By Sheryl Aronson
One year ago, I attended a private showing of the Virtual Reality movie, Defrost which was produced by actress Tanna Frederick, and was produced/directed/written by Randal Kleiser. The event was held in Randal Kleiser’s home and was attended by many of the actors in the movie, as well as the composer, Greg O’Connor. Within the last year Tanna Frederick and Randal Kleiser took the virtual reality movie Defrost, to the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. They both were on the panel at the Digital Hollywood Conference this past Spring and spoke at the Virtual Reality World Conference at Crans-Montana (Switzerland).
The Hollywood 360 will keep you updated about this intriguing new way of making movies. Here is my article from last year regarding Defrost’s preview party.
Judd Nelson spun around in a chair like a kid pointing his head upwards to the ceiling wearing the Samsung VR Gear goggles and earphones, then twisting his head backwards and then straight ahead as he watched the six-minute Virtual Reality movie, Defrost. The viewer has a 360-degree perspective of the story and feels completely immersed in the experience. The movie is seen through the virtual reality goggles, which is the newest, advanced technologically for the virtual reality experience. No popcorn needed while the audience member enters into a whole other dimension of existence.
After debriefing from his joy ride of revolving on the chair, the actor told The Hollywood 360, “Its fascinating. Everything is happening at once and you can see 360 degrees around. When someone is walking by in the shot you can follow that person even if they don’t have any lines…it’s sort of nerve wracking too because all of a sudden there’s a character behind you. Someone can creep up on you from behind.”
Randal Kleiser, who has directed numerous feature films such as Grease, The Blue Lagoon, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, produced, wrote and directed Defrost. He has been on the forefront of experimenting with technology since featuring the first use of digital morphing in a film, Big Top Pee-wee (1988), White Fang (1991) and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992); plus Kleiser filmed Red Riding Hood (2004/2006). and broke new ground in digital cinematography through the extensive use of interactive virtual sets. During 2006 in Lisbon, this movie was released for its debut at the 1st International Digital Cinema Festival. Now teaming up with Executive Producer, John Pattyson of Immersive Media, (IM 360), the company that provided the equipment for filming, viewing and listening to Defrost, Kleiser transports himself forward again in film making.
He talked about how this equipment changes the whole directorial skill set, “It took “12 takes of the camera shooting in all directions to get the right one for the story. However, it’s only one take. So if something goes wrong, the take starts all over again. No cuts, no stopping and starting the shot to tell the actors what to do.”
The Director took a creative approach to resolving this challenge. “As a director I couldn’t be in on what’s happening unless I cast myself into the movie. So I decided to be the nurse wheeling the patient in to see her family, that way I could be in on the one take and watch the actors for further feedback. Otherwise, I would be in the other room and I wouldn’t know first hand which take was the right one to display for the movie.”
Defrost is a science fiction story that Randal Kleiser wrote back in the 1960’s while a student at USC film school. Kleiser’s tale was quite revolutionary then and is still a quest for today’s scientists. His visionary story was of a woman being unfrozen in 2045. She had a stroke – her family then made a decision to do the state of the art procedure. The procedure was to preserve her body with liquid nitrogen until the science was invented to bring her back to normal.
She now awakens after 30 years of being in a coma and her whole family has aged except her. The disconcerting and somewhat terrifying emotions churning inside Joan Garrison’s mind flood the viewer’s emotional state of being too, as one is submerged inside the first person’s perspective. This is achieved by watching the movie through the IM 360 goggles and headphones.
Tanna Frederick, producer/actor for Defrost revealed that one of the movie’s goals was to manifest the uncomfortable feelings of the mother’s psyche by using the Oculus Goggle device. “Producing this project by using the new technology was to wrangle in the isolation feeling being brought out by the content of the story. The audience follows the instances where the mother feels trapped, as we go on the journey through her awakening. “
Actors Judd Nelson and Veronica Cartwright talked about the emotions they felt after watching Defrost.
Veronica Cartwright said, “When you are following the doctor into the room the character is in cyber space experiencing defrosting. As she is coming around and is now seeing her grown children and grandchild for the first time, it is very trippy and I got very emotionally involved. Bruce Davison is such a wonderful actor and when he showed how excited he was to see her, I got teary eyed.”
Judd Nelson expressed a fear about this technology, although he thoroughly enjoyed the all-consuming immersion.
