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A FLICK CHICK: Virtual Reality and 360 Film Screenwriting For Writers

Paula Landry challenges filmmakers to take back the future. Or, perhaps a better way of putting it, is to claim the future – in Virtual Reality and 360 storytelling.

Paula Landry challenges filmmakers to take claim the future – in Virtual Reality and 360 storytelling.

Paula Landry, MBA, is a writer/producer and consultant helping writers create strategies to excel. Landry teaches film business classes at NYU, SVA, Wagner College and MCNY. She’s co-authored This Business of FILM; and Sell Your Screenplay; and is the author of Scheduling and Budgeting Your Film. Twitter: @paulalandry. Read full bio.

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girl riding bicycle wearing VR headset

Photo Credit: Sebastian Voortman Creative Commons Zero License

FELLOW WRITERS! I’m challenging you – to take back the future. Or, perhaps a better way of putting it, is to claim the future – in Virtual Reality and 360 storytelling. Perhaps you write screenplays, webisodes, teleplays or stage plays; one, some or all of those mediums. Are you working on a short or feature? Animated franchise material or novel?

  • STOP
  • START creating a piece for Virtual Reality / 360
  • (That doesn’t mean abandoning whatever else it is you’re working on, by the way)

While I’m totally not the boss of you, it’s a good idea to think about how much this wave of movies is impactful, could help you get noticed, and make you excited to write for a new medium.

Why Care About Virtual Reality, 360 Filmmaking And Augmented Reality?

Technology changes all the time, you might think. Piffle. I can’t just switch my storytelling at the whim of the electronics industry. Should I care what new whatsits, bitbytes, pantookas, dafflers and wuzzles are available? Maybe not. But consider this.

One of the themes of the movie industry is technology. Innovations in technology impact the kinds of stories we tell. Adding sound to movies changed narratives. They became longer and more complex. Think about CGI, comic book movies are popular right now due in part to their reliance on fantastic computer effects.

Because we have approximately 100 years plus of movies, thanks to the hard work and talent of many people, and also, the industry has created a legacy of 50+ years of television shows. Together this is a huge amount of content. There’s an enormous body of work in the short film arena, and although our total universe of webisodes is only 15+ years or so, we’re moving quickly in that respect.

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You Can Stand Out

VR and 360 films are only a few years old. While people are working hard making them, there still aren’t that many out there. Especially if you compare it to movies, TV and webisodes. What that means is that where could you stand out and put your mark on something – is in the Virtual Reality and 360 movie content. This is brand new, so right now you’re in the first wave of creators. So go and make your mark!

Also, if you consider yourself a diverse artist, by means of your gender, ethnic background, age or other identification, this is an even bigger opportunity. Media for decades came from non-diverse points of view. Now we have an opportunity to shift that tide. So you’d be representing a wider array of storytelling viewpoints going forward.

Virtual Reality and 360 Films Will Highlight More Diverse Stories and Diverse Writers

Writers right now have the ability to write for and film tomorrow’s history today - using VR to empower and ignite audiences and in the process - smash stereotypes. What we see onscreen informs how people think, view and behave.

I’m selling something today and the cost is a mere 60 seconds. VR Future Goggles - we put them on with our imagination - to see where everyone is equal, their stories are valued, their viewpoints heard.

Like most sexual species, the sex ratio in humans is approximately 1:1. Of the approximately 8 billion people on the planet, only a quarter is Caucasian. However, Hollywood movies typically cast ¾ white, and male characters receive twice as much screen time as women. As visual creatures that process information largely through stories, and increasingly visual stories, we learn how the world works by looking at media, games, TV, movies and ads. It’s imperative that this new embodiment of ourselves – VR/360 and AR – is inclusive of all of us, no matter what color, shape, size, ability, sex, gender identity we are. Right now, she – he – we – they – who is onscreen is the new normal - so we, right now, are PRE-WRITING history. Cool, right?

