February 10, 2016
Sundance 2016

Will VR Kill Film?

Reggie Watts in 'Waves'
Seed and Spark Innovators' Brunch panelists say, for one medium, the end could be nigh.

Virtual Reality had an enormous presence at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. People waited in line for over two hours for a chance to experience pieces that generally had running times shorter than five minutes long. It begs the question: does VR spell doom for celluloid? The medium is beginning to attract artists and filmmakers of all different sorts. Reggie Watts' Waves (pictured) was one of many Sundance New Frontiers exhibits showing how much potential there is for experimentation. Some leading experts of the virtual realm weigh in, including Saschka Unseld (Head of the Oculus Story Studio), Jessica Brillhart (Principal VR Filmmaker at Google), Luis Blackaller (Creative Director, Wevr) and James Kaelan (Director of ‘The Visitor). NFS's own Ryan Koo moderates:

On The Benefits of VR

Saschka Unseld:

"There’s a lot more experimentation in it which I like. The other thing which is incredibly liberating about VR is there is no establishment, there is no existing monetization pipeline, and royalty of VR Filmmakers, and all that gluttony from 100 years of filmmaking.

The nice thing about VR is everything is short form content, and will be for a while, so its way easier to just create it for yourself at home with a really tiny budget.  You don’t need a huge budget and theres not many people doing it so you get recognition faster. You can self build a camera you can just use Unity, which is a free tool to do 3D stuff and it's all short form, so it doesn’t take a year to do...

On The Differences in Telling Stories Through A VR Medium

James Kaelan:

With film, composition is your primary language. That goes completely out the window. VR is about an environment and a space. The techniques that you use that the camera used to be the primary vehicle for - controlling what the viewer did, those disappear.  You simply cannot direct the viewer to look at anything unless you motivate them through sound, or through light, or through color or through line. In that sense it becomes much more like theater.

Jessica Brillhart:

The nuances of the medium, what it wants to explore, has a lot do with people psychologically being in a space. The idea that you can’t force them to look at something, is something that we need to accept, but then what do we do to premeditate maybe where they might look in a space? It’s a really interesting dance between what a creator would want, and what a viewer will do, or might be inclined to do.

Saschka Unseld:

In cinema we’re trained to forget that we exist while we watch a film, and in VR you’re part of it.

On Who Will Emerge Victorious

Saschka Unseld:

Just to answer the question of the panel, no...Right now, It’s an individual experience which is the opposite of cinema, which I don’t think is a bad thing, I love communal things but I love singular things like reading a book as well, you couldn’t have a festival where everyone sits there and reads a book, especially if there’s just one copy of a book.

Luis Blackaller:

There’s a lot of expectation put into VR. Probably because of the massive adoption of things like the tablet, and before that smartphones, and before that the internet. These are things kind of like television that change the way we access entertainment or culture. And VR has the potential for doing that but we don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now it’s really early. All the headsets that we have are still fairly cumbersome, and the language that we use to tell stories, we’re still trying to figure it out.

Jessica Brillhart:

Maybe the better question is, is cinema going to kill VR? I think there’s a lot of interesting conversation around trying to shove a medium that we’re very used to creating in into a format that’s asking for something very different for us. Is my brain so wired to do this thing that I am actually incapable of really, fully recognizing what this medium wants from me?

Do you think the end of film as we know it will really be coming in our lifetime? Do you want Google Cardboard for yourself? Weigh in on the debate below.

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance 2016 Blackmagic Design

No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.      

Your Comment

21 Comments

Hey this is great. By the way can you please update my credentials? There has been a mistake. My correct title is: Luis Blackaller - Creative Director, Wevr. Thank you!

February 10, 2016 at 2:57AM, Edited February 10, 2:57AM

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Fixed, thanks Luis!

