Film double for Mars

17:00, Jul 21 2011
Damon Keen
SPACED OUT: Damon Keen has managed to transform an idyllic Kiwi landscape into a treacherous and unforgiving environment, thanks to hours of hard work in an editing suite.

Coastal retreat or galatic getaway?

If Mars was a place on earth, it would be Herne Bay.

Filmmaker Damon Keen has turned the picturesque Sentinel Rd Reserve at Herne Bay into the planet Mars for his sci-fi flick, Last Flight.

Damon Keen
TRANSFORMATION: As well as several city locations, the crew of Last Flight travelled to Tongariro National Park and White Island to shoot scenes for the short film.

The Westmere graphic designer's 15-minute movie makes its debut at the New Zealand International Film Festival this weekend.

The self-confessed techno-geek spent countless hours editing footage to turn sleepy Auckland reserves and North Island countrysides into harsh Martian landscapes.

"The film looked great in concept, but ended up taking three years to make," he says. "I had to spend months in post-production making it look like Mars."


It was produced on a shoestring budget with the crew working unpaid and around day jobs. Shooting took place at several central city locations that were easy for busy production members to get to. Several sandy close-ups were filmed in Herne Bay.

Its one actor plays an astronaut whose base is destroyed as her oxygen supply starts running out.

She faces a perilous trek across the windswept deserts of Mars with only radio transmissions from Earth to keep her sane.

Mr Keen says getting the film to the festival was an epic challenge in itself.

Getting the right lighting was an issue. Auckland's changeable weather made it hard to co-ordinate beach shots when it was fine and the crew was available.

But he says one of the biggest challenges was the heavy and uncomfortable suit actress Kassie Watson had to wear.

The astronaut suit, including a $400 helmet, took Ms Watson at least half an hour to don each day.

"It definitely added to the challenge of the film," she says.

The Western Springs actress thinks the difficulties of the suit helped her get into the role.

"It was a great experience. It helped because the character was facing a very isolated journey.

"You often work with other people, so this film took a lot of imagination – being in my mind and just having the environment to work with."

One of the highlights for the actress was seeing the finished product and how the dedicated film crew managed to create Mars on earth.

"It's just really neat how they used so many locations to tell a story millions of miles away – we recreated Mars with little old New Zealand."

Last Flight screens tomorrow and on July 28 in the Homegrown: Flights of Fantasy short film selection during the NZ International Film Festival.

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