Hello! Please introduce yourself.
Dan Clifton: Hello, my name is Dan Clifton and I am a film producer, entrepreneur and now, a VR content producer/developer. I’ve produced twelve films over the past six years, some studio-based, but most produced and financed independently. What’s really interesting to me now is being able to tell stories in a unique fashion with VR, and finding new ways of connecting films to VR experiences in ways that excite both the filmmakers and people playing room-scale VR games.
David Yarovesky: Hey I’m David Yarovesky. I wrote and directed a movie called The Hive as well as about 60 music videos and a ton of commercials. I’m also a serious gamer; I’ve beaten every Destiny raid on Hard Mode, I main Roadhog, and I think Bioshock Infiniteis the greatest thing ever. I was a very early adopter of VR (Oculus DK1) and during preproduction of The Hive, to stay sane, my friends and I would crack games to work with my DK1, and experiment with weird demos. So, I would call myself a huge lover and supporter of VR.
What’s the genesis of Belko VR? Dan, you were a co-producer on The Belko Experiment – did you decide early to create this as a tie-in, or perhaps during filming?
Dan: Honestly, it was much further down the line after post-production. It was a crazy idea that we didn’t think the studio would go for, but once it was green lit, they really gave us a creative blank check to run with it. Taking it back a few steps…
I was heavily involved in the filming of The Belko Experiment along with director Greg McClean and producers James Gunn and Peter Safran. Peter was making The Conjuring 2 and James was gearing up for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 while we shot in Colombia, so I was the only creative producer who was there for the entire run of everything in Bogota. I knew the world really well, worked with Greg almost 24/7 and knew almost every part of the art direction and tone of the film. I also directed some 2nd Unit and my voice features heavily in the film as the villain. Likewise, David Yarvovesky worked as post production consultant and knew the edit, music and sound mix forward and backwards.
Suffice it to say, this is basically what gave us the wherewithal to come in and state, “We know this movie inside and out, what if we did ‘X’ with it in the VR space?”
I shot some 360 VR on set using a simple rig I own. It didn’t ultimately lead anywhere but was a really fun experience, and paved the way for these conversations because we had these 360 assets and allow us to pitch both the studio (MGM/Orion) and distributor (Blumhouse Tilt) on staying in the world of VR, but doing something much larger and in room scale.
David: When Blumhouse and MGM came to us, I had what I can only describe as a very clear creative vision for what I wanted the VR experience to be for Belko VR. I knew we could make a very tight AAA style experience in a new way that was totally fresh. I knew I could make it tense as hell, and I knew VR needs these kinds of partnerships to create AAA content, with promotional support, to push it out and let it be known. It was a dream to be able to just create this totally insane game, and Blumhouse and MGM were totally behind it from moment one!
Tell us a little about how Belko VR links to The Belko Experiment, the movie. Will it enhance the movie for anyone who’s seen it?
Dan: The most important thing for me about a film is tone. You can have a great script and actors but if the tone doesn’t match what you’re going for, it’s not going to work. We wanted to do Belko VR because we thought tonally and conceptually, an escape room experience is intrinsically linked to the film. What better way to capture the tone of The Belko Experiment where 80 employees are trapped in this office, than to put people through the paces of an escape room?
Like the film, the game is intense and doesn’t hold back, yet is also funny and has a darkly comedic tone. Beyond that, there are tons of throwbacks and Easter Eggs in Belko VR that link to the film. You just have to find them! There are a few key props and other fun pieces that people will recognize from the film and I hope will elicit a good chuckle. Nothing in either the film or VR experience will spoil the other, so no need to worry about that.
You both have a background in movie making. What specific challenges did VR give you? Do you feel it was easier to create this project with your film background, or harder?
Dan: The process of making a movie is a little like invading a country. (Admittedly, I have not done the latter yet.) The challenges are always the same yet the scenery and personnel are a little different. There’s never enough money or time and people complain about the food. Doing this VR project was also a challenge, albeit a new and very rewarding one. We were creating a world somewhat from scratch that follows a very specific language and set of rules. You don’t have a script per se, but you are working with your team from a very precise series of game design documents. You’re not doing edit reviews but you’re doing build and logic reviews and then Beta Tests instead of test screenings. the overall process was very much like producing a VFX heavy film.
Ultimately, we could have never done this specific project without our film background and for our next one, we will choose a film that likewise, has a very solid concept for us to draw game influences from.
Dave: I was surprised how similar it all felt to writing and directing a film. I knew what I wanted the audience (player) to experience, and how I wanted them to feel at every moment and it was just about cleanly and simply making decisions that added to that and never took away from it. I’m still buzzing from the fun and challenges the interactivity provided. I’ve always dreamed I would have a career that walked the line between movies and games, and this was a big step in realizing my dream.
What makes Belko VR different in the ‘escape room’ genre?
Dan: We think it is fun, free and extremely well done. Our team, which was fantastic, really wanted to focus on an escape room that had exceptional visuals and contained really fun, rewarding puzzles. This doesn’t always happen in VR games. We’ve played a ton of VR Escape Room games as well as real-life escape room experiences and we held ourselves to a very high standard in creating this project. We’re biased but we think it is the best free (room-scale) escape room out there right now in terms of the whole picture.
Dave: The experience is 50% game, this escape room, but it’s also 50% narrative, and that’s what makes it so unique. Having this AAA style interactive narrative experience built into the escape room really intensifies everything. Having Steve Agee screaming in your ear, judging you, laughing at you, puts so much additional pressure on you. I’ve watched test players just break down. Steve Agee is amazing by the way. He really killed it on this.
How are you using room scale on Vive within Belko VR?
Dan: Honestly, this is what got us the most excited about the project. Creating Belko VR in room scale was a pre-req from day one and something that we knew would be most applicable to Vive. We had so much fun creating this virtual office that played on the tropes of Job Simulator and others that came before us. Being able to walk around within an environment that doesn’t feel cheap or slapped together was paramount for us as developers. Delivering a game that utilized room scale well both visually but also for the escape room puzzles was near the top of our list of goals. We’re very happy with what we accomplished here.
Dave: I think it’s intrinsic to the experience to be able to walk around the office and interact with anything you see in the most natural and comfortable way possible, and room scale is that.
You also worked together on The Exorcist 360 Experience. Any plans for future film/TV to VR adaptations?
Dan: Yeah, that was also very fun and we had a great collaborative partnership with Fox TV on that one.
Honestly, and we have these conversations literally every day, we’re sort of ‘out’ on 360 Video as a medium and really want to focus on room scale VR content because it is so much more immersive. People keep talking about 360 video and launching films or series in 360 video, but no one has figured it out because it is very hard to do – to direct actors in 360, to shoot scenes on lenses that are so wide you can’t control what you’re seeing, etc.
I see 360 as a half measure (as compared to content developed with room scale capability in mind) that is simply an entry point to teach viewers the rules and creative language of VR. It’s not the end game.
Dave: As for future plans… I think you can expect to see more from us. And that’s about all I want to say about that!!
Have you attempted any real-life escape rooms?
Dan: Dave is more of an escape room vet that I am. I’ve done one IRL room but I’ve also spent years in my misspent youth attending very complicated corn mazes in Pennsylvania where I grew up.
Dave: My team is currently undefeated… bring it.
Finally, we have to ask: if your office was suddenly locked down in a Belko Experiment-type scenario… what would be your go-to weapon from office supplies?
Dan: The paper slicer thing like Josh Hartnett in The Faculty. I’m looking for one on Amazon now.
Dave: I would use Dan’s femur bone as a blunt object and just bash skulls. Please lock me in an office! LET’S DO THIS!