 Photo Credit: Wikimedia, Samsung VR Reality Audience

Photo Credit: Wikimedia, Samsung VR Reality Audience

Last year Oculus pledged $250k upfront then $10 million going forward to diversity programs, and 2 days ago, Facebook, Google and global advertising giants like WPP joined forces to end gender stereotypes in ads around the world – the Unstereotype Alliance. Big money is behind this technology so it will be around for at least a little while.

Technology Is Always Changing

It may not seem like a big deal, however, to be one of the first artists in a new art form is significant. And it means that you’re not the 3,874,738,938th creator – you’re perhaps the 37,253th. So your voice and look and ideas are a bigger piece of that body of work, and by definition making an impact. Shaping its future. And especially if you are a writer who is under-represented historically, you have an opportunity to claim this art form.

girl wearing virtual reality headset

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

What Are VR/360 Films

Virtual reality and 360 degree films are similar in that a viewer can see all the way around them in every direction. However there is a key difference between them. In 360 films there is no control or interactivity beyond where you look. That means that the film goes on around you and you experience it as you like. But you’re a passenger on the bus that is the story.

However in VR, the audience member has some control inside the story. An environment is constructed, you are driving the bus that is moving through that story, with whatever control the creator has made.

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What Is The Difference Between 360 And VR

You may notice these being bandied about lately;

  • 360
  • VR
  • AR

360 Films

If you’re a curious sort, you may have donned a sporty VR headset. Maybe you've bought one of the starter cameras – Rico Theata, Insta 360, Kodak PixPro or others. Let us take a quick, non-technical, look at the difference between VR and 360 formats.

360-degree films have a story (or stories, or possibly a series of events) happening all around them. The audience can look around inside the story or environment as it happens, but does not navigate the story or control anything beyond the direction in which one looks. The 360 can be filmed and or viewed in monoscopic (filmed in one camera) or stereoscopic (filmed in 2 cameras so it looks 3D), this is a minor detail as a writer but gives you a sense of things the filmmaker might be thinking about for the final experience.

In a 360 film, think of yourself as an audience member inside a play. Viewers can watch a completed 360 movie on a headset or a computer and look up, down and sideways, but cannot really zoom in close or back away. Viewers cannot change or influence what happens in the environment of the movie. You can use VR headsets or the cardboard Google glasses and your smart phone to watch these.

VR Films

In comparison, Virtual Reality is made up of environments (filmed live or digitally created) where viewers can move around inside, and interact with them depending on the creator’s intent and design. Computers are required for these, so the VR headgear is required (and sometimes accessories such as gloves can be used), and the headgear is typically wired to a computer or game console, because the experience needs robust processing power to work correctly.

Photo Credit: Scott Webb Creative Commons Zero License

VR headset

Popular headsets right now are Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR.

Websites To Watch VR And 360 Movies

Companies that are a good place to sample virtual reality and 360 movies right now are the following:

You May Also Be Wondering About Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality is the creation of objects inside or on top of the current environment. If you have been run over by someone playing Pokemon Go so that the player could grab their Pokemon creature inside their phone, that is a good example of Augmented Reality – the player was looking through a screen at the real world, and a digital creature appeared over it.

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Writing Creates The Art Form

Everyone knows that writers are the foundation of movies, and if the story is sound, well-thought, interesting and dynamic, the visual expression has a shot at being effective. As always, it’s in the writing. With new technology, it’s not always easy to understand what that means for writers, it’s like being a fish living in the ocean attempting to understand currents in the water.

swimming with the fishes

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire Creative Commons Zero License

In future posts, we'll be looking at formatting and story telling issues for VR and 360. In conclusion, my suggestion is to take a look at some of these films, and try writing a few. (One bonus is they tend to be short). Maybe you'll be part of the next wave of media!

More articles by Paula Landry

Learn Virtual Reality writing with our Screenwriters University Tutorial
Writing for Virtual Reality and 360 Video Projects

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