Weary of today’s CGI-heavy horror and sci-fi flicks and missing the halcyon days when creatures were played by actors encased in sweaty latex? Then check out writer/director Alan Maxson’s low-budget epic Alien Planet, an all-practical FX adventure throwback loaded with blood, aliens, monsters, and puppets, not to mention a dollop of social commentary.
Maxson’s just-released movie finds two feuding alien clans forced to work together and survive a hostile world to save their own.
Maxson has performed as monsters big and small over the years, from Charles Band cheapies to his King Ghidorah performance capture in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The director provided Gruesome with an exclusive clip from his Alien Planet and also gave us the scoop on the making of his directorial feature debut. (Purchase the Blu-ray at www.AlienPlanetFilm.com or Amazon.com)
What was the inspiration for Alien Planet?
Alien Planet is a love letter to my favorite types of films. I absolutely adore sci-fi that has adventure and is full of eye candy but also holds a mirror up to the audience with social commentary. Films and shows like Enemy Mine, Planet of the Apes, Alien Nation, V the miniseries, and countless others. As a kid, these films took me to another world while opening my eyes to the unfortunate dark side of humanity. There are not a lot of new movies in this vein, so I decided to tell a new story for the modern audience.
What did you draw from Planet of the Apes and Enemy Mine?
Planet of the Apes is probably my favorite franchise. All five of the original films inspire me to be creative every time I watch them. I’m also heavily influenced by the world-building of George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry. Having been a big fan of their franchises helped me understand how to create my own universe in a way that can be told on a shoestring budget.
You also mentioned Enemy Mine. Not only is that one of my favorite movies, but I’ve always been fascinated with stories like that. The concept of two enemies being forced to work together has been told countless times, and it never gets old. Sadly, because humans always have enemies. To name a few: Enemy Mine, Hell in the Pacific, Alien Nation, Bright, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (“The Ascent”), Planet of the Apes (TV series episode “The Trap”), and even more recently, Star Wars: Rebels (“The Honorable Ones”). Now I hope audiences will happily add Alien Planet to this list when movies like these are talked about.
What were the challenges of doing this all practical? And who created the makeups?
The biggest challenge of shooting a movie with this many practical effects is time. We had 10-hour shoot days, and it took three hours to get into makeup and one hour to remove at the end of the day. So, that is almost half our day gone, before we can even roll a take. This doesn’t even include touchups before takes or resetting after cleaning up blood or guts. Time is always against you on every production, but it was amplified on Alien Planet. Luckily, I planned for this. I consulted our makeup department head multiple times in preproduction on how long she might need each day.
Creating the prosthetics for the characters had multiple steps involved before the final look.
The first step was getting on paper what I wanted the aliens, puppets, and monsters to look like. I drew every character by hand to the best of my ability. Because I’m not very good at drawing, I also created a character breakdown sheet with reference pictures from other movies showing the color, texture, or style I wanted for each feature of the characters’ faces.
Next, I gave all of that to an artist named Aidan Casserly, who drew my characters in a much more realistic and professional-looking way. Once I had that, I added it to my concept references and gave them to three different artists. The plants were sculpted by Scotty Fields. The Dweller and Giree were built by Tom Devlin and Walid Atshe at 1313fx. And the main alien characters were sculpted by Todd Tucker and Martin Astles over at Illusion Industries Inc. Once those were sculpted, multiple prosthetics had to be made from the mold, so Tim Phoenix and his team at Sands of Phoenix Productions made about 55 pieces for me.
Just when you think it’s done, all of those prosthetics needed to be painted before the shoot day. We had a new prosthetic for each actor, every day, and we needed them to look identical. So, our lead painter and makeup department head, Alexys Paonessa, spent about four months pre-painting all of them before we could shoot. Then on set, I had a special effects makeup artist per actor to help things move along quickly: Paonessa, Oliver Poser, Shaina Paulson, and Ashley Aldridge.
The whole process was awesome, and by the end, we sculpted and painted the best versions of these characters. I’m very happy with everyone involved in bringing these characters to life. They look beautiful!
What was the shoot like? Toughest moments?
The shoot was a lot of fun. Even when we were all in extreme temperatures, covered in fake blood, or physically exhausted, everybody just had a great time. Anytime we launched the blood cannons, every person on set was smiling from ear to ear.
What is the big takeaway you want for fans who watch Alien Planet?
Since the movie was just released, I suppose I’ll find out soon! [Laughs]
Where can people find it?
Alien Planet is currently available on Blu-ray and will be on multiple streaming platforms very soon. We are also submitting to our favorite film festivals for some additional theatrical screenings. So, no matter how you prefer to watch your movies, you can find Alien Planet!
(Follow me on Twitter: @tonytimpone1 and Instagram: timponetony)