By Sheryl Aronson
Marina Del Rey, USC Institute for Creative Technology.
Last year I had the experience of being on the set while the virtual reality movie, Defrost was being filmed. I was not only there as a journalist, but I was also asked to play the role of a reporter sitting in the audience of a scene where the evil Dr. Tremaine (played by television/film star Harry Hamlin) was holding a press conference. The back of my head is now on film.
Filming in VR is a new technology that gives the director and actors new and exciting ways to tell a story. Defrost was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival this year. Tanna Frederick/producer and Randal Kleiser/director took Defrost to the Virtual Reality World Conference at Crans-Montana (Switzerland) and spoke on a panel.
Here’s my article from last year from my first- hand experience.
“Technically, the camera sees everything. It’s a 360- degree view of the world; therefore there is no place to hide because the camera is always on you,” said Harry Hamlin as he talked about his experience playing the role of Dr. Tremaine in the virtual reality movie, Defrost.
On Wednesday, November 4th, at USC’s Institute for Creative Technology, the latest technological invention for filming a movie graced the auditorium, the Nokia Ozo Camera. One camera with eight separate lenses comprised the head of a mannequin, (who’s supposed to be the mother character, Joan Garrison), to record the entire scene of this episode. The result is as if one actually sat in the audience as a participant. Two-dimensional viewing… out… and 3-D, 360- degree immersive experience…in.
Literally, there’s no place to hide. The actors filming need to play their parts perfectly because one long take composes the entire movie and the eight lenses are on the characters every second. The audience member when watching the movie with special 3-D virtual reality goggles can’t hide either. One is plunged into the world of the story, where every movement, sound, twitch on a face, every emotion expressed, lives and breathes on the psyche. Nothing goes unseen… nothing goes unrecorded.
The intensity of the experience is such that the Director/Writer, Randal Kleiser decided to make each episode five to six minutes long. “We found the audience can only watch the virtual reality movie for five or six minutes before getting overwhelmed. So we decided to give them the story in short bursts. There will be 12 episodes, but some people might want to binge on all of them.”
Tanna Frederick, producer of Defrost expressed her passion about the project.
“The plots are amazing. When I opened the scripts Randal sent me, I was on top of every page. I couldn’t put it down. I was blown away. They have been coming to life now as we have been shooting each episode. Each one is a cliff hanger and at the end of every episode, you never know what’s going to happen next.”
Tonight was no exception. I had no idea what was going to happen in this chapter of Defrost. I had been invited to the set not only to write an article, but to also play a role of a journalist. She was reporting on Dr. Tremaine’s announcement to the world about how his cryogenics’ patients were functioning.
Huge glass windows flanked the two futuristic buildings of USC’s Institute for Creative Technology. The location for the shoot screamed high tech and the world of modern science. Tanna Frederick and Harry Hamlin plus the rest of the cast were donned in costumes that portended the year 2045. Ms. Frederick said of the costumes, “Shayna Frederick created a cool futuristic look projecting what it would look like 30 years from now.”
Harry Hamlin actually designed his look of Dr. Tremaine. His hair was silver gray, styled in a spiked fashion. Clear glasses sat on his face giving him the distinguished appearance of a Doctor who fronted the Institute of Cryogenics. A black Nehru looking jacket over sleek black pants finished off the costume. Tanna Frederick was wearing a tight fitted black leather jacket over a space -suit looking gray pants and maroon studded shirt. Randal Kleiser also participated, as he played a hospital orderly, and was dressed in a black, high neck fitted jacket. John Marshall Jones sported a colorful red sport’s coat with a powder blue shirt, perfectly portraying the slick television announcer delivering Dr. Tremaine’s message to the world. Suzanne Wang, the uptight assistant, had a treetop futuristic hairstyle. Coleen Camp, wife of the other cryogenic patient, also had her hair styled with two bubble horns on either side of her face. All the extras wore black.
However, the Nokia Ozo Camera was also in costume. The robot head holding eight tiny camera lenses sat upon the neck and body of a mannequin dressed in a pearl beige turtle neck with a black sheen blouse on top and a blanket covering her legs. This character had the most important role of all – filming the entire short virtual reality movie. Randal Kleiser came up with the brilliant idea that the camera could be the substitute for Joan Garrison’s body as each story is told through her point of view.
The shoot was ready to start. All of the audience members (which I was one) were instructed to go to the auditorium and await the action to start. Joan Garrison’s family, (Beverly, (Joan’s daughter) Joan’s husband, Brian and son, Jimmy) Dr. Tremaine, Worldcast Announcer, Carl (another cryogenics patient) and Sarah, his wife, and a husband of another patient plus three bodyguards and Dr. Tremaine’s assistant, Dane enter the hall. On a big screen in front, the entire audience was seen. The back of my head was up on the screen as I shot my camera, acting the role of a journalist.
Action. The Worldcast Announcer played by John Marshall Jones spreads out his arms being as charming as a snake oil salesman convincing the world that we are experiencing the newest, finest, unsurpassed science. His voice peals, “Welcome to Worldcast Global News, coming to you live from the Los Angeles Cryocenter in Marina Del Rey. Tonight, we are meeting two ghosts fro the past who have been brought back to life through modern science and the work of Dr. Preston Tremaine and his staff…”
Fifteen takes later…the problem being that if one mistake is made, the cast must go back to the very beginning and start over. The movie is just ONE TAKE. The scene builds to a dramatic crescendo where all hell breaks loose. Beverly exposes Dr. Tremaine. The disgruntled husband who has been waiting for his wife to be unfrozen attacks Dr. Tremaine; Tanna Frederick playing Beverly uses her Taekwondo skills fighting one of the bodyguards, Ty James. I am snapping away photographs documenting the unmasked fraud.
