The extent to which virtual reality technology is going to change the way we consume entertainment hasn’t yet been determined. But as the hardware that it takes to make these things starts getting cheaper and more common, we’re going to get our first glimpse at the answers.
Even while Oculus Rift and other VR hardware is still in the realm of novelty rather than ubiquity though, there are innovators looking to determine the creative potential of this technology. Some of them work with the Sid Lee Collective, the creativity-for-creativity’s-sake arm of advertising agency Sid Lee, and the result is the one of the first horror films shot for 360-degree viewer angles, to be watched through Oculus Rift: 11:57, directed by Henrik Leichsenring and Sofia Gillström.
“You’re always a spectator watching a film, but Oculus Rift opens up the opportunity to actually be in the film,” Gillström explains. “So naturally, we wanted to make the viewer the main character. We figured that the most horrific experience would be to be placed in a chair in a dark room, where horror could appear from any angle, and it was you that they were coming for.”
Anyone with the proper hardware can download 11:57 for free, but those who watched it at the first screening in Amsterdam were treated to an enhanced experience–if you call being taken to the same basement in which the film was shot and tied to a chair “enhanced.” That footage made it into the trailer for the film, which doesn’t require a VR headset to watch.
In order to film a 360-degree perspective on the room, Leichsenring and Gillström created a rig mount using six GoPro HERO3+ cameras to film it. “It’s very different,” Leichsenring admits. “The camera sees everything, and that was our first challenge–how can we direct the actors when we can’t be in the room? Another challenge was how we would edit the film without making unnatural cuts from one sequence to another. And the last challenge was how to make sure the viewer looks where they should be looking.”
The entire crew crouched and hid at the back of the room to avoid the cameras, and connected one of the GoPros to a monitor to see what was happening. To manage cutting between scenes, they used the time-honored horror movie tradition of flickering lights–and then, after the film was shot, they took a look at what they had.
“Compared to working with traditional film, filming in 360 makes it impossible to see exactly what you’re doing,” Gillström says. “It’s only after stitching the images from the six cameras together in post that you can see the result of a particular shot, so you have to really make up the story upfront and then hope it translates well to a 360 experience.”
That’s not something that many filmmakers have had to consider before–but it’s something that, in the future, they well might. Leichsenring and Gillström have a head start on that, and being among the pioneers on that front is something that they’re excited about.
“It’s very exciting to have made a film that could possibly be the first thing that people experience in virtual reality,” Leichsenring acknowledges. “VR will change the way we consume entertainment, and we can only imagine the experiences that will come. There’s something really nice about the fact that not everyone has a VR device, because it brings people together. If one person has an Oculus, there’s a good chance that all his or her friends will experience it on the same device. I suppose it’s a bit like the early days of TV and radio–you watch it with a big group of people.”
Just, in this case, one at a time, alone in a basement, with your hands tied to a chair.