When best friends Mike and Stevie are deep in the trenches of an intense gaming marathon Mike’s older brother Tobz interrupts to throw some shade their way but when Stevie challenges Tobz to a battle, the cracks of fragile masculinity begin to show. Yuan Hu’s electric comedy short Sticks of Fury is packed with style and substance. The premise, as mentioned above, sets an almighty playing field for a rivalry that will know no end. Hu utilises plenty of visual flair as the short plays out, with exaggerated camera angles, bursts of animation, and quick cuts that all accentuate the intensity of the battle of egos. As lifelong Street Fighter fans (Guile and Blanka clearly being the best characters!), we just had to ask Hu to join us for an extensive dive into the making of his short film, talking through the practicalities of a shoot preparation that allowed him to capture everything swiftly, and why Street Fighter IV was the perfect game for his story.

How did you arrive at the initial concept of Street Fighter being the gateway into a character’s fragile masculinity?

So the first thing was the development of the initial concept. It literally just started out because I had this really close friend from school called Louis Chan and he had written these ten sketches with his brother Bruin that he sent over to me during lockdown wanting to know what I thought and if I had any feedback. Funnily enough, a few months before that, we’d been talking about how frustrating it is in narrative when you’re trying to get stuff off the ground. It just takes so long – you have to wait for funding, things to align, people to be free, favours to be called and all that kind of stuff. So when he sent me these, I was like, well, let’s just do them. They’re super self-contained. They’re all in pretty much one location. And we’re bored, we’re stuck at home. Why don’t we just do these as lo-fi as possible? One of my favourite comedies ever is Four Lions, and that’s shot on a DV cam. With comedy you really don’t need much, you just need good casting. Let’s just see what we can do and it’ll give us something to do. So that sparked this idea.

I just knew exactly how to do it, the style of it and how to bring that sort of frenzied energy to it.

So he did the first one, which was called Roadman Au Pair and was super fun to do. I helped out on the camera team for that one. Then I picked Sticks of Fury, which at the time was called Hadouken. I remember reading it and it leapt off the page. I just knew exactly how to do it, the style of it and how to bring that sort of frenzied energy to it so I picked that one.

Did you alter the script in any way once you selected it?

I tweaked it a little bit, added a bit to it and edited a little when we were at the script stage. A lot of the visual gags and things like that but a lot of it, in terms of the dialogue and the jokes, was already on the page. It really spoke to me and being an avid gamer it was like, “Okay, I know this. I know this pain”.

How tricky was it to navigate the circumstances of prepping a short over lockdown?

The prep we doing over lockdown obviously was kind of tricky. All the usual things that you run into logistically but also just auditioning people over Zoom, doing chemistry reads over Zoom, getting self-tapes over Google Drive, and then the fact that I’d never really worked with kids. So that was interesting, auditioning kids. For example, we had this kid and his uncle was in the background lurking in the doorway kind of observing to make sure that we weren’t like, some creeps. Which is totally fair but that was the tricky part.

What was it about the individual cast members that jumped out to you during that audition stage?

We stumbled on Demmy Ladipo through one of our casting directors who suggested him and he was awesome, like a massive gamer. Super funny in person and me and him just got along really well over the call so we wanted to lock him in instantly. And we had Keiyon Cook from Top Boy. When I auditioned him he was natural, like kind of shy, which I think, because he had this sort of standoffishness, all just came off perfectly. I was like, “Oh, this is the perfect energy for Stevie”.

Samuel Anoon we found on YouTube actually and he was also on Instagram. He’s a proper hustler. He’d made this short and he was really great in it, naturally gifted. He was rapping and he does comedy sketches of his own with his uncle on YouTube so he was kind of perfect. Once we had them locked, then we had some rehearsals again, over Zoom.

Were you able to get everyone in the same room prior to the shoot to rehearse too? How do your rehearsals usually operate?

We had some in-person rehearsals at my flat as well, which were super fun. I made sure that we did some exercises to get everyone familiar with each other, to get the kids to be comfortable around me and, you know, for everyone to be in a good place so that when we’re there on the day there was no awkwardness and we could go straight into it.

The living room space is obviously key to the story too but I imagine finding that environment with the right amount of space to shoot the actors and get lights setup would’ve been tricky. What was location scouting like?

