A pair of Dutch ad-agency creatives have developed a four-minute horror movie designed exclusively for the future-of-virtual-reality device.
I went to an immersive-theater thing once. I was locked into a wheelchair and someone blew a fine mist of gin in my face and lit a match under my nose. There was a video of clowns laughing and burbling in some sort of inhuman language. Wow, I thought. Pointless.
But that's because I didn't have an Oculus Rift strapped to my face. Two Dutch ad-agency creatives—Henrik Leichsenring and Sofia Gillstrom—want to change that, after developing 11:57, a four-minute horror movie designed exclusively for the future-of-virtual-reality device. And obviously it's a shit-yourself-in-your-desk-chair, jumps-and-screams horror movie.
Here's how you film for the Oculus Rift: You have to build the equivalent of a human head only, with GoPro cameras. Henrik and Sofia strapped six of them to a pole, plunked it in the middle of a catacomb-like room, then realized they were constantly, constantly in the shot. That's just one of the many challenges that come from filming everything at once.
"We couldn't have lighting, you know?" Henrik told me. Instead, they went for spooky, flashing fluorescents, which come with the added benefit of sinking the whole shot into darkness so they can cut and edit. "We actually had to hide behind one the walls you see in the film. As soon as the actors moved in front of the camera we could only guess what they were doing, so we sort of had to direct by ear. Compared to making traditional films that was one of the biggest setbacks with making 360 films."
This isn't the first Oculus movie— production company Condition One released Zero Point last month, although it's more a bunch of panoramic tech demos stitched together with intense interviews about how Oculus Rift is, like, the future of everything—but 11:57 is the first to truly explore making the viewer (you) the protagonist as well. "I do think that the person with Oculus Rift should have an actual role in the film," Sofia said. "Whatever that might be."
High violin shrieks, ghostly brunettes in white smocks, a man in a suit with hollow cheekbones—OK, 11:57 isn't groundbreaking in terms of content. But it's not really a film in any sense, more a stunt: something to prove what the Oculus is capable of. Because, despite being a $2-billion Facebook toy, the Oculus is still chiefly the domain of the DIY doers and the enthusiasts—it feels like something a time traveler dropped on his way through to punch baby Hitler rather than a bona fide 2014 invention. Too much technology for us quite to fathom right now, like dogs beholding a bike.
But since Facebook bought Oculus VR in March, the main question on people's lips has been: "Yo, how are these nerd goggles worth $2 billion?" While the gaming applications are obvious, it doesn't seem to translate to Farmville or Candy Crush or whatever other Facebook games your aunties and grandmas keep inviting you to play—so perhaps the future of the Oculus is in viewing and experiencing movies or the web. I asked Henrik and Sofia if they think Oculus movies like 11:57 are the future of film—do they ever see a blockbuster being developed for the device?
"No," they said. "No." But Henrik does think there is a niche for major production companies to take advantage of the device. "I think with major blockbuster movies you will see Occulus replace additional featurettes rather than full 90-minute movies. There are still a lot of difficulties with the recording technology to overcome, so actually shooting a picture-length production will be very, very tricky." And they have plenty of ideas: "We could build a world on top of a skyscraper. We could produce a stop-motion film. You can put the viewer in a really weird and strange situation—that's the strength of it." Which sounds like code for "someone is almost certainly already making a weird porno."
But if nothing else, 11:57 does offer a vision of the future—with 3-D glasses generally considered a bomb and the concept of 4-D confined to those bucking Shrek set-ups at Universal Studios, offering Oculus-friendly movies could be a way for the movie industry to present film—whatever its length—in a new and interesting light. And probably find a way to charge an extra $15 a ticket for the pleasure. Hooray for the future.
Follow Joel Golby on Twitter.