Sundance 2015 is the year of VR, marking a metaphorical starting gun for an entire new film industry. Presumably timed to the festival, Oculus VR took the opportunity to launch its own film-focused studio alongside a spate of other cinematic VR projects.
Now three new non-fiction films are tackling how news documentaries specifically will work on this new facehugger platform: Spike Jonze's Vice News VR: Millions March, the UN's Syria-based Cloud of Sidra, and Hong Kong Unrest by immersiv.ly, an app designed to create news journalism for VR. And they all just launched.
Immersiv.ly posted Hong Kong Unrest online for viewers to check out even without a headset. You just simply use a mouse to manipulate the films perspective. Hong Kong Unrest—though almost sickening in perspective since the 3D capture has been flattened to 2D for your computer screen—shows interesting ideas on how directors handle simple techniques, like a title slide, in virtual reality. The film was also shot with six GoPro cameras attached to a long boom pole and stitched together post production, which is the best VR equipment hack I've ever heard of.
But really, all directors across all genres will have to think up new storytelling rules for VR, but the real promise for news documentaries in particular is the stronger sense of objective story telling. Speaking with The Independent, Edward Miller, and editor who worked on Hong Kong Unrest, explained how VR could help build trust between journalism and its audience:
When you put a frame around something, you get the audience to interpret what's in that frame in a very certain way. Often the director or the cameraman can influence what it is you're seeing, and what it is you think you're seeing. Whereas there's nowhere to hide with a 360-degree camera.
And of course, technical problems still exist. For one, hardly anyone even owns a VR headset (though these films can be watched on the much more rudimentary Google Cardboard) and the techniques behind capturing 360-degree video are little more than just a stationary camera with dialogue running in the background, but they'll get better. As film industries begin warming up to this new era of entertainment, it may be documentaries that, at least at first, feel right at home. [The Independent]
Image still via Hong Kong Unrest