Wednesday 30 May 2018

Interview with Asif Akbar - Director of Astro

Astro, the new sci-fi film from Asif Akbar, was never going to be the next ‘Star Wars’ but what it is, the filmmaker explains in this exclusive interview, is a sci-film that emphasizes social issues and personal identities with touches of fantasy in its own unique way.

You’ve made a captivating movie – and one from a genre that’s very hot right now. Did the success of all the recent sci-fi films make Astro easier to make?

I like a lot of the recent sci-fi films and each one of them of their own uniqueness to them, it helps the genre to evolve with every new film that presents something innovative to the audience through their story, it keeps the audience's minds open for the next, so yes it doesn't hurt. People have always been fascinated with science-fiction for many decades now and I think a story like Astro could've been told 50 years ago just as same as it can be told today or another 50 years from now, that's the most fascinating part of telling a sci-fi story.

Nowadays a lot more films end up becoming categorised as sci-f with being so much more visual effects heavy and there's all sorts of technology and innovative ideas within our society now that you could implement the sci-fi genre within a lot of the wide range genre's of action, thriller, horror, drama, etc. The sci-fi genre is much more wide ranged now more than ever and I think it's become timeless, because what we love as story tellers in particular about the genre is that in sci-fi there can be no boundaries when it comes to creative imagination with our stories.

My intention with Astro was to keep the style very traditional sci-fi, but with real human characters with emotions, relationships and an everyday setting that most people in our society could relate with today. At the same time it has the root of fantasy embeded into it that fascinates most people to question if there could be extraterrestrial life and if there really is alien life then how would that effect us or our world.

This is very different to, say, Star Wars though isn’t it?

I love the Star Wars films as most of us sci-fi fans do and my intention to make Astro was never to really be the next Star Wars or even try to compare the two. The wonderful thing about sci-fi is that it allows the genre of a story to be very wide ranged. There are many different categories to the genre and Star Wars is in one category and Astro is in another. Astro extrapolates from a lot of the real life science and beliefs amongst our society, the story can emphasize on social issues and personal identities with some touches of fantasy.

Where did you get the idea from, storywise?

Ever since I was very young, the thought of extraterrestrial life and exploring what could be out there in outer space has always fascinated me. I use to think that would only last through my child hood, but as I grow older I realise that my fascination with the idea of other planets inhabiting life like earth has growing more than ever everyday. I've been doing serious research on this for over 15 years now and one day it just hit me, I asked myself “why don't I just make my next movie on a story that would fascinate me.” I amped up my research and went to work on brain storming,  there are thousands of real life stories of people claiming to be abducted by aliens, aliens being dangerous to humans, beliefs of “if the aliens ever came here they would eat us all” and all kinds of other claims that could sound crazier to most. In most alien movies you see the humans being the victims of aliens, but rarely do you ever see the alien being the victim. So I asked myself “what if humans were the abductors the aliens were the abductee victims?” That was the root of the story to evolve from.

And you had worked with your wife, actress Courtney Akbar, before?

Yes, Courtney has worked by my side on many productions over the years as a production manager  and she understands the film business very well all around. She has developed acting from an earlier age  being trained and involved in various productions throughout her childhood and teenage years, but Astro was her debut as being one of the lead characters in a feature film with an ensemble cast. She didn't know or expect to be playing Laura Lee Adams in Astro until the script was already finished and it just happened that she fit the role perfectly, so after Gary and her met, it instantly displayed the perfect bond between a father and daughter relationship, that's when we all knew the two of them would be very believable in the strong chemistry we needed to come across in those roles. It's always wonderful to be able to work with your best friend and partner in life.

When did you come up with the idea of Gary Daniels playing the ‘everyman’ hero?

Well, Gary is well known to be an action hero for decades now and he's been seen playing almost all the types of 'bad ass' action movie star characters you could think of when it comes to being very hard edged, but to my knowledge I have not seen him play a character like Jack in Astro. He is playing a devoted single father of a teenage girl, the character is not only very hard edged, he's also emotionally anchored in a life for the everyman.  When I imagined the character of “Jack” I wanted to have a familiar hard edged action hero playing the role with the contrast of having the every day average Joe heart. I was easily able to imagine Gary in the role when the script was being developed, especially also because I have known him from several years before and we had discussed working together in the past, but the opportunity didn't come to full fruition until two years ago with Astro. I sent the script to him personally when it was ready, we met for lunch soon after he finished reading, we worked everything out, started production a couple months later, then it all became history from there.

How hard was it for the cast to be working opposite… well, nothing,… being that I imagine a lot of those special effects went in later?

All the actors we were blessed to have were very professional and talented. Some of the new actors adapted very well to it all and had much supervision on set from so many long time veteran experienced professionals we were blessed to have with us on the team. The film has a blend of many practical special effects with practical fire burns, explosions and blank firing, so a lot of the action you see on screen was more than half real. We tried not be so much visual effects heavy, but it's challenging to tell a modern sci-fi story without any visual effects now days, so we had to have the CGI we did have.

Was it important to you that the characters here be grounded and realistic even if the movie has a far-out storyline?

Yes, it was very important that the characters feel relatable to the every day real person, because I've always imagined to express the feeling of the audience imagining this potentially happening in real life during our lifetime. I've seen some statistics that show 70% of the world's population today believe that there's extraterrestrial life out there. Everyday we see news about new space expeditions that are private and governmental, new technologies, more and more mystery's of our universe are being explored now more than ever. It's a very timely topic within our society world-wide

Was it hard to cast the alien role?

Not at all, Luke Crosby is another very close friend of mine that I've known since he was 12 years old, I've seen him grow up into his acting career from his childhood, we work together a lot. He is very talented all around in acting as well as being a multiple degreed black belt martial artist. I wanted the alien to have very much the same human emotions as we see with our human characters and not just be some actor in makeup. Luke is a very well trained actor to be able to carry the challenging emotional scenes of portraying the human emotions with his expressions rather than words and I knew Luke could pull it off. So, that was another role that I had already cast in my head while writing the script.

Ever dreamt of going to space yourself?

I don't like flying and not a fan of heights, but I'm sure like most people I have definitely dreamt countless times since my childhood to now of flying into outer space and exploring the universe. Space has always fascinated me and that's why I love sci-fi films myself. I would lie if I said going to space isn't on my bucket list of things to do in a lifetime.

Think you’ll accomplish that in your lifetime?

That would literally be another dream come true in my lifetime. I could only keep wishing to the shooting stars and see what happens. Never say never.

ASTRO is on DVD June 5.