TechWatch editor Emily McDaid talks to film director Dee Harvey about how virtual reality can help to convey intimate stories through an engaging medium.
Dee Harvey is the writer and director of a new documentary being told in a virtual reality (VR) format. The VR film, called Hope is the New Killer, explores the issue of infertility.
“The film will bear witness to a very common experience that’s talked about very little,” said Harvey. “At least one in seven couples encounter fertility issues.”
She explained how the documentary is taking shape: “We’ll use the verbatim technique. People who have been affected by infertility will share their stories in an intimate format.”
Using VR to produce this type of documentary is not just about applying a 2D film on to a 3D headset.
“We need to use VR for the things it does well, to tell a story in a provocative way. No one has done it exactly like this,” she said.
Dee Harvey. Image: TechWatch
How can a filmmaker get a VR piece commissioned?
“There are various pockets of money about,” said Harvey.
As an example, she pointed to how Digital Catapult and Innovate UK partnered to fund 10 projects in VR at £20,000 each. “Also, NI Screen has added VR short films to their funding list,” she added.
When I suggest that the path is perhaps less trodden than with normal TV or film, Harvey replies: “Oh, absolutely. There’s a whole industry and infrastructure that already exists for cinema and TV. These routes to market are only just being explored in VR. But people from both film and gaming industries are coming together, which is exciting.”
How will VR transform the arts?
“VR is not going to damage or kill any other industries,” she said. “It’s a bit like theatre in how the story is told. It’s also a lot like games in how it’s interactive. But it’s a new art form offering so many exciting possibilities.”
How will people access your film?
“We don’t have partnerships in place yet with a distributor – this is all being figured out. VR cinemas are definitely a new thing, which is very important because, even as VR is so personal, people want to consume VR with others.”
Harvey explained that the way VR is consumed by its audience is so different to other art forms.
“Your vision is occluded when you wear a VR viewer and you’re right in the middle of the story. The reaction can be very visceral. People want to talk about what they just saw after they experience VR. It can be disappointing to not have human interaction straight after.”
This is why Harvey feels that “people will be willing to pay a ticket price to attend a VR cinema, where everyone is sitting together consuming the same VR through their own personal headset”.
Are there any VR cinemas in Ireland yet?
“Not that I’m aware. There are examples in England,” she said.
In this excellent podcast recently recorded by Davy Sims, she discussed how VR needs to be experienced in a “safe space”.
Harvey said: “You need to feel secure. For example, if a woman is carrying a handbag, when you hand her a headset to wear, someone else needs to be there to look after the bag. If someone’s job is to hand out headsets, it’s not just a body handing out headsets – that person also needs to make people feel they’re in a safe space.”
She continued: “Good VR experiences have thought these issues through.”
How is it different to see a film in VR than 2D?
“The experience can be more shocking. There are some quite exploitative VR documentaries – for example, filming in refugee camps and you’re right up in the faces of children. Some of it can be uncomfortable.”
What’s your production schedule?
Harvey said: “We’re still in development, and aiming to release a prototype or a short in the autumn.”