There is no denying that Virtual Reality (VR) is the hot new thing in the entertainment industry. It’s making headlines and beginning to wow audiences around the globe. And though VR has been around for years, the technology as a whole and its place in the market is still being figured out. This month, I sat down with rock star VR production coordinator and director, Emily Cooper, who is helping bring VR to the masses through the work she does and the stories she tells. Smart, thoughtful and talented, Emily is one female storyteller to watch out for!
Q: Can you tell us about your path toward working in virtual reality?
A: I always wanted to be a part of telling stories. Growing up in Kentucky in a small town, when you see people tell stories, I didn’t know the landscape behind the camera. I’m talking about being a really little kid [but]you see actors. My parents were avid readers and I would act everything out. And I studied theater in college but something just didn’t seem to fit with theater and what I wanted to do, the worlds I wanted to create. And I felt my thinking was more filmic. So I moved to LA. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t really know what I was doing so I started [acting]and I still felt as though something wasn’t right. And sometimes in life you have to take a job to take a job. [It] paid really well but I was really unhappy. I wanted to be creative. But acting hadn’t turned out to be the way I was meant to tell stories. I needed to find the best vehicle to tell stories and I heard about the job opening [at Virtual Reality Company.]At first, I was like no way because you hear VR, at least for me, I thought it was going to be really technology centered and I wouldn’t know what I’m doing but then I started to look into it and something clicked. It was, to me, the perfect marriage between what I always wanted to do in theater and then in film. You can immerse people. Several weeks into the job there was a project about storm chasing – a VR documentary – and we were really busy so I said, “I’ll go” and I made a case for going and they said okay and so I went with an established documentary director and we went out for two weeks.
Q: That’s awesome. What is your role at the Virtual Reality Company?
A: I am executive coordinator in live action production and I do a lot of our live action testing. I’ve been really blessed to work at a company that saw what I wanted to do and let me follow that path. I’ve shot over 30 hours of VR [and I’m]directing their project, “The World Cup of Hip Hop, Take Back The Mic”, which is documentary/travel style [content.] It’s all about hip-hop. In the 1970s, hip-hop was a movement of the people, for the people and its become very commercialized over the last several years. We teamed up with a global hip-hop competition because they’re taking the mic back to the people. Fans upload videos and artists and the artists and fans vote. We went to Columbia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and we’re going to Brazil, Cuba and the U.S. We profile the three artists the fans voted for but we’re giving fans access to the top talent in each country and along the way, we’re discovering how they became the artists they are. It’s unparalleled access and we’re doing that in virtual reality. I can place you in this culture. You can look all around you and be transported to a different world.
Q: As a VR director, with such a wide space, can you make sure someone in a VR environment is focusing on what you want them to focus on?
A: You can gently persuade them [with]lighting cues, sound cues and even the way you edit…
Q: What do you think the role of VR is in the current filmmaking landscape?
A: You have filmmakers who are creating short films, feature films. There’s a question of how long one can stay in the headset. VR is so evolving and ever changing. For me, I live in the creative space and so I’m really interested in the type of stories we can create in VR but [to do that], you have to have a shared vernacular with visual effects and game developers because it’s the intersection of so many different facets of technology and entertainment and everyone has to come together to create a really good project. The majority of VR right now is computer generated. [In the next year], there is going to be a lot of content coming out that’s geared toward [an audience]beyond gamers. Remember when not everyone had a smart phone? I feel like VR’s that right now.
Q: What type of advice can you give to someone interested in a path in VR?
A: I think first off, it’s to not back away from it because it can seem overwhelming. I think it’s taking the first step, reading the blogs dedicated to VR news. First, I think it’s immersing yourself into the culture and knowledge and then getting a consumer rig. [Emily notes there are a few on the market or coming out.] Just take one and go out and shoot and have success and failures but learn how to film in VR.
Stay tuned for next month when Emily gives us a basic primer on Virtual Reality…