Exclusive Interview with Alien Addiction writer/director Shae Sterling

Rob Williams, our “RunPeep” in the United Kingdom, had a chance to do an interview with Alien Addiction writer/director Shae Sterling. Alien Addiction (Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi ) won Best Picture at the Florence Film festival, and Shae won Best First Time Director at the Kosice International Monthly Film Festival.

Rob

Now then about Alien Addiction. I watched that the other day, as I’ve been given the job of going through all the indie films for RunPee. And you know what indie films are like; they’re low budget usually; they’re made by people who want to make the films, rather than studios who want to make the money. Now, some of them are kind of fantasy projects, some of them are pretty rubbish, really. Yours was brilliant.


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And it wasn’t just me saying that, the other people at RunPee watched it, and we were blown away by it. And what struck me, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, probably as an early Peter Jackson. I was thinking Hello! Same background, same sort of thing. Do you think it’ll be going on that far?

I mean, I’ve looked at your music videos as well and those are phenomenal. They are beautiful to look at and then Alien Addiction is, well, grimy. How did you manage to change between one and the other? Do you find it difficult, do you find it easy?

Shae

I didn’t really struggle with jumping from different roles or different kinds of creative avenues. The music videos I’ve been doing for quite a long time now, and I can pretty easily pick up a song and think of an idea and go with that pretty quickly. And the movie is a sort of side project where I’m able to chip away at this big long story with characters, and I’ve had the luxury of doing it in my own time. It took much longer than it probably would to make a normal movie; it took me three years for the actual production.

I didn’t really have too much problem swapping hats for that, but it was a lot of fun to be able to do my first film. I’ve worked on lots of drama pieces and documentaries and things, and so it felt like I should have done this ten years ago. I’d been ready for a long time. And then I finally just sort of put my money where my mouth was and just did it, but, I did go in there with a fair bit of confidence. Even though I look back and I’ve gained a lot of experience.

Rob

So you’ve got the music videos in one hand, you’ve got the feature films in the other; in both of them, you have to set the scene, tell the story, and wrap it all up. One you’ve got five to ten minutes, and the other you’ve got an hour and a half. Which do you prefer having done both?

Shae

I’ve done 130 music videos. So, right now, I’m ready to move on to another film. But there’s something so beautiful about just having a piece of music, and having three minutes, and sometimes, some projects, the kind of sky’s the limit in terms of what you can create. So a music video is always gonna be a beautiful fun thing and they’re very pure. They can be quite a pure, art form, I find but then, so can film as well.

Rob

So you’ve mentioned that you’re looking forward to doing your next film. Any hints as to which direction you’re going in? Is it going to be another comedy sci-fi? Are you going to try something totally different?

Shae

I’ve got three ideas sort of sitting there, and I’m just determining which is where my heart’s going. One is pure science fiction and not so much comedy. And that one I’ve been writing since I was probably fifteen.

Rob

A touch of the Luc Besson’s?

Shae

It’s like the Luc Besson Fifth Element.

Rob

Well, if it’s half as good as that, give me the tickets now!

Shae

I want it to be the best thing ever and I keep sort of rewriting it a bit. But I went deep on it this year, because I knew Alien Addiction was coming to an end. So it will come down to a budget and time thing. It’s a big, big movie, so I’m going to need some big money. So I might have to do one of the other options I was looking at.

I’ve got another kind of a thriller sci fi and I even had a musical. That could be a smart move, since I’ve got a bit of experience with the music industry. That was a sort of local New Zealand musical. So, I mean, there’s nothing stopping me doing this over the next sort of five or ten years — or maybe all of them.

So we’ll see what sort of flares up, but I’ve met a few other people now as producers, and you can just meet one person — and that can set you off on a new path over the next three years making a feature.

Rob

So what films would you say have been most inspiring or influential to you? What have you tried to draw from?

Shae

Shae Sterling

Shae Sterling, writer/director of Alien Addiction

That’s a great question. I’ve been into films my whole life, ever since I was a child. It’s pretty cliched, but I’m a big Star Wars fan. What George Lucas did there was pretty phenomenal and Spielberg as well. I’m kind of into that classic sort of 80s cinema.

