For the past four years Auckland's music video maker Shae Sterling has been thinking about aliens, YouTube stars and weed. These seemingly disparate elements come together to drive the action in his first movie Alien Addiction, which begins invading select cinemas around the country from today.
"I'm feeling good," he says a couple of days ahead of the movie's premiere. "I kind of want it to be all over to be honest. I want a break."
A rest will be well earned. Alien Addiction has been a passion project for the award-winning Sterling who has been directing music videos since 2006, making clips for the likes of TLC's T-boz as well as local artists such as Brooke Fraser, Scribe and Stan Walker.
Having been burnt on a collaboration movie project that he spent 2013 on but which didn't come to fruition, he decided to go it alone, choosing to write, direct, produce and finance his "absurd, sci-fi comedy" himself. He wrote the movie in 2014, with shooting beginning the following year. And then continuing right up until its final shot a couple of weeks ago.
"I'd save up a bit of money and shoot it in little blocks," he explains. "One was nearly two weeks, which was the first one we did. And then three or four months later we'd come back and do another week. Eventually after nine blocks of these little shoots I came to the end. There were times when six months went by and I didn't shoot anything."
These breaks were mostly enforced by money. Or lack of it.
"Self financing was hard," he admits. "Because there's not much money in music videos. So I would bust my balls making three or four music videos in five or six weeks or something. Mental stuff. And whatever profits I had I'd put back into the movie. I was still passionate about the music videos I was doing but I really wanted to get the movie finished.
"If I could have anything I wanted it would be to work on the movie full-time. But I chose to self-fund this thing. I'm really happy that I didn't have to rely on other parties. If I'm doing it myself I know it will get done. It might take some time but I always finish the job."
Alien Addiction is set in a small town in the Waikato and follows a young chap named Riko, who stumbles across a crashed UFO. What happens next is not your usual close encounter of the third kind ...
"I wanted to do something that hadn't been done before," he says, before detailing one of his influences. "I like those old Peter Jackson Bad Taste movies. Those absurd ones. That's where I want to start. Do something that's one of a kind. You love it or you hate it. That's the idea."
With the movie Sterling also proved himself something of a talent spotter, snapping up actor Thomas Sainsbury and YouTube star Jimi Jackson at the start of his project, and then adapting the roles to suit their talents.
"I saw some of Jimi's early little posts he did, just doing some pranks and stuff and I thought, 'This guy's cool. He's pretty ruthless and doesn't have any barriers. No filter. This is the right guy." So I actually wrote the movie around what I thought he could do. I didn't have a full script when I was talking to him. I just had the idea and the path of the movie."
That's one positive of the movie's long production, the profile of both his stars has risen dramatically. One of the negatives, however, is time itself.
"Chipping away at it for so long you get actors ageing a couple of years as they walk through doors," he laughs. "And things like if I had to go back six months later to get a wide shot of crops in a field, all the cabbages would be gone. There's a bit of a spot-the-difference game."
With Alien Addiction Sterling has certainly put his money where his mouth is.
"I probably spent somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 of my own money to make the movie," he says. Not a huge amount of money to make a movie with, but an eye-watering amount to see leaving your personal bank account.
"I haven't paid myself though," he adds. "If I was in the film budget you'd have to add more."
Are you saying you couldn't afford your directorial services?
"Pretty much," he laughs. "That's exactly it. But it was an absurd idea for the film and I didn't want to have to present it to anybody; Aliens are gonna come down, they're gonna smoke shit ... people would be like, 'WTF? No'.
"The only way this was gonna happen was I'd just have to go and film it."