February 10, 2016 at 10:23AM, Edited February 10, 10:23AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

I think that this is just a hipe at the moment. I don't think that VR ist the BIG THING. Same was with 3D. Everyone said that 3D is the future and now - TV's with 3D aren't produced anymore and Films start getting back to 2D.

February 10, 2016 at 3:44AM

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Nico Saiger
Indie Filmproducer
91

4K has killed 3D in TV. You get the hyperrealism without the nonsense of glasses. Most TVs are too small for 3D to work well anyway.

February 12, 2016 at 6:28AM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1050

“…there is no establishment, there is no existing monetization pipeline, and royalty of VR Filmmakers, and all that gluttony from 100 years of filmmaking.” There is none until there is. Like with everything else it’s just a matter of time, a very short period I think. I mean the only person that I know that preordered Oculus (owned by Face Mc Money FBI book) is the guy who exclusively watches Transformers type movies and porn.
I will make completely different prediction: (“You don’t need a huge budget…”) you really do need a huge budget and when technology comes to most of the people you won’t be able to reach them with newly developed monetization pipeline that you, as a independent VR maker, are not a part of. Why would this be any different from movie industry? The contrary, it seems really susceptible to worst ways of the industry.
“You can self build a camera you can just use Unity, which is a free tool …” Shure, the same way that you can film shorts with your phone and probably are doing it every day. And how big and interested audience you have for that? I mean, if you film VR right now people will watch it because they don’t have a choice, there is nothing else out there, but is that a good thing? “theres not many people doing it so you get recognition faster. “ That sounds aaawful haaha.
“In cinema we’re trained to forget that we exist while we watch a film, and in VR you’re part of it.“
In VR you are like a silent ghost, reminded on a new level that you are not a part of the film-would be another way of loocking on that. If you use a VR to feel immersed, engaged ,reading a book is downgrading to two dimension? Maby I am exaggerating. I would like to own and and watch some VR stuff. I don’t know, time will tell. But these guys are promoting them selfs I think.

„The idea that you can’t force them to look at something, is something that we need to accept, but then what do we do to premeditate maybe where they might look in a space?”
Mm.. ok. Cool. That sound interesting. Or problematic. Or repetitive. Or tiresome for hollywood flicks. It surely won’t make the whole process easier. Just like 5.1, 7.1, Dolby atmos.. And while we are at sound you will need some good surround recording, mixing and mastering in the future to get the viewer's attention and that is not easy or small production, again.
My opinion: VR is wonderful for computer, animation and games, art, short film, porn, and for big productions and big budget movies. Same old same old. Small independent filmmakers will be in disadvantage.

February 10, 2016 at 6:56AM, Edited February 10, 6:56AM

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There is nothing wrong with the establishment. It is a place where everyone gets paid a reasonable amount, whereas most "self distributed" indy films make $0, and mean that rather than focussing on your craft, you spend most of your time wearing 85 different hats that you are not well suited for. Indy films can do well if they have appealing concepts and well written scripts. Most indy film scripts are derivative and awful, that's why they fail (and why "the establishment" rejects them as projects)

February 16, 2016 at 8:18PM

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Robert Ruffo
Director/DP
198

It will kill film... Just like it did in the 90's

February 10, 2016 at 7:15AM

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K W
194

Uhmmm what?

February 11, 2016 at 6:43PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
232

Eh, you had to be there.

February 12, 2016 at 8:51PM

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I have to admit, I laughed out loud when I saw the title. This is sort of a ridiculous conversation to have I think. VR is a very different medium. There will always be stories that work better in a traditional film format than they do in VR and vice versa. It's a bit like live theatre vs film. They both utilize live actors, lighting, sets, etc.. to tell stories, but they are very different experiences. Film hasn't killed the theatre in the more than 100 years it's been around and VR is never going to extinguish the traditional movie format. They share a lot of attributes, but are very different experiences and have their own place.

February 10, 2016 at 10:25AM

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Did television kill radio?

