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Albert Pyun Talks w/411 Aabout His New Film Interstellar Civil War

July 5, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The B-Movie Interview: Albert Pyun

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Albert Pyun is a writer-director who has been in the movie business for over thirty years. Starting with The Sword and the Sorcerer in 1982, Pyun has worked mostly in the action and sci-fi genres, helming such classics as Cyborg, Nemesis, Kickboxer 2 and 4, Captain America (1990), and Mean Guns. Interstellar Civil War, his latest movie, is his 54th feature film and, quite possibly, his last as a director as Pyun is currently battling dementia. Pyun recently spoke with this writer about Interstellar Civil War, his career, how the movie business has changed, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: How did Interstellar Civil War come about?

Albert Pyun: I have always been wanting to make a sort of military intrigue thriller. I had begun researching and, about this time I saw The Imitation Game and that triggered a new direction in research and I discovered how many, military and political control of a country’s war dictated even more than actual battles, the conduct and outcomes of these wars. So it crystalized in my intent to tell the story of a vast conflict by detailing how decisions are made and how those decisions influence the war, and how battles fought were sometimes afterthoughts of deeply hidden pursuits. So, given my limited budget options, I settled on a Dune type conflict, in a universe. Because galactic wars are fairly simplistic morality soap operas and audiences are more or less accepting of the simplistic rather than the deep and often byzantine layers of a real war. Wars in space have mostly been for children, and so simplistic as to be an immature view of what a conflict would look like. I also was a huge fan of the historical dramas of the 60’s and became enamored with Lion in the Winter and so, ICW was structured to explore power structure and the politics of the unseen side of a war in the cosmos.

BK: Was it always your intention to have most of Interstellar Civil War filmed in front of a green screen?

AP: I had just come off an exhausting 6 year journey with Road to Hell which was my second primarily green screen movie. On Road we used a prototypical new camera from Panasonic. We shot green screen tests and were thrilled. The settings from the test were locked into the camera…or so we thought. The camera was sent to Panasonic engineers who did not understand this camera had been tested and they reset the settings deep into the menu where we didn’t notice the changes. The camera shot at the wrong setting and made the green screen footage useless. Software to correct the footage didn’t exist until 2011. So I had learned a great deal in the years of trying to correct the footage. At the tail end of this process, I began to get ill. It became apparent shooting green screen was the only way I could physically shoot a movie anymore.

BK: How long did it take to make Interstellar Civil War, from script writing to filming to post production work?

AP: I began researching in 2009, writing the drafts of the screenplay in early 2015, began shooting in October 2015, and shot off and on for almost 2 years. Post began in January 2016 and continues as I write this.

BK: How did you come up with the “look” of Interstellar Civil War, from its space scenes to its costuming and character weaponry? It’s all quite elaborate looking for a small budget movie.

AP: It’s just a product of my lifetime of experience and I was lucky to have an extremely gifted collaborator, Michael Su, my DP, co-director, co-editor and digital artist.

BK: Didn’t Interstellar Civil War have a different title at the beginning? If it did, why was the title changed?

AP: I think because the original titles conflicted with pre-existing comics and as I got deeper into the project, the title became clearer.

BK: What was the most challenging scene to film and put together for Interstellar Civil War?

AP: The entire film was challenging because of my illness. Throughout, I was undergoing many tests and treatments. In fact before one of our biggest shoot days, I was in in the ER on New Year’s Day. I had to have a biopsy which landed me in a hospital stay even as I was editing the film. So each of the 7 days was challenging. I had no idea if I would complete them.

BK: Has Interstellar Civil War turned out the way you expected it to? Is it fully the movie you wanted to make?

AP: It turned out way better than I thought. We shot a 130 page script in only 7 days. I was very sick through much of the process, and yet it’s turned out to be my favorite film that I made. I guess my 54th film was the charm. It’s really due to Michael Su, my wife, Cynthia Curnan and my longtime composer and friend, Tony Riparetti. And a very supportive and talented cast! The casting process was very specific with characters tailored for the actors. And, as my films are known to, the cast are very attractive and interesting physically. I know the film is the perfect example of my filming philosophy – evolutionary filmmaking.

