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Family Values, Astronaut Style

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer - When filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish set out to make a family-friendly film about a Texan rancher with a desire to visit space, they didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

The main character in The Astronaut Farmer, Charles Farmer, is a father of three who is building a rocket in his barn. He has always dreamed of going to space, but he was forced to drop out of NASA’s space program to save his family’s ranch. Not one to let his dream die, he decides to find a way to launch into space on his own. He enlists the help of his family as he seeks to turn his dream into a reality.

The Polish Brothers, as the identical twin filmmakers are known in the industry, decided to base Farmer’s character on their own father. When the brothers were kids, they said, their father consistently involved them in whatever he was doing.

“He led by example,” Michael said, “which we thought was great for Charles Farmer.”

The boys grew up watching him build anything he wanted, including the houses they lived in. The brothers were at his side participating with him in all of his building projects, which produced a strong work ethic in them, Mark said.

Both brothers agreed that their dad was one of the most influential role models in their lives.

“We didn’t have to go outside the family to seek that kind of guidance. It was at our dinner table every night,” Mark said. “Every morning when we woke up he was there.”

For their film, they wanted to illustrate the important role that parents can play in the lives of children. They credit their own success as filmmakers to their father’s unwavering support.

“He never underestimated what we could do if we set our minds to it,” Mark said. “When I started making movies he never said I couldn’t.”

When they began to look for someone who embodied those qualities, they were immediately drawn to Billy Bob Thornton. The actor, they discovered, had more in common with the fictional Charles Farmer than they had imagined.

“He doesn’t have to stretch very far to be a good family man, because he really is,” Michael said. “When you visit him at his house and see how he still talks to his mother, and the way he raises his children, you really know that he is closer to Charles than we had presumed.”

The filmmakers also brought their own families into the film. Michaels’ 7-year-old daughter, Jasper, and Mark’s 4-year-old daughter, Logan, play the roles of Farmer’s two younger children.

Mark said he greatly enjoyed being able to bring his daughter to work with him, and that both girls had fun making the film. “It was a real family environment off the screen too,” he said.

The dynamics of the fictional family are more true-to-life than most families that we see depicted on the big screen. They are a strong, close-knit family, but they are not without their problems. When Farmer’s wife, Audrey, believes that her husband’s dream could be putting the family at risk, she doesn’t take it lightly. She adamantly stands up for what she believes.

But in the end we watch the family come together and support each other, putting their disagreements aside. Ultimately, as we learn in the film, being a family is about sticking together and encouraging each other, even through the hard times. We don’t always need to agree with each other, but we always need to be there for one another.

It is only with the support of his family, that Farmer will have any hope of accomplishing his dreams.

In fact, this is true for all of us, the brothers said. As independent filmmakers, they know first-hand, the struggles involved in trying to find people to support their vision.

“That’s kind of how this plot was fueled,” Mark said, “through our own experiences with the trials of getting movies made, the difficulties of having people believe in your dream, and getting people to rally behind it.”

“Making movies is like launching a rocket every time you do one,” his brother added.

Having a strong family that will support you goes a long way toward helping you achieve your dreams, the brothers said.

“I think family is the foundation for everything,” Mark said. “We are examples of having really strong parents. We’ve achieved our dreams and had really good lives because it started with them, and we’re trying to show that in the movie, that by having a strong family you can really succeed.”


Read a review of The Astronaut Farmer.

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