind. And now that’s what we’re going to do.
Plus with Dragon Ball Z there’s so many great characters and so much amazing content right there. No one, apart from the Evolution movie, had tapped into it. All that great stuff sitting there waiting to be made into live action.
Derek: Why do you think Dragon Ball Evolution turned out the way it did? And how will your film succeed where Evolution did not?
Harry: I think they just missed the point entirely.
George: I just want to say one thing. Why did they call it Evolution? What is it evolved from? It was the first film! I don’t understand that point. Sorry, that just really got to me when it came out.
Harry: We felt the casting was wrong with the film. There has been a lot of debate on YouTube and elsewhere whether the characters should be Asian or not. It was a Japanese cartoon originally and we always saw the characters as Asian, but I mean, they were drawn in a way that you could interpret them however you want.
[In any case] they changed characters, they changed relationships, and missed the point of the story. Plus, it skips on the action. There are a lot of great stories in Dragon Ball Z, but people love the action.
George: It could be said that it’s tentatively based on Dragon Ball, not Dragon Ball Z, but you still need the Dragon Ball Z essence that people have come to expect. The high action, high impact, the hype and visuals that should have been in it, but weren’t.
Harry: The key thing is what we said before. There’s all this material just laid out for film companies to make stories out of that were massively popular across the world. And the first thing they do is go, “Okay, let’s change them.” Why change it when it’s already great?
Obviously we’ll have to make slight adaptations to make it into live action, but for the most part we want to see what we, as fans, want to see on the screen. That’s the whole point.
Derek: I think you’re absolutely right. I don’t think there were more than even a few minutes of fights in that entire movie.
Harry: You’re seeing a white Goku diving over the bonnet of a yellow Mustang or whatever, and I’m thinking, this isn’t even remotely like the world of Dragon Ball.
George: It was very Americanized. It obviously appealed to the mass American market, that’s what film companies do, but it skipped over the whole fan base of anime. It was too Americanized and missed the mark.
Derek: I agree. So what’s your goal with Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga? You said you want to stay true to the spirit. What is your message and why do you want to create a live action Dragon Ball Z movie?
Harry: First of all, yes, our key message is that we want to stay true to Dragon Ball. Watching Evolution, my thoughts the whole time were, “Where is this, why is this missing, why have they not done this?”
You know, you come across videos on YouTube, for example, the Mortal Kombat fan film, and you want to share it with others. I love that feeling, discovering something that a fan has made, you want to share it with your friends, and that’s a great feeling. Our main thing is to give the fans that chance. We want to give that feeling to Dragon Ball fans. When you see a bit with Krillin, or when Goku goes Kaio Ken, you’ll want to share it.
George: That was the whole point of wanting to do a trailer rather than a short film. It’s high impact, really exciting for fans, each and every scene with all the great moments. It will be longer than a regular trailer, but that’s so we can fit more of the action and characters in for the fans.
Harry: We wanted to try and sum up the whole saga and its feeling. With a trailer format we can cut back and forth to all the great scenes, and create an overall summary of the saga. We posted an anime version of what we’re trying to do and that’s getting a good reaction.
Derek: It sounds like what you’re saying is that you want to connect with people, give to the Dragon Ball community and enjoy it together.
On your IndieGogo page, a contributor named Marjorie wrote, “I’m a life-long fan of Dragonball and it is amazing to know how many more hardcore fans are out there! I really think this movie looks like it will capture what DBZ is and how it feels, because it was made by people who love the anime and not just producers who see a market for DBZ but understand nothing about what it’s about.”
I feel that really expresses the hopes of a lot of Dragon Ball fans, including myself. How would you respond to that statement?
Harry: I completely agree and I hope that’s what we can do. There’s so much great stuff you can do with Dragon Ball Z.
George: The thing is, what they missed, was what a huge fan base Dragon Ball Z has got all over the world. They don’t need to sell a new idea to people, it’s already there. You don’t need to change it. That’s what we’re trying to do. Take what is already there, interpret it into live action in a way that fans will relate to and love.
Harry: A good example is the kind of respect Christopher Nolan gave to Batman. He looked to the concept, to the fans, and took it seriously. And he delivered something that the fans now really love. The Evolution guys didn’t take the content seriously, didn’t realize the fan base they had. If they hadn’t changed it so massively, then the fans would have loved it.
