Revenge F started in Oculus Launch Pad. A development program to help VR content creators with unique perspectives bring their ideas to market. Check out more info here: https://www.oculus.com/launch-pad/
A year ago, I didn't know the difference between AR/VR/XR/MR or 360 film. Back in February of this year, Jonah Kozlowski, The artist and education services manager at NWFF invited me to a workshop at Mechanical dreams at CoMotion in Seattle. It was kind of like going to a new street that you didn't know was there, in a neighborhood you've lived in all your life. They talked about terms and VR as empathy, and the need for editors who could stitch footage. I had never heard of most of what they were talking about. It was their VR film, Potato Dreams, that grabbed my imagination though. That film in 'flat' form, Little Potato, has gone on to win several awards, including Documentary short at SXSW. The film showed me what VR can do - tell a beautiful, intimate sotry. And that's what got me hooked. I had a short film in mind, but hadn't been able to really find a way to spark the full concept of it. In the Oculus Launch Pad program, we had to come up with, and create a proof of concept for a project in 3 months, in order to be in the running for competitive funding. My short film idea was about a woman out at the club, who might or might not hook up with someone. Problem is, she's married, and very upset. Probably not the best frame of mind to make a decision to hook up. But she's there. And I wanted to capture the enegy of that hazardous moment in time. So that idea evolved into this 360 film. Now, it's her night, in Part 1, and her husband's night in Part 2. And because the short film is about choices, the user watching gets to choose too. At key moments in the story, the user decides what the characters do via a choice of message texts. Whatever is chosen decides the next scene and therefore the character's path. Will she forgive him? Will he forgive her? Will they work it out? Call if off? It's up to the user, and there can be a different outcome each time the user watches Revenge F. There is a lot of amazing stuff being done in VR right now. It can be a great storytelling medium. If you have an Oculus account, and you'd like to see my proof of concept for Revenge F, contact me below.
Revenge F is a 360 choose-your-own-adventure film series about one critical night in a couple’s troubled marriage.
Sheila and Ken are at a crisis point in their marriage. Revenge F tells Sheila and Ken’s stories from each of their perspectives, and let’s the viewer decide what choices Sheila and Ken make - thereby, deciding what will happen in this couple’s marriage.
Part 1 in the series follows Sheila. Part 2 follows Ken. Both stories allow the user to choose the character’s next actions at critical moments in the story. Each part could have a run time as short as 6 minutes, or as long as 12 minutes, depending on the choices the user makes. These choices happen 3 more times at critical points in Part 1 (Sheila’s night), and Part 2 (Ken’s night). Each time, you are given an opaque bubble above the character’s head. It hearkens back to the devil or the angel on the shoulder.
Each choice has a subsequent scene, and then a path to another story plot point. There are three possible conclusions at the end of Part 1 and Part 2. So it’s possible that you could make choices, see a conclusion, and never see the other possible character paths unless you view Revenge F multiple times.
This is a sample video play through of the short. It doesn't have the gaze based interaction, but it gives you an idea of what it looks like.
Revenge F: Impact
360 film has a unique opportunity to disrupt the traditional narrative structure. When the user decides what will happen next for the character, the user can be more engaged and involved in the stakes of the story.
Additionally, telling this story - about possible betrayal, misunderstood communication, and the far reaching impacts of the choices we make, from the perspectives of both people in the relationship, allows for a sense of perspective and empathy.
You might disagree with or even be upset by Sheila and Ken’s choices. You might even relate to one more than the other. But, you will get to see both sides to their story. You will get to at least be exposed to how things got so critical for them, and why they make the choices that they do. And maybe by seeing those different perspectives, users could come out of the experience able to create empathy for an opposite view – especially something in a topic as seemingly morally cut and dry as infidelity.
This is a marriage of fiction and digital interplay that feels natural – and something that can only be done this seamlessly in VR.
Why should I be the one to make this project? I am Sheila. I’ve been married long enough to understand that marriage is not just a decision one makes on the wedding day. It’s a choice one keeps making over and over, until one chooses something else. I understand that, and I approached each character’s choices without judgment. I want users to be able to do that too.
I directed my first short film last summer. Through that experience I learned that I love being the spark on set that brings talented people together to make something special.. You can see my short film, Partygoers at the Local Sightings Film Festival in Seattle: https://www.localsightings.org/
Resources. Tenacity. Collaboration The reason Partygoers became something is because of my tenacity and collaboration. I tried to surround myself with people who also cared about doing great work on the project, and people who really wanted to be involved with it. I will do the same thing with Revenge F. I sought out an encouraging Producer - Susan LaSalle, who has already helped me pull together the resources I didn’t have or have access to. http://www.crossfilms.com/bio.php?bio=2_susan
I have a network of people to turn to here in Seattle in the film production and VR community who have experience and resources. I am the right person to make Revenge F because I don’t know any better. I have enough production and writing experience to understand storytelling in the traditional sense, but not enough VR experience to say, “Well, we can’t do that.”
