Hot Tub Time Machine, the wacky new comedy starring John Cusack which opened fairly well last weekend, has a lead character with a second life. Specifically, he plays Second Life as a roleplaying game where his character is trapped in a virtual jail, and he takes it really really seriously:
"Jacob, played by Clark Duke, is the nephew of Adam, played by John Cusack," explains Steve Nelson, the Second Life developer who created the SL content for the production. "He’s living in Adam’s basement because his mom has a new boyfriend. He spends most of the time in Second Life, in jail, awaiting a court date. He can’t leave the basement because he can’t leave Second Life. He can’t leave Second Life because he doesn’t want to miss his court date, which would be a real problem."
To depict all that for the movie, Nelson (known in Second Life as Kiwini Oe), created several minutes of machinima, which the Hot Tub creators incorporated into the movie. (Using a similar technique as the Paul Rudd movie Role Models, which also integrated SL machinima into a scene.)
"We got detailed notes from the associate producer on this one, describing the characters, setting, and action, and they wanted 3-4 minutes of footage," says Oe. His partner Troi Timtam built an elaborate set and designed the avatars. "We shared some test shots with the producer and got good feedback on details. The final shoot included four of us, in Berkeley, Walnut Creek and Copenhagen. I directed, filmed and edited; Troi drove the main character; and our daughter and her boyfriend ran two extras (that didn’t make the final movie.)
"[T]he Second Life footage actually used included two brief shots of Jacob in jail, walking around his cell, and doing pushups," says Nelson. "There’s also related dialog between Adam and Jacob when you see the back of the laptop. We had a copy of this section of the shooting script, and they pretty much stuck to it, so we knew that the script didn’t call for extensive use of the SL footage. The longer machinima we delivered afforded two things: it gave the director and editor a wider range of footage to select the clips to use on screen. It also delivered the fuller backstory for the director and actors to better inform their performance."
They shipped the results to the producers last April, but weren't sure if their work had made the final cut. Until, that is, they started reading about previews of the movie earlier this year.
"We started hearing about the scene after bloggers reported from the screenings in January, and saw a screening ourselves for the first time on March 9. We didn’t know what would be in the final cut until Friday. That’s also when we were the last two in the theater to see nearly at the end of the credits: Second Life® footage -- Troi Nelson and Steve Nelson."
And while the Hot Tub scenes with Second Life are fairly short, they've still managed to get mentioned in dozens of reviews, everything from obscure blogs to the New York Times and Salon; Kiwini Oe has compiled a long list here. It reminds him of a previous Second Life machinima project he and his team worked on: the famous (or notorious) SL-themed episode of The Office from a few years back.
"I still have my Google Alerts set to ping me when someone writes about 'The Office' in Second Life," he says, "and I’m still seeing blog posts from people who had never heard of Second Life until they saw 'The Office', and even now are finally checking out Second Life based on seeing it there." So don't be surprised if you see a blip of new users coming from Hot Tub Time Machine, in search of Jacob's prison.
Thanks to Mitch Wagner of the cool Copper Robot show for help with this interview!