But then, thinking about Alien Addiction, there’re actually a few sort of things that popped into my mind that have inspired me — but I wasn’t thinking about them when I was making the movie or designing the plot or concept– and one was The Gods Must Be Crazy. It was an old ‘80s film about a dude flying in a plane in South Africa and he threw a coke bottle out the window. An African tribe finds the coke bottle, and then think it’s something from the gods. And then it causes problems in the village and they have a fight over it. Eventually the tribal leader says, “Yeah, I’m gonna take it to the end of the earth and throw it away.”

And I guess that sort of creativity of a circumstantial thing, spawning off a whole zany adventure, did inspire me in terms of how my creativity could work… and then, twenty or thirty years after watching that, Alien Addiction has its elements that are influential from that movie, so that was called The Gods Must be Crazy. And it was another one called Morons From Outer Space.

Rob

Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones; I remember that.

Shae

I had just seen the trailer and remember just thinking, “What is this nonsense?” but it just kind of looked out there. And then I re-watched, and I did see it when I was young, but I didn’t remember much. But, man, there’s just not many sci-fi comedies. Not many at all…

Rob

Back to Alien Addiction. It’s already started picking up prizes. How long do you think it’ll be before you’re knocking on the Academy’s door?

Shae

Comedy, as you know, is a tough genre and ideas are very subjective. Those awards are awesome but, at the same time, you can’t be emotionally attached to the idea of it. Because it’s an award show in the end, and you submit your thing in, and then you just detach because you get too emotionally involved with like, “Oh, I’m going to get this,” and “yeah, I need this thing,” and then it becomes about that thing.

So, I try not to focus on that too much. But it would be great if some of these films come out and then I do really, really well. It would be amazing.

Rob

So you’re not the first person to make New Zealand part of the cast of your films. I mean, it is an awesome place. When did you realize that you were living somewhere so photogenic and that it could be part of your work? And is there going to be a Down Under Hollywood, Maoriwood?

Shae

I hope so. We’re a small nation, but there’s beauty everywhere in the people and the landscape. I get to get around a lot and I meet a lot of people of all walks of life in New Zealand. The area I filmed Alien Addiction, no one had really filmed much around there before. It was just sort of a dry area you drive through. Yet, if you go into it, there’s a mystery going on there. It’s very inspiring, like the mountains and the forests are kind of endless. It’s all forestry. And my friend took me through there, and when I was driving through I thought this is gonna be the spot for my next film. And I wrote it with that area in mind, and then I cast it so I could see it all in my mind, I went back to all those locations lots, like I know that area really well now.

That’s a big thing for me with making a film — is location — and with music videos as well. Location is so key to me because I can walk in somewhere, and it will just inspire a scene and a mood. So in New Zealand we have so many great spots. We have our own little bit of lingo, and then I noticed that people overseas have taken to using it. We’ve had the likes of Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi films; that kind of comedy is coming through and being understood. There’s no way to really find out until you just do it. And, obviously, some of it is resonating really well, and it’s really cool.

Rob

So you’ve got Peter Jackson, Taika Waititi, yourself. Third one?

Shae

I remember looking at Peter Jackson’s name on the Hollywood Boulevard star, and I took a photo and I just put it up on my Facebook, and then a friend was like, “Shae, that’s gonna be you one day.”

Rob

From your first sketches, ideas and notes, to the finished film. How much did you have to change or could you keep to your original idea?

Shae

It did change a fair bit. And the original idea was a bit more moody and darker. And maybe even a bit more violent, a bit more brutal. But then, as I wrote it, and I cast it, and it turned into a comedy. I like a bit of comedy, but it turned into that genre on top of a sci-fi, and a bit of drama. So that’s basically what naturally came out of me wanting to come out with the scenario.

So I kind of let that happen. I didn’t say, “Oh, this is specifically going to be this film, and I’m gonna market it like this,” and all that I just said — I want to make something that I wanted to make and just let my creativity come out. And I’ll put it out there and if people like it, then that’s cool.

I might make another movie and it’s something that might have worked. I could do three more movies and this could be the most purest one, and people come back and say “I always loved Alien Addiction; it’s your best movie.”

Rob

Talking about the casting of it. I’m too old for things like Facebook and Instagram, so this is the first time I’ve ever come across Jimi Jackson. Was he in your mind when you were casting them or did you audition a lot of people and pick him?

Jimi Jackson as Riko

Jimi Jackson as Riko

Shae

He actually came in quite early in the project. I had the concept, and I wouldn’t really run with it unless I had a lead. I was thinking about making the movie and had the kind of concept. And then Jimi showed up on my timeline on social media doing his skits, and I had watched them a little bit before and I was like, ah, it needs to be this guy. Yeah, this guy’s perfect. And because I could see he was gonna be a natural on camera and people were already taking to him with his little skits.

So I actually got him quite early, and then other people. I cast it over three or four months and that was fun. I didn’t have a bunch of money. I couldn’t offer them much.

We did a Kickstarter project that failed. We set sixty grand and we only came up with forty. And if you don’t hit the sixty, you get zero money and nobody’s credit card gets any money taken out of it. So I was back to square one at that point, actually, it was quite like, “What do I do now?” You know, so I got as much as money I could, and I just shot a little bit of the movie. And then and then waited another six months for some more money, and the actors slowly aged over three years.

Rob

When I saw Jimi for the first time, he reminded me a bit of a cross between Johnny Knoxville and Jim Carrey back when he was doing The Mask. He’s got that kind of cartoonish look about him. Did you manage to get him to stick to a script or did he go his own way a lot?

Shae

We had the script and probably maybe 70% of the film is kind of line for line, and the rest is adaptations of that or some actual improvisation on the spot. So first I’ll do the scene as we wrote it, then I’ll be like, okay, change up a little bit and at the end, if we’ve got time, I’ve just completely erased the script. Now you just need to get to this place by the end of the scene and have fun with it. Let’s try something, and sometimes it will work sometimes it wouldn’t but, no, Jimi was a natural.

There was the thing where they’re teaching the aliens to play rugby. Yeah, that was completely improvised. All one take, actually listening to just one take.

Rob

I’m gonna go back and watch that again!

Shae

Yeah, I think I cut out like one line, but you’re listening to it straight as it is. And this was like his second go at it. So yeah, that’s where Jimi was at, really, really on fire.

Rob

Also Harry Summerfield, Rabbit in the film. It was pointed out to me by Jill, a RunPee colleague, that he’s got a look of Chris Hemsworth about him.

Harry Summerfield

Harry Summerfield as Rabbit

Shae

He does a bit. He’s a good looking chap. Old Harry. He was so good. Like he like he just set a cool mood on the set.

Rob

He got some good lines in that film as well, I think.

Shae

Yeah, if there was a sequel, people do ask me, The relationship between Jimi and Harry, or Riko and Rabbit, is quite strong — and I don’t know if we’re going into spoilers and stuff, but they did take to him quite a lot.

Rob

The second part of that question is, did he survive at the end after being run over by Peter Macintosh?

Thomas Sainsbury as Peter Makintosh

Thomas Sainsbury as Peter Macintosh

Shae

Oh, that’s the question. And if we did do a sequel, my first idea was he wakes up in hospital. Because I don’t know if they’re gonna bring him back. But I don’t know.

Rob

There’s remakes, reboots, re-imaginings all over the place. You’ve got no budget constraints. What movie would you want to redo? You can pick anything.

Shae

Redo? So picking something that maybe needs to be redone?

Rob

I’m not going to pin you down any more than that.

Shae

Because if I really liked the movie, I couldn’t touch it. I watch some movies that have been made and I’m, “I couldn’t do that,” but they might watch something I’ve made and go, “I couldn’t do that.” I think Robocop 3, all those horrible sequels. Yeah, they just didn’t work.

