Do you ever get the sensation that our mere existence as a civilization is frail and can crumble at any minute? Is there a true to life Doctor Evil out there somewhere, with enough of a God complex and enough money to one day – decide for all of mankind to turn the switch? Let’s hope not. 20 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined a scenario where an entire civilization could become dependent on the mental health of one individual with enough wealth and power to own the key to 1 possible doomsday switch. What if it wasn’t a doomsday switch but rather, a switch that altered time? Imagine that the switch allowed us to go back and fix our mistakes, make better decisions, avoid all the chaos we didn’t see coming? In life, there are no guarantees, no golden ticket after you shake on it, there’s no reassurances – you sometimes trust your gut and your trained instincts… and you provide the codes to the mastermind with too much power and money – to turn the switch.
The film, Zero Contact faces this dilemma but not before turning filmmaking on its head. There are so many layers to this film, it has earned its own category! Producer Rick Dugdale, better known for Dawn Patrol, An Ordinary Man, and Recon makes his directorial debut. Written by Cam Cannon and co-produced with Peter Toumasis, it stars Academy Award® winner Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) alongside Aleks Paunovic (SnowPiercer, Hawkeye, War for the Planet of the Apes), Veronica Ferres (Every Breath You Take, Intrigo: Death of An Author ), and Chris Brochu (Shameless The Magicians, Recon). The screenplay is written by Cam Cannon. It was produced in 17 different countries during the 2020 global pandemic.
Although the production and idea of making this film would intimidate the most confident of filmmakers, compounded with the fact – this is Dugdale’s directorial debut, he flies out of the gates with more tools, inspiration and ingenuity than a MacGyver after a power nap. Hopkins plays Finley Hart, the eccentric genius behind a global data-mining program. Upon his death, five remote agents — including Finley’s son — are contacted by a mysterious A.I. entity to reactivate the initiative, which may enable time travel. As sinister events occur at each of the agents’ homes, they must decide whether entering their passwords will save the world… or destroy it.
In addition to making a groundbreaking film in the middle of a pandemic Zero Contact is one of the very first NFT movies and is also currently exclusive for purchase on www.vuele.io
Zero Contact is released by Lionsgate Pictures in select theaters + on VOD on May 27th, 2022. I had the huge honour and very unique opportunity to speak with filmmaking extraordinaire Rick Dugdale along with acting anomaly, Aleks Paunovic from the film. Aleks always brings his A-game and the two gentlemen were pure class. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “This film is ground-breaking and very exciting. How did you discover this script, Rick?”
RICK “When the pandemic hit, everything shut down. We work internationally, so we knew it wasn’t just the US and Canada, we knew that every other country around the world was also not working. We put together a think tank to figure out how to make a film – when you can’t be in the same room together. Fortunately, we have great writers on staff and Cam (Cannon) and I came up with this idea. Ten days later, we had a script – we thought this might actually work. I remember calling Aleks (Paunovic), one of the first calls I made to try and convince him how the hell we were going to make this movie remotely. It all came together pretty quickly with the script.”
ALEKS “It was so awesome getting the call. The world had shut down and for actors, not speaking for everyone – there was almost this sigh because you’re always on the hustle. For me, it felt like I could finally relax and stop the hustle/not do anything… then Rick called to ask if I wanted to be in it – there was no hesitation. Even though I had stopped the hustle and was chilling, when Rick calls – you answer. I was so happy I did, after seeing how it turned out. When I heard it was written in 10 days, I found that mind boggling. Cam did such an amazing job, especially carrying the story forward into a second and third film.”
HNMAG “I had done some investigating into Cam Cannon and discovered that there was going to be a second and third film produced that continued the story forward. Will they be in the same format?”
RICK “It won’t be in the same format, which is the unique part. The first film was obviously unconventional in the way that we did it. The second and third are conventional and unconventional. We kick off the second film in Antarctica, which falls into the unconventional side of things. We’re also going into 10 plus countries to shoot these films and taking an audience where they don’t normally get to go unless it’s on a green screen.”
HNMAG “Rick, you make your directorial debut on this film. How did you know this film was the right one to direct?”