Derek: Sounds like they didn’t respect the content.
Now I’d like to ask you about your project funding, your goals, and how you’re going to do it.
Funding and Development Goals
Derek: Your IndieGogo funding campaign had the goal of $5,000. Congratulations on reaching that goal well ahead of the deadline! It’s now over $6,000 with over 20 days left. Does the production still need more funding, or are you all set to begin filming?
Harry: Basically we are set. But the fact that more funding is coming in has given us more options. At the moment our actors and crew are working for free.
I drove to Dorset, to the main location, to sit down with a guy and plead that we don’t have much money. Originally he wanted to charge us 5,000 pounds a day. We couldn’t do that, and I think he thought we were a big production company. We explained to him what we were trying to do, and he lowered the price. So at the moment everything is being done as tightly and quickly as we can. We’ve only got one day there, and only one day in green screen. We have to stay in budget.
With the extra funding we can give ourselves a little more time, do some more elaborate shots. One potential thing is to do our wire work at Pinewood studios, a famous British studio where they did the Bond films. If we could go there then we could do much more elaborate wire scenes and make the action much better. Our next goal for funding is to have enough to go there. Right now we’re really limited with what we can do with flying, and it’s such a big part of the series. If we can get in there, we can stay more true to the series.
Derek: That sounds great. Are you going to open another campaign fund or keep this one running?
George: I think we’ll keep this one running. People told us about Kickstarter after we started this one, but we’ll stick with IndieGogo because we still have time left on this one, and…
Harry: We don’t want people to think we’re greedy. We’re not conning anyone. But if they see us trying to run two funding campaigns people might think we’re just trying to raise extra money, or taking liberties with the fans. We’ve been thinking about it, but it’s not right.
For instance, we had someone donate $1,000 on IndieGogo for a set of Saiyan armor, and I don’t want to go on another site, add some extra perks, and then make them feel it’s kind of unfair.
Derek: Okay, I’ll make it clear to the fans that even though the green bar is full, it does not mean that they cannot contribute, and that you guys are very appreciative of any funds that come your way.
Harry: The first plan is online, on YouTube. The people that have contributed will get a behind the scenes DVD. If we sell DVD’s it would break fair trade, so we’re not sure if we can do that.
George: We’ve been contacted by an anime and manga convention in Canada, so it will get played there. We want to find other avenues where we can show it.
Harry: I think there are a lot of people who will give contributions, and it will be free online to watch.
Tech Specs and Special Effects
Derek: From a technical standpoint, what equipment are you using to film? Are these digital cameras?
George: Yeah, we’re shooting DSLR, Canon 5D Mark II’s. HD with prime lenses, really nice set. We’ve got the 30 foot Jib, the crane. A company called Artisan Films is coming down to help for free as well. The scene we shot with Isky Fay (Yamcha) was done with them.
Harry: We’ve got a steady cam, track and dolly, a lot of options and types of shots. We want to try and do some creative shots.
Derek: The series tends to be very light and positive in its color scheme, with bright colors and uniforms. And the landscapes look like they’re coming out of a Chinese scroll. Does this conflict with typical action movies that tend to be dark and shadowy, like the Batman films you mentioned?
Will the original color scheme be kept in-tact with your film, or is it necessary to change it in order to make it more appealing to today’s viewers?
George: We’re going with a contemporary feel. Kind of darker, grittier, more real world. We did talk about going bright and colorful like the anime, but this is live action. We didn’t want to replicate the anime in terms of color, because you might as well just watch the anime.
Harry: But we are using the same color scheme and colors. Goku’s clothes will be orange, but a more dulled down, earthy looking version.
George: We thought if, with a lot of things, especially the costumes, if they matched the colors from the anime it would just look tacky, cheap. We thought we’d go with something more realistic and earthy.
Harry: Piccolo will be wearing purple, but a little more earthy. We are staying true to the colors, just toned down.
Derek: That makes sense, I understand.
I’ve read concerns from fans over the application of special effects. The anime is so packed with all this action and stuff flying across the screen. They’re worried that if done at a low level of quality, it will ruin the film. How would you respond to these fans?
