Australia’s nationwide lockdown is set to be in place for many more months, but the “Encircled” producers have no intention of breaking the country’s stay-at-home directives. Rather they aim to make use of their team’s visual effects skills, and to reverse part of the film-making process.
The film, about six strangers caught in a protective circle in the aftermath of an occult ritual gone wrong, and an escape through Hell, is scripted by successful Aussie writer duo, Shayne Armstrong and S. P. Krause. It was scheduled to go into pre-production this month. Instead, director Christian Debney will do more pre-visualization than originally intended and start work on the VFX.
“Normally effects are done afterwards, but we can do them first,” producer Ross Howden told Variety. That’s because his team has developed methods to capture action and actors through volumetric video, and because of detailed planning that has already been done.
(Howden also admits to more prosaic methods of overcoming the stay-at-home restrictions. He and Debney are neighbors in Sydney’s Bondi Beach district and have been known to hold production meetings through their shared garden fence.)
The production pulls together Tribal Ape’s Lawrence Lim, Howden of ScreenLaunch, Australian genre film creator Michael Robertson, Josh Pomeranz of Spectrum Films and Los Angeles-based Epic Pictures’ Patrick Ewald. Epic is set as the film’s sales agent.
“We originally intended to make two movies, one a full-length virtual reality film, the other a normal feature movie, but we’ve seen that VR headsets have not been widely adopted,” said Howden. While the producers have shelved the VR movie idea, the preparations will now help them move ahead with the conventionally-presented feature, even at a time when the virus outbreak is halting other endeavors.
“We now have two choices. Either we wait and shoot the actors in studio when the lockdown is lifted, or we can shoot the actors individually and drop them in. That should be possible as the characters certainly interact, but we don’t need them to touch,” said Howden.
Actors had been found for most roles, but the virus hiatus sent performers scuttling home, and some parts may have to be re-cast. “If we do it entirely in Australia, we will have access to a large pool of Australian and Chinese actors. Chinese because Marvel’s sudden production halt (on ‘Shang-Chi’) left many in Australia,” said Howden.
He admits that the producers have had to trim the overall size of the film’s production budget, and that shooting may start before it is fully-funded. “The finance people may not be ready by the time we are. That is something that I think funding agencies will need to look at when it comes to restarting the industry,” said Howden. “We may have to use deferrals for key cast and crew. But we hope to pick up money during the production process.”