“The experience is so involving, people may never leave their house again and that would be scary.” – Judd Nelson
There’s no stopping the future because an app, IM 360 is one where you can download videos and watch the 360-degree experience on your phone. John Pattyson, Executive Producer of Defrost plus he is the Executive Producer of Immersive Media, a world leader in 360-degree film making, tapped the app on his iPhone and Conan O’Brien appeared in a 360- degree form. “People aren’t used to filming in 360 degrees. The technology not only allows you to see 360 degrees, you’re also hearing in 360-degree sound all over your head. The viewer can be surprised and ask, ‘What’s that behind me?’ You’re right in the middle of the experience.”
Defrost is the first attempt to tell a narrative with the 360- degree technology. The cast and crew all believe it’s a provocative medium to tell a story. The actors talk about how filming this way provided certain benefits and challenges.
Bruce Davison, who plays the husband in Defrost said, “Filming one take was intense like a stage play. You get whatever emotion appears in the moment and then you know where you’re going next and instantly you are able to see how you will get to the next moment and the next.”
Tanna Frederick, who plays Joan Garrison’s married daughter and a mother of a young boy said, “I loved watching Bruce act in order to put myself in the right frame of mind. I always looked at him because he was so in the moment. I learned to be so present during the entire shoot. There couldn’t be any false moments. Because there was only one take, those false moments of emotion would show up.”
Chris Atkins, who plays the son of Joan Garrison, loved the organic movement of the actors because there were no cuts or stopping the action. His experience was, “Acting was very different because everybody was on the set all at once. We were never off camera, we weren’t fed lines, and there were no close-ups. Everybody had to do a job and interact at same time.”
Kelly De Sarla, who plays the mother, Joan Garrison, has awakened from a 30-year coma. She has one major shot in the movie where her character sees herself for the first time in the mirror. “I have to express grief and fear and it’s interesting you can’t have a director with a monitor watching your take.”
Ethan Rains, who plays the husband married to Tanna, “I was exerting so much energy because there are 6 different eyes and 6 different directions and I didn’t know where to look, but eventually I did set a point.”
I watched Defrost twice, first for the story, second to hear the musical score. As I sat in my swivel chair, I did feel isolated because my senses were totally concentrated on my immersion into the story. Someone had bumped into me momentarily and that human contact immediately tapped into how vulnerable my body was floating in a space, where I couldn’t protect myself without sight.
The eerie sensation of being rolled through corridors overcame me because I was now in the mindset of Joan Garrison seeing and hearing life again for the first time. I heard the unnerving soft breathing sounds the musical score subtly infused. The three-dimensional set of the hospital seemed barren, devoid of color. Carl Weathers, who played the doctor treating her, did have a calm and soothing voice. I could relax a little. Then the family appears and the viewer has a close encounter with the array of emotions felt but each member…quite overwhelming because each person had their own set of needs and desires caused by the mother’s awakening. When everyone finally leaves after spending a few minutes with Joan, the daughter comes back to remind her she was still her …“Mommy”. Then the suspense is heightened because Joan gets to see what she looks like for the first time, and the music is brilliantly layered by a heartbeat pumping fast then slips beat by beat into a quiet acceptance of her dilemma. The doctor tells Joan to go to sleep and the screen shuts down by being sucked into a void of darkness. Scary!
Greg O’Connor, the composer talked about how he envisioned the score for Defrost. “I was doing an atmospheric music chamber inside her head, fragmented, and also creating music that depicted putting pieces together as she was meeting all her family again. There were vulnerable moments, subtle support moments when her daughter has the connection with her, anxiety and fear moments when her family leaves and she is given back to the doctor.”
One is left wondering what will happen to Joan Garrison and her family as they configure their family again. More episodes have been written, and Randal Kleiser, Tanna Frederick, Jim Pattyson plus cast hope to create a marketplace for an audience to experience “virtual reality through it’s fictional narrative form” which will eventually enter into the homes of the public. Mark Zukerberg of Facebook has paid 2 billion dollars for Oculus Rift, the virtual reality company and that move signaled to the entertainment industry, VR was worth investing in. The Oculus Rift’s headset (selling for $599 at the present time) is now on the market.
“I think virtual reality 360- degree viewing will take off and develop. We’re all going to be watching it isolated in our basements.” – Bruce Davison said jokingly.
John Pattyson looks to the future as well, “It’s the Wild West out there. No limitations to the technology. Everyone can have App IM 360 videos to download and watch the videos on their phone.”
Watching the delight of Judd Nelson as he spun around like a kid in a candy store, I think Defrost will thaw the audience’s point of view 360 degrees.
Defrost was screened at 2015 SIGGRAPH CONFERENCE, August 9th-13th. It will be shown at the VRLA Expo, August 29th, 2015 at the LA Convention Center.
To check out more information on Defrost go to: www.defrostvr.com
To find out more about IM360: www.immersivemedia.com
Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson/The Hollywood360