As a veteran in the world of special effects makeup, Steven Kostanski (who contributed to projects like It (2017), Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim, Resident Evil: Retribution, and more) knows exactly how important great effects are in the world of genre cinema. That much is evident from his previous directorial efforts like Manborg, Leprechaun Returns, and The Void. It’s also a huge component of his latest film project, PG: Psycho Goreman, which features a ruthless demonic overlord brought to life by actor Matthew Ninaber.
Daily Dead recently caught up with Kostanski, and he discussed the inspiration behind both the story and the character of Psycho Goreman, the design process of the film’s titular character, and more. Look for PG: Psycho Goreman in select theaters and on various digital and On Demand platforms starting today, courtesy of RLJE Films.
Great to chat with you once again, Steven. I guess the best place to start would be to talk a little about the inspiration behind this story and the inspiration behind the character of PG as well.
Steven Kostanski: I've had images from this movie floating around my head for what feels like forever now. I just didn't really know what to do with them. Specifically, the image of PG sitting at a drum set. I just always imagined this hulking monster creature crammed into a tiny corner sitting around a set of drums and it made me laugh. I just didn't know what to do with it at the time. And then one day after I'd finished on Leprechaun Returns, I was back home in Toronto, and I was watching Rawhead Rex and in my head I just started riffing on this concept of this ancient evil being resurrected. I was like, “Well, what could you do with that that had not been done before?” And I liked the idea of mashing that with E.T. because I like combining the tropes of an intense sci-fi horror action movie with a more suburban-based family adventure movie, kind of like Suburban Commando or Masters of the Universe does.
So once I settled on that core concept, the ideas really just started pouring out of me. One big aspect that really helped coalesce the story was trying to figure out the character of PG, this evil space warlord is cool and everything, but I felt like the other characters needed to match up to him. So I started thinking about what kind of kids would be able to go toe to toe with this evil monster? And I started thinking about kids in my life that I know, younger relatives or work friends, their kids, and I start thinking about how nuts kids can be sometimes and it's the thing that I don't see in movies enough. I keep saying that there's a Harry Potter syndrome with a lot of kids in movies where it's like the plot's just happening to them and there are always these wide-eyed innocents.
And I liked the idea of having a kid that's totally running the show, that doesn't feel vulnerable, at least immediately in the story, and so that's where I came up with Mimi, because I loved the idea of this little girl that was just full of attitude and clearly in her own weird world in the same way that PG is in his own weird world. I liked the idea of this hulking monster and this little girl squaring off against each other and that seemed to be where all the fun interactions would happen and also just where the heart of the movie would reside. So once I came up with that, the rest of it came pretty easily because it was such a fun core concept.
Let’s talk about the design of PG. We've had decades upon decades of demonic entities coming into fruition through different movies and things like that. Considering your background, I’m sure doing practical effects and creating this monster suit was probably going to be your only route for this character, but what was the design process like as you were trying to nail that image that you first had of him in your head and making it actualized for the screen?
Steven Kostanski: It was a pretty lengthy process trying to figure out what I wanted him to look like. Because in the script stage, I just envisioned him as being the ultimate “Steve monster,” which is that he would be a character that if he was translated into an action figure and 10-year-old Steve saw him on the shelf at Walmart or something, I would have immediately grabbed him. So I was trying to tap into what were the things that would catch my eye as a kid, and so I tried to instill his design with as much of those elements as possible. I actually got a comic book artist friend of mine in Italy named Aurelio, he did the initial sketches of PG that I built off of, and so he did very simple comic booky drawings of this creature.