RICK “I always knew that one day I would probably do it. When I was younger I was directing student films but I was also acting, which I thought was my strength – clearly it wasn’t. I knew the day would come when I would do this but this definitely wasn’t the plan. We had the script in 10 days, we had known our business colleagues all over the world, enough to ask them if they could shoot some stuff in Tokyo, in Germany for us. From there, we would war-room it. We had monitors all over the room and somebody had to talk to the actors, someone had to command the room. I remember Peter Toumasis asking who would direct – it’s when I had said, I guess I will. It takes a team and it was never my plan but I thought I could take this one.”
ALEKS “What I found most interesting, was how seamless it was. As Rick was directing through the screen, he was fantastic. As an actor, I’m making sure the audio is ok, I’m making sure the video is ok, am I in frame, I need to remember my dialogue – it was a little frustrating to me. A few times, I was ready and I’d hit record, go through my entire scene… then ‘Ughh’ I forgot to hit record, I missed it! (Laughing) You feel like you’re wasting everyone’s time but then they’re all ‘it’s ok, we’ll do it again’, so it was pretty awesome. Rick had given me direction behind the scene – what to capture, what we’re going after character-wise and what our intentions were. The other actors really needed that because we weren’t acting to the other actors. It was through Rick’s guidance that really helped us to move the story along and take it to levels we couldn’t have without him.”
HNMAG “Once all of the cast was chosen and everyone had their scripts, did you have a table read or rehearsal?”
RICK “I think we did do a table read – we did come together on Zoom to answer everyone’s questions including, how the hell does this even make sense? We did read the script but it definitely wasn’t easy with actors in multiple time zones, that was all part of it. We were bringing a company from Japan to Germany to Serbia to the US in one night – it was like a live concert. We couldn’t really bring all the actors together comfortably, but we did the best we could with people in the same time zones.”
ALEKS “Rick and the team had done a 24-hour run once. It’s 1 pm somewhere and 4 am in the US, they just kept it rolling. I thought that was incredible.”
HNMAG “When you make a film like this, where there is no actual set – who provides craft services?”
RICK “Aleks had to do that all on his own this time. His trailer was also the smallest he’s ever had (laughing). Everyone had to do their own thing, that was all part of it, no one could be in the same room. We were there at the beginning of the pandemic and everyone thought it would be over in a couple months, from A to Z and out but the pandemic kept going.”
ALEKS “I had a friend that had a drone, I made a phone call, we couldn’t get a permit because everything was locked down. We ended up shooting it at 3 am. It was all done over the phone – I told him that I would just walk around and for him to tell me when he was done shooting. He pulled up the drone, he did the shot and there was zero contact.”
HNMAG “The film is remarkable. How long would it take to make a film like this?”
RICK “You might think it would be fairly quick but at the end of the day you still require a lot of post production. We had the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra provide some of the music and the majority of the post was done in Sweden, with the rest being done in Kelowna, BC. We shot the film over the course of 6-weeks, with the pickups taking another week. The post team was quite happy with the idea working out and with the pandemic, they wanted to spend more time on it. They did this crazy technical sound – ASMR, then everyone wanted to spend more time on it. The pandemic was still happening, so we might as well take the time we need to finish the film. It was clearly faster than other films – not as many shooting days required.
HNMAG “Aleks, it looked like you really enjoyed playing this character. Have you ever made anything similar to this in the past?”
ALEKS “No, I’ve never made anything similar to this. I love that Rick trusted me with Trevor’s character. I wanted to do something different and it felt like this character was written for me. I loved this character; it was definitely a departure but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to reliving it again.”
HNMAG “Rick, this film is the first to be sold as an NFT. Can you explain what that means?”
RICK “Think of it as a community, a Comicon, a fan engagement on steroids. Vuele is the first NFT distribution company out there. It’s very simple – Vuele releases films as NFT’s and collectables tied to the films being released on Vuele. The key with NFT’s is utility; having access to things you’d never be part of, on a DVD or Blu-ray release. In this case, the first 11 holders of the Blue-ray, get to reshoot themselves into the film. If you had a copy of the film, you could play the part of Omar or Trevor. Your version of the film is you, opposite of Anthony Hopkins. That is one of the key features but you also get access to come to set, you get early access to the sequels. There is a list of inclusions that make you want to be part of this fan community, which is what NFT’s are all about. The social media is there to build your fanbase to ideally watch and follow your career and the films you’re releasing. With this, people are basically paying a price to be part of the fan community because they want to be part of it. It has more positivity to it than the world of social media. That’s what makes me a big believer in the NFT space.”
