Mike and Mark Polish Interviewed – ‘The Astronaut Farmer’

     February 23, 2007

Written by Alice Chapman Newgen

There is a new movie out in theaters today called “The Astronaut Farmer.” Mike and Mark Polish were involved in every aspect of the film. They co-wrote, directed and produced it from beginning to end. Mark even got in front of the camera and starred as one of the FBI men in the PG rated movie.

The identical twin brothers have been traveling across the country promoting “The Astronaut Farmer.” I was one of the lucky ones who got a one-on-one interview with these special guys. I sat down with them and chatted about their latest project over a cup of tea during their visit to Atlanta. They really are down to earth, which I thought was a bit ironic since their film is about a man trying to fulfill his dream of going up in outer space. Both of them like science fiction, but the movie is more about a husband and father who is trying to set an example for his family. Charlie Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) believes a dream can come true with a little ambition and a lot of determination. The Polish brothers can relate to that logic because they wanted to be in the film industry from an early age. A dream like that doesn’t just happen overnight. They had to persevere and struggle (and still do) like the character they created in Farmer.

Virginia Madsen plays Audie, Charlie’s very supportive wife. As patient as she is, Audie had to get stern with her husband and lay down the law, so to speak. After all, their kids were pulled out of school, the family was ever so close to losing their farm, the townspeople are talking, and then the FBI shows up at their front doorstep. A person can only take so much! Be assured that Charlie doesn’t want his family destroyed any more than Audie wants to see her husband’s dream sky rocket into the atmosphere without him.

In a relaxed atmosphere, the Polish brothers discussed the film and how an inspiration from their childhood turned their dream into reality.

Have you been to Atlanta before?

Both answered in unison. “No. This is it. We have been here two days. We drove from Knoxville.”

Oh gosh.

Mark: Is that not a good thing?

I just figured you would fly here.

Mike: We flew to Knoxville . We’ve been flying everywhere.

Mark: We wanted to drive actually. There is no opportunity to drive so we wanted to.

Where do you get your ideas from when writing scripts? Do you come up with them together?

Mark: We do it separately. It’s weird. It’s like the process of anybody. You kind of have a good idea about something. Is it going to take you a hundred pages? Is it enough of an idea to get you a script?

Mike: Mark is usually good that if I say something he’ll look through the process. Is there something enough there for us to make a movie out of. I’ll come up with a vision, and he’ll come up with an idea. He’ll say, ‘what do you think about this?’ and I’ll see it. I’ll say that’s cool.

Mark: Then I’ll say something about what I’ve seen.

Mike: Even if it doesn’t compel us into a full-fledged story, we’ll keep the idea and file it. I might compel it into another story element. It might not make a full rounded story, but it could be a good idea for some other part of the movie.

Where did you get the facts and info needed to write the script relating to how to build a rocket and send it into orbit?

Mark: Anything dealing with rocket fuel, explosives or controlled substances we knew there was going to be a red flag. Even if you order a stick of dynamite, there is going to be a red flag. We researched and found that certain propellants are very hard to come by in the United States. There is a certain type of rocket fuel that is something you are not going to get. Then you find out that there is only one place in North America that makes it. It kind of helps your story along. If everybody could get it there would be no conflict in the problem in the story itself.

Mike: The whole homeland security issue that came up helped us look into the situation as this would be a great nemesis that could stop his dream. That’s how that whole thing came about.

How did you come across the design of the rocket?

Mark: We got the blueprints and then a production designer and an aircraft person that makes Boeing 747s to help construct it.

Do you personally do the research to get the necessary material for a film?

Both replies in unison: Yeah, we do.

Mike: It’s quite simple.

Mark: You have to be a librarian.

Mike: You have to believe that it can be done. That’s why even though there are fantastical elements about a fantasy I still believe that you can do it because you can build it. I had to believe that they were actually making these vessels and how was it being done. They were actually making these atlas rockets somewhere. There has to be a scrap yard out there full of these things.

Some might say that Charles farmer is going through a mid-life crisis. Instead of getting a corvette, he gets a rocket and wants to blast off in outer space.

Mark: Next time it’s her. She’s gonna get something.

Why did you go with the specific time period you chose for the movie?

Mike: The availability of parts–there are not a lot of shuttles that have been parked in a garage, but there have been capsules. Some of the information has also been declassified. You can buy it and get the (astronaut) suits. When someone asks where he (Farmer) got the suit, he says, ‘they were throwing it away.’ It’s kind of a statement of what they have done with some of the (space) programs and stuff. They’ve just tossed it away. You can even find that stuff on eBay. You can get actual suits that they wore.

Mark: Those types of details and their availability really helped us. It was great finding a lot of those little details on the internet.

So what is your next project about?

Both replied in unison again, “Science fiction.”

Mike said: Mark and I are into inventing just a whole new world. I think our last fifteen minutes of “Astronaut Farmer” gives you a sense of where we are going to go.

Do you have any particular people in mind?

Mike says: Mark. He’s my first draft pick every time. Other than that it will depend on the budget. We don’t know that yet, or the availability of those actors that are in that stratosphere.

It seems there are times when certain types of movies are more prevalent than others. What kind of films are you interested in doing?

Mark: In our particular career we would enjoy doing a different type of movie, but in every picture we are trying to not be different for difference sake. Each story dictates what we are going to do next, but at this point we probably won’t be repeating ourselves for a while.

It’s been said that family films are so lacking for general audiences today.

Mike: We didn’t approach “The Astronaut Farmer” as a family film to be honest. We approached it as what inspired us when we were kids. It was family films because we were allowed in to see them because of our age. They made movies for younger kids that had more of an edge to them than what they are now.

Mark: Besides L.A. we’ve been to five or six different cities now and we’re going to be doing twenty altogether. You hear the same people saying the same thing, ‘we need this movie out there.’ But nobody is chatting to each other and saying to the next person that this is great. They think that just telling us is really good. The funny thing is we were in Knoxville and a mother of three said thank-you for doing this. Another mother stood up and a dad stood up. You find out that this country needs to be connected. We have all these isolated incidences with people telling us. We’ll keep making these movies, but there has to be a movement.

Mike: It comes from not the West Coast or the East Coast, but in the middle. That’s why we made this movie for Middle America. We’re probably going to get killed on this one (referring to the critics).

Mark and Mark in unison: We are just waiting to get killed.

Mike: I hope not, but we are set up to believe that. We are getting such a great response from the middle of America, besides New York and L.A. We are getting such a good response from the people.

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