Since the peak of the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020, productions across the globe had to shut down, but that doesn't mean artists didn't find innovative ways to work their craft, as in the case of director Rick Dugdale and writer Cam Cannon in the Zoom-inspired film Zero Contact. The film follows five remote agents contacted by a mysterious AI, activated upon a tech mogul's (Anthony Hopkins) death, revealing his work into time travel. As sinister events start unfolding, each must decide to either save the world or destroy it. Aleks Paunovic spoke to Bleeding Cool about how he got involved in the film and his creative input into his character Trevor.
Bleeding Cool: What got you interested in to Zero Contact?
Aleks Paunovic: I have an existing relationship with Rick Dugdale, and we became really good friends. We did a film called 'Blackway' that stars Anthony Hopkins and Alexander Ludwig. When the pandemic happened, I got a call from him saying, 'We're on our way to shoot a movie in Bulgaria. The whole world is shutting down. So we can't do anything, but we still want to stay creative. We came up with an idea. Do you want to be a part of it?' I was just excited that he gave me a call during a time when everything's just shut down, so you're really not doing anything. It allowed me to be a little busy and creative with a good friend of mine who's a talented producer, and this would be his first time directing in what turned into 'Zero Contact.' This is the first movie that there was actually no handshake from anybody in the film [laughs] like it was just all on Zoom. Rick took it from there, and it became this beautiful beast.
BC: What challenges did you encounter, and what creatively did you have control over?
Paunovic: I had to pick my wardrobe. I would have to change how my house looked. It was interesting because we were doing a Zoom meeting to make everything go well. Tink, our production designer, was like, 'Hey, can you move the lamp a little to the left?' that I had and 'Hey, can you wear a different shirt that showed some lines in it?' I had to get everything ready. I remember one time we were shooting, and it was a big scene coming up, and we weren't shooting against the actors that were actually in the film that you see because they were spread all over the world in 17 different countries.
We had the whole production team sitting behind the monitors when you were on set to make sure everything goes well with the producers, the directors, the makeup department; everybody were in on the Zoom. When it was time for me to do my scene, they would all mute, except one person who would read the other person's lines to me. That's how we did the film. We just acted opposite of one person doing the lines. It's a testament to Rick Dugdale being a director and knowing how the story wants to be told on his end.
Rick's like, 'Hey, can we make this more intense? Can this be more relaxed?' He guided us through the movie in that way. It's a testament to the editors, sound design team, and the score doing a phenomenal job. They're the real stars of this film because they put this together on numerous takes and find the best ones for each scene to correlate with the other person's reaction. It was a fun experience, and the team was so kind and generous, knowing how many times I screwed up trying to get these takes stuff. So it was pretty funny.
BC: How much are you like, Trevor?
Pauvonic: That's a great question because mostly, I love playing characters. Most of the stuff you see me in, there's some character that I'm playing. Trevor is pretty close to me. The only difference is that I'm not as bright as him, nor am I as technically advanced. It was just doing that type of research. The persona and the jokey nature of Trevor are more me than anything. The freedom that Rick gave me was really great.
What are the most invaluable lessons you got from doing 'Zero Contact'?
Pauvonic: I don't think I'll ever be doing another project like this. I don't think a lot of people would. So I think the thing that I take away is just how hard it is to make a film in general, not just as a movie like in a Zoom format. Just the sound design and the way we did it and seeing the end quality of what they put together and Anthony Hopkins being a huge part of the success of the film. Chris Brochu, who plays his son in the movie, is just a phenomenal actor. There were things that I did like I personally know Rukiya Bernard, who plays my wife in it, and Adrian Holmes, who plays an investor in it. I personally know them from work that I've done in Vancouver. So I kind of had a good sense of that. With Chris, I had to kind of look him up online and see his mannerisms. He's a very intelligent, subdued actor and has great internal dialogue. He doesn't have to say much, and you get to really read it. Knowing that helped me go forward in researching other actors that I may be going up against in film and television and just absorbing that nature before we even get to the scene. That's just knowing that it's not easy to make a film in general, let alone a Zoom movie.