I am right at that sweet spot of ignorance that will make me push for things, and ask questions, and try things to see if they work.
What will it look like?
There will be a slick, heavily color graded feel to Revenge F. Music, clubs, and parties engage our senses, and I want this film to almost drown in color. Especially in key scenes where it’s not clear what choices these characters will make.
Behind the Scenes
Oculus Launch Pad Blog entries
We documented our process over 12 weeks - my entries are below.
Week 1 post - June 23, 2017
I love editing. I like to take lots of little pieces of something and make it into one big something. I love the organizing, the collaboration, and the fine tuning until it becomes close to something the filmmaker had in mind.
Last summer, I tried directing for the 1st time, and I really enjoyed it a bunch more than I thought I would. It was a lot of leg work and required me to come out of my introvert shell to connect with the actors and crew to make it happen. It was tough and immediately rewarding.
In February, a mentor invited me to a 360 workshop – a start up, Mechanical Dreams (making great stuff – check them out), wanted to get the word out about 360 filmmaking and bring more folks into the fold. Their work opened up my mind to what 360 filmmaking could be – warm, immersive, thought-provoking. Great, so I could consume 360, but could I make it? I bought a 360 camera. I dabbled in Mettle and Dashwood plug-ins. I watched more 360 content online.
FF to Oculus Launch Pad application (saw a random post and thought what the hell), and then acceptance. Filled out a budget/proposal without understanding the guidelines of the whole endeavor. Then going and being absolutely intimidated by all the talent there… Whoa.
And a week back now, and racking my brains for creative ideas – what do they want? Is a short 360 film I wrote a creative enough idea for Oculus content? Should I try to make it interactive? Unity was cool – but is it the right tool to make that short film, or should I scratch that and come up with something else? Ugh!!!! I have an ambitious personality type – and one thing I hate – is lack of clarity for my personal direction.
So, after trying to quiet these round and round questions for a few days – a light emerges – a guiding thought: Fear chases away creativity. I am afraid that my idea is not “good enough.” And that fear is making me chase my own tail – hey, chasing my tail isn’t productive, but at least I’m doing something, right? And it’s keeping me from feeling that sinking feeling of rejection/despair. Ok – toss that out. Not helping. Time to get to work.
Part of that fear comes from feeling like I am an imposter – very little 360 video experience. And I have found the best way to kick imposter syndrome to the curb (90’s reference!), is to focus on what I love, and follow that path.
So, I love editing! I love story. I can clearly see and communicate my visions for three stories. That gives me 3 choices/paths to pursue for this Oculus project:
A short form serial documentary on mom athletes. A short film about a woman whose marriage is in crisis, and goes out dancing. A music video about chasing dreams and breaking apart from home life. All three paths have different challenges. But, I think I will end up choosing whichever path answers these questions best:
Which project can I see most clearly? Is there one project over the others that fits the medium of 360 video best? Regardless of the project I choose, I want to experiment with moving the camera – really making the camera part of the performance by creating a rig the subject can wear. It’s going to be a mash up of the selfie perspective and traditional narrative filmmaking. To start me down this path – I am getting a 360 gimble from Gimbal guru https://gimbalguru.com/collections/360-camera-stabilizer/products/the-guru-360-camera-stabilizer
And I am going to figure out how to connect that sucker to an arm and attach it to a subject body somehow and do some tests!
Meantime, I am chatting with a musician about the music video concept, and by next week, will be locked into one of the three paths. They may not be what Oculus is looking for, but I figure that following one of these 3 ideas will make me happy because I really want to do them, and if my submission isn’t chosen, I will still at least have done the work needed to make one of these a reality – and making something that I really want to see get made is a win and gets me creating – and that’s been a great path to be on so far.
This week has been about experimenting with a wearable rig for actors. Lots of searching for workable solutions and ordering and sending back parts. I found a rig from a company called sailvideosystem.com, but I don’t like that the emphasis of it is from behind the actor. It seems like a solid system, and I know someone who uses in for underwater diving and 360 video - but I don’t think it’s what I am looking for. I started with a quick sketch of how what I was looking for could be done.
Basically, I want an articulating arm to support the gimbal/camera. It’s important to me to have options for closeness (hence the adjustable arm) because I want to focus on intimacy with characters. I also want the ability to move through a space with the character. AND I want the actor to feel comfortable enough to wear the rig without it inhibiting the performance.
