I am a huge fan of Astron 6, the five filmmaker group from Canada known for making amazing low-budget genre inspired shorts and features. Manborg is their newest offering, which just hit DVD last Tuesday via Dark Sky Films. The film is the story of a half-man, half-cyborg: Manborg who is Killed while battling the forces of hell. He is brought back as a super soldier in order to fight an army of Nazi vampires and demons led by the nefarious Count Draculon.
After reading that, I can’t picture why anyone wouldn’t want to see this film. I got to chat a bit with the director of Manborg and one fifth of Astron 6 Steven Kostanski about what went into making a low-budget masterpiece like Manborg and what were some of the inspirations for this is slice of 80’s infused VHS madness, enjoy!
So what was the inspiration for Manborg?
Well it came about when I was watching The Eliminators with Jeremy Gillespie the co-writer on the film, who also plays the Baron. We are watching this cheesey 80’s sci-fi movie from the 80’s by Empire Pictures with a cyborg in it and as we are watching it Jeremy says out of nowhere “we should make a movie called Manborg.”
That was really all it took. I got hooked on the name and I started formulating a premise in my head and that is how the movie started.
Manborg to me seemed like an 80’s action film mixed with 90’s videogames and some anime thrown in for good measure.
It definitely has a 90’s CD-ROM game quality to it. It’s very reminiscent of Mortal Kombat, Castlevania or Doom, stuff like that. Any full motion video type games, I always say Rebel Assault 2 was a good example of that, because I played the hell out of that when I was a kid.
What influenced the heavy use of stop motion in the film?
Stop motion is actually what I started doing as a filmmaker.
When I was a kid my dad gave me his old Super 8 camera to try doing some animations on. Since I was 12 at the time and didn’t have access to actors, it seemed like a logical first step just making very rudimentary stop motion movies. Once I upgraded to a slightly better camera, I got a few friends involved as actors and I started merging the stop motion with live action footage.
Since then it’s kind of been my technique for everything. CGI is something I am not really competent at, so it really wasn’t an option. Except as a tool for combining all the elements together. I used After Effects to composite all the stop motion, with the live action and the miniature backgrounds I built.
Speaking of miniatures and backgrounds, what inspired the very distinct look of Manborg?
I had made a film prior to Manborg called Heart of Karl, which also was a combination of live action with miniature backgrounds. That was my first attempt at that and I was satisfied with how it went. So I figured that would be the best road for Manborg, because it was this epic concept and I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the locations that suited the movie.
From the beginning the plan was to have the actors composited over backgrounds that I had built. As far as the actual design of everything, it’s got a bit of Star Wars, a bit of Roger Corman-esque like Galaxy of Terror, I also reference the Fulci movie The New Barbarians.
It’s a sort of post-apocalyptic Rollerball style movie.
So, how long were you in post production doing all the compositing and special effects?
I would say it was about 2 years, working on it on and off. I also work in film so I would kind of work on Manborg for a month and then I would be on set working on a show for a month. It was about a 2-year process getting this movie made.
What was the budget for Manborg?
Well there wasn’t an official budget, I sort of paid for it out of my own pocket, but when I tallied up the receipts at the end it came to about $1,000.
So it wasn’t much.
What was probably your biggest expense on the film?
Probably wardrobe stuff, like various bits of character’s costumes, I would go to used sporting goods stores and buy hockey pads and stuff, and then spray paint them. I guess the prosthetics probably cost a bit of money, they were all foam latex, so I had to buy kits to make the masks.
But other than that it was all garbage and junk I found and put together with my hot-glue gun. A lot of the sets were built from bits and parts I dumpster dived for as well.
So why do you think Astron 6 as a collective seems to be able to recreate these genres the best when it comes to creating these nostalgic throwbacks to the VHS and Grindhouse days?
Well I think we all genuinely love those kinds of movies and are obsessed with them. I know that I grew up on 80’s Charles Band type movies. I would go to my video store every weekend and rent like 10 horror, sci-fi and action movies at a time. I was constantly consuming those types of movies, so I just think I am permanently scarred with those types of movies.
I think we made the smart decision to sidestep the grindhouse concept from the very beginning with a lot of stuff we did. I think with Father’s Day we come the closest, but with even that we still drew inspiration from like a late night movie you would catch on Showcase on like 2 in the morning. But we are mainly rooted in the VHS era of filmmaking rather than grindhouse.
None of us were really around for that era of filmmaking, we definitely grew up in the VHS era so that is what we are inspired by.
You threw the amazing Biocop short at the end of Manborg on DVD is that something we can look forward to in the future?
Well the response has been so overwhelming for Biocop that I kind of feel like I have to make the movie now. Originally I wasn’t super into it, when I first released it, but over the months I have come up with a concept I am really happy with. It might be a potential film in the future, but like everything we will have to just wait and see.
I might be making a big announcement soon.
So other than that what is next up?
I know some of the other Astron 6 guys are shooting a film in Winnipeg, called The Editor; it’s an Argento-esque giallo type movie. I have got a few things that should be starting up soon, so we shall see.
Finally being a huge Astron 6 and Father’s Day fan, will we ever see No Sleep, No Surrender?
As far as I know they have finished the movie, I don’t really have any hand in it. It’s more Matt and Adam’s thing. But last I heard they were almost done or they were at a point they were satisfied with it. So that should be coming out soon as well.