George: We’re very conscious of that as well. We want to deliver something good.
We’re always playing with them, trying to do what’s best. When it comes to the final thing we’ll spend a lot of time to make sure it looks right.
Harry: One of the key reasons we haven’t set a release date is so we can spend as much time as we need to get the effects right. The finished product will be something that we’re happy with.
As a fan, if I see something that looks like rubbish, it ruins it for me. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen to the fans.
Derek: I’m sure that answer will satisfy them.
You mentioned flying and wire work. What other types of special effects can we look forward to? This is the Saiyan Saga so there’s a lot going on. Can we see the Kaio-Ken? Obviously there’s going to be a Kamehameha. Will there be a Flying Nimbus, Goku’s cloud?
George: The Nimbus? No. For us, the Nimbus was something brought over from Dragon Ball.
Harry: The first episodes we saw were when Raditz just showed up. Piccolo and Goku were fighting him, and the Nimbus was around and I know it’s important to people, but in terms of Z, for us…
George: The reality is that he was using the Nimbus as a taxi to get to the fight, from Kami’s Lookout to the battlefield. In terms of the trailer we don’t need to see that happen. He’ll just be there.
Harry: Plus it would be a rather elaborate special effect in terms of budget.
George: But you can expect the Kamehameha, the Tri-Beam, the Sōkidan (Yamcha’s move), the Kienzan (Destructo Disc).
Harry: Vegeta’s Galick Gun. You can expect…
Derek: Well don’t give away everything!
Harry: Haha, right, I was about to say. They’ll see all the favorites. That’s the idea. It’s also one of the reasons we released the video update with Yamcha. We always loved the rest of the Z fighters and we want to give each of them a chance to show off a core moment of who they are.
Derek: That way everybody is going to be happy.
Derek: In regard to the script, you’ve created the template in anime form. Is the dialogue going to follow the Japanese original, an English dub (like from FUNimation), or your own translations with your own dialogue?
George: This is something we’ve been debating a lot. Obviously we want to appeal to the biggest audience, which is in America, and that’s the fan base that has responded the most to our project so far. We grew up watching the American English dub. But a part of us wants to stay more true to the fact it’s a Japanese anime and do it in Japanese. But we’re not sure if people would like that.
From our point of view we’re making the version we grew up watching. We didn’t grow up watching the Japanese version, so for us it would be a bit strange. So far, the comments on the videos have been mostly in English speaking countries, so it seems to make sense.
Harry: We’ve toyed with the idea of recording all the audio in both Japanese and English. But again, with time constraints, we don’t know if that will be possible.
George: In terms of the actual dialogue, it is going to be pretty much as-is in the anime. The anime version we’re basing the script on is the Kai version because it was a lot faster for us to go through that.
Derek: I think that’s much better because the dialogue there is more true to the original Japanese.
George: Right, exactly. We were talking about that today, how the Destructo Disc was changed back to Kienzan. That might help appeal to more fans.
Derek: Definitely. People are always asking this, I see it all over the place. You’re making an extended trailer, but people are asking if it’s a full film. You’ve already responded to that, but do you have plans for a feature length script, has that been written? Because of constraints, I imagine you’re filming just the parts that are necessary for the trailer.
Harry: Right. We see this as hopefully a jumping point. If fans continue responding to it as they have, then the film will get a lot of hits and that will give us an excuse to make more movies.
Ideally of course we’d love to make a feature. If this does well and people like it, then we can make another funding page to make the second one more elaborate. People would have more confidence in us after this one.
Derek: That makes perfect sense and sounds awesome. I think fans out there would love to have every saga made in this fashion.
Let’s jump ahead to the casting and what it’s like to be an independent film developer.
Z Warriors Assemble
Derek: Personally, I think you should be applauded for finding such great look-alikes, who not only practice martial arts but are also big fans of Dragon Ball. Seems like it would be one in a million, and yet you found one for each character. I’d like to know where you found them and what the audition process was like?
Harry: We have been ridiculously lucky. We started off by looking for their appearance and martial arts skills, along with the roles they played. That way we’d see a pool of people in the search results that were a good match for the film. Then we went character by character through the results, contacted them, and asked if they’d like to be part of a Dragon Ball Z film.