BK: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working independently, as opposed to working with/for a company like Full Moon Entertainment?

AP: The clear difference is I can make the movies the way I see them. That’s what the digital technology has given me. I now make films that I am driven to make and not films funded and ultimately controlled by the studio. Seeing what has recently happened to Chris Miller and Phil Lord on the Han Solo movie is very reminiscent of what has happened to me on many of my films.

BK: Is it harder to get independent movies made today? How has the movie business changed, for you, since you started?

AP: I think making films is easier, but getting them distributed properly is much harder even with the new outlets like Netflix and Amazon. I was very fortunate to have earned a good living from making my films, but not sure it’s true for filmmakers today. I think it’s easier to get a release because now almost anything made gets released. But you get a sort of aggregate release as one of thousands the digital pipeline spews out. In the days when I started and began making films, you made a film that the distributor targeted to a specific audience. Now it’s just flung out onto the internet. You know, when my films went direct to video, it had a bad connotation. But not today, when most filmmakers would tout a video release.

BK: Was your film Road to Hell always meant to be a find of fever dream, or did it become that as you were making it?

AP: It was a fever dream from the start but began in my mind from when I first saw Streets Of Fire in 1984. It inspired me to make as audacious a fantasy world come to life.

BK: Where did you find Roxy Gunn?

AP: She and her band were recommended to me by Chad Clinton Freeman who ran the Pollygrind Underground film Festival in Las Vegas. She almost appeared in ICW but we couldn’t get the dates to work out. She’s a very talented artist!

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BK: Why didn’t Olivier Gruner participate in any of the Nemesis sequels?

AP: I can’t remember, but Nemesis began as my attempt to present a female action hero which was a big negative in 1991. So I think I wanted to try to do that. Same with Down Twisted (Carey Lowell), Knights (Kathy Long), Spitfire (Kristie Phillips), Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (Natasha Hentstridge).

BK: When do you know you’re “done” with a movie? Are you ever really done with one?

AP: Not anymore – lol. Not with digital!!

BK: Out of the 54 films that you’ve made, which one do you feel is the most successful?

AP: They were all successful to varying degrees. Mostly, I’ve been making films every week since I was ten. Each had something I wanted to try and accomplish. So my biggest box office hits aren’t the ones I personally love. Many of my older films are getting a re-release around the world. Some, like Radioactive Dreams was deemed a failure when I made it, it was so hated, but it’s played theatrically around the world this year and now gets good reviews. Go figure. But probably my most commercially and artistically successful film was Mean Guns, which just got a Blu-ray release in France. It did well and was well reviewed. It also made 6 times more than it cost. So that’s something.

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BK: When will Interstellar Civil War get released?

AP: We will begin the fest rounds first this fall and maybe a release in December. I’ll see how that goes first.

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BK: What would you like to tell your fans before they see Interstellar Civil War?

AP: That it’s a character driven film, more thriller than kids’ film. I want them to experience a little of what it’s like to be trapped in dementia, where you feel a little of yourself disappearing each day. Don’t give away the plot. It takes the emptiness of space out of a space opera adventure. And that I made this film as I was struggling with the initial effects of Early Onset Dementia. My Dad passed away as I was locking the first cut this year. So it’s been one trial after another coming at me from every whitewall. The film reflects that. And that I knew this might be my last film so it has a richer bundle of dreams and wishes. In the final analysis, I made the film for me. It symbolizes my life and career in filmmaking. How there’s so much treachery from even those you think are on your side.

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A very special thanks to Albert Pyun for participating in this interview and for david j. moore for helping set it up.

Check out the Interstellar Civil War Facebook page here.

Olivier Gruner/Nemesis image from Gone with the Twins

All other images courtesy of Albert Pyun