I was able to speak with Alex Russek, Director and Producer of the indie film Sam The Spaceman, available on Vimeo now. The film and its trailer can be found at this Link. Sci-fi Has always been a difficult genre to do for indie films but I was really impressed with this one. It was a enticing sci-fi romp that isn’t afraid to have some fun. Sam The Spaceman has an excellent soundtrack with some pretty well done special effects. The plot is a relatable adventure story that fits well in the post-recession world. I’d recommend Sam The Spaceman to anyone who likes indie sci-fi.
Sam The Spaceman: Interview with Alex Russek
Interviewer: First off I’d like to say I enjoyed Sam The Spaceman. It was the kinda fun that other sci-fi wont even try. Where a lot of indie sci-fi attempt to go for realism you guys pulled out all the stops and went full sci-fi. I loved it.
Alex: “Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the film! Sam Sapirstein and I have been making movies together since we were 8 years old and the final product is a seamless extension of our shorts as children. When you’re a kid playing characters and blowing up your action figures, you are not concerned if it looks real to anyone else; it’s all about having a personal experience and we wanted to keep this feeling of unfettered imagination intact. It is definitely something that’s lacking in a lot of films today. Since special FX have the ability to look so real now, filmmakers seem to feel obligated to use them as such. But as sci-fi fans we all love Terry Gilliam films and Star Trek and many other things that no longer pass the reality eye test, but still employ such complex ingenuity in how they were created that it’s still fun to watch and admire.
Interviewer: Now that you mention it, I was thinking of some of Gilliam’s films in the back of my head as I watched Sam The Spaceman, it never really clicked for me on a conscious level LOL. For me one of the most noticeable things was the awesome and catchy sci-fi 80s music theme. It really stood out among other indie films. What was involved in making it?
Alex: “For the score we had the great pleasure of working with Josh Oxford, an analog synth mastermind who learned his craft from David Borden one of the earliest synthesizer pioneers who had an enormously influential group called Mother Mallard which was also founded by Bob Moog, creator of the Moog synthesizer. Josh used an almost entirely analog synth setup and used many of the same instruments present in John Carpenter and Vangelis scores. His work is my personal favorite part of the movie as it does the most to cement the feeling we were going for. I’ve attached a picture of his setup for you to check out.”
Interviewer: Cool, I’ve seen videos of people using that and wonder how it was all done, boggles my mind just looking at it. Another thing that added to the excellent vibe was the special effects. How was this done and what were some of the influences you used for inspiration?
Alex: “The FX were a big challenge, especially because Sam and I were literally doing every job on the film. I work in post-production as an editor and know Adobe After Effects but I knew it would be the hardest part of the movie to pull off. I spent a lot of time studying 70s and 80s low budget sci-fi films like Message from Space and Battle Beyond the Stars as well as reading books like Blade Runner: The Inside Story by Don Shay and Special Effects: The History and Technique by Richard Rickitt. The rest was a lot of trial and error photographing our model spaceships and hours and hours spent alone compositing in After Effects and generating matte paintings in Photoshop. I basically used 100% old techniques and methodologies of how to construct layered shots, except where they had to use an optical printer and cell animation, I had After Effects.”
Interviewer: The effort in those special effects where a nice touch but I couldn’t help to notice the Eagle Transporter from Space 1999, this really felt right with the 80s sci-fi pulp you had set up in the film; it made me smile to see that again. Was this a show that inspired you? What are some other sci-fi shows that you all were fans of?
Alex: “Haha yes! Space 1999 is definitely something Sam and I enjoy but we have a lot of favorites. Star Trek: [The Next Generation] and [Deep Space Nine] are both high on the list as is Babylon 5. I also love anime and count Space Adventure Cobra and Armitage III: Poly Matrix as big visual influences on the film. People are always surprised that we don’t watch Dr. Who but we actually have never seen it! No disrespect to Dr. Who, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
Interviewer: Truth be told I was reminded of some 80s British sci-fi while watching it. Dr. Who and the short lived Hitchhiker’s Guide TV show, must’ve been the Gilliam connection. Plot wise though, I really liked how the story book-ended itself with the protagonist’s opening monologue at the beginning and closing of the film. It drove home themes of alienation and longing for adventure. I could really relate to these. So how did this become theme for the film?
