Producing : VR Storytelling by Jeff Lyons

Jeff Lyons

VR Storytelling

I've been wondering hard about VR storytelling and the challenges for writers ... the form is so different. Well, just found a new VR short that is pretty close to traditional 2D, but also filmed in 360 degrees... I found myself so distracted clicking around looking for stuff going on around the main action that I lost focus every time I clicked away. I imagine it's the same even with a VR headset on. Looking off to see what else is happening is a huge disconnect from the narrative (even though presumably it's all narrative in VR). Anyway... Is this an issue???? VR experts pls chime in...

Dan MaxXx

VR is booming in adult porn. Overseas. $$$$. Very little story :)

Jeff Lyons

I'm shocked, shocked I say to find gambling going on in this establishment :)

Larry DeGala

who needs a beefy story when there's plenty of sweet eye candy? :)

Jeff Lyons

Me... :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

...good grief (slaps forehead). Lol!

Hugo Keijzer

Hi Jeff, I'm the director of this short film and your reaction is exactly the reason we made it to begin with. It's one big experiment for us. I'm intrigued by the medium, but have been frustrated by the available content, which focusses so heavily on technique and effect that we almost appear to forget the craft of basic storytelling. The idea that something's interesting just because it's shot for VR doesn't make sense to me, it's like saying a film's good just because it's shot on an Alexa. That's why we set out to make a VR film that has everything you'd expect from a traditional short film, but we also experimented with the opportunities / challenges the technique offers; an immersive experience, a more active role for the viewer, a method to steer the viewer's direction (with sound, blocking, dialogue, conflict) and we even played with the use of close-ups. It's still rough around the edges, but we are nevertheless proud of the result, because it might add something new to the discussion of VR and storytelling and hopefully will inspire other filmmakers to continue this experiment. There's no way of telling where this hype will take us, but after going through the process myself I have to say I'm very excited by it's potential. And yes, try to watch it on one of those goggles (with GEAR VR you can watch it through facebook) it's a different experience altogether. Love to hear your thoughts!

Debbie Croysdale

An eclectic experiment , the effects seemed to add depth rather than distract from the meat of the story, I agree@Hugo, the film a good traditional short to kick off with.

Jeff Lyons

Hugo--yes, I know you directed... thanks for responding :) It was really clear you guys were experimenting... and grappling with "the language" of VR or lack thereof. I think you did a great job, actually. I just don't see this taking off until the headsets get really small... like eye glasses small. Everyone I know who does VR has this as a big concern. It's exhausting moving around with those huge headsets. Anyway... I get this is new an in formation, etc. :) and the form needs people like you who get it... and clearly you do. So... bravo. It also needs people like me (storytellers) who know how to give people like you (Directors in VR) what they want!!! :) I'm excited by all this too.... we're just so early on the curve I think. Anyway... I really appreciate you responding... I totally support what you're trying to do.... becasue writers like be will ultimatly benefit as well.

Jeff Lyons

Hugo... well, now you have me thinking. I'm really curious what you thought about this distraction problem when you decided how to do this? Directors want to control the eyes of the audience ... what was your thought process about this when you developed your shots? How did all this tie you up in knots... if it did? I think we can all benefit from a director's take on this distraction problem, since you had to actually deal with it! thanks...

Hugo Keijzer

Honestly I don't think distraction is that big of an issue. With traditional film you don't have any more control over what the viewer sees than in VR. There's no way of knowing if someone picks up on the stuff the director want them to see, even if you're serving them a massive close-up they might as well be looking on their phone or to their girlfriend on the right and miss crucial information. VR space is better in the way that whatever distracts you comes from the realm of the film (thus controllable by the director) and not from outside. Therefore I believe it's actually easier to focus peoples attention in VR than in traditional film. The gimmick of looking at a ceiling, behind you, or at the floor soon wears out and if the story's interesting enough (that's why we went for life/death stakes) 99 percent of the people will be watching the main action. Actually, seeing people watch my film I noticed they hardly look around and just focus on the story. That makes sense, because if you'd witness a street fight you'd be watching the action too right and not look at a lamppost behind you just because you can? Of course the technique is still in ridiculous babyshoes and everything feels clunky and weird still, but distraction imho is the least of the worries. What worries me more is how to make VR a shared experience, because shutting the outside world out for an immersive experience is kinda lonely.

Jeff Lyons

Really interesting comments... you have me rethinking... :)

Dawn Johnston

Just found this discussion... interesting! I've been looking into VR recently and it seems there are still problems to be solved. The first few times I watched (admittedly without a VR headset) I kept spinning around making sure something interesting wasn't going on somewhere else - real fear of missing out! I've read about several ways I've heard to combat this. Give the viewer time to really take in their surroundings before launching into the story. Give movement and sound cues to catch the viewers attention so they don't wander to much from the story. Most of the 360 VR videos I watched just kind of ignored the viewer, which does feel a bit weird. You're there in the story. Also, even if you're acknowledged (like in the one above, I think?) it again feels a bit odd to be mute and without agency. With all that in mind I wrote a short script for VR recently. Many are horror and I wanted to try something outside that genre. It was definitely a challenge to think about the surroundings so much. And to write the story from only one person's visual point of view. It's exciting that the medium is progressing so fast.

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