You need a lot of nerve to be a superhero, and not just because of the wardrobe. Veteran funnyman David McPhail could have been dressed as Shakespeare's Polonius today; instead he's in green lycra tights with underpants over the top. It's not because of the hero talk, either.
"Right," says a guy in blue tights by the name of Captain X. "Let's get this galactic war started!"
No, the real nerve comes from all that acting. In front of people. Doing things that don't look terribly heroic before they stick all the fancy computer effects in.
We're on the set of The Amazing Extraordinary Friends, a new kidult series created by Stephen Campbell, the man behind Secret Agent Men. At "action!" Captain X and his merry band of superheroes run across a muddy paddock towards an invisible enemy, shooting deadly weapons - which are also invisible.
"It's easy to be self-conscious because it's so extreme and I'm personally not extreme," says Carl Dixon (Captain X). "He's like Adam West in Batman. He's got to deal with being a dork and a badass. But there are moments when I feel so silly because I'm meant to have lasers shooting from my eyes."
Lasers-schmasers. Try being the guy wielding a massive spanner (should your car break down, call 0800 Super-Fix!), or the guy in what looks like a full-body Baywatch leotard. The heroes are based on Campbell's comic-style drawings, and let's just say they must be amazing, extraordinary friends of a certain type of fabric.
"I'd always imagined everyone in lycra," says Campbell. "I thought it would add to the comedy."
McPhail agrees. "It's a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you're playing it dead serious it would be odd."
He turned down a main role in Hamlet to play the Green Termite, Ben's grandfather and a self-proclaimed superhero.
"He doesn't actually have any powers but he can run very quickly which is a challenge because in reality, I can't."
TVNZ asked Campbell to come up with a superhero-themed show for TV2 after his Qantas TV Award-winning work on Secret Agent Men. He knew there was only one other person who loved jumping off roofs as much as he did as a kid, and recruited his former Ice TV compadre, Matt McPhail (David's son) to help write and direct the series. David was cast later.
The show's first incarnation - long before the animated box office hit The Incredibles, and the arrival on screen of comic book superhero odyssey Fantastic Four - was Fantastic Friends.
The show shares the films' cartoonish, larger-than-life quality but the main character isn't a full-time superhero. He's Ben Wilson, an ordinary schoolboy who discovers a strange metal insignia and transforms into Captain X. When he's not dealing with his suffocating home life and an unrequited crush, he's dealing to a villain called Renfield, a crew of thugs and their villainous plots to destroy the world.
AEF has already screened on Australia's ABC network, and TVNZ were so pleased with the first series, they commissioned a second before it had even gone to air here. Today is the penultimate day of shooting for that series. It's also one of the most important, as the action has reached a climax. Captain X has recruited his superhero and alien mates to fight the androids. This farm in the Waitakere Ranges is doubling for "Farmer Grim's" where an intergalactic war between good and evil is playing out.
"I wanted them to be old-school superheroes," says Campbell. "They have to save the world with their friends from the old days. It's about Ben's journey as a hero, and all those themes you find in the comics: belief in oneself, belief in the greater good. There's always a moral. It's also a bit Spiderman. The girl falls for the hero, not the man."
It's not just the themes that are familiar territory. Otis Frizzell and Mark Williams play aliens, Mark Wright plays Ben's estranged dad, Mikey Havoc is an evil jester and Ben's stepdad is ex-Shortland Street star John Leigh. You might also recognise Michael Van Wijk, a muscle-bound actor best known as Wolf in Gladiators.
It's freezing but he stands in front of a green screen in a black singlet and fires a fake machinegun, his torso shaking to emulate the recoil. Without the context of the background, one of several elements to be added in post-production, he just looks like a crazy vibrating man shooting nothing out of a piece of plastic.
Hannah Marshall, who plays Vicki, faces a similar predicament. She bobs up and down behind a haybale, taking imaginary photos as the first assistant director calls "Keep shooting! Duck down! Look over your left shoulder! Shoot!"
Next, the Green Termite plots war tactics with Captain X. It's not McPhail's maddest scene, unlike his unveiling in the first episode, but for son Matt McPhail, that madness wasn't always easy to deal with.
"It was so nerve-racking," he says of directing his dad. "I'd always wanted the opportunity because he's brilliant. On the first day, he was awfully polite. He's very professional with me. He's also capable of some terrible over-acting."
Who can blame him when he's dressed as a Giant Termite? Dad has since got used to his ludicrous outfit, to the point where he barely notices. Even when he had to walk through schoolgrounds in front of 250 kids.
"Two steps out I realised. Some of them laughed. I heard one of the children say, 'That man is stupid'."
Tyler Jane Mitchell, who plays Ice, a fallen superhero with evil eyebrows, also gets an interesting wardrobe: a tight purple catsuit that wouldn't look out of place on K Rd.
"The show is fairly camp," she says. "There's not a lot of naturalism. I'm pretty sure she doesn't touch. Or eat."
Much of the action is filmed in front of a green screen, even on location. The superheroes can also fly, thanks to the magic of wires.
Yet some of Campbell and McPhail's stories were so ambitious they were told by colleagues their early ideas were "unshootable".
Even with the backing of TVNZ and a small development contribution from NZ On Air, the show was made "on the smell of an oily rag", says McPhail. So bring on the tidal wave that threatens to obliterate the central city, and the sexy scientist-turned atomic bombshell, played by Siobhan Marshall - "We knew she had to be 50-foot and hot," says McPhail - and why not throw Terry into space with the aliens or send Captain X to Pakistan?
Creative thinking was necessary to shoot scenes where the stakes were high. To make things look bigger than they appear, they used the old technique of forced perspective. The scene set in Pakistan was created in a big drainpipe.
"We had to come up with ways of doing things cheaply," says McPhail, "and more often than not they turned out better than if we'd had a lot of money. We still managed to shoot some pretty spectacular scenes."
Campbell agrees. "We don't shy away from galactic androids being chased into the sun."
What: The Amazing Extraordinary Friends
When & where: 5pm, Saturday, TV2