Beautiful Kate is both a visually stunning and emotionally confronting movie that builds a warmth that belies its subject matter. Based on Newton Thornburg’s 1982 novel of the same name, Director Rachel Ward has transplanted the bleakness of Idaho USA to outback Australia (the film was shot primarily at Wilpena Pound in South Australia). It made its debut at the Sydney Film Festival last night, with a wider Australian and international release on the 6th August. It’s likely to draw some serious attention for a range of reasons, not least of which are its subject content (unresolved family conflict, frustrated ambitions and incest to name three) and its actors – Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Griffiths and Bryan Brown are three of the most well-known. Its location and intense examination of some deep emotional issues should also make it stand out.
The reason for this being discussed on The Metaverse Journal is the involvement of Second Life and some Australian (and American) Second Life residents in the movie. That involvement is extremely modest and in no way pivotal to the progression of the film’s plot, and that is exactly why I believe it’s noteworthy. Second Life is shown in a remote but otherwise remarkably everyday setting, being used for what it does best: connecting people in a more immersive way. Even better, it shows how virtual worlds are accessible in remote areas: I can vouch for the fact that frame rate times and latency issues were calculated to get as close an estimate to what an actual Second life session would look like from a remote location.
I won’t give away any more than that in regards to plot, but for the more dedicated virtual worlds follower, Beautiful Kate is one of the first (possibly the very first?) international release movie featuring a 3D non-gaming world in a context where that world isn’t the focus. There’s some analogies that can be drawn with TV: the first time one appeared in a movie would have been an eye-opener for some, but now there’s more likely to be comment about a movie scene featuring a home living area without a TV.
This is the future lot of virtual worlds in regards popular culture, and it will be a welcome evolution. Once virtual worlds’ place is cemented in everyday life, then perhaps there can be sensible discussions around their opportunities and challenges without the white noise of sensationalism or unfamiliarity.
Some significant kudos need to be given to Beautiful Kate’s production team. Director Rachel Ward is the first to admit she’s no Second Life user. That said, when writing the screenplay Rachel had an intrinsic understanding that Second Life was increasingly a normal way for people to interact remotely in a more immersive way. She also understood that most people use Second Life for one thing: to have fun. It was 100% Rachel’s vision on what the ‘Jungle Bar’ and the lead avatars should look like that were featured. Producers Leah Churchill-Brown, Bryan Brown and their team were very patient and supportive throughout the whole process of clearing intellectual property rights with Linden Lab. As I’ve said already – the Second Life footage is a tiny component of a movie with much broader themes, but it remains demonstrative of the growing power of virtual worlds in popular culture, and not just driven by the ‘digital natives‘.
Should you go and see Beautiful Kate? My obvious and biased answer is yes. Be prepared to be confronted and don’t expect to come out laughing (although there are some very humourous sections), but this is a more than worthy film, with or without the couple of minutes Second Life 😉 You can view the trailer for the movie right here:
The Second Life footage was shot in June 2008 on a set specifically designed to the Director’s requirements. Encore Design Group (EDG) created the ‘Jungle Bar’ in Second Life and did a stupendous job if it . They had created a Second Life presence featured in the US version of The Office and they delivered in spades for this project too. The scene itself was shot over three weekends and involved the following Second Life Residents in addition to myself:
Kat Claxton (EDG Designs)
AnnGee Li (EDG designs)
The footage itself was captured via iShowU on an iMac at a frame-rate to replicate Second Life responsiveness on a less than optimal broadband connection. The only editing done was to package the footage in a range of acceptable formats for the production team to edit. This by necessity was a low-cost project but the end result in my biased opinion, is pleasing and a good fit for the movie.
I’d really like to thank all those people listed above for their help with the creation of the scene. Kat and AnnGee from EDG were stupendous. I also have to make special mention of Simon Kline who initially let me know about this opportunity and it was great to have him involved in the scene. Graham Sabre was also invaluable as the male lead avatar and was very patient with the large number of takes, as were all the other dancers. We’ll have more on Beautiful Kate, including some shots of the Second Life scene, in the weeks leading up to its more widespread distribution.
Disclosure: Creative Shed Services (of which I am the owner) was involved in Project Managing the Second Life shoot and was paid to do so. EDG Designs are an advertiser on TMJ.
Other coverage of Beautiful Kate and Second Life: