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Creating VR: Your Jumpstart Guide

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I’m passionate about creating change through art, so I steer toward creating films that make a social impact. VR is an incredible way to take this concept to the next level— but it’s also just a lot of FUN. Isn’t that another key reason for why we as filmmakers do what we do? With this in mind, a $20,000 camera on loan from Google, and a non-existent budget, I decided to get friendly with my obsession- aliens!

Have you ever been camping? Do you feel like every creak in the woods is a bear or an axe murderer coming to get you? Okay, so maybe I’ve watched too many movies, but nonetheless, these are my ebbe-jeebies when I’m overnight in a plastic teepee with no proper security or insulation. And what about all of those abduction stories? I feel like people aren’t usually stolen from the safety of their home while they’re reading Forbes on the toilet. You are clearly more vulnerable in the woods, no?

Thus birthed my VR experience, “Abduction.” Now you too can encounter the excitement of being taken! (I should pitch this to Liam Neeson and M. Night Shyamalan to produce in feature form: “Taken 6: You Should’ve Seen the Signs.” Yep, consider that idea copy-written.)

VR has the ability to immerse the viewer in a 360-degree environment so fully your brain truly believes they are there. I’ve seen small children pee themselves and grown men scream aloud in terror so if you’re a non-believer, get ready to be converted. If VR is done properly, you shouldn’t get dizzy. If the storytelling is on point, it will evoke an emotion in you. The next level element is the creation of an alternate reality that feels very real, unlike watching a 2D film. The exciting tactic I like to employ as a filmmaker is the use of a 1st person POV, so you as the viewer become part of the film. For all of you alien fans out there, this is the sh*t! Still a skeptic? Try it out for yourself. I’ve outlined 7 simple steps to get you started.

 

HOW TO EXPERIENCE VR

  1. Grab a VR headset – Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, etc
  2. Click this link from your phone: https://youtu.be/SYonRW_RFTw
  3. Unlock your screen rotation
  4. Press the 3 dots in the upper right-hand corner of your screen, choose Quality 2160.
  5. Press the VR headset icon on the bottom right of your screen & pop your phone in the front of the cardboard/headset longways (horizontally), minus a case.
  6. Plug in your headphones and pop them on.
  7. Press the play button on the upper right-hand side of your cardboard and feel free to turn around in your seat for a 360 viewing experience! *Note: If you can get your hands on an Oculus Go, it eliminates the need for phone fiddling. It’s an all-in-one headset created for VR!

 

Pictured: Angela Cohen at San Diego Comic Con, watching Alien VR of course.

 

WOW! THAT WAS UNREAL! HOW DO I MAKE IT?

Okay, you’re flabbergasted, I know. It’s a mind-altering encounter. It makes you want to run for the hills or jump right in. If you’re the latter, I’ve documented my experiences and distilled them into a Jumpstart Guide below.

 

YOUR JUMPSTART GUIDE TO CREATING VR

  1. Write a story you are passionate about telling within the medium

One of the biggest mistakes people make is making a movie in VR just for the sake of shooting in VR. Make sure your story is synergized by the medium.

 

  1. It’s not exactly budget-friendly

Most VR is very post-production heavy. VFX & compositing can play a big role, as can cleaning up stitching issues. Stitching used to be quite pricey and high-level hand stitching still is, however there are plenty of cameras now that auto-stitch, eliminating this barrier to entry for the independent filmmaker. Just know this is basic, stationary filming. Once you’re on the move, you invite new issues! I suggest teaming up with people who are excited to experiment with the medium if you don’t have a budget, so you are all working together to improve your knowledge, similar to that of traditional indie filmmaking.

 

  1. Nausea is deal-breaker

I don’t recommend moving the camera if this is your first time in VR unless you have an experienced DP and post-production team. Nausea is the number one viewer complaint and it’s a make or break issue for your film. Once the viewer is sick, I promise, they aren’t putting the headset back on, thus rendering your creation useless.

 

  1. Watch a lot of VR Films

Moving the medium forward is a big part of the current landscape. That being said, if you’re just getting started, watch a lot of what’s already been made and decide what excites you most! That’s the best way to take your project to completion.

 

  1. If your camera doesn’t have a witness cam, create your own

Google’s Odyssey didn’t have monitoring abilities, which was certainly to my frustration as a director. Amend that problem by throwing a Gear 360 on top, which gives you a view straight from your phone! Most prosumer cameras now have this ability, but this is always a nice trick and comes in handy on a shoot to play with vantage points.

 

Behind the scenes of ABDUCTION: PART 1 The Disappearance

 

  1. Start shooting now

VR is so accessible you can buy a camera for less than $100. Samsung, Theta, and Insta 360 all have easy to use handhelds to get you started. The sooner you can understand how it works, the more prepared you’ll be when you land on set.

 

  1. Find like-minded collaborators

Go to film festivals programming VR to meet the people making it and get acquainted. There’s a lot of waiting around in between experiences with ample opportunity to connect!

Virtual Reality is changing the landscape of how we empathize and relate to others in the world. It’s very powerful and a lot of fun so if you’re inspired, get cracking and keep me posted on what you make!

Angela Cohen

About Angela Cohen

Angela Cohen is an actress, producer, writer, and director. She has performed at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater, the classic St. George Theatre in New York City, and has penned comedy pilots for television, which HBO affiliates deemed "funny with broad appeal." Her film and television work includes Oscar winners Al Pacino, Paul Haggis, and Barry Levinson. The Miami Herald touted Angela as an "Actress on the Rise." Angela founded Charley Bear Productions Inc, with a vision to affect change through art, showcasing the female perspective in front of and behind the camera. She's a Sundance New Frontier Labs finalist for he VR experience, “The Art of Saving a Life,” was handpicked by Google for their Jumpstart VR Initiative, and qualified for the 90th annual Academy Awards with her short film, "Without Grace," which sold to Shorts TV and is currently in development for series. You can follow her @AngelaCohen and learn more about her work at CharleyBearProductions.com.