Rob

Yeah. That’s Paul Verhoeven for you though, isn’t it? He makes a brilliant first film, then walks away, and people make the rubbish sequels afterwards to cash in. Like Starship Troopers, Hollow Man, Robocop

Shae

All Paul’s sequels, I’ll be keen for. Because he’s got something unique going on. He catches the brutality of life and drama. And I know his style very well. And that’s the blip on the line that Alien Addiction was going to be to be honest. So Paul’s sequels.

Rob

So ignore all the inspiration and greatness… What are your guilty secrets films? What do you want to just kick back and relax with? I’d say mine is Strictly Ballroom. I love that film. I’ve seen it dozens of times and still that dance at the end makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Shae

It was great. It’s a wonderful film and it’s just nothing to be guilty about. Come to think of it I do have a few odd films. I actually wrote this out the other day, my top films, and I thought someone might ask me like, why is that on there? So let’s see if I can just look because that’ll help me out. My favourite film of all time is, currently, Life Is Beautiful. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Oh, A Few Good Men.

Rob

I love that! It’s got Nicholson and Cruise.

Shae

It’s just it’s as good as that kind of thing gets: thriller, drama, good courtroom scenes. I’ve got all my other obvious big movies, but I’m just trying to find those ones that no one else would have in their top fifty… like Saturday Night Fever, love that.

Rob

Oh, I was going out to discos when Saturday Night Fever came out in the 70s.

Shae

Oh, if I would have loved that era. I used to pretend I was in that era, and dress up with flares and stuff, me and my mates, and I’d watch Saturday Night Fever and learn the dance and go to clubs, and I just lived in that era for a few years. I thought I was there.

Rob

I’ll tell you: if you’re very, very careful, you can get two, possibly three wears out of a white suit.

Shae

Purple Rain is in there as well, something just a bit more out there. Yeah. So I guess there’s music involved with some of these. Oh, Doc Hollywood… people did not like that! I saw it got bad reviews. I used to watch it quite a bit when I was a kid.

Rob

It’s like I like Cats, the live action version. That got panned and I loved it. I went twice to the cinema, and I bought a copy of it now. Dancing cats, nice songs. What’s not to like about it?

Shae

Well, I loved it with my eyes closed. Right? It’s sonically amazing. But the visuals… they were trying to figure out if they were going to put like butts on them.

Rob

So talking of inspiration films… one of the films that was mentioned to me was Paul. That’s got a similar vibe to yours. It’s you know, slackers that meet up with aliens, go out looking for a good time.

Shae

I didn’t really take to that movie and I love those two guys, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Hot Fuzz is a killer film. I love that film. That’s a top fifty. So, I saw Paul and even though it’s so similar, I wasn’t really a big fan of it. So I didn’t get any inspiration from that at all.

Rob

It struck me as being the sort of the difference between a big studio movie where they’re more interested in making the money, and yours being a smaller independent where you do what you want to do, because I don’t think Universal would have let them have the aliens having their particular addiction.

Shae

There’s no way if someone funded this film that I was gonna have that script, and I guess maybe that’s the beauty of it.

Rob

In my day there were only two screens, the big screen and the TV screen. Now you can watch films anywhere, on your iPad, on your phone. Recently Martin Scorsese famously said, “Please don’t watch my films on a phone.” What’s your feeling on that?

Shae

It’s not the ideal format, because when you make it you’re imagining bigger screens, and it does actually play into it. Because if you know someone’s going to watch something on a phone, you’re going to make the heads bigger so you could just see people and have some feeling of interaction.

If someone’s looking at a bigger device or a bigger screen, you know, you can film in a different way. I can’t stop people doing what they want; I’ve watched movies on my phone before. At the end of the day, if the dialogue is good, or the story’s good, or the real key stuff is the most important first and foremost, I’ve seen some pretty amazing looking movies that aren’t very good…

Rob

Going back to Luc Besson, Valerian got clobbered with that. It was beautiful, you could just look at it for hours, but the story was a bit…

Shae

As soon as the first few lines came out of those two actors, I thought this is not gonna work.

