“The Last Days on Mars” is a zombie-like horror movie with the red planet as its setting. A group of astronauts at a space station start to be victims of a terrifying alien specimen that was collected. And the survivors must seek out a way off the planet before it’s too late.
The movie stars Live Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai and Olivian Williams.
Latino-Review had an exclusive telephone interview last month with director Ruairi Robinson. We discussed the movie cast, the short story and creating the Mars setting for this complex sci-fi film.
“The Last Days on Mars” is currently in select theaters and available on VOD.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: What attracted you to this script for this movie?
Ruairi Robinson: When I first got it, [there] had not been a good paranoid sci-fi thriller in the vein of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Thing” or even the original “Alien” movie in many years. I mean that “Prometheus” did come out, but at the time there was a hole in those movies. There was an opportunity to do that movie in that space.
Latino-Review: Were you attracted to the original short story or was it the script?
Ruairi Robinson: The short story is that nobody read it. It’s sort of one of those stories that was buried over time. The screenwriter kind of dug it up. He found it and optioned it himself. So I was sent the script and read the short story later.
Latino-Review: Was it really different between the script and the short story?
Ruairi Robinson: It’s essentially the same eerie tone. It’s the same event, but jumbled—I say in a slightly different way.
Latino-Review: So it’s mainly the same setting and the same characters then?
Ruairi Robinson: Some of the characters are the same. Some are [different] like Vincent is not the lead character in the short story.
Latino-Review: While making this movie, did you do any type of research since this is a science-fiction? I know it’s science fiction, but it’s based off Mars. Did you do any special type of research?
Ruairi Robinson: There were a lot of Mars news bulletins. There was a lot of stuff coming out at the time. I’ve read a bunch of books on the missions to Mars. Some of which you were able to do on a movie on a limited budget. It’s a sacrifice of movie physics in order to tell a story.
I know there are a lot of conditions on Mars that we couldn’t use like the low gravity stuff. We don’t have an “Inception” style budget. So we were shooting fast and dirty. There was a compromise.
And the idea of bacterial life form on Mars has become the most likely candidate to talk about. We came up with this virus or a zombie [disease]. I don’t know if you heard of it. It’s like a fungus that affects ants that takes over their central nervous system.
Latino-Review: That’s the problem with certain science fiction films is that you don’t have enough time to explain the backstory. If you had a bigger budget, then you probably would. Are there any deleted scenes that you wished that was part of the movie?
Ruairi Robinson: There were no deleted scenes whatsoever. It was a dash to get enough to tell the story.
The stuff that I wished we could’ve done came from the script in [showing] things in a bigger scale. We had to show the practical realities of independent movie making, which didn’t have the infinite amount of money to do this kind of stuff.
Latino-Review: Well, if you did have the money—what would’ve you done different?
Ruairi Robinson: It’s a longer conversation off the record. [Laughter] No, the whole end sequence of the film was relentlessly much bigger in scale in the script. In the script, it would be in the orbiter with the one guy alone against all his friends. And he was desperately panicked trying to survive against everyone in zero gravity. It was kind of the “Inception” scale.
Latino-Review: One of the things of space movies is that people like the accuracies and research for the film such as “Gravity” or “Europa Report.” How is your film compared to real science?
Ruairi Robinson: We did a lot of research on space zombies. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: That’s a good one.
Ruairi Robinson: In a way, the aesthetics are supposed to look realistic. We’re telling a story, not making a documentary.
Although “Gravity” was fucking amazing.
Latino-Review: Yeah. I love that movie too. It was great.
Ruairi Robinson: It was amazing.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about the setting of the film. How did you get the background of Mars? I believe you filmed the movie in Jordan?
Ruairi Robinson: Jordan is the Middle-Eastern country to be least likely to get blown up in. It’s on the border with Iraq. The desert was on the border with Iraq, which I can’t remember if it’s 60 or 80 miles into Iraq. It’s the place that most resembles Mars.
Latino-Review: How did you get the realistic feel to it? Did you just use the special effects?
Ruairi Robinson: The desert was as is. We didn’t use any fancy sky replacements on most of it. We felt that it’s going to look real if we just find places, as much as possible, that resemble the conditions on Mars.
It’s a lot of canvass stuff. The one thing we had to do is relentlessly is to take out that shrubbery. There weren’t any on Mars. So basically, it’s a big desert but there’s shrubbery everywhere.
Latino-Review: What was the most difficult thing on this production for you?
Ruairi Robinson: Well, we didn’t quite have the money to finish the film. So I had to do about 60 VFX shots. It filled in the budget deficits. That was pretty tough.
The shoot was kind of relentless as well. I didn’t have it the worst though. I didn’t have to wear those fucking suits in the desert.
Latino-Review: It was just the costume, right? Was it really hot for them?
Ruairi Robinson: It was cool. But like in any film, the first thing you use in a film was the prototype and you don’t have time to redo it. You have to get it right. The fans will break down. One of the actors at one point decided to do a take without the fans. Within 60 seconds, his nose started bleeding.
Ruairi Robinson: [Laughter] Yeah. So it was tough times.
Latino-Review: Could you tell me about the casting? A lot of folks there are relatively unknown except for Liev Schreiber.
Ruairi Robinson: Yeah, Olivia Williams is kind of known as well. She did a lot of movies like “The Six Sense,” “The Ghost Writer” and “Rushmore” especially. Elias Koteas is one of my favorite performers in any movie like “The Thin Red Line.” It’s kind of awesome to see Casey Jones up close.
Latino-Review: Um, okay.
Ruairi Robinson: Casey Jones either gets high fives or awkward silence.
Latino-Review: Not quite. I [don’t] know anything about that.
Ruairi Robinson: His character was in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Latino-Review: Oh, yeah? Oh, now I completely understand where you are coming from now.
Ruairi Robinson: [Laughter] It’s either that you get—Casey Jones! Or you would get, “Huh?” [Laughter]
Latino-Review: Oh, yeah. I think I know what you’re talking about now. You’re talking about the old “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Ruairi Robinson: Yeah, the 1991 or whatever movies with the Vanilla Ice rapping.
Latino-Review: That’s right. Now the memories are coming back to me. [Laughter]
Ruairi Robinson: [Laughter] Haunting you.
Latino-Review: Since this is your feature directorial debut, how was this experience and how was this different from you directing short films?
Ruairi Robinson: Short films are 100 percent mine. I have control on what I’m doing. It’s in a shorter period. There are a lot more voices [on the production for a film]. There’s a lot of financiers and other people. You would just have to go forward effortlessly and not give up.
Latino-Review: Would you want to do another feature film like this one? What will be your next projects?
Ruairi Robinson: There is something in the works. Hopefully, my short film “BlinkyTM” to be doing a feature film with that. And then I’m doing a movie with producer Kris Thykier, who did “Kick-Ass.” It will kind of be a Cold War spy revenge thriller plus an alien monster movie. It’s all meld into one, which is pretty awesome. We’re just working on the script at the moment for that.
Latino-Review: Let me go ahead and wrap this up with one more question. If you were stuck on Mars in that type of situation, what would’ve you done?
Ruairi Robinson: I would sit in the corner and cry like a bitch. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: [Laughter] I guess that’s your greatest fear.
Ruairi Robinson: Let me restate that. I’m going to save the day like a bad ass superhero. I’m not sure which. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: [Laughter] There you go. I appreciate your time.
Ruairi Robinson: Thank you.
“The Last Days on Mars” is currently in limited release in theaters and available on VOD.