EXCLUSIVE: Enderby Entertainment’s Zero Contact, a novel solution to the conundrum of making films during the pandemic, has been acquired in the U.S. by Lionsgate’s Grindstone Entertainment.
The film, which features Hopkins playing a tech tycoon communicating by Zoom with characters shot in 17 global locations, will be released in May. Meanwhile, two sequels are in the works. Six shooting days in December made history, per the producers, who say theirs is the first scripted feature ever to film in Antarctica. (Check out the behind-the-scenes video above for some pretty amazing visuals.)
Deadline reported last year that the original film pursued an emerging release format: a non-fungible token, or NFT. The May release, which includes a still-to-be-determined number of movie theaters, will follow several “drops” on NFT platform Vuele over the past few months.
Grindstone CEO Barry Brooker calls Zero Contact “a mysterious, twisty thriller that will keep audiences guessing until the very end.” It also features a “powerhouse performance by Anthony Hopkins,” he added. Hopkins is coming off a Best Actor Oscar win last year for The Father.
In an interview, Zero Contact producer and director Rick Dugdale (who co-founded Enderby with Daniel Petrie Jr.) said the unusual release pattern is something film distributors are examining closely in today’s marketplace. “It’s a totally different audience,” between NFT buyers and conventional movie consumers, Dugdale said. “Lionsgate and Grindstone and everyone we’re working with all look at the NFT as a marketing tool.”
Grindstone, a subsidiary of Lionsgate for more than a decade, teams with its parent company on 30-plus releases a year, either acquisitions or productions and sometimes both. Past titles have included Vanquish with Morgan Freeman and Ruby Rose and two Escape Plan installments with Sylvester Stallone.
Along with Hopkins, the cast of Zero Contact includes Aleks Paunovic, Chris Brochu, Rukiya Bernard and Adrian Holmes.
Dugdale said because of the design of the production and story, the 84-year-old Hopkins did not have to trek to the bottom of the world. For the 15 people who did, the director and producer said the experience elicited unexpected emotion, mainly because of how rare the chance is to visit the content. Only about 3 million people in human history have ever set foot on the tundra, Dugdale said. The continent’s mountains and frozen landscape have long been cheated by filmmakers in Manitoba or British Columbia, but this production decided to go for the real thing.
The production relied on two people for local knowledge: author, climate change ambassador and polar expedition expert Sebastian Copeland and author and speaker David Childress, who appeared in History’s documentary series Ancient Aliens.
Antarctica is virtually uninhabited and protected by both environmental and safety restrictions. Actors were warned against leaving their goggles off for too long, for fear of snow blindness. And forget craft services or trailers — everyone carried pee bottles and multiple layers of clothing. Hand-warmers were strapped to cameras to relieve stress from the cold. “I didn’t see my belly button or my feet for six days,” Dugdale joked, given the layers worn day and night.
Summing up the experience, he said, “Everyone had to learn to cook a potato on Mars.”
In addition to Antarctica, the production will continue in 13 other countries, including Bolivia, Peru, Sweden, Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia and France. Dugdale said the globe-spanning approach, with a streamlined crew, is an alternative to conventional soundstage production. He declined to offer a specific budget range for the film or its sequels, but described the cost as “substantial” and “conventional.”
The expense of flying to Chile and then taking a smaller plane to Antarctica, not to mention renting vehicles and shipping equipment, is considerable, Dugdale said it was less than traditional approaches. John Carpenter’s The Thing, maybe the most iconic film this side of March of the Penguins to be set in Antarctica, was actually filmed in Alaska, British Columbia and refrigerated sets in LA.
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