Nothing has changed entertainment more than technology. Twenty-five years ago, we were watching television shows on cable and movies on VHS. Now thanks to the internet, we’re using streaming services, YouTube, torrents, and social media to be entertained in a variety of ways. Consumers and creators have the world at their fingertips, and though many of us still go to the cinema and pay for cable, entertainment is now on a completely new playing field.
It’s thanks to this playing field that series like White Ninja are able to not only exist, but thrive.
First posted in 2002, White Ninja was a web comic that ran for a decade as part of the National Lampoon Humor Network. The series was created by Scott Bevan and Kent Earle from Saskatchewan, Canada, and had over 1300 comics in its archive. White Ninja went on hiatus in 2013, and was relaunched in December 2015 as the first narrative series developed for Vine.
That’s right, internet savants: Vine.
Vine, the popular short-form video sharing website, allows users to share six-second-long looping video clips. It’s a favorite with today’s teenagers and other social media users, and contains everything from quick comedic gags to television recaps to short stop-motion videos. Until recently, Vine was seen as just another social media platform. White Ninja producers Jameson Parker, David Kaye (Whiskaye Films) and Tyler Funk (North of Now Films) saw it as something different, however: a way to re-invigorate the Sunday comic strip.
“Vine was always the perfect place to do just that. Its 6.4 second clips are a great film equivalent of the three-panel strip that White Ninja was born from. Creativity is always fostered when constraints are placed on content, and Vine’s short-form is no different,” Parker, Funk, and Kaye tell me. “The comedic content that has come off the platform in the last few years is hilarious. It’s a new way of telling individual jokes, and gives a voice to comedians who, without Vine, wouldn’t have a platform for their talent.”
Vine currently has 200 million active users and is a mainstay of social networking. The website has given users an opportunity to explore their comedic sides and has even allowed some to turn into internet celebrities. It’s through one of these Vine stars, Stewart Reynolds of the channel Brittlestar, that White Ninja‘s animated series found its home.
“I had a connection to Stewart, who was advising on the series very early on in the process, and he connected us with Jared Kleinstein at Vine—he was a huge proponent of the series from the get-go,” says Parker. “The relationship with Vine really took off when Karyn Spencer joined the company. She’s been an incredible resource for White Ninja, and Vine’s involvement has helped us attract many of their users to the series.”
Voila—White Ninja had a home! A home means nothing, though, without great ideas and great content. Both the series’ producers and creators Scott Bevan and Kent Earle were serious about putting the show together in the right way.
“A friend showed me the White Ninja web comic in Social Studies class in high school, when I was supposed to be online reading about current affairs, and I instantly fell in love. Since then, I’ve always wanted to turn this property into an animation,” says Parker. “Thankfully, Scott and Kent were willing to take the risk on my vision.”
With such a popular title on the line, finding the right creatives for the project was paramount. The producers brought on multiple award-winning animator Erick Grigorovski to bring White Ninja‘s minimalist format to life. When tasked with finding the voice to play the titular White Ninja, the producers knew they needed just the right person. Enter actor, producer, and comedian Paul Scheer.
“Paul Scheer is an absolutely hilarious actor and he’s so likable. His voice was the perfect fit to bring White Ninja to life!” the producers enthuse. The thing that impressed them the most about him? “His willingness to take the risk and come and join us on this crazy, unique project.”
“I didn’t know about White Ninja before this project,” Scheer shares, “but due to the many years I spent training as a ninja, it really spoke to me. At first, I felt daunted by doing an animated character, but they informed me that I wouldn’t have to turn myself into a drawing. They have artists to do that. So I was relieved.”
Spend mere minutes with Scheer and it’s easy to see why the team behind White Ninja felt he had the chops and the humor to bring the Ninja to life—his sense of humor is clever and quick, and he’s very good at taking a joke to the right when you expect it to go left.
Ask him about giving a voice to a character from a comic strip, for example, and you’ll get an answer like, “It was hard to find the perfect voice, but one day, I was downtown and heard someone speaking. I was like, ‘Yes, that’s it!’ I looked around for that person, but I couldn’t find him. Then I looked in the mirror, and it was me! It was in me all along. Just like the end of The Wizard of Oz… spoiler alert.”
Or maybe try to ask about the appeal of voice work. You’ll likely hear something like, “The best part of doing voice work is that I don’t have to wear pants. A lot of time when you shoot TV shows and movies, they are always saying, ‘Paul, put your pants on. We can’t shoot you naked.’ I’m always like, ‘Ugh, stop wrecking my process.’ Here, I was totally free to let it all dangle to create great work.”
No doubt about it, Paul Scheer is definitely an actor who was made for comedy.
White Ninja premiered at both the Whistler Film Festival and on the White Ninja Vine channel on December 5, 2015, and its audience has been growing steadily with every episode. The channel currently houses twenty-four episodes, each one roughly six seconds long. New episodes are released three times a week, and so far, almost 46,000 fans have subscribed. The creators, needless to say, are thrilled with the reception.
“It’s generally been received quite well!” they tell me. “Many of the web comic’s former fans have found their way to the series and a new generation of fans is steadily growing. Hopefully White Ninja will inspire others to follow in our footsteps and bring their own projects to life. It will be very exciting to see what they come up with.”
With a steady outpouring of episodes and the producers’ favorites still to come—”White Ninja’s adventures will continue, from the extraordinary to the mundane!”—it’s more than likely that both White Ninja and Vine will continue to see a rise in both viewers and other creative people turning to the website to develop their own comedy series. With technology advancing and shaping our entertainment every day, it’s refreshing to see people not only adapt to new opportunities, but run with them.
Jameson Parker certainly encourages others to do the same. “If you’re not on Vine, check it out. It’s a great platform for comedy. Check it out not only for White Ninja, but for yourself. Who couldn’t use more laughter in their day?”
Only time will tell whether the world is heading in the direction of six-second television series, but it’s safe to say that White Ninja has proved there certainly is room for them in the wide range of entertainment available for us today.