I came upon the Slug Street Scrappers internet video juggernaut thinking it was merely an online oddity. Here's a man, Micah Brock, kicking his "Crazy Ex Girlfriend" in the crotch and playing it for laughs. I had the reaction that you might have: Is this asshole for real? Then I discovered that there are four episodes totaling over three hours and that, yes, Brock is very much for real.
Slug Street Scrappers, if you're not among the series' 55,000 YouTube fans, tells the story of Bruiser Bom-Bash (Brock), his ex-girlfriend Peaches (Katelyn Brooke) and has a winding story full of bizarre mythology, double crossing and (obviously) lots of fighting. It's identifiably amateur but charmingly so. The series' basic structure of some talking, some fighting, more talking, then more fighting resembles that of a porno, except instead of having sex people engage in hand-to-hand combat.
Now, anyone with access to the "Social Justice" part of the internet can easily tell that SSS's attitudes towards women are, er, problematic. But Scrappers ended up charming me. Maybe it's the lo-fi locations—it's mostly shot on a dam or in the California high desert scrub—or the fact that most of the major action takes place off-screen. Or maybe it's that some of the actors, Brooke in particular, are really good. And the fight scenes are, too. They're shot in a straightforward, unpretentious style that makes you feel the impact of every hit. I ended up watching the whole thing.
The story borrows heavily from fighting games like Streets of Rage and the acting would be cheesy even for a Tekken title, but it kind of works. Actual story events are confusing and the narrative is long, but rest assured that a hapless group of ninjas, randomly appearing goddesses, someone called "Mr. Sexy" and a woman that communicates only in signs all get ample screen time. It might be funny in a "so bad it's good way", but after talking to Brock, I get the sense that that's the point. Brock's a professional YouTuber in Southern California, who does martial arts demonstrations on his KWONKICKER YouTube channel and seems like a overall decent person. He told me about the idea for Slug Street Scrappers, his life as a professional YouTuber, and what it's like to pretend to fight a woman.
VICE: What was the genesis of the Slug Street Scrappers project?
Micah Brock: I was in Thailand preparing for my first professional fight at the time, and I was inspired to do the series. My buddy let me know that a fan had done a remake of the original Streets of Rage series. It was a PC version and it combined all three Streets of Rage games into one mega-game. He sent me a download link for something to play during my off-time. I started it, and it was awesome. It made me, when I got back from Thailand, want to do sort of an homage to Streets of Rage. Back then, copyrights on YouTube were really strict and finicky, so instead of doing a direct fan film, I decided to do something that paid homage to that, that was its own sort of intellectual property.
You're a professional fighter?
I haven't fought professionally in a while. This Scrapper thing kind of exploded and I fell headfirst into filming after my first fight. So it really put my fighting on the backburner. My last pro fight was in 2011.
Was it just the one fight?
That was my first fight under those rules. I had fought many times before under the Olympic style of Tae Kwon Do. A few amateur matches in full-contact kickboxing. That was my official switchover to the professional circuit.
What's the response been like to Slug Street Scrappers?
I was surprised. It was really just supposed to be the one 15-minute short film. But it got a really good reception. We did the second episode and the fanbase skyrocketed from there. Once we did the third one, things exploded to the point where when we did the IndieGoGo for the fourth one, we got like 500 percent of our target funding goal. The fans are die-hard. It's cult status. Mini-cult web status.
What's the fanbase for these videos?
It's martial artists and gamers mostly. Gamers who grew up in the Sega Genesis, Nintendo era. So I think older gamers and younger martial artists.
What are your ambitions in the filmmaking arena?
Originally, it was to keep making bigger and better things. Like, "Ah, next I want to do a feature. I want to do something on the big screen." But as the Scrapper series progressed, being able to interact with all these fans who love it. For whatever reason: nostalgia, they identify with the characters, it reminds them of their childhood. Whatever it is, that's the kind of stuff I wanted to make. I wanted to keep making web series or TV shows that really hit home with people. So that's more my goal. To make good content that will impact people rather than produce stuff with higher and higher production value. To go the traditional route.
Who is the cast for these movies? Friends? Professional actors?
It's sort of both. I have my network of close friends and then we progressed from there. As we got better, we started networking with other professionals. And then they come in and become your friends. Then they bring in their friends and it sort of spirals and grows. Next thing you know, you've got a big pool of potential people to work with, who are also your friends.
There are a lot of male-female fight scenes in Slug Street Scrappers. Is that uncomfortable?
No. When it comes to martial artists and combat sports in general, you quickly realize it's not about male or female. It's all about weight and experience. So, if you're doing a fight scene with someone who has the same experience as you and they're in the same weight class, there's no, "Oh, I might hurt this person because it's a girl." No, this is a trained fighter. They weigh just as much. We're at equal ground. None of that gets in the way.
It never enters into your thinking?
It's not even part of the thought process. At least for me. But it seemed to do pretty well. Everyone worked really hard. We rehearsed the fight scenes and everything came out injury-free. Nobody got hurt.
Is the fight scene choreography all you? Is that collaborative?
I'm the head fight choreographer, so most of the time I'll choreograph the whole thing. But if I don't have time to choreograph the whole thing, I'll put together a skeleton and pass it along to one of my friends who I know can choreograph according to the style I need for that scene and trust him to fill in the gaps. Or if I really trust the person, I'll have him choreograph the whole fight. They bring it back to me, I make changes that I need to and we go from there.
Is that something you write out? Is that a storyboard process?
It used to be that I would just write it out on paper. Before we had fancy phones that could record stuff and tablets and all that, I'd write in in sentence form. "This person throws a kick, this person blocks like this." Et cetera, et cetera. Eventually I was able to grab my phone and do the sequence in the air and film myself. Then I grab a partner, rehearse the fight scene, get it down. On set if we didn't have time to rehearse, I'd pull out the tablet. "Actress A, this is you. Actress B, this is you. Here's the sequence, memorize it, we'll practice it a couple times." Then, we record.
We do a very specific style (of fighting). It's more a rare style, especially here stateside because it's more dangerous than speed-based stack choreography. What I mean by that is most Hollywood stuff is camera tricks and reactions. The style that we employed for the most part is a Thai style that's based on hard contact to safe places on the body or having the actors wear padding that's concealed in certain places. And then going all out. Boom, hitting hard. You get that real impact. The audience feels it. That can be dangerous if the actor isn't trained properly or somebody isn't comfortable with actual contact. That's why it's important that all the actors I chose for the roles have actual full-contact fighting experience. So they understand how to control those hits, how to take the hits. Stuff like that.
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