Alex: “The idea for this film came about because of our real-life circumstances. We both graduated college in 2008 right at the height of the recession and it was very difficult to get jobs. I was working for an industrial video company being paid a sub-human wage and Sam was working part-time writing reviews of obscure science equipment and living in his parent’s basement. I had also written several scripts for others to direct, only to see their attempts scuttled because of ego, inexperience or, quite honestly, stupidity. Needless to say we were both feeling alienated and disappointed with our circumstances and were longing for an adventures of our own. Once we discovered The Building we knew we had to make a film about it and our life situations naturally worked their way into the plot and subtext. I’m also pleased to report that Sam and I are in much better circumstances these days and the catharsis of creating this film has a lot to do with it.”
Interviewer: “The architecture was interesting as well. I’ve always felt grand stoic architecture really parallels 80s and 70s sci-fi. How did the shooting locations come to be used in the film? Was it difficult to film there and get the shots you needed?”
Alex: “The Building location was discovered, truth be told, in the exact same way it was depicted in the film. Sam was driving around Westchester stoned at night and saw it from the highway lit up like a sci-fi beacon of awesomeness! The first time he took me there he blasted Devo’s “Corporate Anthem” as we drove up the winding driveway and the massive shape came into view. It really left an impact and it was this “Ah Ha” moment for both of us. However we never got proper permission to film there. I had experience in college trying to shoot student films at office buildings and it was always impossible, so I honestly never even tried to ask whoever the heck owns it haha. We cased the place Oceans 11 style and found out all the best times when the building was empty. It was hilarious. We knew all the security positions, the schedule of the exterior lighting systems and so on. And either we never got caught, or no one much cared what we were up to. It used to be the headquarters for a food conglomerate but had since been spit up into individual suites which the place was never designed to be, so the use of the semi-public space inside was up for grabs and we took it.”
Interviewer: “Ha ha ha, that’s awesome. Some gorilla filming just adds to it all LOL. I’ll tell you though, I liked the space craft used for this, just something about it that was real retro. It looked like they were actual models, not CG effects. Did you guys make them for this? How where they designed?”
Alex: “All of the spaceships were models built by Sam and I. We used a variety of techniques, some were combinations of toys and models we assembled and repainted, some were made from found household objects and old camera equipment, and others were designed from scratch. Although we used computers to do our compositing and light animation effects, it was very important to use models for our spaceships. No one uses model spaceships anymore!!!! And they are one of the greatest things about sci-fi!!!! #BringBackModelSpaceships”
Interviewer: “Man, modeling is a dying craft that I miss so much, glad you found room for that. I love me some space ship models! Now that you guys have this film completed what other ideas do you have for future films? Anything else you have brewing for us?”
Alex: “Sam and I are working on a few upcoming projects most notably a sci-fi feature with all puppets like The Dark Crystal. I am a huge fan of puppetry. Check out this puppet music video I directed (Team Spirit – Surrender)! I’m also working on a screenplay for a friend of mine, Ethan Berger, to direct. He is a very talented music video and commercial director as well.”
Interviewer: “Lastly what advice would you give for people making a low budget sci-fi film? Any lessons learned you’d pass on to your past self?”
Alex: “I’m certainly not the first person to say this but don’t wait for permission to make your film. Too many people spend their lives knocking on the studio’s door and some even make entire careers out of it without getting very much to the screen. Know that the technology is now affordable enough that knowledge, taste, and self-discipline are all that’s required to make your film.”
Interviewer: “Thank you very much for this interview Alex. I thought Sam The Spaceman was an ambitious breath of fresh air with a kickin’ 80s pulp sci-fi track. The people here at The Grid will be looking forward to seeing your future work.”
Be sure to check out Sam The Spaceman on Vimeo now! Have you seen it yet? Comment below with your thoughts on the project.