“Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you hoped I had….Welcome back”

That’s how Frank Underwood, a.k.a Kevin Spacey, ends the first episode of Season 2 of House of Cards and there’s an actual sigh of relief from audiences! You see, F.U. has been talking to you (me) ever since Season 1 of this hit ‘made for Netflix’ series, and we somewhat feel left out when the entire episode goes by, with him ignoring us. And this… is still a regular TV show.

Imagine how devastating it would be, if this were a made-for-NetflixVR show. Yes, Netflix VR is a thing! We (I) would certainly take it personally if he sidelined us in VR as he does ever so often, his trusted lieutenants.

STORYTELLING IN VR

Breaking the Fourth Wall in VR:

The language and the Grammar for Cinematic VR filmmaking is being written, everyday. New Storytellers are being born and contributing their unique vocabulary and ‘voice’ to the medium. While some veteran filmmakers might not yet be believers, the evolution of visual storytelling will continue.

There is an unparalleled connection between audience and story in VR when a storyteller knows how to manage the medium. An almost visceral reaction can be evoked in audiences when a Director knows how to leverage Virtual Reality to tell his/her story.

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We experienced the feeling first hand, in “Henry” when he looks directly at us- in context- in the well made VR film of the same name. Even though an animated movie, there is no denying the feeling of ‘presence’ the audience feels when viewing Henry on a VR “screen”

While in traditional Cinema it’s rare to break this fourth wall – in VR – it begs you to! This does not mean that every VR film should lead the audience by-the-nose with an actor speaking to them. At least, we hope VR storytellers don’t use it as a lazy way of keeping audience attention… the same way lazy Cinematographers do, with overuse of rack-focus and selective focus.

Achieving Omniscience  in Cinematic VR Filmmaking:

There is a need to respect and maintain the premise of “personal space in VR”.

For example, when shooting OTS (over the shoulder) shots in VR films as with Stereoscopic 3D movies, there is a need to maintain ‘personal space’. This fact won’t be obvious in the many 2D VR videos being done by 360 filmmakers. The above interactive image [A 2D extract from the stereo 360: Dirrogate] is an example of how the sense of personal space is lost because it’s in 2D 360.

In a 2D movie you can’t really tell the spatial depth in a scene, but an OTS shot in stereoscopic 360 VR would look like the the Objective Camera (or third person / audience) was actually resting their chin on the shoulder of the actor. This would violate someone’s personal space in real life (which is what our brains are being tricked into believing a VR scene is)

Head Hopping in VR Filmmaking:

In “Dirrogate”, because the story is unfolding in Virtual Reality, it allowed me to experiment with the narrative point of view. Unless pointed out, no one who’s seen the 10 minute VR experience has objected to the ‘head-hopping’ that is at play. See the embedded film at the bottom of this page and try to count how many head-hops take place. Here’s a few:

1:43 into the movie – Dan’s POV

2:02 switch to Maya’s POV (Limited Omniscience – Audience becomes a passive observer)

2:05 head-hop into Maya’s POV

4:10 back to Omniscient POV (audience goes back to being a passive observer)

5:09 Head-hop to Dan’s POV

What is of importance to note is, that in Virtual Reality, I get to allow the audience, male or female, to ‘gender-hop‘ in VR. In conventional filmmaking, such head-hopping would be hard to pull off and would be jarring in many instances.

In Dirrogate, at 2:05 into the movie, a male viewer/audience gets to enter the head of Maya, access her (first person) point of view, while listening to her (female) voice – while now having a limited omniscient POV. It does not sound alien that your voice now has a different pitch and tone whereas, earlier at 1;40 you certainly had a man’s voice while you looked around.

Of course this can be attempted in conventional movie-making, but there is a difference, an important one…

In a VR film when head-hopping, you really do enter the new character’s head. You can look around, independent of the camera. This difference alone, and the fact that there is spatial depth & personal space, convinces the brain that you, the audience, are there in person. In a Cinematic VR movie, you become the character who’s head you’ve hopped into!

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Breaking the fourth wall…(in a House of Cards)

This brings us to what can only be described as an eventuality – House of Cards in VR! Why not?

Wouldn’t it be cool if Kevin Spacey were to experiment with a made for VR episode?

  • What would the feeling be, sitting besides him- a passive ‘Stamper’
  • Or, President F.U. invading ‘our personal space’ in VR.
  • Would those fine age lines on his face, captured in stereoscopic detail, make him more… real? intimidating?
  • Would it thrill to have him, every once in a while, turn around and break the fourth wall while speaking directly to us through his alter ego; Kevin Spacey?
  • What would it be like to head-hop into President Frank Underwood’s head and see the world through his eyes while he (we) climb to the top – no holds barred?

NetFlix has dethroned Cinema and TV. Let’s face it… It has. You don’t even need to be in the US to understand why. Netflix is also one of the first platforms to see the potential of VR and without wasting time, launched it’s NetFlix VR app. With its penchant for pioneering, could Netflix soon start investing in original VR content?

Kevin Spacey has been in the news lately, showing keen interest in Cinematic VR.

“Virtual reality is completely immersive. You step through that window and you are in a different world…” is what he said.

Or, in the case of Frank Underwood, he could break the fourth wall in VR and step into ours.