During harrowing global crises, people around the world come together in ever-evolving ways to stop the unexpected, life-changing threats they’re forced to face. That’s certainly for both the cast and crew of, as well as the characters in, the new thriller, ‘Zero Contact.’
The project was irtually helmed and produced by Enderby Entertainment CEO, Rick Dugdale in his feature film directorial debut, and written by Enderby Vice President of Production and Development, Cam Cannon. ‘Zero Contact’ is an unprecedented movie that was entirely created and shot during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In March 2020, when “Safer at Home” orders stopped Hollywood productions, Dugdale and his team began working on a new method of production. Helmed from a Los Angeles-based virtual command center, the filmmaker leveraged technology platforms like Zoom to entirely produce, scout, cast, rehearse and shoot with remote direction and oversight that spanned 17 countries around the world.
Lionsgate is releasing ‘Zero Contact’ in theaters and On Demand and Digital today, Friday, May 27. The drama is also premiering via the new NFT platform, Vuele, which will be the world’s first feature film NFT event.
‘Zero Contact’ is set after the death of tech titan Finley Hart (Anthony Hopkins), an eccentric genius who founded a global data-mining program. Upon his death, five remote agents, including his son, Sam (Chris Brochu), and employee Trevor (Aleks Paunovic), who are based all over the world, are contacted by a mysterious A.I. entity.
The group is then forced to work together to reactivate Finley’s controversial initiative, which may enable time travel. As sinister events occur at each of the agents’ homes, they must decide whether they should shut down the time travel machine, the tech founder’s most secret invention, which will either be the solution to mankind’s problems or cause the end of life on earth.
Brochu and Paunovic generously took the time recently to participate in individual Zoom interviews to talk about starring in ‘Zero Contact.’ Among other things, the actors discussed that they were both drawn to appear in the thriller because they’ve both worked with Dugdale before on previous projects, and were interested in his approach to making the film virtually. The performers also shared that they enjoyed creating the physicality for their roles, as having several cameras set up around their computers allowed them to be creative in their movements.
The conversation with Brochu began with him explaining why he was interested in playing Sam, and how he became involved, in ‘Zero Contact.’ “Originally, the film came to me from producer-director, Rick Dugdale. I’ve worked with Rick before; this is my third film with him,” he shared.
“He called me at the beginning of the pandemic. We were locked down in Los Angeles. Rick is an individual who does not stop moving, thinking and innovating,” the actor continued.
“So he called me and said, ‘Hey man, how are you doing? How’s the family?’ We touched base for about five minutes, and then he asked me, ‘Want to do a movie?’ I said, ‘Absolutely I do! But how is that going to work? We can’t leave,'” Brochu relayed about his conversation with the director.
“So he told me about the concept, and pitched me the idea and what he intended to do with it. He also sent me the script and I read it. I had some questions, so we worked some stuff out,” the performer also shared. “I also talked to the writer, Cam Cannon, and we just jumped into it,” he added.
Paunovic also began his conversation by explaining why he was interested in playing Trevor, and how he became involved, in the drama. “Rick Dugdale, who’s a producer, produced a film (I was in) called ‘Blackway’ with Ray Liotta (who passed away yesterday, six days after the interview with Paunovic) and Anthony Hopkins, and that’s where I really got to know him. I knew him years before, but I really got to know him on that film, and we became fast friends,” he shared.
“When the pandemic hit, they were ready to go to Europe to do a film, but obviously they couldn’t end up going. But they were ready to be creative. So they said, ‘Maybe we should do something else to stay creative during this time of being locked down during a pandemic,'” the actor continued.
“So Rick called me and asked, ‘Would you be interested in doing a film? We’re thinking of doing something almost like a Zoom movie.’ When Rick asks me to do something, I’m all ears and all for it. When he also said it was going to be his directorial debut, I said, ‘Yes, I would like to be a part of it,'” Paunovic enthusiastically added.
“But they didn’t have a script yet, so I thought, we’ll see how long the script will take. We had no idea how long the pandemic was going to be,” the performer pointed out.
“But in 10 days, Cam Cannon, who’s the writer, came to me with a script, and I thought, they wrote it in 10 days? It’s not going to be good! But it ended up being fantastic!,” Paunovic also enthusiastically added. “With this script, Cam took us on this fantastic journey.
