Long speculated on and dreamed of in science fiction, virtual reality finally became reality in MIFF. For both film makers and film fans, VR is a totally new way of creating and consuming entertainment. The implications and possibilities are immense and exciting. As part of MIFF, the virtual reality program offers a unique opportunity to strap on a VR headset and fully experience the jaw-dropping wonders of total immersive cinema.
MIFF VR presents a diverse range of styles in storytelling. Some films have even produced content specially for VR. I think the reason of doing so is that many patrons tend to try VR for the first time and the tendency at that point is to get swept away by the uncanny nature of the medium. The VR Intro is a chance for viewers to get that first moment of wonder out of the way in order to properly enjoy the VR storytelling work they’ve come to see.
However, some people will think that the use of VR will make the sense of “immersion” more impressive than “film” itself. In my opinion, in cinema, a director might take a series of shots or even a whole movie to build an atmosphere. It’s cumulative. But one shot in VR conveys a location and everything that might potentially come with being an observer at that point in space and time. So in VR there’s often more opportunity to let a single shot carry narrative. A VR shot offers more scope for reflection and speculation. It’s like slow cinema taken as far as it can go, which is really just dialling things back towards the pace at which we naturally experience the world. Cinema is a language we’ve learned to process and it has always been at arms length from our ‘reality’. If we hustle viewers through VR spaces in the same way we typically edit scenes in cinema we just freak them out. That’s not how we live life and the closer VR takes us to real life the more we as 360 video makers need to respect our underlying humanity as experienced phenomena.
As a totally new way for films, filmmakers may have trouble moving into VR. Anyone with a handle on the basics of filmmaking goes through a stage of finding it all very strange and having to consider what tools and insights they can keep and which they must leave behind. Film and TV has a relatively compartmentalized ‘write it – shoot it – cut it’ thought process that comes under a lot of pressure in 360. The idea is that someone can write a script then someone else can go and scout a location and a crew can turn up and shoot it and any problems that arise will get solved in the edit suite. Even the most simple, observational documentary content in 360 needs a measure of thinking akin to planning a VFX shot because we don’t have the usual cropping and time shifting tools available to solve problems. We can’t frame up a shot to occlude the things we don’t want shown or, say, use a cutaway shot to solve problems with space and time. Eisenstein’s entire bag of cinematic tricks are pretty much junked by VR.