We originally had this flat in Brixton that one of our producers found which was a friend of hers. It was a proper kid’s bedroom with a bunk bed and everything but it was really small, looked perfect, but quite small. I’m so glad that something came up and that location basically went away. We had to postpone the shoot because it was just so tiny. In the end, we ended up using my living room, which is pretty big but even with that, once you get 20 people in it feels very cramped and really hot when you’ve got lights and all that stuff. I’m so glad that that’s how it panned out. I think my living room ended up looking really good as well and had a bit more depth to it.

How long were you there in production for?

We shot it all in one day. In terms of budget too, we basically had four of us put money in so we had myself, Louis, Bruin, his brother (who he co-wrote the scripts with) and one of our producers Jonathan Caicedo-Galindo. We each put in about 500 quid, so the whole thing was made for about two grand.

What practical challenges did you face on the day working in your living room?

One of the things that was really tricky obviously was working with kids as you have to have chaperones and you have to pay the chaperones. So that was a budgetary thing that we hadn’t really accounted for initially. But also you only have them for a certain amount of time in the day. I spent a week before the shoot carefully storyboarding every single shot, every single setup, figuring out how to maximise the time and shoot everything out of order chronologically so that we were moving the cameras a minimal amount of times, shooting every setup from that angle and then making sure that all the kids’ stuff was blocked together.

How did that all piece together in the end? Could you quickly walk us through the day shot-wise?

So in the morning, we started off by shooting all of Demmy’s setups. There are close-ups in the short where he’s meant to have the kids next to him, but because they’re not in frame I shot all that stuff first. Then once the kids were on set we were shooting all of their stuff, all those bigger, wider shots, maximising our time with them. Louis was also our first AD on the day. Once I’d gotten that schedule down and filled him in on it, he was really great and crucial in keeping us on track on the day. It went pretty smoothly, we got pretty much everything we needed that day. We had to cut out a couple of visual gags but they had already been marked the day before on the shot list and we’d said, “Ok, if it gets to it, these are the ones that we can do without, these are kind of the luxury shots.”

I spent a week before the shoot carefully storyboarding every single shot, every single setup, figuring out how to maximise the time.

The only time things got hairy was towards the end of the day. The whole last setup where Demmy’s rocking and the kids were about to leave the flat was one or two takes max for each shot. I was super nervous after we wrapped if any of that stuff would cut together. It was super hectic to get those last bits because the kids had to leave.

And how did that pan out when it came to post and the process of stringing those shots together smoothly?

I had loads of ideas about how I wanted to edit the footage. I also had to capture all the game footage so I just sat in front of my PS5 for two days learning how to play Street Fighter because, full disclosure, I don’t really play Street Fighter, I’m much more of a Super Smash Bros. kind of guy. I had to YouTube Street Fighter moves. They’re super complex to input sometimes and I’m not that good at it so it was a little bit frustrating to try and figure out how to do the specific moves I wanted each character to do and also to make sure that the story within the game is being told correctly. That the health bars are where they need to be and whoever is winning at what certain point in the story is winning and whoever is losing is losing and the moves are with the right moves. If I messed up a move in the game I had to reset the match and then reset the health bars to be the right amount so that that story is still being told and there’s some continuity, so that was that was tricky. However, taking all that footage and putting it into Premiere and adding fake blood and all those fun extra bits was really fun.

I wanted to ask about the tone, which has this fast, dynamic feel to it. Aside from fighting games, is there any other media you draw influence from?

I had references to other stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion. When Demmy gets KOed and the flashing screen comes in the back, that’s ripped straight out of Neon Genesis. Using the announcer as a commentator came in the edit as I was playing around with the game footage and listening to the announcer and thinking, “I could cut out little snippets of what this guy is saying and actually, he could comment on what’s happening in the real world”. That added an extra layer of humour to it. Things like that came about a bit later on in the edit. Little things changed here and there but it pretty much stuck to the storyboards that I’d done.

Who did you get for the music?