I told him to make him a combination of Baron Karza from Micronauts meets Molasar from The Keep meets Venom meets Darth Vader meets Skeletor meets Megatron, all of these villains kind of mashed together into one thing. So, what he came up with actually was quite simple. One detail about it I loved was he put in these glowing cracks on his body, so that was the thing I integrated into the suit, which we actually did with UV paint. We would hit him with a UV light every once in a while to just make his pink cracks pop a little bit more. Then it came down to deciding how intense the makeup would be. I knew it was going to have to be a full suit, but as far as the face was concerned, I was torn between going full Molasar and having him have the face built out from the actor's actual face and giving him big teeth and glowing eyes, because I knew in a static form that would be the look that I wanted. But I also was grappling with making him expressive because that's a huge component as well.
So I ended up settling more for contact lenses and dentures on a makeup that was sculpted a little closer to his face. It's still a very thick appliance on him and it's basically a glorified pullover mask because that's what we could afford, but it allowed Matthew Ninaber, who plays PG, to express and emote and instill as much personality into the physical performance as possible, which I think was super important and I think it really registers onscreen. I think you needed that. If the face was super immobile, I don't think he would have been as charming. I think the gimmick would have gotten old pretty quick. So I'm glad we went that road. I'm still kind of sad that his eyes don't glow all the time, but in classic low-budget movie fashion, we settled for the glow sometimes when we can afford to make them glow.
You just mentioned Matthew, who plays the character of PG, and you're somebody who obviously not only works with effects, but works with people who have to work in makeups and things like that. How essential is it to have an actor come in and not only embrace the makeup process, but really work with the makeup to be able to create characters? And I think Matthew does a really great job here with doing just that.
Steven Kostanski: He really does a great job, especially considering he'd never done it before. And I warned him. I was like, "This is going to suck for you. You're going to hate this by the end." And he definitely had his dark periods, which I allowed him to be totally vocal about because I feel like people need to understand creature performance is a skill in itself. It's not a thing anybody can do. You need stamina, you need to be able to go to that place mentally to be okay with it because I've seen people freak out in suits and makeups. I've seen people suddenly become super claustrophobic as soon as they have a mask glued down around their eyes and mouth. But Matt handled it like a champ. It was like a learning curve for sure, but he embraced it. I also think his frustrations with the suit, he just internalized it and then brought it out in the performance. I think it's part of why PG has so much personality and the moments where he's playing frustrated, he probably was really frustrated.
But I thought Matthew did a fantastic job and was a real trooper and if we had had somebody who couldn't have handled it, the movie would have sank completely. It really came down to him being able to power through it every day and he was in the suit every day. He maybe had one day off on the main shoot, but it was a grueling experience and he pulled through and he really handled it well.
You're somebody who has worked as a director and has worked as a special effects artist, too. So, how have your experiences in the realm of special effects helped you when you're taking on these really ambitious projects like Psycho Goreman or The Void, in terms of making sure that the effects always look stellar and that they're really reading in camera? Nothing bums me out more in a movie than when I see really good effects and you've got somebody there who doesn't know how to shoot them, that doesn't know how to light them, and that doesn't know how to make them sing.
Steven Kostanski: Oh, that's something that drives me nuts as well. I'm pretty chill on set, but that is a thing that I obsess over and I take the way stuff is lit very seriously. It was something that I was always conscious of, and Andy [Appelle], our DoP, was always conscious of when PG needs to look intimidating. Another thing we had to consider was whenever he was in broad daylight, we have to find ways to make him look cool because there's nothing worse than just a really impressive sculpted paint job that's ruined by being in broad daylight. So, that was part of the reason for making the decision to put PG in an outfit for a chunk of his outdoor scenes, because that way I felt like we were at least obscuring him to a certain extent, so when he does reveal himself again, it means something. But it's something that I'm always conscious of.
The only part of me as a director that I'm very specific about is how we shoot creatures and how we shoot gags, just because I have so much experience at it. I've seen this stuff go south so quickly before and I know there's an expectation there with me as well to deliver on that and I would hate to disappoint. So, I'm always very specific about how we shoot our effects and making sure that we take the time we need to do it properly and not rush.Next: Read Earlier Installments of This Series!