ALEKS “What I love about it is the really great people involved in this film. With the fans coming together because they like the same show, this really gives that feeling of inclusion and you’re part of a community. With this, you get the experience and have a utility involved that you can sell, buy or trade with – which is very cool.”
HNMAG “This is all about fan inclusion and audience participation?”
RICK “When you watch a Marvel movie in the theatre, once you leave you have a couple of choices; you can wait till it’s out on DVD then buy it and own it. You can also go to Comicon to see some of your favourite Marvel people but that’s going to cost you a ticket and a flight to San Diego or wherever else you need to go for that. You can also wait for the next Marvel movie to come out. You’re pretty isolated, not part of the community and are waiting for them to act. With this, you can immediately be part of a community and immediately talk to people and share your stories. These films are scarce. This film only has 27,000 copies and 2500 are the platinum edition. That’s the difference in leaving the theatre, you can still be part of it. You don’t have to sit back and wait for Marvel to continue the franchise.”
HNMAG “This will be released as a limited edition?”
RICK “As the NFT, there was the 1 of 1, then there’s the 10 different versions. The 1 of 1 has inclusions that you will never see, unless you’ve bought that 1 copy, which somebody bought as a premium. It has inclusions and cuts of the film that nobody else has, which is not common. Then you have 10, much like the 1, where you get to shoot yourself in all these accent points. Then, there was the 2500 that were released on the Vuele platform. The first 11 were on an open seed as the billboard for the platform. You can buy 1 of 2500 through Vuele.io, I believe there’s still some copies available. There’s also the 25,000 copied versions – which is the film with the digitally signed poster. Once you purchase the NFT, you become part of that family, so to speak. It’s being released on May 27 by Lionsgate. It tells Hollywood that there’s a revenue stream that didn’t exist before, so now you can release the film as an NFT and the traditional way. The key thing we need to realize, is when Netflix came out, there was this term called streaming – what does that mean? Ultimately, it led to revenue streaming which didn’t exist but now exists.”
Rick went even further in his explanation. “We’re treating this the same way. It’s released as an NFT, then it comes out by Lionsgate on May 27th. Part II and III may or may not have the same life – they might be NFT’s only, we haven’t figured it out yet as a studio. They’re much bigger films and are much more conventional in the way they’re shot. They’re big in scale and large in scope and they’re international. We’re shooting in the pyramids, we’re shooting in Antarctica, we’re flipping cars in Bolivia… they’re much bigger movies and it’s going to be an adventure. It’s National Treasure meets Indiana Jones meets Inception. We got lucky in finding a great storyline and cast that made the first film become the origin story. I think we’ll look back later to see these 2 big movies that started from this film – the one good thing that came out of the pandemic.”
HNMAG “You must really enjoy travelling Rick.”
RICK “It’s not easy, that’s for sure – especially with 2 little ones at home. I’m really hoping this film will inspire people, filmmakers and kids in other countries like Uruguay or Kazakhstan. The world is getting smaller every day and if you take the time to network and build relations with filmmakers in other countries, such as a filmmaker in Kazakhstan that only wants to be a filmmaker. If I need a scene in the jungles of Peru or in the mountains of Kazakhstan, I’ll find a filmmaker with a camera that knows how to frame it and capture footage. Now I have footage from all these different countries. We’re breaking a trail for international co-productions with young filmmakers trying to break in. It increases the scale and scope of your production. What’s interesting about this film project is being able to take people into these other countries, locations, sets and hopefully create some inspiration for innovation.”
Zero Contact – Pole to Pole is the second film and Zero Contact – Reset is still in production. They started filming in Antarctica in December and they’ll finish in Antarctica in December. They’ve been scouting and just returned from Egypt and Jordan in preparation for shooting. Life is a highway!