We’re really happy that we got Marvellous Cain to give us his music. He’s this amazing artist from a lot of proper London underground artists that we used to listen to at school. I looked him up one day and found his management email and just pitched the project. He then called me back randomly at like midnight on a Tuesday or something and wanted to ask a few questions. Then he was like, “Cool. Yeah, love it. You guys just run with it”. He didn’t make us pay or anything. He’s just like, make sure to credit me and here’s the track. I was super, super thankful for that. That was awesome!

If I messed up a move in the game I had to reset the match and then reset the health bars to be the right amount so that that story is still being told and there’s some continuity.

The short looks so good and really pops visually. What kit were you able to use given that you were working on a small budget?

In terms of the kit that we used, I own a Red Komodo camera kit and a set of Leica R lenses that I bought a couple years ago. So we basically just used those. And then our DP Will Stuetz called up a couple of rental houses and got a hold of a couple of Astera tubes and an Aladdin panel that he used to replicate the TV on their faces. That’s pretty much it. The rest is just some editing tricks. For example grabbing Blanka’s face from one of the cutscenes in game, superimposing that on Demmy’s face and putting some stock lightning across his face, little things like that. The kit was fairly minimal. We did pre-light the day before the shoot, but we made sure to set everything up so that we didn’t have to move lights around on the day apart from the TV light which was emulating the TV basically. We were pretty much just moving the camera on sticks back and forth. So yeah, pretty minimal kit wise which was always the intention.

I really enjoyed the b-roll during the credits too, where you get to see some insight into how everything came together, what motivated you to include that?

As I was editing it I remember thinking, I have to get a Rush Hour reference in here somehow. So putting the credits and bloopers sequence at the end was a fun way to pay homage to the camaraderie and the team effort that goes into making shorts. Everyone knows when you’re making a short you’re doing it for no money and it takes a whole team of people to sacrifice their time so I wanted to show that camaraderie and also find a moment to give everyone a little shout out. I put BTS pictures in there of our sound guys and the makeup artist and AC to share that camaraderie with with the people watching it and when we’ve played at festivals it’s always gone down really well. Seeing those blooper moments and the fun that we had on set, it’s just a really nice feeling. I think it’s a really cool way to remind people that there are all these people behind this thing and they deserve a tonne of credit as well.

How are you feeling about the renewed interest in the film following the Street Fighter 6 release?

We didn’t know Street Fight 6 was coming out when we made it or anything so it’s cool that they’re coinciding. Hopefully as people are Googling Street Fighter Sticks of Fury comes up. I would love for more fans of the game to watch it because I think right now we’ve mainly got film people watching it but it would be awesome to get more gaming people to get behind it.

In terms of the new game, I think it looks amazing. I love the art style they’ve picked, that graffiti street style. I think the graphics are sick! I just have never been good at fighting games. I wish I could sit and learn frame data and frame advantages and which move has priority over which move. I’ve tried to get back into fighting games and I did pick up Street Fighter V – I think I had a go and just got battered online. That’s why I play Super Smash Bros. because every character has the same move input so you can just play with anyone whereas with Street Fighter I just don’t have time to learn long combo strings and all that stuff. I’ll appreciate it from afar for sure. I think my favourite version was always Street Fighter Alpha 3 on my PS1. I was at that age of just button bashing so you can enjoy it whereas now I actually want to be good.

Me and Louis used to play Street Fighter II when we were kids. Even a couple years ago, we met up at this gaming bar and they had a Street Fighter II machine and we got drunk and played it which was awesome. Street Fighter IV, the version we used in Sticks, is ten years old now but I think it still looks amazing. I think that graphical cartoony style holds up so well. The reason we picked that one is because it had the characters we were looking for in a nice fidelity which popped off the screen. Also, it had Blanka and it had a move that Blanka does where he leaps onto someone and starts chomping their face and I thought this is a massive visual gag. I couldn’t have picked another Street Fighter where they didn’t have that move. Obviously, I added tonnes of spit and blood after which was hilarious I thought. But that version of Street Fighter still looks amazing.

And finally, what will you be working on in the future?

I’ve written a new short which I’m trying to get made, with the working title Asian Scream. It’s about an East Asian actor’s audition for a monster movie and will be a satirical look at how Asian men in particular have historically been portrayed on screen. Outside of that, I’m developing a feature film idea which is also a kind of satirical tragic-comedy about marriage and cowardly men… that’s all I can really share for now! We’ll see where that one ends up.

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