I tried a chest mount, but it couldn’t support the arm.
I tried something called the peakdesign - which has a quick release plate (that would be cool!), that attaches to a belt or a backpack - it’s made for carrying around heavy cameras. Because it seemed to be more naturally integrated into the way people move, I wanted to try it. But even at it’s most stable - on my belt - the arm was still too heavy to work.
So, I started connecting things to the Glide gear chest mount. The 1st arm I used kept slipping through the threading - either at the arm or the point of connection on the glide chest mount.
But, it seemed like a good path, so I ordered another, sturdier, arm. When attached firmly, the Glide chest mount was able to support the arm and gimbal. Some success! Here are all the parts:
Once I got the hang of using the gimbal (weights matter so much lol), I checked the footage in the Samsung VR. Non-working gimbal= VR sickness big time. Working gimbal - looks pretty nice. Here’s a link to me walking around with the gimbal working.
So, this next week will be spent actually moving with it on, trying some conversations and seeing how it looks with more than one person in the shot. And hopefully getting a “real” actor to wear it and give me feedback. And yeah, I know the lamest thing about it is how big it is...Lots of characters wear vests though, right?
Introspective note: what if this is all I work on for 10 weeks? What if no idea pulls on me as strongly as trying to accomplish this rig?
Surgery tomorrow - so I am posting early! This week I chose my project to pursue - I am drawn to the characters and story of my short script: Revenge F. It's 10 pages, so I need to pare it down to about 5. I am looking for some sample 360 scripts to model - so that I communicate visually what's seen/focused on in the scenes. Kind of like a bolt of lightning, I realized this script could work as a 360 film because thematically, it's about the choices a character is making one night - she's at the end of her rope with her marriage. So, it makes sense to me to make it so that the viewer can also make choices. If the viewer looks at certain people or objects in a scene - that will inform the next scene that comes. For example: opening scene is our protagonists laying in bed, sun coming up, camera seeing them from over head, maybe even lowering down closer to the bed. Both are wide awake, and tense. Alarm phones go off on the nightstands next to them. If you look at him, the next scene cuts to a shot of him turning over to turn off his phone, and follows him as he gets up. If you look at her, the next scene has primarily her in the perspective, and follows her story. And so on, until the night culminates outside a club that night.
My plan this week is to transform the script to be 360 friendly, pare it down. Then get a commitment from a DP, and choose a scene to shoot for submission in September. It will be one that can demonstrate the branching choices. Oooh...Am I writing a choose your own soap opera? Hmmm... Also am watching tutorials and practicing removing objects from moving 360 camera shots.
On the actor rig front - still working on getting that gimble to stop moving when the actor walks with the rig on. Ordered a glidecam rig to test the difference. Thank God for returns!
Now that I’ve settled on a project, I spent my OLP time this week revising my script, and plotting out a timeline to shoot, and watching Unity tutorials on branching.
Revenge F is a short 360 experience film about Sheila and Ken - a couple at a crisis point in their marriage. We’ll follow them through a crucial night in their marriage - one where the choices they make will have permanent consequences.
Based on who or what the viewer looks at longest, the story will advance in different ways.
For the sample submission I want to shoot a simple scene with the couple - intracted in conflict.
My needs right now: DP, and generous Unity guru to help me figure out things.
crew and pre-production
Flesh out the narrative with branching and effects.
So... much of this week has been devoted to character and script development. On a whim, I asked the Seattle VR/AR group if anyone was interested in being a DP for my project. I got one response - from someone I had met once at a VR panel. I pitched her my idea, sent her my script and waited a few days to harass her. She was skeptical about the project, so I invited her to ask me any questions or raise concerns. When I did, we had such an amazing back and forth about the character motivations, and real life motivations behind revenge. And by the end of that conversation, I felt like I had some new depths to explore in the story and some decisions to make about story direction. She really, really helped me to see the story and characters in 3D, so I am really, really hoping she decides to commit to the project. She’s done amazing work with 360 cameras (an early adopter), and from our talk, seems like a genuinely decent human being! Later in the week, I worked up the nerves to pitch a producer I know. She is very interested in the project, and the DP I have been talking to, so, fingers crossed that she also commit, and I will have a beginning team! So the project with be a 2 part series. The first short immersive film will be Sheila’s storyline, and the 2nd film will be from Ken’s side of things. My concerns right now are time - because my process with figuring all of this out has been so slow, I hope I can still pull together a proof of concept by September 10. EEEk! Still very exciting, no matter what. I went slightly more sophisticated than post-its for my flow chart, haha. Still hammering out the actual script...
