An Interview With Steven Kostanski
Psycho Goreman was released to great fanfare in the horror film community last week, with much focus rightfully going to writer/director, Steven Kostanski.
Kostanski has been busy in the world of genre film for quite some time now, not only directing and writing but also getting his hands dirty in the makeup and effects departments as well along the way, and PHASR was eager to pick his brain about his newest sci-fi horror flick Psycho Goreman.
We were excited to learn not only of his inspiration for the film but also his creative process in making this gory monster fest a reality.
The Birth of Psycho Goreman
Seeing as you wrote and directed Psycho Goreman, when you were writing where did the initial idea spawn from?
Steven Kostanski (S.K.): I had a few images from the movie bouncing around in my head for a while. One of them was a monster-like alien creature sitting at a drumset. I didn’t know what to do with that idea for the longest time but it made me laugh. And then one day I just started working on this idea of what would happen if this ancient evil was resurrected but instead of it terrorizing a small town or whatever and going full horror with it we combined it with the tropes of a kids adventure film and had an E.T. scenario where kids befriended the evil monster but never breaking his character, keeping him evil all the way through.
I had a lot of fun just kind of riffing on scenarios where these two opposing genres would clash in the funniest ways. Like on the one hand having innocent adventure tropes, very P.G. family tropes and then pairing that with dark intense horror scifi fantasy stuff that would have very brutal and real consequences and just pairing those two things. Finding how those two ideas bounce off each other was super fun and was the genesis of the script for the film.
Aside from writing directing, I saw that you also have quite a big background in makeup, effects and such. How much of a hand did you lend to those areas this time around as far as the creation of P.G. [Psycho Goreman] and also some of the other aliens we see along the way?
S.K.: I was very deeply involved with the makeup effects of the film. I knew that because this was a low budget affair I would have to do a lot of stuff myself. I did have the team at Masters FX Toronto build a lot of the creatures with me. I also worked with a lot of other effects artists in the city, Chris Nash being one of them. He’s also a filmmaker and effects artist like me. He made tube man in the film on the alien council.
But, yeah I had to do a lot of stuff on the movie.
I sculpted P.G., painted him and fabricated a lot of the suits myself so yeah I was very deeply involved coordinating all of the effects throughout the film but I mean I wrote the movie with the intention of doing that because I love making monsters, and so I figure if I’m gonna make a monster movie I’m not going to totally hand the reigns over to other people I’m gonna be in there getting my hands dirty myself.
So yeah it was fun being able to build and design these things myself and then also be able to direct them on set. It was a bit of a dream come true in that regard.
What were some of the obstacles you faced while using mainly practical effects rather than a CGI or something else along those lines?
S.K.: In terms of obstacles doing all practical there’s always obstacles. They’re all things that I think line up with just making a low budget movie in a short amount of time with not a lot of recourses. None of the suits were particularly comfortable due to time, money so I do apologize to all the stunt performers that played a lot of these creatures because they were stuffed into suits that didn’t exactly have a lot of air flow and definitely headed their vision, hearing and pretty much everything.
So that was a big thing to navigate on set making sure people were staying hydrated, giving them breaks in between takes as well. There’s a lot of punishing aspects to doing a movie with this many creatures because you can only have so many people monitoring and helping them on set making sure they’re okay.
Thankfully the team was so professional and they handled it really well. They really kind of managed their own well being for us.
But yeah for example Matthew Ninaber who played P.G., you really kinda had to keep an eye on his stamina throughout the day because it was such a taxing experience for him being in that suit for twelve hours a day every day. You needed to be on top of his well being while he was doing this.
We definitely had periods where I could see that he was like retreating into his mind to escape the hell that he was in physically. I give him a lot of credit for putting up with that much punishment on the shoot because he definitely had his work cut out for him on the project and really had to power through some tough days in that hot suit.
For the most part are you a firm believer in practical effects over CG or do you think it sort of depends on the film that you’re making?
S.K.: I think we’re at a point in filmmaking now where people realize that CG is a tool just like every other department. There certainly seemed like an era where everyone thought that was the solution for everything. And it’s not, the same way that practical effects aren’t the solution for everything.
I think that we’re in an era now where people just pick the right tool for the job and if it’s CG then great, if it’s practical that’s great too. I’m always an advocate of having a real thing on set especially for genre movies because having something for the actors to react to just sells the scene so much better.