We got responses from some of the guys saying that “Oh my god I love Dragon Ball Z. I’d love to be part of the project.”
Just the fact that these guys love Dragon Ball Z, it helps us so much. They know the character and what we’re talking about. They can get into the character instantly. It’s not like telling a complete stranger, “This is Goku,” and having to show him episodes to teach him.
Derek: You already have a language you can communicate in.
Harry: Exactly. They know the character and love it themselves. As actors they’ve dreamed about acting like these characters, so it was already in them at the start.
Derek: Is there anything in particular you looked for when casting Goku and Vegeta? We haven’t seen them in action yet, and I’m sure they’re great martial artists, but can you give us some insider info on how they landed the lead roles?
Goku being the good guy and sweeter character, I don’t know. Vegeta was just so much more defined in terms of what people would want to see. The arrogance and look. I was looking for that in the actors eyes, that arrogance coming through. Also if they had enough hair, because we didn’t want to use huge elaborate wigs, we wanted it to be natural.
Aaron was staring down the camera in his photos and looked like Vegeta. Plus, immediately, he loved Dragon Ball Z and wanted to play Vegeta.
He’s been doing martial arts since he was 8 years old and has over 15 different disciplines of martial arts. He’s been staged in screen fighting and knows what looks good on camera.
Derek: Sounds like he’s perfect for the role.
Harry: Yeah, he’s perfect. Goku was a similar situation. We thought Peter had a good build. In the photo’s we have out now at the moment, he’s smaller than he is now. He’s been training really hard and is larger now.
He’s really nice in real life and has the Goku-esque attributes, plus he’s friends and family and loves Dragon Ball Z. Of all the actors he’s the one that has studied the cartoon the most to learn how Goku acts. He also had a similar martial arts background to Aaron.
George: Peter has his own production company, does his own acting and those things.
Harry: Being at the level of martial arts these guys are, and being local to the UK, a lot of them have already worked together and are friends. That’s really good because they’ve worked as stunt men together.
Derek: That will help the energy and communication.
Have there been any legal issues with Toei, Shueisha or Dragon Ball license holders? Do they know about this project?
Harry: They don’t know about it so far. But from what we’ve seen from similar projects, as long as we don’t make a profit from it, and we won’t because it’s not a profit making exercise, then legally we’re okay. If it comes up, then we’ll cross that bridge when it does.
Derek: Seems like it’s fair use and there’s not much to worry about. I was worried about it for my book, but legally it is fair use, so you’ll be just fine.
I was going to ask about the issue of race again, but you’ve already touched on it and it’s your choice on how you perceive it, so I don’t think we need to dig into it much more.
Harry: Can I just say one thing on it quickly?
They’re drawn in a way that is open to interpretation. Asian people watching it may interpret them as Asians, while Australians or Americans may interpret them as white or European. I don’t think that matters much, it’s just how we saw it.
Derek: That’s an even better answer. Thank you.
Dragon Ball Fandom
Derek: There seems to have been a large response to your announcement of the film’s production, and it was only a short while, and yet people are already screaming, “Oh my god, take my money, I can’t wait for this!” What are your feelings on the response of fans so far?
Harry: It has been absolutely amazing. I honestly didn’t expect it. We knew people would be interested because there’s a big Dragon Ball fan base out there, but when we put up the first video with pictures of the cast and location, there was no evidence that we would actually follow through with it.
I was saying to George that I didn’t think people would donate to this, and then over the weekend the first $2,000 dollars rolled in. It was amazing, I couldn’t believe it. That’s why in the second video we wanted to show people some evidence that this is really happening and to let them know that we are taking this seriously and really do want to do this.
It’s become a full time job for me to interact with fans on Facebook and Twitter, and I love the enthusiasm on all the platforms. Watching people on Twitter share with their fans that they have to look at this. The Dragon Ball Z fans have been great.
George: It’s a really good community. Everyone is looking to share any kind of content they can about Dragon Ball Z.
Harry: They’re saying stuff like, “These guys are doing it for us.” They’re helping share it and make it more popular.
George: We really appreciate everyone’s support.