So...this week I got a commitment from a DP! Laura James has been working with 360 cameras for a while, is well known in the community, does amazing underwater 360 stuff, and we’ve had great conversations about the story/characters in my project, Revenge F.
Also had a wonderful conversation with my producer, Susan LaSalle. She gave me great feedback on the script/characters. Then helped me go through the budget proposal. She is also well connected in the area, and really interested in 360 video as a new media.
I also have a location for the 3 short scenes we plan to shoot for the proof of concept: Monkey Loft
On the Unity side, met with a company called SIXR, and they have a script code for gaze detection. Still talking to them about how I can use that - if they want to donate it, or be paid a contractor fee...or what. So that’s the next step.
Have a couple of auditions set up next week for talent, and a location scout session with the DP/producer. Hoping for a shoot date on August 16, and post up until the deadline after that.
Meantime, it’s scriptwriting and storyboarding!
Whew! Crazy awesome week!
Let’s just call this the “How will I know?” update. Cue Whitney…
I have a team (Producer, DP, audio, me).
I have a confirmed location.
I have principal actors.
I like this production mode - I have very clear objectives, and tangible things to cross off lists. But I also have people stuff to do - communicate my ideas clearly to the DP and actors, and help the actors find gripholds on the characters. Think about the look of everything. I like these slippery elements of the process too because I’ve done them and I can create a world through them.
Two things are still giving me heartburn though…
For the post-production, I can stitch and cut. I am confident that I can do that.
Spatial audio is a little curve, but I am not starting from level 0 on that either.
It’’s the gaze detection and working with Unity. That whole aspect of all of this has me somewhat petrified. So, I am looking for help. I think I can do it myself, but not sure if I can do it well, and in time. I have 2 options for developer help. The 1st is willing to work with a budget, but seems scattered and very split on his time. The 2nd seems more with it - part of a bigger company, and of course, will cost more. Like a lot more. Like all my funds from freelance work more.
My ambitious Type A personality wants option 2 (peace of mind and all that). Practical piece of me is like, wait, what? Lol
Final decision will happen after I talk with my producer in a couple of days. How will I know which option will be best for me?
2nd thing vexing me is more confidence based - what if my material, the story, is just not that compelling.(Sing it Whitney…) All this work and energy for a product that doesn’t connect with a viewer is just like a big failure to me. I have been on sets with hard working crew, and seen all the effort it takes to make something. And then to see how mediocre that product comes out...That’s just a personal demon I struggle with I guess. It’s the villain in the story of creation. I have to push it away - or maybe invite it in, and put it in the corner and laugh at it while I keep on creating.
Also want to note that thinking about the end product has caused me to change the way I write and consider production of this project. Which is the right way to do any film project - consider how it will be consumed. And that has been really fascinating for me in this process. For example - a developer asked me, “What happens if the viewer doesn’t make a choice on that scene?” Which made me go back and reconsider blocking, timing of the take, animated assets, and coding options. Loved all of that replanning.
Prep for Production August 15th.
Finish the actual full length script so it’s ready as part of the submission.
Work on storyboards for the submission (just realizing this might mean 360 photos of actors in locations as stand ins for the scenes).
Decide on developer help and do a contract. Bye bye $$$$
We've had terrible air here in the Seattle area for the last few weeks due to wildfires in BC. That air finally gave me a cold and I am super struggling to be "with it." Rain finally came it last night, so at least I can get some good air in my lungs now. But - had a great convo with my producer to get set for our shoot on Tuesday. Everything is lined up. Knocked out another version of the script for Part 1 of the project - from Sheila's POV. Actually figured out a fantastic way to line up all the possible endings so that they make sense in a satisfying way according to each chosen story "path". And starting to figure out the world and motivations for part 2 - which tells the story from the husband's POV. Also met with the 2 actors for the shoot Tuesday and they gave me some awesome insights about the characters. It will be so fun to see it all coming together. Also settled on a developer. Chose the one who could commit to making my project a priority - even though it will be more $$. I think it's the right choice - he seems to be well versed in Unity and developing apps and understands gaze detection options well. So, next week I will have some video and pics to share! It will feel good to have something tangible to share. Also, my producer has asked for the full script of both parts so she can do a breakdown and budget. Developers will need this to in order to get a complete understanding of budget costs. I will need this to make the best possible proposal, so after stitching and editing, the script's the priority. Gonna be a busy few weeks....:)
We shot the proof on Tuesday! I was so pumped that even though we wrapped at 10, I couldn't come down until 4AM. I had a super producer who helped things run smoothly on set, great cast and crew. Posting a few pictures below. We ended up using a Samsung Gear 360 as the camera - my DP didn't have the 3 camera GoPro array she wanted ready in time. But that's ok. It was a small footprint (practical lighting too). What I would like to improve on is having a larger more reliable monitor than my phone. For shooting in a club at night, the screen was too small to watch the actors in a very meaningful way. Since the shoot, I have been stitching and color correcting. Hoping to get my assets complete and ready for the developer by tomorrow. This tutorial and template has made stitching for the Gear a quick process: https://vimeo.com/185307662 - and it's taught me some AE stuff about controls and scripts too, just by poking around in it. Tonight is audio time - we got to use a Zoom h2n and play around with a Sennheiser spatial mic (on loan from a post-production house.) I love thinking about the spatial sound aspect of 360 filmmaking, so I am excited to cut the audio tonight. This week - assemble assets and build the app with the developer and test and troubleshoot. The hardest thing for me right now is knowing how long to estimate for everything to take since I have never done it before!
