Thought-provoking, riveting and immersive — the art of filmmaking always had the ability to tell stories in such unique ways. But Erratic Pictures, a Calgary-based film production company, is taking filmmaking from screen to virtual reality.
Anna Cooley and Brandon DeWyn, the duo behind Erratic Pictures, experiment with virtual reality through their upcoming series Everyone We Know Will Be There VR.
The episodic web series is based on a stage play written by Elena Belyea. It takes place over the course of a high school party, diverging into five different storylines each following one of the partiers.
“It follows five main characters, Brad, Julianne, Tina, Fig and Alex as they struggle with the realities of being a teenager,” says Cooley.
Rather than taking place on a traditional stage, the story is acted-out in a house in the Tuscany area. There are no seats in this play and audience members are split up. Each spectator is designated one character to follow for the entire play.
“The concept was that you are just randomly assigned one of five characters that you stand up and follow from room to room as they go about their business over the course of the night,” says DeWyn.
As audience members move across the house, they catch glimpses of the other characters’ storylines.
“At the end of the night you've got your character's story and you've got an idea of what's happening to everybody else, but they're just these little gaps,” says DeWyn.
When Cooley and DeWyn attended the theatrical play, they were astounded.
“We came out of the play and we were like ‘that needs to be in VR,’” Cooley says.
Learning about VR
Erratic Pictures produces everything from narrative film, short-form documentaries to videos for non-profits and charities. But when it comes to VR filmmaking, it’s is a whole new experience for the production duo.
“Neither of us had ever worked in VR or I think, ever thought of doing anything in VR before. So we've literally spent the last several years learning how VR works,” says Cooley.
Still, they knew that this story would best be told through VR.
“VR has the benefit of being able to really place an audience member in scene and eliminate the separation that exists between audience and story,” says Cooley. “That creates a huge amount of empathy with the character.”
The original theatrical production and virtual reality play-off the same idea— audience members are in the same room as the characters themselves. The only difference is that one is a physical presence whereas the other is a virtual one.
Cooley and DeWyn wanted to recreate their experience of the stage play.
“When you go through the experience from one perspective, you really end up seeing the situation from that character's perspective. Then that that leads to your interpretation of what happens in certain scenes,” says Cooley.
The story encourages multiple viewings because there are so many different storylines to follow. When audience members return and follow another character’s point of view, there’s a whole other aspect of the story they discover.
“Then when you go back and watch from a different perspective, suddenly you see that interaction in a different light and where you might have really hated a character when following one person, [then] you really emphasize with them when you understand their side of the story,” Cooley adds.
Both Cooley and DeWyn dedicated a lot of time into researching the immersive technology, DeWyn delving into extensive research on the technology and Cooley working at a virtual reality gaming company called Secret Location. Although they independently learned more about the technology, they also had some help along the way.
Beyond traditional media
MAMMOTH XR, a small business dedicated to extended reality, which includes virtual reality and augmented reality, helped Erratic Pictures with the development of their project.
Shaun Crawford, creative captain at MAMMOTH XR, who also has a background in filmmaking, sees potential of VR in the industry.
With traditional media, it exists in only two dimensions.
“It's just a series of frames of rectangles kind of tied together. You're sort of looking at something through a window,” says Crawford.
“Virtual reality takes you through that frame and inside the experience. What happens is instead of watching it, you are inside it you are experiencing that you're a part of it, even if you don't have any agency in that story.”
Currently, the series is at its early stages of production. While they have a proof of concept, Erratic Pictures continues to work with MAMMOTH XR to find funding for the project.
Evoking emotion through immersive media
Everyone We Know Will Be There is an emotional piece of narrative and according to DeWyn that’s why the immersive medium plays a crucial part in the story.
“I've seen all of the exact same action happen on film, TV and on the stage. And this one brings me to tears every time I see it now in VR like it did when I last saw it in theater,” says DeWyn
With the original play touching on subjects like depression, suicide, sexuality and identity, Cooley and DeWyn hopes that the project can help people talk about these issues more openly.
“The immediacy and the empathy that you feel for these kids as they have the best night or the worst night … watching that happen in front of you, we think opens up a path to having conversations with other people about those experiences and just understanding them yourself instead.”
- By Kiah Lucero