Most of us take the highly sophisticated machines of our bodies for granted. To really see the world from another, less locomotively-traditional perspective, look no further than Sarah Berkovich’s Being Henry, a 360-degree documentary that puts viewers in the shoes of someone unable to move them on his own. I chatted with Sarah about her thought-provoking doc, and what emerging technologies (including VR) mean for creatives and beyond.
Sarah Berkovich, creator of Being Henry
How did you first hear about or experience VR?
It was last year at a meetup for video producers in Silicon Valley, when I first got to try VR with a Google Cardboard demo. It was my first introduction to cinematic virtual reality, and it made me feel something so unusual that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. When I peered inside the viewer, I was suddenly standing in a dirt field outside of a refugee camp in Africa, surrounded by villagers. I heard the noise of a plane, and looked up as bundles of supplies were being airdropped to the ground. It was as if the bundles were at my feet, and I wanted to pick one up. The experience was visceral, and I felt transported in a way that no other type of media had ever made me feel. I was filled with awe, but it followed with a deep desire to learn how to make content like this myself. I’ve been working on that ever since.
What is your upcoming VR project about?
My first VR documentary project is called Being Henry. It is a first-person, virtual reality look through the eyes of an amazing man named Henry Evans. Henry is not your average robotics engineer. At the age of forty, he experienced a brainstem stroke which left him mute and completely paralyzed from the head down. Now, Henry uses robotics and other technologies to keep him connected to the things he loves. Through experiencing his story through his eyes and the eyes of the robots he uses to navigate spaces otherwise inaccessible to him, we get a window into his unique experience as well as a glimpse at how technology can expand our world.
Berkovich on set with Henry
Tell us about your background in documentary — how does that inform your work in VR?
With my background in documentary filmmaking, I could immediately see how I could apply my skills to tell stories in virtual reality. Virtual reality has incredible power to connect people with new and diverse perspectives in an even more direct way than film can. That’s sort of why I’ve been interested in filmmaking all along, so to me virtual reality is just a new tool in my toolbox. It’s still all about telling stories using people, places, and emotions, but the techniques are a bit different. I don’t think every story is suited to be told using VR, and filmmakers should try to play into the strengths of virtual reality when conceptualizing their pieces. I think a mistake that’s easy to make to thinking of VR exactly like film. It’s more all encompassing and demands more attention, so I actually think that means that the pace needs to be slowed down quite a bit, and subtlety is way more important.
What are you most excited about for 2017 with virtual reality?
I’m excited that more people are staring to know what virtual reality is, and that can open a dialogue about what types of things we should use the technology for. I’m also really excited for the space of education in virtual reality to open up. I think VR has so many potentially amazing uses, and I’d like to see it implemented more for things like education and healthcare, as well as for storytelling.
Any advice for aspiring VR filmmakers?
There’s a pretty big learning curve with VR, especially with the state of the industry right now. That will change quickly, but if it’s important to get involved now, my advice to filmmakers would be don’t be intimidated by the technical things. There are great resources out there for people who want to learn. Meetups, Youtube, Facebook groups, and online courses have been really helpful for me to learn. I’ve also been fortunate to be in an area where engineers have been willing to collaborate with me and teach me. The best way to learn is to make something.
Where can we find you on social media?