Interview with Director Steven Kostanski by Paul Salfen
Director Steven Kostanski has been a fan of ‘80s horror and sci-fi since childhood and has been trying his hand at his own vision since he picked up his dad’s Super 8 camera and started making stop motion animation. Now his brand of genre filmmaking has found its own audience in the modern classic The Void as well as Leprechaun Returns and Father’s Day. His love of using practical effects and a throwback feel has hit a chord with genre fans with his new retro sci-fi/horror/comedy ‘80s tribute – and one of the craziest movies of the year, PG: Psycho Goreman. In the film, a young brother and sister unearth an ancient alien overlord, Psycho Goreman (“PG for short”), who has a magical amulet, which they use for childish things until it alerts his enemies that he’s resurfaced and they come to wreak havoc in the normally quiet slice of suburbia to try and retrieve the magical gem. PG is right in line with Skeletor, Darth Vader, Megatron, and other action figure-ready ‘80s villains, giving fans hope for a sequel, prequel, or other continuations. For now, PG does have his own action figures.
After paying his dues and working in the makeup and effects department for notable films like It, Suicide Squad, Silent Hill: Revelation, Resident Evil: Retribution, and many others, it’s time for Kostanski to shine solely in his own world. Next up is a TV show, Day of the Dead, based on the George Romero ‘80s classic for Syfy.
Here’s more from Kostanski:
AMFM Magazine: This reminds me of some of the movies that I saw when I was a kid that were appealing to kids but made for adults. Is this in that same line of films?
Steven Kostanski: That’s definitely what this is. My main inspiration for this was movies that my parents let me watch when I was younger that were R rated, but my parents usually tapped stuff so I watched lots of stuff like Aliens, Terminator 2, and The Terminator, stuff that was still objectively good, but maybe not suitable. So at least I was getting my fill of actual well-made cinema, but I think it scarred me a little bit in the way that I think it does for a lot of kids when they watch stuff at too young of an age. I wanted to make my own version of that movie that hopefully some kids will catch at some point, like maybe they’ve got super cool parents that let them watch PG. And they have a lot of fun and it sparks their imagination, but also traumatizes them just a little bit because I think that’s a valuable part of growing up.
AMFM: The practical effects on this one were just so cool and so great to see again and, of course that’s been your world and I know what you wanted to do, but how important was that to stick to it? I know in other hands this would have been a completely different looking and feeling movie.
SK: Yeah, well, for me the joy of movies and filmmaking itself is the tactile quality of it, of making things by hand. I love movies where I can see the time and care that has gone into them and it isn’t just a case of people throwing money at the screen. I want to see some ingenuity and some innovation. You know, like stuff from the Jim Henson era, like a movie like Labyrinth or the original Star Wars trilogy, like all the crazy creature effects in Jabba’s pals in Return of the Jedi were such a huge inspiration for me because I look at that stuff and I just see them layer upon layer of just crazy interesting art that a lot of really talented people have made. And I find those things so engaging, especially compared to more modern movies. I feel like we are starting to get back into that practical world. I think people’s appreciation of that stuff has grown, but it’s just always been the thing that clicks with me is any kind of movie that has a bit of a handmade quality, and I can see a bit of the themes or at least want to pick apart how it was done. Those are the most appealing to me, so that was definitely a big part of making PG was trying to think of everything as practical and homemade as possible.
AMFM: You’ve done some cool effects for some really big movies that people have seen but what was the first effect that you made or the first thing that you made at home or otherwise, that you were proud of?
SK: I mean, I started in stop motion before I even started in creature effects and that was really my first taste of movie magic – making little clay figurines and using my dad’s old Super 8 camera, shooting on film, shooting frame by frame and moving the figures a little bit between each frame to bring them to life. That was really the first effect that I got my hands on that really showed me what could be done with a camera and just with stuff lying around the house. And so that’s really what got me into all of this stuff was being able to see that result of just kind of slapping some clay together and using a sole camera and old equipment to bring new things to life. So stop motion was my first love and I tried to integrate it into every project I’ve done, and there was a bunch of stop motion in PG as well.
AMFM: I know that some kids are going to watch this and they’re going to think, “Oh, this is cool, this is what I want to do.” So, you could be inspiring a whole new generation, but what would you say to kids that want to do movies like this? Because it’s certainly not easy to get into movies, much less make one like this.
SK: Yeah. There were no shortcuts in making these films, especially ones that have a lot of effects and have any kind of scope to them. So my advice would be to never stop being ambitious, but always accept the reality that it’s going to be a ton of work, whatever you’re doing, and stuff is going to go wrong and it’s not going to go right the first time – and this is a thing that I deal with even now working in effects on big budget shows and movies. We’ll do effects that don’t work and we have to redo or something gets changed last minute. So that’s the thing that if you encounter that early on in your career, accept that it’s always going to be there. Things don’t always work perfectly. That’s also part of the charm of making movies and TV is that no matter how much planning you do, you’re always going to have to roll with the punches and deal with some curveballs on the day. So that’s the advice I would give is just kind of roll with it and always, always be open to new ideas and always be learning from each experience, even if it’s a bad one.
