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I want you to imagine eternal blackness, Dear Reader. There is less than nothing, because within this vacuum of matter, you yourself do not exist. It is both suffocating and relaxing at the same time. You contemplate your life so far in this blackness, but you also contemplate its eventual end.
Suddenly, a scene explodes into existence around you. You first see the corrugated walls of a freight container that traps you inside. There isn’t much room for you in this small space, because a car takes up much of the area. The shelving and boxes behind it don’t help either. The container rocks to and fro. Seawater laps at the tires of the vehicle, and at your feet, too. This is disconcerting on its own, but your low level of anxiety threatens to turn into fully fledged panic when you realise the horrible truth – the water is rising and you cannot get out. The eternal blackness you experienced before never truly went away. Not really. Because once that water fills up the freight container you are in and you run out of air, the blackness will take you back into its sweet embrace, forever.
Doesn’t that sound like fun?
I know it doesn’t, Dear Reader, but I cannot adequately explain to you just how giggle-inducing and entertaining it actually is. You see, what I am describing to you is the experience of being on the virtual set of our movie. Andy Marriott, in cooperation with AIE alumni, created a VR set of a sinking freight container, complete with vehicle and props exactly as described in our screenplay. Ryan, DOP Chris Bland and I flew up to Canberra this weekend for a number of reasons, but the big one was to get them on this virtual set to assist in preparation for making the movie. A few weeks ago, we saw some test footage of the VR set environment (which is being developed as a game to accompany the film) and we collectively realised how useful it might be as a tool for the Director and Lenser to see what the set was like for shooting before an actual thing is built.
And saying that it was useful would be a bit of an understatement.
In the image above, you can see Producer Andy Marriott and DOP Chris Bland watching the feeds from a virtual camera and from Ryan’s point of view as he investigates potential frames to shoot inside the virtual set.
In this next image, you can see Chris manipulating the VR set from inside it while Ryan watches a monitor that shows what the virtual camera that Chris has placed is capturing.
They were able to get storyboard frames for gag sequences, and even captured some video that suggests camera moves for pivotal moments within the freight container set. It was amazing to see. When I was in there, Ryan asked me to set up a pivotal scene where one character is losing consciousness and near death. He is lying down across the boot of the car as the other character tries to reassure him. In the story, the water has gotten so high that it’s at the same level as the top of the boot. I set up the virtual mannequins in the necessary positions and the water level was raised to the required level. I again marvelled at the sensation of my brain telling me that I should be soaking wet from the waist down, but then a different sensation entered my mind. I was literally standing in a place that Ryan and I had only imagined and then written months before. And the scene made me sad, just as it was designed to do. There was a dying man lying there. He was facing an untimely end, brought about by the freezing ocean water that even in that moment refused to leave him alone – splashing at his already drenched clothes and over his face. Another man looked down at him and held his shoulders. I could almost hear him saying the words that we wrote. Words that were designed to be reassuring, but belied what he really believed – that he could do nothing to help.
In the last few months, we’ve experienced some frustrating delays. Casting a-listers is complex and hard. There are many moving parts. It can feel and appear as if nothing is happening. Perhaps the lack of tangible progress during those months, contrasting with being suddenly thrust onto the virtual set of our film, added to my emotions. In fact, I’m sure it did. It’s been a long time since we were selected to be the first film to be made in the ScreenACT Accelerator Program. One and a half years! There have been plenty of moments where both Ryan and I have felt like that man in the freight container; using reassuring words to our family and friends about the progress of the film, but ultimately not being able to do all that much to hasten a production start date. Standing on that virtual set meant a lot of different things to me. It was enjoyable to see a glimpse of something that we had written become observable beyond the written word. It’s an experience that is all too rare for feature screenwriters. I also felt kinship for the plight of the characters that the scene represented, for the reasons I mentioned above.
But most of all, standing there and seeing a representation of our film meant something to me that was more important than anything else – it meant progress. Every fibre of my being is silently screaming out, desperate to get this thing done. It feels like we are reaching a turning point. I’m not sure when, exactly, but I can feel it coming. I think it’s close, Dear Reader. And if it is, if I am right, then the start of the shoot is close, too.
Soon, we will be bursting out of our own virtual container and getting on with this thing. I can’t wait.