For a century of filmmaking, the audience has looked at whatever the director has chosen to frame. But virtual reality breaks this old pattern, in that it allows the viewer to turn her head–leaving filmmakers to wonder, how do you tell a story when the viewer can look anywhere?
Tabel, a new short by Google’s Art Copy and Code division, contains an intriguing solution. It’s a VR (or 360-degree) video short that places you in the center of a small cafe. And as you glance around to each table, you hear each distinct conversation fade into your ears–a product of spatial audio. In this sense, the user interface of storytelling mimics how you pay attention in real life: You eavesdrop.
Of course, it’s more than eavesdropping. It’s eavesdropping with no consequences. You’re an invisible voyeur who will not upset the table next to you as you gawk when the woman exclaims, “I want a divorce”–which happens to be just the sort of approach that’s been inspiring the entire world of VR filmmakers.
Given the superb experimental video work that Google is doing, it’s really too bad that Tabel is so dang cheesy. The piece is overacted and hammy, with dull dialog and a central metaphor about climate change that reads like it was written in a junior high creative writing workshop. But don’t let that deter you from taking a look (really!). Because the future of filmmaking could look, and sound, a lot like eavesdropping.