At the same time I love like wire and rod removal, getting the computers to do that. Any kind of CG enhancement is great cause it can help you take a few shortcuts that if you had to do practically would be really expensive and not really cost effective if you’re making a low budget film or with CG you could easily get something like after effects. I think a blending of the two is the perfect way to approach any project and just kind of using whichever one suits the situation the best.
How would you compare working on this film to working on any others like The Void for example?
S.K.: I had a lot of freedom on this movie to kind of tell the story I wanted to tell. On the Void we had definitely set a goal of making a certain type of movie where we wanted to make a dark horror movie and we were playing in that sandbox the whole time.
I think for me I like hopping genres as much as possible so being in like one mind frame for that long can be frustrating for me creatively so with P.G. it was great to be able to just kind of do whatever felt right in the moment knowing that the core story of the movie like the relationship between P.G. and Mimi and the parallels between those characters that was always going to remain in tact, and so if I felt the scene needed to lean a bit more into comedy I felt comfortable doing it but if I also wanted to kind of revel in the sci-fi spectacle of something I could do that too.
So this movie afforded me freedom that I’ve never had before in a movie and enough money to at least for the most part execute it the way that it should be executed. Like actually being able to make this movie properly with a crew and an actual team behind it and not have to do everything entirely myself like on something like Manborg was really great. I was very fortunate to have producers who believed in me and had faith in the story I wanted to tell and just let me basically run wild and just make as crazy as of a movie as I wanted to make.
The movie is, throughout it’s entirety filled with really fun scenes and witty one liners as well as comedic moments also. Are there any lines or scenes that you’re most proud of?
S.K.: I mean I’m proud of a lot of this movie but the one moment I’m especially proud of is when Greg (the dad) is giving a pep talk to Mimi and he’s basically trying to instill some words of fatherly wisdom to her as she’s dealing with this crisis and the story that he tells does not accomplish that at all. It’s really just him just like expressing some dark part of his childhood, and I like how well that scene works.
A scene like that could’ve easily not worked at all but both Adam and Nitas qualities are so strong. Adam sold so well that he believed in this story that he’s telling and Nita sold she’s buying what he’s selling even though the words coming out of his mouth are kinda horrifying.
I just love the way that that scene lands, the fact that it lands as well as it does and accomplishes the goal of on an emotional level feeling like they had a heart to heart but on the screen level it’s like this guy is just being totally delusional and telling a story that makes no sense.
The comedy of that worked but the heartfelted-ness of it worked as well so I just think it’s crazy that he pulled that off and had a scene where it feels emotionally satisfying it’s also hilarious and redundant at the same time. So I’m really proud of that scene and I’m really impressed with how well Adam and Nita acted that part.
Yeah we have to give a shoutout to the cast because I think that they all did amazing and it seems like you did a fantastic job working with them as well cause they all sold their roles very well.
S.K.: Yeah it was a big concern going into this movie that we wouldn’t find kid actors that could pull this off but we really lucked out Nita, Owen and Scout knocked it out of the park with their performances and were so natural but also theatrical when they needed to be theatrical cause the whole movie rides this line between realism and absurdity, and I think that they ride that line really well and that their performances just feel very genuine. I think the whole movie works because those performances are sold so yeah, gotta give them all the credit for making this movie work.
It seems like throughout the film there was a few scenes here and there were there were these kind of nods to other movies, shows and such. The one that stood out to me was a scene where it looks as if P.G. is dressed up like Alan Grant from Jurassic Park.
S.K.: Yeah, that is what the reference is, some people seemed to think he was supposed to be a cowboy but no it’s Doctor Grant from Jurassic Park.
Were there any other purposeful nods to other movies or shows in the film?
S.K.: The conversation about telling people to frig off is obviously a Terminator 2 reference with John Connor kind of explaining curse words to the terminator. I’ve also been telling people how the councils scene is a bit of a riff on the Star Wars prequels in that it’s some very inventive weird aliens sitting around a table discussing politics.
Which is a thing that from my memory of seeing the prequels the first time was confusing as a kid, liking what I was seeing on screen but hearing these aliens talk about trade disputes confused my kid brain and so I wanted to like emulate that a little bit with those themes and have them talk about things like the accords just to throw people for a loop and have them be like what is even going on what is that?
I just find that really funny and just kind of wanted to troll the audience with that a little bit. It’s essentially like a bunch of world building for the universe it doesn’t amount to a whole lot like it really doesn’t matter as far as the plot itself was concerned I just wanted to have fun with it and throw in a bunch of lore and backstory that’s ultimately meaningless and just a bunch of gibberish so yeah, a little nod to the Star Wars prequels.