February 27, 2017

VR is Not Filmmaking—Here's Why [PODCAST]

Sundance filmmakers say that the key to creating great VR is to stop pretending that it's film.

Imagine starting your day in bed with a gorgeous lover and ending it in the middle of a nightclub shooting. Now, imagine being face-to-face with an NSA whistleblower who is spilling deadly secrets. Imagine dancing through a lifetime of relationships until you become elderly and meet a dramatic end—or, perhaps, a new beginning.

These are scenes from virtual reality projects, and they're each cinematic, but they're certainly not cinema. So why would a major film festival like Sundance take any interest in them? And how can filmmakers use VR to tell original stories and reach new audiences?

In today's episode of the No Film School podcast, we speak with four people who can help answer these questions—the same four, in fact, who helped create the fascinating projects described above, which premiered in the VR Palace at Sundance 2017. Our guests Lily Baldwin (Through You ), Rose Troche (If Not Love ), and Yasmin Elayat and Elie Zananiri (Zero Days VR ) discuss how they brought these groundbreaking stories to life, and reveal which filmmaking rules they had to throw out the window to do so.

"What cannot exist in film is where we exist." - Lily Baldwin

Descriptions of our guests' projects from the Sundance catalog are below:

Zero Days VR

Artists: Scatter, Yasmin Elayat, Elie Zananiri

This chilling documentary tells the story of the cyber weapon Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware hatched during a clandestine mission by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage an underground Iranian nuclear facility. Told from the perspective of Stuxnet and a key NSA informant, the story places audiences inside the invisible world of computer viruses and allows them to experience the high stakes of cyber warfare. We come to realize that the digital threat of a new chapter of modern warfare is closer to home than we thought.

Zero Days VR
A still from Zero Days VR by Yasmin Elayat, Elie Zananiri and Scatter, an official selection of the New Frontier VR Experiences at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Through You

Artists: Lily Baldwin, Saschka Unseld

This athletically vibrant and sensual experience explores love across a lifetime. Using dance to inhabit a common mortal story of love born, lived, lost, burned, and seemingly gone forever, Through You is a live-action VR richly infused with an atmosphere of passion. Dancers Joanna Kotze and Marni Thomas Wood, along with actor Amari Cheatom, take us through the coursing periods of time, from the 1970s to 2046 and beyond, where the question is harbored, “Can love be found again?”

If Not Love
A still from IF NOT LOVE by Rose Troche, an official selection of the New Frontier VR Experiences at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

If Not Love

Artist: Rose Troche

A dance club pulses with bouncing, happy friends and lovers. Downstairs, a shooter courses the underbelly of the building, preparing to carry out a mission for the Lord. But when we slip back in time, we discover that this same man hooked up with another man. After the intimate encounter, he runs out of the room, filled with shame over who he is. But what if events unfolded differently? What if the man he hooked up with convinced him to stay—to face himself? Could that simple act have changed the course of history?

Listen to the episode by streaming or downloading from the embedded player above, or find it on iTunes here. 


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No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones.      

This episode was produced and edited by Jon Fusco. In the featured image, Joanna Kotze and Amari Cheatom appear in 'Through You' by Saschka Unseld and Lily Baldwin, an official selection of the New Frontier VR Experiences program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

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