Rob

Yes, I thought, is he supposed to be eleven?

Shae

Yeah, it’s just like, oh, this is gonna be THE movie, but they lost us right at the beginning. All right, you know, look, Luc is just a legend. So…

Rob

Nikita is one of my top ten and Leon.

Shae

Yes. Both of those two.

Rob

So what makes a film great for you? What do you look for in a film?

Shae

These days? Something unique and creative. There’s so much content out now that I’m looking for something that’s brand new. And people who aren’t afraid to flip the script a bit. Like I’ve seen a lot and I can see someone’s inspiration pretty quickly. So yeah, I’m looking for something thought-out, and I love great music in a movie as well.

Rob

What do you think is harder… getting started or keeping going? Now that you’ve made a feature length film, do you think the next one is going to be easier?

Shae

I definitely think it’s gonna be a bit easier, just because this first film was so hard. I was just on my own in terms of producing the funding and I had a great team of crew when we were shooting, but I felt pretty alone once we finished filming, editing, and everything. It’s been hard, really hard. But I can’t wait for the next one. That’s going to be easy because I figured a lot out now. But the common saying is the first one is the hardest.

Rob

Well, you made a damn good first of it, I must say.

Shae

Thank you.

Rob

So before I wrap it up. There’s one thing which is more of an observation: JoJo Waaka as Jacinta. Was that part written for her, or did she become it because she was brilliant?

And when I saw the dedication at the end, I thought what? She died way too soon and I was touched more than I should have been, given that I’ve only seen her in this one film, but she came across as amazing.

Jojo Waaka as Jacinta

Jojo Waaka as Jacinta

Shae

Yeah, it was. I mean, it was just a tragedy. I’d met her a few years before the film. She was on stage hosting a fashion show, and she wore this giant tutu and had the audience eating out of her hands. Everyone was just laughing. She was so gracious, very quick witted. And I thought this woman was brilliant.

And so I did write her role for her. She hadn’t done any acting as such, but she was very confident on stage and she got right into it, and it was an awesome, awesome experience working with her — and you know, she’s forever in our hearts.

The film’s pretty out there, so I did play it to the family before we released it, to really get their blessing on the project, even though they would come to the shoots; they knew everything about it. But her mother and her sister both were at the premiere, and they felt the character Robas quite close to her personality as well as, you know, out there. Yeah. At the same time she’s just the most warm loving person, so yeah, it was very sad, and I’m glad I got to work with her.

Rob

Well, in some way she’s immortal now because she’s in your film, which, hopefully, will be doing the rounds for a long time to come and be one of those to settle back with on a Saturday evening. “Oh, what’s on the telly? Let’s have a beer and watch Alien Addiction.”

So, will you be sticking with the music videos or is it feature films all the way now on, or both?

Shae

Well, the music videos kind of be my bread and butter. They pay the bills and it’s a great job. So, until the next project’s gonna support the family, I’ll be happily jumping on that ship for a little bit.

So I’ve got these artists that I’ve worked with for years. Some I’ve done like twelve music videos for and I’m always gonna do my best to be able to do that. But if I’m six months in and deep in a film then…

Rob

Well, people know about schedules. Talking of which, I must be keeping you awake. I mean, it’s nearly one o’clock in the afternoon here. So what is it, midnight with you?

Shae

It’s coming up on midnight but I’ve got a second wind.

Rob

Well, I think I have asked all my questions. Oh, there’s one… which do you prefer, film stock or digital?

Shae

I do watch over here on my projector behind me, and the ones shot on film seem to favour that projector.

Rob

Thank you, Shae Sterling. Everybody at RunPee loves Alien Addiction. We’re pushing it out. There’re reviews on our site. I think we’ve sent links out to everybody. So we’re looking forward to seeing it out and about as a bit more readily available, and also to whatever of those hints that you’ve dropped about your next film is going to be. I can’t wait.

Indie Movie Review – Alien Addiction (2020)

Movie Review – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Director Paul Verhoeven & the Woeful Reboots of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers

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