If you’ve seen The ABCs of Death 2 by now, you surely remember the short about Champions of Zorb, in which two kids get transported to a universe like He-Man. I won’t tell you which letter it ends up being, but it’s not Z. The short about Champions of Zorb was directed by Steve Kostanski, of Astron-6, and I met him at Fantastic Fest to discuss his contribution to The ABC’s of Death 2, out now on VOD and in theaters October 31.
Nuke the Fridge: How did you get the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, to be the dancing girls in your short?
Steve Kostanski: We wrote them into it because the idea of having twin witches seemed really entertaining to us. It just timed out perfect because they were in for Fan Expo last summer. We were all sharing a table at Fan Expo. It was me, Jen and Sylvia, Tristan [Risk] and Don Coscarelli weirdly enough, all at one table. So I was like, “Well, I’m going to be there anyway. I might as well capitalize on that and throw them in my movie.” Just on a whim, I was like, “I’m going to ask Brandon Cronenberg if he wants to be in it too.” So I sent him an e-mail and he’s the chillest, nicest guy ever. He’s like, “Yeah, I’ll come over for that.” He basically came over and got tortured for four hours. He was super nice about it. It was just perfect timing, and Jen and Sylvia are so nice. They’ve always been supportive of my stuff. They’re awesome. They’ve been so helpful to us because they have such a great fan base and they just have a great attitude towards Canadian genre film especially. They’re so supportive, I can’t imagine what the community would be like without them.
Nuke: Were you a big He-Man fan growing up?
Steve Kostanski: Oh yeah. I love the He-Man movie specifically, the Cannon movie. When I was a kid, I was all about that. Jeremy [Gillespie] who wrote the segment, he’s a little older than me so he was more into the actual toy line when the cartoon came out. So we combined those sensibilities because I’m a big fan of sh*tty movie adaptations of toys or cartoons or comics. Especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s, everything was such a weird misfire that it was all really interesting to me. So I wanted to put some of that logic into this as well.
Nuke: Isn’t it amazing that 20 years apart, and for hundreds of millions of dollars more, Transformers basically did the exact same plot as Masters of the Universe?
Steve Kostanski: Even Thor did the same thing. I remember watching that and being like, “Oh, it’s just Masters of the Universe” which is probably why I liked it. It’s the same idea as the Masters of the Universe movie. I love the idea of goofy looking characters in the real world. Jeremy’s into that too. We did a series of shorts called Goreblade that was basically fantasy characters that are kind of transposed from their epic fantasy universe into real life.
Nuke: Did you also want to see those ‘80s practical animatronic characters a little bit more twisted and scary?
Steve Kostanski: Yeah, that was the spark for the whole short was what if we did a He-Man/Krull kind of universe except make it really nightmarish and crazy. Have that goofy stuff, that goofy practical hammily done characters but have them be doing horrible things. It’s such a weird juxtaposition to have skeleton guys with dome helmets blowing people up. It’s like a nightmare a kid would have, so that was our inspiration for it. We’re also big fans of the movie Fulci’s Conquest which is, like, the only legit horror fantasy movie out there where you’ve got He-Man style characters but then there’s gore and it’s really dark and disturbing. It’s such a niche concept, we wanted to really exploit it for this.
Nuke: The ending of your short seems like the beginning of something. Do you have any plans for more?
Steve Kostanski: I think the ending of mine is pretty conclusive for one of those characters, but yeah, like everything I make, I try to build as big a universe as possible. I don’t like writing contained things. Because I grew up on stuff that is always sequel logic heavy and you can transpose it to different mediums, so I like the idea of making universes that have some longevity. Basically what I’m saying is I’d gladly make this into a feature if somebody gave me money for it.
Nuke: Could it even be done Astron-6 style?
Steve Kostanski: On the cheap? Maybe. I think it would be nice to have a little bit of money. For this, because it was so short, it was easy to get people to work on it. They’d come out for a day and just help out. I had a lot of my FX friends who’ve worked on real movies, like Zane Knisely who worked on Hobo with a Shotgun, he built some of the Zorb costume. My friend Pat Baxter who worked on the Evil Dead remake, he came out and he helped with the Funcor guy. I had all this great support and I don’t know if they would lose interest trying to do a full feature. So I think a little bit of money at this point is necessary just because people need to get paid, they need to make a living.
Nuke: Have you kept up with the plans for a big budget Masters of the Universe?
Steve Kostanski: In my internet searchings I’ve seen that that project’s been up and down for a very long time.
Nuke: John Chu was going to do it. Mike Cahill took a meeting on it, which would have excited me because he might’ve cast Brit Marling as She-Ra.
Steve Kostanski: That would’ve been awesome.
Nuke: Yeah, but he’s not doing it. He was a He-Man fan too and he said he took the meeting so he could read the script, and he loved the script.
Steve Kostanski: I’d take a meeting.
Nuke: It was Champions of Zorb, so would you have been fine if they gave you the letter Z?
Steve Kostanski: The idea originally was to go with Z, but we picked a bunch of letters. Thinking on it now, Jeremy and I agree that F is for Fantasyman probably would have been the best punchline for the whole thing, because really he is the villain of the short. People don’t realize it until you see it. Yeah, we kind of tailored it so it could be any letter because it’s so crazy, it’s hard to decide where something like that could fit into a two hour movie.
Nuke: Was this your first solo directing?
Steve Kostanski: No, I directed Manborg. I’ve been making shorts and movies since I was a kid. The whole collaboration with Astron-6 came after that. I’m kind of a loner like that. I like collaborating. It’s great but I definitely need to have my little side projects. So Zorb was a good excuse to indulge all my creative urges in one thing and not have to answer to anybody, so it was fun. Jeremy and I were on the same wavelength so it was really easy to pull it together. I think it’s probably the most fun I’ve had making a movie.
Nuke: So what’s next for you?
Steve Kostanski: Jeremy and I have a feature that we’re developing called The Void which is a horror action picture. It’s not tongue in cheek. It’s more in the vein of a John Carpenter style movie. It’s a little more like The Thing meets Prince of Darkness. We’re developing that and we have a few other script ideas on the go. We’ve been tossing around Zorb feature ideas because, again, it’s the most fun I’ve had and if somebody wants to give me a little bit of money to make it, I would gladly make that movie. That’s all in between working in effect, and Jeremy does graphics for movies. We both have our film day jobs that we keep at.
Nuke: What effects work have you done recently?
Steve Kostanski: Right now I’m working on this show Saving Hope and Bitten for Gaslight Studios which is Chris Bridges’ shop. He worked on stuff like 300. Before that I was working on Crimson Peak, del Toro’s movie. I was working for DDT, the company that did Pan’s Labyrinth. I basically bounce around to different shops and try to juggle that with my movie stuff at the same time, which can be tough because working in film is like two full time jobs. It’s not a nine to five kind of deal.
Nuke: Did you learn any techniques from del Toro that will help you in your own films?
Steve Kostanski: Oh yeah, everything I work on, you learn a new trick, a new thing. It’s the kind of job where there’s never a set way to do anything, so every time I work on a show, I find out somebody has the certain way of making a mold this way and somebody does it that way. You kind of pick and choose the things that work for you. It’s good. It’s a job that you’re always learning at. There’s no finish line, like, “Okay, now I know everything.” It’s creatively satisfying in that respect because you’re always finding out new stuff, and you can never know too much.