“The movie’s called ‘Zero Contact,’ and we were joking during the production that this is the only movie that during the production, literally no one shook anyone else’s hand. So to be a part of that and that journey, as well as the NFT world, as the film’s the first NFT feature, is something that I had no idea would be where it’s at today,” the actor revealed.
Further speaking of working with Dugdale, Brochu explained how he collaborated with the filmmaker entirely over technology during the movie’s production. “So the filming process was one-of-a-kind, and probably a once-in-a-lifetime situation that I probably won’t do with anyone other than Rick, Cam and the whole ‘Zero Contact’ family,” the performer revealed.
“Essentially, when you see any shot of our characters on the video, that actor had to set up that camera and lighting, and record the video and sound. They also had to set up the space (they’re in), as well as do their own wardrobe, hair and make-up. The actor was in character of every aspect of filming in their location,” Brochu also divulged.
“The reason the film has the title of ‘Zero Contact’ is that we all shot our scenes without anybody else with us at our locations. We didn’t have any (physical) contact with anybody,” the actor disclosed. “So it was challenging, but it was also rewarding, fascinating and invigorating.
“We had maybe two meetings before the actual filming, where I was showing Rick and the crew around my house. I let them know what I thought was a good shot, and they’d say, ‘Okay, change that light, make sure we don’t see that,” Brochu shared.
“We talked all the way through it, so that when filming began, everything was figured out. I had to make sure my camera was rolling, sound was done and everything else was ready. I’d check all of that off the list as Chris, and then I’d drop into Sam, and really focus on the performance aspect of it,” the performer added.
Paunovic also further explained what his experience of working with Dugdale was like during the thriller’s production. “Collaborating with him was great because we were already friends. He also has such a great eye for film, as he’s such a film buff,” the actor shared as he praised the helmer.
“He had a tough job as the director because he couldn’t watch two actors acting together and say, ‘This isn’t working, but this is working.’ As actors, we couldn’t see each other during the shoot, because while we were filming, there was just a voice on the other end, and I was doing my lines on the other end,” Paunovic revealed.
“Rick would then come in and say, ‘Can we ramp it up during this part, and let’s try to make the stakes higher in this part,'” the performer continued. “So his directing, as well as the editor, the VFX team and the sound team, really led to the film succeeding. They’re the real heroes because they put all of these different performances together to make it look like we’re all in the same (virtual) room.
“That, to me, was astounding. The first time that I got to see the film was the first time that a lot of people got to see it. I got to see performances that I should have gotten to see live, but I didn’t. So to see that part of the movie is a testament to Rick and his tenacity, vigor and lightheartedness as he guided us through the shoot and finish the film. So he was wonderful as a first-time director,” Paunovic gushed about Dugdale.
Brochu then delved into how he shot his scenes on the virtual communication system in his home, and how that experience influenced his physicality. “The cool part about it was that we could have a lot of movement because there were were a lot of still shots and a lot of me recording on an iPhone, which was like a FaceTime,” he revealed.
“With the still shots, I could walk all around the room because they would never go in and out of focus. Similarly, with the iPhone, there was also a lot of freedom, because you’re in control of the shot,” the actor pointed out. “That was very intuitive, because we’re with our phones all the time. Shooting the still shots was also very natural. What felt new was all the mechanics behind it, like the camera and sound.”
Paunovic also chimed in on his experience of shooting his scenes on the virtual communication system in his home, and how that experience influenced his physicality. “That was really interesting because I’m a physical actor, and most of my work is character work; I’m used to developing a character and being very physical,” he noted. “So sitting down and sort of acting to the camera, and being more still than I usually am, was new to me.
“The complex part of it was when you’re getting ready for a scene, you’re getting worked up. Then the set designer – his name’s Tink – would say, ‘Can you move the light to the left a little bit?,'” the performer shared.
“Then somebody else would say, ‘Hey, can you change your shirt? There are lines on that shirt that are kind of blurry.’ So I would change my shirt, and then had to be the camera guy and make sure the audio is going. Then I’d do my scene and get into it, and Rick yells ‘Cut!’ Then I’d go to hit stop, and realize I didn’t even hit record!,” Paunovic exclaimed.
