I have been admiring Steven Kostanski’s work for years without even knowing it. All this time I was admiring the special makeup effects in Todd and the Book of Pure Evil and Hannibal, I didn’t know it was the handiwork of the director of The Void. Kostanski’s latest work, PG: Psycho Goreman, is a masterpiece of practical effects and creature design. I got to personally tell Kostanski how much I loved sci-fi horror comedy and got some insight into how his brain works.
If you’re too lazy to read this whole interview, then you can still listen to the Nightmare on Film Street Podcast episode with Kostanski. And of course, you can watch PG: Psycho Goreman on demand now, which I highly recommend you do.
“PG really encapsulates those types of movies I loved as a kid, and especially the ones that also freaked me out”
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare On Film Street: You’ve probably heard this question over and over for the past year, but how did you come up with the concept for Psycho Goreman?
Steven Kostanski: I had a few key images for it rolling around in my brain for quite a while. I had this image of this hulking monster sitting at a drum set reveling around in my head for a long time, and I didn’t really know what to do with it. Then one day, I was watching Rawhead Rex, and I was daydreaming about what I would do with a concept like this. I like the initial context of this ancient god-monster being resurrected, coming out of the earth. I found it was a cool start to a story, but I didn’t really care for where it went. But then I thought “Where would be most absurd place to go with that?” Well, what if it was an E.T. scenario?
Instead of E.T. being this benevolent creature and it being a really family-friendly film, these kids will make friends with this evil space warlord that wants to destroy the universe. Once I locked that concept in, the rest of it fell into place. It was just a good excuse for me to hang a lot of half-thought-out ideas from other stories that I didn’t fully realize or didn’t know what to do with. I just mashed them together, because it was such a simple through-line that I could hang all this crazy shit I could off of it.
NOFS: So when you were writing the script, were you visualizing how you were going to film each sequence, or were you just putting all your crazy ideas on a page and see what worked later on?
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SK: Usually my process with writing is [to] come up with whatever nonsense I can think of and then I pay for it later. I think because I have so much experience in prosthetics and building creatures and effects, as I’m writing, I try to visualize things. It doesn’t restrict me from what I do, I’ll still write stuff that is way too ambitious for the budget and the time that I have. But at least I have a vague idea of how I would execute stuff. None of the creatures on the page were things where I would have no idea how I was going to do them. On the page, I keep things vague enough that there’s legroom as I’m building and shooting that I can get to something that looks good, even if it’s not necessarily exactly what was on the page. I like to play that stuff pretty loose and accommodate resources and time and budget and that kind of stuff.
NOFS: Were there any ideas that you had to shelve or rework due to the budget?
SK: There were ideas that were shelved in terms of time. I could have shelved so much more in the montage of PG and the kids going around town. I feel like there were a million ways to go with that, but we only had so much time to shoot it. When I finished the script and presented it to the producers, nobody told me we couldn’t do something or that I had to change something. That was good. And the stuff that did get shelved will end up in a movie somewhere anyway, so I don’t feel like it’s a huge loss. I always find a place for a lot of these crazy ideas, especially considering there’s stuff in this movie that was made up of leftover ideas from things like The Void. Like effects that got pushed aside on those projects but stayed up in my brain somewhere.
“I had this image of this hulking monster sitting at a drum set reveling around in my head for a long time, and I didn’t really know what to do with it.”
NOFS: I always hear that directors hate working with children, but what was the experience for you working with Nita-Josee Hanna and Owen Myre?
SK: I had a great time, I don’t know about those other directors you’re talking about. Nita and Owen were super fun to work with. I thought they were total professionals. I was actually really surprised at how much they tuned into the project. Nita had the whole script memorized to the point where I would show up on set being like “What are we doing today?” and she would know exactly what was up. I think we just really lucked out. They both had experience working on projects. Even with Nita, it wasn’t necessarily film, this was her first onscreen performance, but she’s done theater and dance, she’s very multi-talented. That experience really helped inform her work on set.
We lucked out with them and Scout [Flint]. They’re the real soul of the movie. There was definitely concern early on that we wouldn’t find the right kids and that they might sink the project because they wouldn’t have the personality needed to stand up to all the crazy stuff on display on the screen. But Nita and Owen got right into and they had fun. They always brought the energy to the set, they were like the mascots of the movie. They brought their A-game to the project and I’m really thankful for that.
NOFS: I really want to pick your brain about makeup and special effects because it’s one of my favorite things about movies. How involved were you in those departments for Psycho Goreman compared to other projects?
SK: Very involved because we didn’t have a lot of money, so we hired Masters FX Toronto to do a good chunk of the build. Also, I had a few outside team effects from Gasfire who also pitched in and contributed, like my friend Chris Nash who is also a filmmaker and effects artist. He was our on-set key for this project and he built a bunch of things for the movie. It was really all hands on deck. Everybody just pitched in, even though we didn’t have a ton of money. [We] just made it work using our years of know-how trying to figure out how to pull off this stuff with as little money as possible. Stuff like sculpting and painting and fabricating creatures, a lot of the stuff I ended up doing myself out of necessity, but not to diminish the work the whole team did. We had a very ambitious script with a lot of creatures, and we didn’t have a lot of money to give them.
I took the hit, in terms of making sure we had everything on time. It helped everybody that we split the movie in two blocks, like we did a preliminary shoot in November 2018 when we shot the council scene and all the flashbacks. We got a bunch of that effects-heavy stuff out of the way so when we got to principle photography the following year, with everyone cast, we lightened the load a bit. It’s hard to get the time to do that on a lot of productions, so I’m very fortunate to have that opportunity because it definitely made things easy to deal with. Time is the ultimate asset in a movie. The more time we have to build stuff, to plan and craft, the better. We had lots of time spread out over the span of a year.
“I think [Terminator 2] was traumatizing for me as a kid, but also helped stir something in my imagination.”
NOFS: I feel like this movie was made for me. Have you ever had that feeling watching a movie?
SK: I’ve had that experience a lot as a kid, I feel like I haven’t had it as much recently, as a cynical adult. But growing up, there were movies that definitely spoke to me, and that’s partly what inspired PG, because I wanted to go back to those experiences and try to make something that encapsulated the kind of fun I used to have watching movies. I’m trying to think of a good example. I had a very traumatizing but good experience watching Terminator 2 as a kid. To further that explanation, all those movies I watched as a kid that were meant for adults that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. My childhood brain had trouble coming to terms with the sci-fi fantasy stuff on display that felt like it was straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, but also the brutal violence of security guards being impaled through the eye or getting their kneecaps shot out.
I think that was traumatizing for me as a kid, but also helped stir something in my imagination. That movie certainly influenced every movie that I’ve made. I talked about this in a few interviews, I had a great time as a nine-year old going to see Mortal Kombat in the theaters. That was a transcendent experience for me, because I was a big fan of the game as a kid and being able to see those characters come to life on the big screen was a huge deal. I found it really satisfying. Yeah, I definitely had those experiences where I felt like someone tailor-made this for me specifically. PG really encapsulates those types of movies I loved as a kid, and especially the ones that also freaked me out, because they were a little bit too adult for Kid Steve at the time.
PG: Psycho Goreman is currently available in select theatres and On Demand. You can read our review of the Saturday morning gorefest HERE and listen to Nightmare on Film Street’s interview with writer/director Steven Kostanski HERE. Let us know what you thought of PG: Psycho Goreman over us over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.