Jonathon Rayner-Burt’s short Stella 459 started life in 2009 as an idea for “a simple project with a quick turnaround time”. Five years on, it’s nearing completion.
In the meantime Rayner-Burt has made a feature, Journey of a Story, based on the World War II diaries of his wife’s grandfather. Made in Auckland, the film shot in Helensville and used Pukekohe market gardens (which also did a turn in Tearapi Kahi’s Mt Zion) to double as an Austrian POW camp. The film had an independent release in 2012, premiering on Anzac Day.
One of the challenges of Journey of a Story – apart from its sheer scale – was finding the locations which could pass for 1940s settings: hence the shoots around Helensville and Pukeko.
Stella 459 is far more contained in scope but offered a different kind of location challenge: being set in space. The sets, props and costumes have all been made from scratch – whether by hand or being added in as CGI. Luckily, Rayner-Burt is a designer by day job.
Conceived as a feature, the short is intended to double as both a standalone film and proof of concept. It’s an approach recently incorporated by the NZFC into its Premiere Shorts scheme, not that Rayner-Burt received $90,000 towards Stella 459.
A “Steampunk-themed action comedy”, Stella 459 is the tale of three crooks who attempt to rob a high speed deep space freight train. Shooting over five weekends in November and December last year, Rayner-Burt “tried to be as practical as possible” on a short film with 70 full VFX shots. Students from the Animation College have taken on some of the VFX work as part of their study, handling everything from the compositing to matte painting set extensions.
Stella 459 trailer
“Half the fun of the low budget space is finding solutions from available resources without compromising the vision,” Rayner-Burt explained. Crowdfunding has become one of those resources in recent years, and the film has a campaign on Boosted to help support the costs of post, particularly studio time and ADR.
Stella 459 is produced by the Rayner-Burts’ Earthwire Productions with Long Bay Screen Productions’ Jacqui Gilbert on board as producer. Rayner-Burt praised Gilbert’s contribution, especially her organisational skills, because they “allowed him to be a director”. Gilbert’s currently also producing another sci-fi film that’s in post, Dimi Nakov’s feature Ara.
Also on the production team for Stella 459 was Rod Johns, who died earlier this year.
“He was a huge part of the production,” said Rayner-Burt.
Johns turned his hand to several aspects of the production – being at various times the stunt co-ordinator/fight director, gaffer, set-builder and AD. He gave the thumbs up to a rough cut shortly before his death.
Rayner-Burt hopes to complete Stella 459 by the end of the year and start submitting it to genre festivals.