The Movie Waffler Interview - ASTRO Director Asif Akbar | The Movie Waffler

Interview - ASTRO Director Asif Akbar

ASTRO Director Asif Akbar
Director Asif Akbar discusses his new sci-fi action movie.

Astro, starring action icon Gary Daniels, is filmmaker Asif Akbar’s first instalment in what he hopes might be the next Terminator. The amiable and talented filmmaker explains all in this exclusive interview. 

astro dvd

With its amazing premise and Hollywood’s penchant for sci-fi right now, was there ever a moment when you considered taking Astro to one of the big studios or did you always intend on doing it independently?

Absolutely, I assume that most filmmakers want their film to be produced by a big studio, but nowadays it's very difficult to sell original screenplays to the major studios unless they are proven to be a potential franchise or an already established brand. This is why we see so many remakes, sequels and productions of branded content from the top studios. I conceived the idea of Astro fully understanding the reality of the current market in Hollywood and had always planned to get it made independently and give it the life it needed so hopefully then it can get a chance to grow into its own brand. A lot of original franchises have been started independently much smaller than what the later films in the franchise have grown to be within the big studios; a good example would be the original Terminator film by James Cameron.

Tell me how much has changed since those early days on Astro? Some casting changes and some story changes?

I would say at least 50% of the script has changed since its original draft and maybe about two or three of the major roles had to be recast or changed. We were very fortunate to be able to cast over 80% of the actors I had originally imagined to play the characters when the screenplay was being written. I can now mention one of the interesting trivial casting changes we had in the film was the character of Viktor Khol, played by the brilliant actor Louis Mandylor, was originally written for Dolph Lundgren, but Dolph had scheduling conflicts with the filming of DC Comics' Aquaman at the time we were scheduled to shoot Astro. There were some other minor casting changes due to some last minute scheduling conflicts.

Did it all work out for the better?

I truly believe it did all work out for the better with the final cast we ended up shooting the film with. Like I mentioned during the last answer, we were very fortunate to be able to cast over 80% of the actors I had originally intended to cast, especially for all the major roles, and that was very important to cast the right people in those roles since I had planned Astro to be a trilogy film series. We all became a good film family at the end.

What are the benefits of doing Astro independently, outside of the studios?

The big benefit of doing Astro independently was having the freedom to cast the roles with the actors I originally wanted for the story and probably had the chance to get the film made faster. It's a process to get a film made with a major studio and you have to be very patient and go through the proper channels, to the point where it could take 15 or 20 years to get the movie made. With Astro it took us about four years since its original conception to bring the finished product to the screen. Now we have a property that has a life and maybe who knows, we could get a bigger remake with this original story by a studio some day. In today's market place, anything is possible in the movie business as long as you as a creator never give up creating content.

Do you find the budget provides hurdles though? Are you constantly having to lose things from the script because you just don’t have the money to do it?

Of course it's a struggle to be working on such an ambitious project with certain limitations, especially when it has to do with a constraint budget. I knew going into making Astro that it would be a very ambitious project and I have a tendency to challenge myself as a filmmaker to not limit my vision thinking about not having enough resources to tell the story I intend to. The best we can do is try and in what we do, we will never know if we do not try. In a lot of cases you can create magic and capture lightning in a bottle just by trying.

How easy was it to convince big stars like Gary Daniels and Michael Pare to come onboard?

It took me taking Gary out to lunch for Thai food to get him to say “yes” haha... In all seriousness, it's been a great honour to work with both of these amazing talents. I had met Gary several years back when he attended the premiere of a documentary film I directed  called Top Priority: The Terror Within, back in 2012. Since then Gary had shown interest to work with me as I have with him, but never had the proper opportunity to collaborate on the right project until I had sent him the first draft of Astro in 2016. We met for lunch days after he had read it to discuss his thoughts and then the rest was history. With Michael, we had many mutual friends so he took my phone call one day during the American Film Market and as soon as I told him the concept of it being a sci-fi Alien movie, he was half sold. We talked about Ancient Aliens and our common interest in the subject matter for almost an hour; then he read the script and called me and some of the other producers back with the “Yes, I'm in!”

And you even play a role in the film, too!

I do pop in there for a small cameo appearance in one scene past the half way point in the movie. I am introduced in there as a character named Ray. In the book series based on the film we have releasing this July, Ray plays a much bigger character through the story line as it develops to be a bigger ensemble and universal story. These were also some results from the original screenplay changes we ended up with; a lot of it is covered more in depth in the book series and hopefully we will have the chance to continue the live action film series if this does well enough.

And what was it shot on?

It's been shot on the latest Black magic Ursa and the Red Dragon. I enjoyed working with the Ursa very much and was impressed by its latest functions, look and workflow on a production like this. We had two and in some cases three cameras at once shooting.

Where did you find the great locations?

About 90% of the film was shot on location in the infamous city of Roswell, New Mexico. Most of the locations were on historical grounds and the city of Roswell was very accomodating to the great locations they helped us secure for the film. It took many location scouts for a full month to find the right settings for each of the major scenes and some sets were also built from scratch by our amazing construction team that worked on them for almost a full month before the start of principal photography.

Tell us about your producing partners on the film - were they encouraging of your unique vision?

We have about 13 different producers on the film on different levels from financial investing partners to hands on producing partners and this film would not be possible without each and every single one of their individual dedications, contributions and trust in me and the film. Everyone came on board fully understanding and knowing that this film will be very ambitious and challenging to complete with limited resources for what it has potential to be. But the strong encouragement and trust in my vision from my producing partners is what made us cross the finish line, and for that I am forever grateful to all my producing partners on the film.

Are you happy with how it’s gone so far for the film?

I don't really like to dwell on anything negative, so under the circumstances of what we had to work with and looking back through the entire journey it took to make Astro come to life now, I can say that I am happy with where we are today with the film, because I know it could be much worse and I've seen the worst it could be, so I can accept to be happy with where it is today and the potential it has to grow more in the near future.  

Will you work with the same cast and crew on the next movie?

A lot of us have been already working together for years and I would most certainly wish to continue that. We all have a good understanding and got through it like a family with ups and downs of course just like any production. I'm very positive that most of us will continue to work together again in the future.

Astro is on DVD June 5th.