Producer Richard Guy talks to us about his journey into VR filmmaking, how passionately he believes in its potential as a filmmakers medium, the new storytelling challenges and opportunities it offers, and advice for anyone thinking of embarking on their own VR project.
Hello Richard, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. You’re a producer very keen on exploring new ways of visual storytelling, be that AR/VR/XR, what is it about these new technologies that excite you?
We’ve seen a big change in different forms of media consumption in the last 15 years. The landscape has completely changed. Although Virtual Reality has been around since the 90’s it’s only in the last 5 years that the technology is starting to allow for some really interesting possibilities.
Just recently I was involved in the first ever VR streaming of the FA Cup final over a 5G network. And last year I produced the first ever multiple narrative short film in VR. It excites me because people are always looking to test the possibilities – 'how can we do something that’s never been done before?' seems to be one of the most common questions. For me story is always king, but I like to work in fresh and exciting ways to tell stories.
You produced a film for The International Committee of the Red Cross, The Right Choice, a 360-degree short with an interactive element. Can you tell us how that came about?
The project was funded by Google. They had two requirements – do something that’s never been done before and shoot it on our 360 camera, the Yi Halo. The brilliant ad agency Don’t Panic took this brief and came up with a creative that really plays to VR’s strengths. A drama set in one room that depicts a family living in a war zone, in this case Syria.
VR works like a piece of theatre in as much as it is the viewer self-edits and chooses what they want to look at any one time. The director tries to choreograph the action to lead the viewers’ attention but sometimes people will just look all over the place particularly when they first put on the headset. I think this film is the best piece of VR I’ve been involved in to date both technically and dramatically as I it addresses all the challenges and works with the medium to create a truly immersive experience.
What are the challenges faced when making a film such as this that are perhaps different to more traditional filmmaking?
Ultimately all your challenges stem from the fact that the camera can see 360 degrees. How you light, record sound, direct, monitor picture etc change because of this.
The film for the ICRC was created with Visualise, one of the pioneers in VR, their expertise and depth of experience is invaluable on a project when you’re being asked to do something that’s never been done before.
Our DoP, James Rhodes, lit with practical’s and from the ceiling which we later platted using a room next door and director, Avril Furness, spent over a month in Beirut casting our family.
The most difficult challenge for her was to find a small boy who looked 5 years old who would stay in character for the duration of the entire scene while bullets were fired through the window and armed gunmen kicked open the door - it was no easy task. But by meticulous auditioning and rehearsing she found a group of actors who were believable and capable of the long takes required. She then nurtured that group and was able to build the trust and direct the performances you now see.
So, while initially VR can seem quite a restrictive medium to work in for a traditional filmmaker it also encourages you to be thorough and inventive in your craft.
As a producer you have experience in producing and distributing a feature film, Harold’s Going Stiff, how does producing this new kind of content compare to traditional film projects?
Purely form a practical POV you have to factor in a more time consuming and expensive post production phase that allows for stitching, and an increased amount of clean up to the image – it’s much harder to cut around things in 360 video!
Apart from the challenges I’ve already described, distribution is still a big difference. The VR experience is reliant on the audience wearing a headset. It’s actually very easy to distribute 360 video, YouTube and Vimeo both support it, and any 360 video can be turned into VR via a headset. It’s just more of a habitual thing of audiences having access to content and wanting to acquire and wear a headset.
How do you see the distribution of AR/VR/XR films progressing?
It looks as though live events show the most amount of interest at present - music gigs, sporting events, news etc could open up to live streaming in VR.
In time I think people will become more comfortable with wearing headsets at home. It might come from gaming or live streaming of sporting events etc, but I think it’s just around the corner. And once the mechanism is in place, the consumption will really grow, whether that’s natural history documentaries, formula 1 racing, theatre shows, or indeed feature films.
In what area of storytelling do you see the ground being most fertile for this medium to grow, and why?
From a storytelling POV documentaries are a natural fit for VR, you can be transported to a refugee camp or the polar ice caps and see for yourself the environment, with 360 video and stereoscopic sound it can make for a really immersive and different experience to a traditional documentary.
Does the technology allow for low-budget indie filmmakers to start pursuing it, or is it something that still requires a huge amount of investment?
Essentially, it’s the same deal. It’s just a different camera, way of recording sound, and a slightly different post process. But it is still filmmaking. Anyone could go and buy a GoPro Fusion and make a film in VR.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their first AR/VR/XR project?
Try and talk to other filmmakers who have already made something in VR. Ultimately it really does boil down to shooting with a different camera, so it’s not something any filmmaker should feel daunted by.
Are you keen to keep developing content of this style, or are you still interested in traditional filmmaking?
I’m interested in telling stories that have something to say. And I’m also interested in the way these stories are told and how we tell them. I believe you have to appreciate VR for what it is - just another tool for telling stories. But whereas 3D is a gimmick, VR is a different medium altogether similar to the theatre without being limited to the stage.
You can find out more about Richard and his work at his website.