Michelle Rodriguez in 'The Limit' - Aerial Scene
From Bandersnatch to Instagram Stories, new content formats are beginning to emerge that usher in new opportunities for filmmakers and content producers. Virtual Reality is another area that has plenty of potential but not mass adoption by Hollywood but that may be about to change if Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Ugly Dolls) 'THE LIMIT' is an early taste of a future that's almost here.
The trailer for Rodriguez's 'THE LIMIT' is fast-paced and offers a glimpse at an immersive thrill-ride that involves jumping out of a plane, a high-speed car chase amongst other heart-rate elevating elements. The drawbacks are not the desire to make content like this but the challenges that come with filming. Aside from costs, creating in this medium is a challenge according to Rodriguez; "I couldn’t really plan even simple things, like how close the vehicles should get to each other until we were there on the day and I was looking through the camera because the lens is very wide. POV works much better in VR than in traditional film and TV, but it takes a lot of coordination between all involved."
Creating cinematic VR requires new 'languages' that lead to a different relationship with the audience according to Rodriguez; "Designing a story that is immersive and a lean-back experience [is tough], one where the audience has freedom of movement and can choose where to look, but at the same time you want to direct them as well to see and hear what you want them to in order to get the most out of the film, is harder."
All in all, VR is a challenging paradigm for Hollywood, do they lean in or lean out? What relationship do the filmmakers of today (and tomorrow) want to have with the audience? Jess Clark, Manor House Productions, Producer is not convinced the road will be fast or easy for VR; "[VR] is still very much personal preference for filmmakers. You either want to experiment, or you're more dedicated to your medium. The future of movies may be more technology, but it won't be a fast conversion. A huge stamp of approval would be the Academy pushing it harder."
Speaking to the DGA, Jon Favreau (Avengers) isn't convinced on VR's cinematic future either; "Part of the job of the filmmaker is to support that immersion. And often it relates to how you make choices that you believe the audience would make. So, if you're cutting a scene properly, it's almost like you don't need VR because you're looking where they want to look anyway."
Bertie Millis, Co-Founder of Virtual Umbrella believes VR isn't the future of film, it's just one part of the experience; "Virtual Reality will not be the future of Hollywood film, but it's going to be a powerful tool for immersing viewers into stories in ways that 2D & 3D film never could. We will see immersive elements added to VR experiences such as smell and touch. These are already present in art installations such as Marshmallow Laser Feast's 'We Live in an Ocean of Air' and Greenpeace's 'Munduruku'. These experiences add deeper engagement with their stories and viewers remember it for much longer than traditional film."
Offline experiences like 'The Grid', Cineworld's 4Dx and Marshmallow Laser Feast's 'Ocean of Air' hint at a future where people go to the movies for full immersion rather than simple distraction or escapism. The Tribeca Film Festival just announced an immersive line-up this year. Rodriguez believes the future will be having the choice and genre dependent; "Immersive cinema puts the viewer inside of an action film and makes them a main character, which is the ultimate in wish fulfilment if you’re a fan of action-adventure films. For me, it also bridges the gap between movies and video games. It’s still a lean-back experience like a film is, but with a feeling of immersion similar to but that goes even beyond video games."
The future of VR is anything but decided. Facebook-owned Oculus recently received another hefty discount, Google and the IMAX Corporation abandoned a joint venture to build cameras for filmmakers, but it is too early to dismiss VR. VR remains the natural progression for Hollywood's evolution, but the makers and tech platforms refocusing on AR may slow the progression for VR. Creatives may have to push VR over the line until Hollywood catches up.