Domain held its World Premiere at Other Worlds Austin over the weekend, and I dug the film almost as much as I dug chatting with writer/director/editor Nathaniel Atcheson and cast members Britt Lower, Ryan Merriman, and Kevin Sizemore.
The movie begins after a deadly virus, where survivors live alone in self-sustaining bunkers and communicate with a small portion of the remaining population through a video interface. Limiting the filming to things occurring within the bunkers came out of budget necessity.
“When I’d limited it to a room, I just started applying the things that interested me and the concept built itself out from that.” Nathaniel explains, “I was really inspired by the movie Buried, which was even more limiting, taking place in just a coffin. On a screenplay level that movie is brilliant, what it achieves with so little.”
Domain utilized multiple GoPro cameras and required the entire cast to be on set far more often than would normally be required. Scenes containing multiple pages were shot in a day, and from the sound of it, things went really quickly.
Nathaniel explains, “We had one set that we built [on a stage]. On the other side of the stage we had a giant green screen and 6 or 7 GoPro cameras set up so that everyone could be on camera at the same time. All the little screens you see in the movie where they are just heads in a box, those were all actually shot with the GoPros.”
One person would be on the stage for the master, and the remaining cast would be seated in a row of chairs in little portals. Because the cast couldn’t really hear each other very well, a speaker was set up so dialogue could be heard by everyone.
Britt and Ryan made me laugh as they explained that while the characters were supposed to be interacting with a video screen in front of them, because they were sitting next to, or three spots down from, each other, they would sometimes lean forward and look to the side to respond.
After doing the scene sixty or seventy times, they may have broken themselves of that habit, but Kevin pointed out, sometimes you could learn the material so well that you just forget it. “After the 68th time, my brain was completely fried,” so he, as well as some other cast members resorted to putting up script pages all around the cameras. While praising Nathaniel for having great nine or ten page scenes, Ryan expressed the challenge this caused. “There’s seven or eight people in it so when it wasn’t your turn, you’d go two or three pages without saying anything, and then you’d be like, “Oh shit, it’s my line!”
You might think being limited to one set might drive everyone a little crazy. They seemed to handle the situation well, and for variety, actors occasionally would throw chips at each other or stick a finger in someone’s ear. Normally, this would be a big no-no, but Kevin justified it. “You’ve taken this shot seventy-two times, I can have this one!”
The vast majority of the budget went into the set, which really paid off. The film needed a visually stimulating look. Nathaniel confirmed, “the set was a huge portion of what we were trying to achieve.”
“It was its own character,” Kevin chimed in.
One issue Nathaniel had to resolve was how to film an entire movie without two people in the same room. “Having two bodies helps you frame every single shot. It’s like that informs all your choices. When it’s one body in a room, and you have to intercut it with a screen that is completely non-dynamic, we were just like, “How are we going to do this without it being the most visually boring film ever?””
Director of Photography Benjamin Kantor offered a solution. He recommended utilizing a Technicrane to film everything. This allowed the camera to move wherever it needed to go to keep the film from feeling flat.
Britt reacted. “Yeah, the things that you were able to do with the camera moves to make it feel so dynamic are, to me, astonishing. It almost feels like the bunker itself has a point of view.”
Shooting next to the Burbank Airport presented some challenges of its own. Britt imagined that Nathaniel had lots of moments in editing where a plane was taking off and the cast was silently looking at the ceiling waiting for it to pass. Ryan interjected, “Or a tear’s about to fall, and you’re like…Noo! Not now…get back in there!!”
Nathaniel recounted, “The worst days were Saturday because that’s when all the Cessnas were flying over. The jets were fast. The Cessnas would take like three minutes. It was awful.”
Kevin added, “Cessnas, that’s a bathroom break.”
It wasn’t all bad though. Nathaniel explained, “When you’re shooting on film, you have to stop the camera, but for us we could just keep rolling. I actually sometimes used some of those shots because they could make really good reaction shots. Any time people are not talking, that stuff came from everywhere.”
I immediately wanted to rewatch Domain to see if I could pick out those moments. If you want to do your own research and get more information on the movie, check out http://domainthemovie.com. It will screen mid-January at the Miami Sci-Fi Film Festival. Also check out my review of the film http://www.nuclearsalad.com/moviestv/domain/