Here’s an easy guide to judging the entertainment value of a web series:
- If the plot revolves around the psychosomatic effects of a knife that looks comfortable in the hands of Paul Hogan entering the heroine’s brain, it’s going to be good.
- If said heroine is played by a New Zealand stuntwoman whose beaten on bad guys, and broken vertebrae while standing in for leading ladies like Lucy Lawless, Sharon Stone, and Uma Thurman, it’s going to be great.
- And if the knife-to-skull concept and subsequent assassin-with-a-conscious conceit is all conceived by an Eisner Award-winning comic book writer and filmed with a RED camera, it’s going to be awesome.
Created by the Ed Brubaker (who’s crediting with helping revive the crime comics genre and according to one fan, “manipulates crime fiction like Stephen Hawking’s does time and space“), starring Zoe Bell (who’s garnered cult celebrity status from a career as a stunt double to the stars and starring in Quentin Tarantino‘s Death Proof), and with a budget that numbers just under $1 million, Angel of Death is the story of how assassin Eve (Bell) suffers a serious head trauma that awakens an intense desire for revenge and an array of human emotions that assassins aren’t supposed to have.
Brubaker’s comic book pedigree easily translates to online video with tightly packed installments of equal parts kick ass and intrigue. Paul Etheredge should be given credit for bringing what is essentially a graphic novel to life without use of the now hackneyed Frank Miller / Robert Rodriguez aesthetics (though there is some Ang Lee). And Zoe Bell needs major props for playing a convincing killer with a newfound conscious, and bringing sweet action scenes to world of web video.
I recently spoke with Ed Brubaker and Zoe Bell about how Angel of Death came to be, the transition from comics to web series, and the move from stunt double to leading lady.
Tilzy.TV: How did Angel of Death come to be?
Ed Brubaker: The producer, John Norris, was trying to option Criminals from me to do the web thing. I didn’t want to do that for a variety of reasons. Then he basically dangled Zoe Bell in front of me and said, “Well, we’ve been talking to Zoe Bell about doing something, and she’s very interested in doing something for the internet.”
I was a huge fan of Zoe’s from Double Dare, Xena, and Death Proof. And I just thought, “Why don’t we create something new for Zoe Bell?” The next day I turned in the pitch for Angel of Death and we were off to the races at the point. Everything went really fast. Zoe loved it. The producers loved it. Everybody at Sony was really into it. I went out to some meetings and three months later I was writing a script and three months later we were filming a movie.
Zoe Bell: My manager at the time, Brent Calson was in contact with Sony and they were talking about doing some online, webby type stuff. I went into meet with them and it sounded cool and I said, “Keep me in mind.” Then maybe a year later they sent through the synopsis of Angel of Death. It really tickled my fancy and I asked for more information and I came in for a meeting and Ed Brubraker was on the phone. We talked about it and it seemed like we were all on the same page and we were all excited about it. It’s great when that happens. So we were like, “F#@% it. Let’s make it happen.”
Tilzy.TV: What’s the basic premise?
Bell: Basically it’s a feature film that’s split up into chapters and those different chapters screen as webisodes.
The actual film is pretty much based around a woman called Eve who’s an assassin, who’s been trained to be void of emotion, and highly skilled with weapons and her hands. She suffers a fairly significant trauma very early on in the piece. It sort of shakes her up a little bit and she starts suffering from consciousness, guilt and remorse and all those pesky emotions. The rest of it is sort of her battling with that means, and who she is, and how she fits in the world, and how to make it right….which includes a lot of ass kicking.
Tilzy.TV: Zoe, you’ve done stunts for a lot of bad ass characters. Are you channeling any of them when you’re playing Eve ?
Bell: I hate to sound like an actor wanker, but I’m really channeling Eve.
She became a very real character to me. I sort of wrote a history on her and she took on a life of her own. I think when I’m doubling people, I’m not aware of taking on the emotional side of their character. I’m sure I do on some level, but it’s more about the physical mirroring of the person I’m doubling, of the actress and the character. Where in this all the action was an extension of this character we created. She very much feels like a complete personality to me and I sort of feel strongly towards her, like she’s an old friend.
Tilzy.TV: Zoe, did you have any say in the storyline?
Bell: That was all Ed. He wrote it with me in mind. He apparently was a fan of mine, so that was exciting, so he wrote the script based on and around me. But everything about it came out of his crazy little head.
Tilzy.TV: Ed, given the pacing of comic books I’ve often thought they can easily translate to web series. How was writing Angel of Death coming from the comic book world?
Brubaker: It really came in handy to come from comics. The trick of Angel of Death was to do something that’s designed to be a feature but could be shown episodically as a web show, too. So, the trick was that each episode had to have a significant amount of story in it and be a fairly compact piece of entertainment that had a cliffhanger that sent you to the next episode. But then when the whole thing was done to be edit all together seamlessly into a film, too.
I had to make sure that every 10 or 12 pages was a really tight little chunk of story. Because of that we end up having a lot more story in a 90 to 100-minute long film than the average one has actually. Each chunk of it is so packed with stuff.
Tilzy.TV: So the idea from the get-go was that it was going to be packaged together as a DVD?
Brubaker: Definitely. It was designed to really take advantage of all aspects of the internet and DVD market.
Tilzy.TV: Aesthetically, there are some hints to comic books and panels. How do you decide when, where, and how those aspects are going to appear in the series?
Brubaker: That’s mostly stuff they’re doing in editing. I think they’re trying to edit it so it feels like a graphic novel.
Tilzy.TV: Do you like it?
Brubaker: Yeah, I think it looks really cool. I love split screen stuff. I thought that was the coolest thing of the Ang Lee Hulk movie, actually.
Tilzy.TV: Zoe, Have you always wanted to act?
Bell: No, I never had the goals of becoming an actor. I remember having this weird feeling when I was younger that I wasn’t going to be famous famous but was going to be recognizable, but it was nothing I ever chased or was aware of wanting. It really didn’t come up as a reality or possibility until Quentin threw it at me, really.
Tilzy.TV: So after your experiences in Grindhouse and Angel of Death, do you think you’ll pursue more acting?
Bell: Definitely. Right after Death Proof I realized that I needed to think of it as a serious possibility. It really sort of freaked me out a little bit, the concept. It’s daunting to want to take on the task of trying to have an acting career in LA. It’s such a crazy town. There are plenty of super-talented people that never quite catch a break and a lot of not-so-talented people that do. That’s a scary pool to jump into, ya know?
Angel sort of did shift my thinking, though. I thought you could either commit 120% or bugger off, so I did it and I found it really satisfying.
Tilzy.TV: Ed, is there any question I could ask you that could somehow tie the death of Captain America into an article about Angel of Death? [Editor’s Note: Brubaker penned the recent series that sent Steven Rogers, the original Captain America, to his final resting place.]
Brubaker: Ha. I don’t know, how could you?
Tilzy.TV: I’m not sure, man. I’ve been thinking about it for the past hour and I can’t come up with anything, which makes the journalist inside me sad.
Ed: I can’t think of any connection.
Tilzy.TV: Does Zoe’s character die at the end of Angel of Death?
Ed: Probably not. If she can survive a knife to the head, she can survive everything.
Check out Angel of Death on Crackle.com with new installments every weekday until March 13 and on a DVD to be released soon after the online run.