Feature: The Polish Brothers and Billy Bob Thornton

Note: This article was originally published in Technician on February 22, 2007.


Actors, Directors factor their kids into filmmaking

Apparently anyone can go into space these days.

Just ask twin filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish. Mark cowrote the new family film The Astronaut Farmer with his brother, who also directed. The movie follows a farmer who builds a rocket in his barn with the intention of going into space, and how this impacts his family and even the entire nation. It's an idea that's been a few years in the making.

"The initial idea came in around 2002. We pulled it out in 2005. The total writing took around 6 months," Mark said. "We did extensive research. It's called Google."

Famed actor and director Billy Bob Thornton stars as the protagonist.

"I loved the script. After doing a few comedies in a row I really wanted to do this. It was a great experience," Thornton said.

Bruce Willis and Bruce Dern also appear in the film, both of whom are friends of Thornton. It's a detail, according to the actor, that made the acting process much more enjoyable.

"When you're working with friends, it's like a vacation together because we don't get to see each other a lot. The whole cast was terrific to work with," Thornton said.

The actor said he was heavily influenced by his two teenage sons and young daughter when he was considering making this movie.

"I want my kids to be able to see at least some of the movies I make. I thought it'd be great for my two boys to see their dad as an astronaut," Thornton said. "They're too little to be seeing some of my films. They can see the lighter ones like Monster's Ball, you know."

Children were also an important factor for the Polish Brothers, as they cast their own kids in principle roles.

"It was originally meant to be a low-budget independent film, maybe $2 million to $5 million at the most. And with the constraints on child actors these days, we just thought it'd be easier," Michael said.

The filmmaking duo are mainly known for producing films with tremendously low budgets. Their most expensive film, Northfork, cost a mere $2 million. However, they were given around $12 million to make The Astronaut Farmer, but it's a change that didn't seem to affect the directing experience.

"It wasn't that different from directing my other films. The same problems still came up. The main difference was having a strong leading actor who could get the job done in relatively few takes," Michael said. "We hand-selected Billy Bob. We picked him off a tree."

Though the film is kid-friendly, the director felt like it was important for adults to be able to enjoy it as well, which is why the film contains a lot of comedy.

"It's really just about pursuing your dreams," Michael said. "It's not just for children, though, it has something for everyone. We felt that you've got to laugh a bit when you build a rocket."

What's next for Mark and Michael? The two have already started thinking about their next project, and Thornton is eager to work with them again.

"They actually approached me about a film called The Astronaut Dentist," Thornton said.