AMFM: What was the biggest, craziest effect that you’ve worked on – on any kind of show or film?
SK: Well, I feel like the actual physically largest thing that I worked on was Pacific Rim. The team of effects that I was a small part of was perfect – we all constructed this giant Kaiju monster head and it filled an entire room and ended up not even getting used in the movie, but it was months of work of sculpting and molding and it was just such an ambitious undertaking for a thing that ended up not even ending up on screen – that didn’t even get to the camera. I think that was it, it was a real disappointment, but it was still fun to make at the same time. I’d never been a part of something that big before and it was a real team effort. It was just exciting to work with so many pros figuring this thing out. So yeah, I think that’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve done so far.
AMFM: It was really exciting to see something like The Void come along. That was just such a fun movie. Then to see what you did afterwards was making another Leprechaun film, so that must’ve been a childhood dream come true, right?
SK: Yeah, well, my goal with my filmography is to make a video store shelf of very diverse projects. I like the idea of my shelf having Manborg, like that super no budget sci-fi action movie next to Father’s Day, or gritty Grindhouse exploitation films next to The Void, which is a dark cosmic horror movie, and then next to that is Leprechaun, which is a really goofy made-for-TV, silly comedy horror, and then next to that PG, which is kind of a kid action adventure sci-fi fantasy movie, so that diversity to me is super important. I like jumping around and doing different things. I don’t want to be kind of stuck in a rut of just doing the same kind of movie over and over again. I feel like a lot of filmmakers fall into that and to me, it’s like if it’s got monsters, action, and humor, and just as much spectacle we can throw up the screen then I’m all in whatever the genre is.
AMFM: I’m on a show called Drew Pearson Live and we always ask people their Hail Mary Moment, the moment in their life or career where they just had to go for it and it worked out for them. I’m curious to know what that was for you.
SK: A Hail Mary Moment? I mean, this is not an exaggeration, but I feel like every day of shooting a low budget film project is a Hail Mary, because at least on my movies, you look at the call sheet and you look at the amount of stuff you’re supposed to do and I always had these very real blunt conversations, like with the first AD, with the DOP, with the whole crew explaining, “Well, I think we can pull this off even though it’s a 10 page day and there’s creatures and pyro and driving and stunts.” I can’t even think of a specific day because I just think back on PG, I think of every day being told, “I don’t think we’re going to make our day” and somehow pulling it off. Or even if we don’t, figuring it out the next day. So, it’s not, not just everyday on these shows, I feel like my whole career has been a Hail Mary of sorts.
AMFM: I would love to see a PG Part Two. Is that something that you’re thinking about?
SK: I mean, a cartoon would be fun. I think I would want it to be something kind of in the Ralph Bakshi style, like traditional cell animation or rotoscope would be fun. Something kind of like an ‘80s or ‘90s sentiment. A Saturday morning cartoon vibe would be good too, like GI Joe or Transformers. So, I mean, if there’s people out there interested and have the resources to do it, I would be all for it. I feel like that kind of animation is pretty costly and time consuming, so I’m not holding my breath on it just yet, but who knows? We’ll see what happens after the movie comes out, how people respond to it. But yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of different avenues we can take with PG going forward. So right now I just kind of want to let it get out there and see what people say about it and then take it from there and we’ll decide what the best next step is for them.
AMFM: What is it that you want people to walk away with here? I mean, obviously there’s such great entertainment value, but I think there’s a couple of little nice life lessons that people can get out of this, too.
SK: Yeah, I mean permanence as a leader is built on this idea that people in everybody live in their own little fantasy world. No matter who they are in life or what they do, whether they’re a little girl living in suburbia with her brother and parents or the old space overlord that’s spent thousands of years conquering the galaxy, everybody is kind of up their own asses to a certain extent. And there comes a point in life where you’re kind of confronted by reality and knowing that they’re confronted with kind of realizing how your actions affect others and developing empathy for other people- and I guess growing a bit of a heart in the process. So I feel like those kinds of things permeate in the movie and I hope people get that out of it that way. Like a lot of my other movies, it’s all about family and supporting one another and no matter who you are in life.
AMFM: I can’t wait to see what you do next. Do you already have the next thing planned coming up?
SK: I actually about a month ago finished shooting four episodes of the Day of the Dead TV series for Syfy Channel. So, I’m still kind of recuperating from that adventure. As far as what I have next, I’ve just been noodling on stop motion stuff at home and then I’ve been back at the effects shop doing effects for a few TV shows shooting in town right now. So, yeah, back to business as usual for me.
PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN is available On Demand and Digital and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th.