×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Randal Kleiser’s Sci-Fi Virtual Reality Drama ‘Defrost’ Debuts at Sundance (EXCLUSIVE)

Years before Randal Kleiser started working on his hit musical “Grease,” he wrote a sci-fi screen play about cryogenic life extension. The idea: A woman gets woken up from decades of sub-zero temperature suspension, to find herself confronted with a much older family, some very advanced technology and a nagging suspicion that some things just don’t feel right. Kleiser wanted the whole film to play out from the protagonist’s point of view, but never really got a chance to do so. The script disappeared in a drawer, and remained forgotten for decades.

Then two years ago, Kleiser got to try the Oculus Rift for the very first time. He marveled at way the virtual reality (VR) headset led him to believe he was really there — and then it clicked. “I thought about that old script that I had written,” Kleiser said in an interview this week. Kleiser realized that VR would make it possible to actually led the viewer experience the woman’s emotional shock and bewilderment first hand.

So he dug up the script, called in a few favors with friends in Hollywood, and produced “Defrost”, a 12-episode serialized VR Sci-Fi drama that is debuting at the Sundance film festival as part of the New Frontier Exhibition Friday. The “Defrost” cast includes Carl Weathers, Bruce Davison and Tanna Frederick, who also co-produced the series with Kleiser, as well as Christopher Atkins, Ethan Rains and Clinton Valencia.

And then there is Joan, the protagonist, who isn’t played by a live actor at all. Sitting in a wheelchair while she is reunited with her family and the world, Joan is really just a dummy with a VR camera instead of a head — which turns out to be a really smart choice for mobile phone-based virtual reality.

The team behind “Defrost,” which also includes IM360, 3ality and Furious M, decided to go for mobile VR to give the show the widest possible distribution at a time when more advanced VR headsets still aren’t available to consumers. “The Samsung Gear VR will be the best way to look at it,” said Kleiser, but the show will also be available for Cardboard-based VR viewers for Android and iOS phones.

Mobile VR lacks positional tracking, which means the headset doesn’t know when you move about in a room — something that’s possible with more advanced VR headsets like the aforementioned Rify and the HTC Vive. The good news is that with a protagonist confined to a wheelchair, it’s only natural not to move around, and let the action play out around oneself on 360 degrees.

Final distribution details for the fist season are still to be determined, but Kleiser is already thinking about taking the show to the next level with more advanced technology in a second season. Eventually, he wants Joan to be able to move around, while still allowing viewers to experience the world through her eyes.

Which brings up an interesting challenge: With viewers being able to look everywhere as part of a 360-degree video experience, how does a director make sure that they’re not getting lost in the moment, unable to follow the story? Kleiser, who is also known for directing “The Blue Lagoon” and “Honey I Blew Up the Kids”, directed his first play last year. This experience told him a lot about capturing the audience’s attention, and making them look where he’d want them to look, he said: “It’s very similar to VR.”

Overall, Kleiser is bullish on VR, which he believes to be “much more personal” than traditional filmmaking. Right now, the focus most VR experiences and shows is on short-form content, he acknowledged, but eventually, viewers may get used to watching longer features. “It’s the beginning of a new type of media,” he said.

More Digital

  • Lauren Dolgen Is Out BuzzFeed Studios

    Lauren Dolgen Is Out as BuzzFeed Studios Boss After a Year

    Veteran TV producer Lauren Dolgen has exited as head of BuzzFeed Studios after one year in the job. BuzzFeed had hired Dolgen, a longtime MTV producer who worked on shows including “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant,” as head of BuzzFeed Studios to oversee the company’s slate of original content. Based in L.A., she had [...]

  • Snap-Derek-Andersen-Lara-Sweet

    Snap Fills Out Senior Ranks With CFO, HR Chief Appointments

    Snap CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel has turned in house to fill the company’s CFO and head of human resources positions, completing an overhaul of the Snapchat parent’s executive ranks after a series of high-level departures. The company announced the appointment of Derek Andersen, currently Snap’s VP of finance, as chief financial officer. Andersen will [...]

  • Oculus Quest Gets Netflix App, But

    Oculus Quest Will Have Netflix, but Not Plex or HBO

    Facebook’s new Oculus Quest headset is launching with a number of high-profile gaming titles this Tuesday. Media apps on the other hand will take a bit of backseat, with some key players sitting this latest headset out for the time being. First, the good news for anyone who has pre-ordered the headset: One of the [...]

  • Lester Holt

    Chris Berend Tapped to Oversee NBC News' Digital Efforts

    Chris Berend, an executive who has been overseeing digital video for CNN and helped launch Great Big Story, a streaming-video site aimed at younger audiences, will jump to NBC News to lead its digital efforts. Berend will replace Nick Ascheim, who will move into a new role that is described as “improving digital and product [...]

  • Vogue, Conde Nast Entertainment Make Robert

    Robert Semmer Joins Condé Nast Entertainment & Vogue as Vice President of Video

    Condé Nast Entertainment and Vogue have named former Vice and Fader video executive Robert Semmer as their new vice president of video. Semmer will be based in New York and report to Croi McNamara, senior vice president of programming for Condé Nast Entertainment. “Anna and I are thrilled to welcome Robert to our award-winning video [...]

  • CEO of T-Mobile John Legere (L)

    FCC Chairman Backs T-Mobile, Sprint Merger With New Conditions

    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave a thumbs-up to T-Mobile and Sprint’s proposed $26 billion merger, after the companies committed to enhanced 5G buildout commitments and agreed to spin off Sprint’s Boost Mobile. T-Mobile and Sprint first announced their plans to merge in April 2018, looking to combine forces to take on industry leaders AT&T and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content