February 10, 2016 at 11:51AM

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Jeremiah Kuehne
Filmmaker
593

Yes. But then satellite radio killed cable TV.

Then YouTube killed Podcasts and then VR killed the "film" of scum on the surface of my Campbell's soup (which Andy Warhol killed in the '60s).

The medium is not the message. The medium is the Hatfields and McCoys.

February 11, 2016 at 1:52PM, Edited February 11, 1:53PM

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Sean Bokenkamp
Animator
396

To me its basically the revenge of the theatre. Payback for what film did to them. I am making a vr film but its only a 270 degree view so the camera can move. The only problem w vr is like 3d....it hurts your eyes after 10 minutes. I dont know if they can fix this. Until then its not ready. At least not for me. Also hopefully sony or dji or even quantumfilm make better small camera optics. Im not a fan of the go pro vr look.

February 10, 2016 at 2:54PM, Edited February 10, 2:57PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1362

Film was dead. But it was all right.

February 10, 2016 at 5:54PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
943

Was? What do you mean?

February 11, 2016 at 6:44PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
232

"Did you see how those soldiers got shot to pieces?!"
"What? No, I was watching the sea."
Conversation about the VR remake of Saving Private Ryan.

Will the record kill live music?
Will TV kill the radio?
Will airplanes kill the car?
Will pancakes kill the orangejuice?

Different media with different user experience are DIFFERENT.
They don't substitute each other.
VR is great for gaming, for virtual tours or just for some interesting experiences you would probably never experience yourself.
Imagine the astronauts on the ISS letting a 360 camera float around a while.

Everytime a new medium arises, some people try to make an older medium fit.
I have already seen the worst corporate 360-video: it's completely empty, missing any point or purpose and besides some sightseeing, there is nothing to see...

They will co exist.

Having said that:
it is very interesting to debate the differences and possibilities of VR.

February 10, 2016 at 7:25PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
7314

With VR, you are no longer looking through the director's eyes. That is a massive difference.

February 12, 2016 at 6:31AM, Edited February 12, 6:31AM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1050

I don't think so. At least not in the nearest future.

February 11, 2016 at 8:01AM

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VR is not gonna kill anything, for artists it's simply another arrow in the storytelling quiver. Like any visual technology starting with the first cave painting, it's value will be determined by how well creatives use it to tell their stories.

February 12, 2016 at 11:15AM, Edited February 12, 11:15AM

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M Kowal
74

Silly headline really, but that's the hype that is VR. Which BTW I have heard at least come around as the Next Big THING every five years for the last 20. Seriously.
It does have all sorts of interesting potential for sure, but not with real storytelling. The thing is- all the little stuff that isn't part of a story just isn't that interesting usually.
Video game stories I could see it for- definitely!
And virtual travel and education for sure- that could really be great. But not one thing quoted here sounds the least bit compelling for "replacing" filmmaking as we know it.

February 12, 2016 at 10:52PM, Edited February 12, 10:52PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
80

This is ludicrous. Storytelling is TELLING, which means there is a teller, leading you by the hand, directing your attention to what she or he deems as being important, and leaving out the irrelevant bits. This is why stories are more vivid than real life. In real life it's hard to go through an emotional roller coaster with someone you've just met in 90 minutes - but that's what every good feature film does.

Even the best theme-park rides very much direct your attention in order to create rhythm and flow, and to make sure you don't miss the essential elements. Most movies would not be more powerful, funny, etc. if you could see all around in 360, rather than be led all around the scene shot by shot by a skillful director and editor. There is also the issue of acting - you can no longer pick the best bits of each take - and lighting - there is nowhere to hide the light stands and so on, so what, now all light comes from above? That's not exactly pretty, is it.

VR will be cool, sure, and great for gaming, but it no more replaces motion pictures than video games do.

That and... OMG some people get caught up in their own BS. The people on this panel need to get a grip.

February 16, 2016 at 8:14PM

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Robert Ruffo
Director/DP
198