When the Tribeca Film Festival descends on downtown New York each spring, film aficionados fill its cinemas, hoping to catch the next big flick. But if the 2016 festival offerings are any indication, the future of film exists outside a darkened theater. Movie buffs will start to don a headset to view the latest film experiments.
VR programming is split across two showcases: Storyscapes presents VR alongside physical installations and Virtual Arcade features 13 films exemplifying the breadth of stories being told in VR. The medium’s first person point of view lends itself to journalism and gaming, but the artists in this year’s festival explore comedy, animation, and even horror in 360 degrees.
“We’re looking for a clear point of view. The festival celebrates storytelling in all its forms, and the VR selections are indicative of the range of stories being told,” festival programmer Loren Hammonds tells The Creators Project. “The artists come from such different disciplines. Eric Darnell, who did Antz and Madagascar, is an animator. Jessica Kantor, a former ballerina, submitted an immersive dance piece. And Anthony C. Ferrante, who did the Sharknado movies, has a splatter-fest comedy piece called Killer Deal, where you’re sprayed with virtual blood.” Viewer autonomy in an immersive environment makes VR unique, but it poses a challenge to filmmakers. Traditionally, directors dictate what an audience sees and when, but VR transforms passive moviegoing into active witnessing, forcing artists to explore techniques like sound cues and creative use of perspective to draw viewers’ attention and weave them into a narrative.
“In documentary, first person point of view is a great ally, mimicking your field of vision and your own reality. But when you’re trying to tell a narrative story, the typical shot/countershot or close-up shot doesn’t translate into a 360-degree experience,” says festival director Genna Terranova. “So you have a lot of artists working out how to tell these stories and inventing the new language and grammar for this space, whether they’re shooting live action or creating an animated piece.”
The advent of VR film technique includes roles for technologists that previously did not exist. With the exception of CGI and special effects, never has code had a greater impact on filmmaking. Directors can manipulate motion, stitching, camera angles, and even develop logic making scripts interactive. Immersive storytelling taps into a trend toward viewers wanting to take an active role in entertainment and curate experiences.
“We’re potentially at a tipping point. The content and stories being told are accessible enough for a general audience, and the medium is moving forward by leaps and bounds. I compare it to cinema in the early 1900’s, which caught its stride in Hollywood in the 20s. That took 20 years, but we’re seeing major developments in VR in a matter of months and weeks, quite frankly,” Terranova says. “VR still feels like something that needs a bit of demystification, so we’re trying to give people access to it. I think people will walk away very inspired by the medium and very curious.”