Harry: We can’t say that enough. The other thing are the role playing guys who talk to eachother as if they are the characters. There’s a guy on Twitter who calls himself Goku who has like, 75,000 followers. He tweets about the project and then we get 300 or 400 more followers, so I say, “Thanks, Goku,” as if it were really him, and it’s a lot of fun.
Derek: You’re right, the Dragon Ball community will share anything they can find, they get so excited by it. And when it’s something of high quality they’ll share it even more. That’s what they’re doing with your project.
Obviously there are a lot of dragon Ball fans out there, and there’s something in Dragon Ball for everybody. Every fan has their favorite character. Some like Goku, while others prefer Vegeta, Piccolo, Gohan, Tenshinhan or Krillin. Some even love Yamcha! Why do you think that Dragon Ball is able to appeal to so many different types of fans?
George: I’m a Tien man, myself!
Harry: I think when it comes to liking the different fighters, one of the reasons that people love Piccolo is that he’s really strong, but he’s always a slight underdog to the Saiyans. You’ve got that type of character, the underdog. Also the really strong ones, Goku being the sweet guy and Vegeta being the epitome of arrogance and a bad guy. There are completely different types of characters that everyone can relate to.
Derek: Seems like there’s a lot of humanity in it. Even though at the same time it’s this crazy, off the wall, explosive action packed anime, it’s still relatable somehow, and very touching.
Harry: At the end of every saga it pretty much ends up with Goku going back to Chi-Chi, Gohan, Krillin and them standing around. That’s what it was about, they were fighting for their friends and family. It has that human element.
George: When it gets to the Cell Saga you have that whole relationship with Trunks and his father, trying to get Vegeta’s approval. People can relate to that, making their parents proud.
Derek: I think you’re right.
Do you feel that Dragon Ball is a meaningful series? Some people look at it and say, “Oh, it’s just a simple, stupid young boy’s action comic that was turned into a cartoon and then they milked it for all it’s worth. That’s all it is, so don’t look into it, it’s not that deep.” But I find a lot of meaning in it and I want to ask if you think it’s a meaningful series as well.
Harry: I think it has both. There were episodes where you’re watching Goku and go, “Woah, cool!” and are blown away by the action. But if it was so simple, then you wouldn’t care. You have to care about the characters, what happens to them and their relationships.
You wouldn’t care about two guys fighting if you don’t care about the characters. That was the problem with Dragon Ball Evolution. I didn’t care about the characters. But in Dragon Ball Z I did. You laugh when Vegeta gets angry with Goku. It has loads of moments like that.
Derek: If you could show a screening of the finished film to Akira Toriyama, what do you think he would say afterward?
George: “Give me my money.” Haha.
Harry: I hope he’d say cool, you obviously love something I love so much that you put this much effort into making it.
George: He may have some qualms about certain elements, but everyone has their own interpretation of it. We hope he’d appreciate the amount of passion and effort that we put into this to make it as good as we could.
Harry: Especially if we can tell him this was a film made by and published by his fans. I hope he’d take it as a compliment.
Derek: If Nappa asked Vegeta what the Scouter said about this films power level, what would it say?
Harry: Hahaha. Well, we obviously know the original amount and then the amount that everyone has come to expect. If we were to do it, then I suppose we’d go with Over 9,000. Haha.
Derek: Can fans expect to see the Over 9,000 scene in your film, or is the joke too played out?
Harry: Let’s just say that they will see it in one way or another, if not in the actual trailer.
Derek: This blog is mostly read by Americans but has an international readership, so is there a message you’d like to share with the global Dragon Ball fan base?
Harry: Sit back and enjoy! Get involved. We all love Dragon Ball Z, so enjoy it. Simple as that.
Derek: Great. If fans have more questions, I know that you’ll be providing more video updates in the future, right?
Harry: Yes. This was brilliant. We really appreciate this Derek. It was cool.
Derek: Have a good night and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.
There you have it. Live action Dragon Ball Z is on the way!
Filming begins in May, and I’m looking forward to the updates from Harry and George at K&K Productions as production continues.
If you want to see this film get made, then please support it with a tax-deductible donation on IndieGogo. The more the better, because that means they can do more wire work and special effects, really bringing the true spirit of Dragon Ball Z to life.
That’s the whole point of Dragon Ball Z: Saiyan Saga, and it’s what Dragon Ball fans across the world have been waiting for.