Zero Contact Dir. Rick Dugdale on Crafting Innovation During Pandemic

Some people have made the best of their situations during the COVID pandemic as productions globally shut down, but Rick Dugdale took it to another level in the film Zero Contact. The first-time director has been pretty versatile in his over 20+ years in Hollywood from behind and in front of the camera and decided to make his first feature into a trilogy building off the idea of an isolated, virtual world.  He spoke to Bleeding Cool about how the project came together while filming remotely and the trust he's placed in his primary stars Chris Brochu, Aleks Paunovic, and Oscar-winner Sir Anthony Hopkins. The story focuses on a mysterious AI that contacts five remote agents upon the death of a mogul (Hopkins) where not everything is as it seems.

Zero Contact Star Chris Brochu Talks Tackling Pandemic-Inspired Film
Aleks Paunovic, Martin Stenmarck, Chris Brochu, Veronica Ferres, and TJ Kayama in Zero Contact (2022). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Bleeding Cool: What is the inspiration behind 'Zero Contact?'
Rick Dugdale: When the pandemic struck, we hosted a think tank with some of our international partners and we said to ourselves, 'How do you make a film if you can't be in the same room together?' From there, we started to ideate around an idea that it has to be something using Zoom to stand on set, but it's not a Zoom movie. It can't be a horror movie, and it can't be about COVID, because we're tired of that. Within ten days, we had a screenplay from Cam Cannon, who's my colleague at Enderby [Entertainment], and this script was really good. We said, 'Hey, wait a second, this could actually be accomplished in this fashion' and that's how I became the director of the film. We put it together and started shooting right away.

Zero Contact Star Chris Brochu Talks Tackling Pandemic-Inspired Film
Chris Brochu and Aleks Paunovic in Zero Contact (2022). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

BC: Was 'Zero Contact' always conceived as a trilogy [with 'Pole to Pole' and 'The Reset'] or did you just have so much content you decided to split it up?
Dugdale: While we were in production, we realized that this was actually working and it starts with a good story. We had a story using time travel, I always think there's endless possibilities of where you can go with it. The team coming together and seeing the performances, and then especially once we got into post, we actually realized we had something here that made sense to have the continuation of innovation and continue the franchise in a conventional way and yet unconventional — kicking it off with Antarctica, which is where we started filming the sequels. From a story perspective, there was a lot to work with and we had decided through post that we would continue this exercise.

Zero Contact Dir. Rick Dugdale on Crafting Innovation During Pandemic
Veronica Ferres and Lilly Krug in Zero Contact (2022). Image courtesy of Lionsgate

BC: What's the status on the sequels?
Dugdale: Part two and three are in production now. We're on a bit of a hiatus and we'll pick it back up soon. They are shooting all around the world. We are block shooting sequences from three and two at the same time. We're shooting in Egypt, Jordan, Bolivia, Peru, Micronesia, Malaysia, Canada, all over the place with those films.

BC: What is the context of how the first 'Zero Contact' falls into place?
Dugdale: I think we'll look back at Zero Contact, part one, as the origin story. The film we made was extremely ambitious with limited resources, with a lot of complications and logistics due to the state of the world. At the end of the day, that story of feeling horror, building a time machine, hard enterprises is something that plays into where do we go with the franchise. It's a little bit ancient astronaut theory, a little bit Indiana Jones, but a little more sophisticated as we move forward and our characters have to go to these places for real to get the clues that they need.

Zero Contact Star Chris Brochu Talks Tackling Pandemic-Driven Film
Lionsgate

BC: Why did Aleks, Chris, and Anthony fit so well into casting?
Dugdale: It started working with people that you have worked with before or communicating with guys like Aleks Paunovic and Chris Brochu. It was going to take a sales pitch to convince them that this wasn't a waste of their time. At the same time, all the filmmakers around the world who we had worked with before, they also weren't filming. The pandemic was global. So there was nothing filming in Japan, nothing in Germany, so that allowed us to get people who were available. From there, it took a lot of faith in us on their part to realize that they could perform over Zoom and still get a good performance on film. With Anthony Hopkins, what was interesting there is that I worked with him in the past as a producer on a film called Blackway (2015) years ago. I know how he worked, but when I asked, he said to us that 'I'm not doing a movie. I'm not getting off my couch until there's a vaccine.' We said, 'Well, maybe you don't have to go too far.' Then from there, we really had to walk him and all the actors through the logistics, how this is achievable, and how the footage that we could capture would really make a good film. So once we convinced them that it was possible and then they could see the outcome, it definitely changed the game.

BC: Coming into your first feature directing given your background, what's the most invaluable lesson you learned that helped you most?
Dugdale: I think the biggest thing that I learned going in and something I was kind of leaning on is that when you cast appropriately, let the actors do their work. These are professionals, so don't over-direct them. Don't come at it from a demanding perspective or let's call it a state of arrogance. These are professionals. They're in the part for reasons, let them do their work. Guys like Chris and Aleks, I've worked with them in the past and I knew their capabilities. I knew that every film I'd done with them, they delivered. You look at Chris's performance, there was a time where he had everybody on Zoom in tears, and it was amazing to see what he was capable of. I think when he saw that, because he could see us as well, it was a turning point for us. I think just casting professionals is the key.

Lionsgate's Zero Contact is in select theaters, digital, and on-demand.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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