The twelve episodes are cliff – hangers according to Randal Kleiser. Kleiser talked about how he wrote the 12 short stories. ” Each one is leaves you in suspense. At the end of every episode, I want the viewer anxious to ask what happens next. I came up with the most bizarre things that could happen. The television show Breaking Bad was my inspiration so people would ask, “ What? What happens next?”
Harry Hamlin took the role of Dr. Tremaine for many reasons. “I took the role because we’re working on the cutting edge of technology here with the Nokia Ozo camera. I’ve always been a futurist and I am fascinated with the acceleration of technology.”
Tanna Frederick mentioned to me how excited she was that Hamlin talked about technology as if he was a rocket scientist. The actress felt he was perfect for the part.
Hamlin continued talking about playing Dr. Tremaine and the role of cryogenics in society. “I play the guy who is the head of the the operation and have a lot at stake to keep the funding growing, plus get more bodies for the cryogenic clinic. I am a businessman at the bottom of it all. You hear about Ted Williams and others freezing their bodies in the cryogenic tanks and someday someone will wake them up. If they did come back everyone will have aged and the patients will have to be reintegrated into a new world.”
The evil, egotistical but brilliant Dr. Tremaine…
“My job is to bring Joan Garrison back to all her faculties. Tissue doesn’t respond well to water freezing. The trick is how do you reanimate someone with all their cells without them exploding? How do we mitigate the damage of the tissues organs, which are easier to deal with than the brain.. It’s more complicated to reanimate a brain that has been frozen.”
The character Joan Garrison has been awakened from a thirty-year sleep after she has been defrosted with cryogenics medicine. She had suffered a stroke and her family wanted to keep her alive until a cure was found. The movie POV unfolds through Joan’s perspective. The actress playing this role never speaks throughout the entire movie. All the acting is done in her facial expressions and intense looks in the eyes. Kelly DeSarla talked about playing Joan Garrison, “The acting work is totally internal …the viewer is watching everything through her eyes. You’re experiencing life as she is experiencing it, and she has so much to process coming back to life, nothing makes sense. She is starting to have more awareness in this scene.”
The entire operation is cutting edge in movie making. Producer, Tanna Frederick talked about how she sees the future of this technology in creating films. “ I have gone to virtual reality conferences and learned about this technology. First let me say that if a project doesn’t feed my soul, I won’t produce it. When I was first introduced to the virtual reality experience I felt a memory was being injected into my brain. The immersive experience made me believe that this could be a great way to tell an actual story. Now the challenge was to get effective content, good actors, and a dynamite story. I am proud to be story telling with this medium and be at the starting level with virtual reality movie making.”
The 360-degree immersive 3-D experience is usually used for gamers, but telling a dramatic story through the technology breaks open a cutting edge vision. Steven Schklair, CEO of 3ality Techinca, the company who supplied the Nokia Ozo camera. elucidated his ideas about this technology. “My company was responsible for the first 3-D digital live action filming of movies. We did Martian, X-Man, The Hobbit, to name a few. Now the newest technology is virtual reality and because we have had luck and are skilled in multiple cameras, jumping from two to four or two to eight cameras is not a problem.” Schklair loves the fact that the language for this technology hasn’t been developed yet and his company gets to experiment with creating a new medium.
“ The language doesn’t exist. It’s a new medium to tell stories and actually make them interesting. The script has to justify making the movie in 3-D or there’s no point. A lot of experimentation will be done before it’s mastered. Using 3-D has to make the movie better rather than just deeper.”
Back to Action… the audience screams and points…the journalist has her scoop and snaps the camera while writing notes madly, Beverly (Tanna Frederick) kicks her legs, throws karate chops at the bodyguard, a disgruntled husband, Robert Standley flings himself over the railing attempting to attack Dr. Tremaine, the two other body guards throw him to the ground, the Worldcast Announcer and the Assistant Dane smoothly make their departure…Dr. Tremaine turns to the Nokia Ozo camera (that has now filmed every ounce of action from the ceiling to the bottom, from the front to the back, and even sideways) and he swipes the screen.
Fade to Light Tunnel…
What happens next?
You’ll have to get the app on your phone, or buy the 3-D 360-degree goggles that will be coming out in 2016 to watch the twelve episodic virtual reality movie, Defrost.
For more information on the virtual reality movie, Defrost
Defrost (2015 Video) Full Cast & Crew
Directed by Randal Kleiser
Writing Credits (in alphabetical order) Randal Kleiser
Tanna Frederick (Beverly Perez)
Ethan Rains (Brian Perez)
Kelly De Sarla (Joan Garrison)
Clinton Valencia (Jimmy Perez)
Kai Oz (Hospital Attendant)
Carl Weathers (Doctor Bedford)
Christopher Atkins (George Garrison)
Bruce Davison (Michael Garrison)
John Marshall Jones,
1st AD Tony Adler
DP Christopher Pearson
Tanna Frederick (producer )
Randal Kleiser (producer )
Myles McGovern (executive producer )
John Pattyson (executive producer)
Manuel Perezcarro (associate producer)
Music by Greg O’Connor
Camera and Electrical Department
Matt LaCorte (behind the scenes videographer )
Jason Peguero (still photographer)
Randal Kleiser Productions and Immersive Media present DEFROST, an intimate and immersive virtual reality experience unlike any other.