While the COVID pandemic shut down productions worldwide, some like filmmaker Rick Dugdale used it as an inspiration behind the cyber-thriller Zero Contact. The film follows a tech visionary Finlay Hart (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who made his fortune off global data mining. Upon his passing, he tasks five remote agents, including his son Sam (Chris Brochu), throughout a mysterious A.I. entity to reactivate the initiative, which may enable time travel. As sinister events occur at each agent's homes, they must decide whether entering their passwords will save the world…or destroy it. I spoke to Brochu about the project's unique nature and having to wear several hats as filming was largely confined while in isolation.
"My good friend, Rick Dugdale, the producer-director, called me at the beginning of the lockdown. My wife and I had been stuck in our house. I had gone out to get groceries and teaching my online course in acting for beginners," Brochu said. "When he called, he asked, 'Hey, man, want to shoot a movie?' I said, 'Absolutely, I do. What's going on? Tell me how this is going to work.' He broke it down for me, his intention, and what the plan was. Thankfully, his plan grew into something I don't think any of us could have possibly fathomed. It started out of this fun experiment to see if we could actually shoot a feature film during COVID, and it turned into this production that I'm extremely proud of and grateful to be a part of."
Brochu said Dugdale planned on Zero Contact becoming a trilogy; the sequels are titled The Reset and Pole to Pole. Taking on a project of this nature took some extra coordination than usual. "The first thing was I went through everything in the script, and then I personally set up a couple of different things. We had a couple of ideas in my mind of how I saw it," he said. "Before we started shooting a couple of days, we did a tech scout and a location scout, meaning we were on a Zoom call very much like this with the director, with our DP, Edd Lukas. We had a meeting and got the technical stuff down, getting our location. So this would have been the setup [location]. I had a set up in the kitchen, and then we had a setup on the outside of the porch as well that I don't think they ended up using. We also had the setups with our phones. There were three different locations in my house at the time. It was an interesting process."
The actor noted he had to shoot 3-4 takes of his scenes before proceeding. "We did a lot of block shooting, which is basically since we'll just pretend that this was my camera setup since the majority of it is all here. What we did was I had the script up on the screen," Brochu explained. "I obviously had my lines all memorized, but we would just scroll. 'Okay, now we're at 119,' 'Okay, now we're at 112, and it was a lot of continuous rolling. I probably shot my scenes anywhere from two to four times, and then we moved on because they had X amount of hours to work with me. Then they had to go to Seattle, Vancouver, and Tokyo; then they had to go to Dubai. They were jumping time zones all the time, probably two to four takes per scene."
Brochu notes the differences between himself and the more affluent Sam. "I think the main thing that I got from myself that I brought to Sam was the hunger for the truth. Sam, in this situation, has to navigate under a time limit. These new faces that he's maybe heard of or maybe met one time in his life based off of the instructions that his father has given him," he said. "He has to basically make the decision: does he trust somebody? Does he believe somebody he cannot trust? Does he believe his father? And does he believe the individuals he's talking with right now? They all have to end up putting in this code to make sure that the machine does not basically end humanity. It's that search for truth that I think I find similarity within Sam."
Filming a film at Brochu's home created its own set of complications domestically. "I think one of the biggest obstacles was wearing all the different hats: Camera lighting, sound, set decoration, wardrobe, and acting. So balancing all of that while shooting? It was interesting, a little stressful, but not too overwhelming, though. Then I think, on the other hand, it was also working in such a small, confined space. I had to ask my wife, 'Okay, please, just can you stay in the room for a couple of hours while we shoot this?' And she said, 'Well, can I be in the living room and be typing?' I'm like, 'No, because the living room is ten feet away, and we're going to be able to hear that.' It's collaborating with my wife with the space, producers, and directors. So it was just an artistic balance that I would do again in a heartbeat." Lionsgate's Zero Contact, which also stars Aleks Paunovic, comes to select theaters, digital and on-demand on May 27th.