“So being part of my own moviemaking while talking to somebody else was all over the place. But the team was so generous and kind when I would screw up like that, and we would reshoot it,” the actor continued. “But the whole experience of the character development and shooting it yourself and setting up the set design was quite an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever have again, and I’m so glad I had it on this film.”
While Brochu worked closely with Dugdale throughout ‘Zero Contact’s production, he and his co-stars had very limited contact with each other.”Interestingly enough, I think I spoke with Aleks Paunovic before and during filming, and we got a bromance going on via Instagram messages,” the performer shared.
“But other than that, no actors worked together, unless they were on screen together. With the (character of) Taylor, for example (who’s played by Rukiya Bernard), she’s being chased, not to give anything away. I think the person chasing (Bernard) was her husband or boyfriend – I forget (what the status of) their relationship (was during the production). But they were already locked down together,” Brochu revealed.
“Other than that, we were all pretending that we were all talking to each other (on screen). But in reality, we were talking to the assistant director (Ardy Brent Carlson), who was reading the opposite lines. Then through the magic of editing, the movie was put together,” the actor also shared.
Despite playing father and son in the film, Hopkins and Brochu were never able to speak to each other throughout the production. “Even after I finished filming, and the film was being edited, I had no idea that Sir Anthony Hopkins was even interested (in playing the role of Finley.) Then one day, Rick called me and told me the news, and I was, and still am, floored,” Brochu shared.
“But at the same time, I feel grateful and that I’m on the right path. The quality of the characters and projects I get to partake in becomes even more rewarding to me,” the performer revealed. “So I never got to meet him, but hope to remedy that in ‘Zero Contact 2’ and ‘3!'”
Paunovic also noted that he had very limited contact with his co-stars during the production. “We really didn’t collaborate because our scenes were all shot separately. There were a few times when the production team worked around the clock because people from 17 different countries worked on the film. They would finish with me at 3 o’clock in the morning, and then they would go to somebody else in Japan at 9 o’clock in the morning.
“I was fortunate enough to know the woman who played my (character’s) wife, Rukiya Bernard. I worked with her on a show called ‘Van Helsing’ for five years, so we already had a relationship of knowing how we both act,” the actor shared.
“Our arc together was so fun. At first, I was making little jokes and singing ‘The Piña Colada Song,’ and having fun with that,” Paunovic revealed. “Then when it gets serious and ramps up to my wife being in danger, the stakes are a lot higher after that.
“That’s a testament to Cam Cannon’s writing. That arc’s so beautiful to me. It’s easy to follow because it’s a ride you’re going on in one night; it’s not like a film that takes you through three or four weeks. This film’s in real time, so it was fun to do that journey,” the performer added.
“Adrian Holmes, who’s on ‘Bel-Air’ on Peacock, plays an investor who I’m dealing with, and I already knew him,” Paunovic also stated while delving into working with the rest of the drama’s cast.
“I didn’t know Chris, but it was great that I got to watch some interviews and YouTube clips of him, so I got a sense of what kind of an actor he is. He’s a very intelligent and grounded actor. So I really played with the fact that he was going to be the straight guy to my quirkiness in the film,” the actor added.
With Lionsgate releasing ‘Zero Contact’ in theaters and On Demand and Digital, as well as on Vuele, today, Brochu likes the distribution model the studio choose for the movie. “The NFT drop is fascinating, as it’s brand new. It’s such a new space that it was foreign to me, so learning about it was interesting,” he revealed.
“But if you go to Vuel.io, you can get your own ‘Zero Contact’ NFT, which includes the film, the poster and electronic trading cards of the different characters,” the performer noted. “I’m also very happy that the rest of the world, who isn’t interested in NFTs, can also see the film in select theaters and On Demand!,” he concluded.
Paunovic also chimed in further on ‘Zero Contact’s release, including its NFT distribution. “The way Rick described it was new to me; I had no idea (about this type of release), and I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. I was just nodding my head, going ‘Okay, okay,” he revealed.
“But now, learning more about NFTs, it seems like such an artist-friendly platform. That’s what I love about it; it gives the artist – and the audience – way more ownership. There’s a community involved in that, and that to me, and that to me makes it really exciting,” the actor continued.
“The idea of an NFT film release going widestream, with Lionsgate picking us up, is fantastic – it’s never been done before. To be a part of a film that’s the first is super exciting,” Paunovic added.