Worked with a developer - Eric Nevala at yoyostring creations in seattle. Eric likes to work in Unreal. I was nervous about this at 1st, but given that he had 17 years experience as a programmer, and has his own VR game (wizards throwing fireballs at zombies!), and he had free time on his schedule, I decided to just trust that Unreal was the way to go.
And, OMG, I am super glad I made that call. Since I have only played around with Unity 3x in my life, I was really nervous about attempting to do this part of the project myself. Ebony made me feel a little more at ease during last week’s call when she said that submitting meant that maybe you could take a project manager role if you weren’t so skilled at the technical stuff. So that’s what I did! I focused on communicating what I needed clearly to Eric, creating the best possible assets from what we shot, and learning from him as he worked through creating the blueprint.
His initial estimate to get it done was 1 day. That stretched to 2.5, mainly because I forgot to format my drive for PC, and there was some time lost transferring assets. We also tried playing the text bubbles as videos - but that meant Unreal was trying to play 3 videos at once and that brought the frame rate way down. So, we just included the graphics in the single video asset, and he created invisible colliders over the graphics. The UI only pops up during the selection scene. I am pretty happy with it as a proof of concept. There are some bugs - at the end of one selection another pops up for 1.5 seconds. And there was an erroneous phone buzz cue in the wrong scene - but I think we proved the possibility of the choose your own adventure pretty well. And, I think the fact that the choice comes through text bubbles - something familiar to everyone, doesn’t take the viewer out of the story.
Eric suggested I do a flowchart for him to help him understand the full scope of the project, if funded. Sharing that below, and some of our “work” pictures. He worked - I shopped for PC’s :)
Not much to say - Gabor previewed the proof, and that was awesome feedback. So, I was able to ask the developer to tweak a couple of things. I feel like the proof of concept is solid, and ready to submit to the Oculus store. Most of this week was dedicated to working on my scripts. Part 1 needed some revisions. Finished that and moved on to Part 2 - from the husband's perspective. I was able to get to a 3rd draft of that, and I feel like I got a very good read on the character. Just sent those to my producer so she can do a budget breakdown. Still wavering on the choice of a camera - I want a sony a7s rig due to all the low light scenes. DP is suggesting the z cam s1 Pro, and the Insta 360 PRO, is in consideration too. It might come down to what's easiest to secure. Also, Radiant Images quotes for rentals are kind of bananas! Started doing some research for similar projects in the store, and found an awesome series called, Nuvision. It integrates graphics and "real life" really well. I am super excited about this medium and really thankful for this process. I am even already thinking about my next VR project - a meditative app floating on lights, or a stop motion 360 music video.
Happy 3 day weekend, all!
This week has been kind of a rollercoaster. Developer: “The app is done. I added the things you asked for!” Me: “Yay! – wait, no, it’s not working!” Developer: “Let me fix that…Oh, it works – but not on your phone.” Me: googling documentation like mad… “Had to uninstall the 1st version via the application manager on my phone, and not the Oculus store…Yay, it works! I submitted it to the store” Happy Tuesday night sleep… Wednesday morning… Oculus Technical review: “Eh…Not quite”
So bummed, but that’s part of this process. When I edit, I have to submit projects for client review, make changes, re-submit and go through that process a couple of times. I must get use to this technical build of trying the app on lots of devices and getting lots of feedback. It’s a different type pf process, but I can see it’s necessary. I did have someone open/use the app on an s8, and s7, and it worked on both. Plus, it did work when Gabor reviewed it, so I am crossing my fingers that it still will work for anyone who is whitelisted. Why it works there, but not in the Oculus store technical review – I can’t figure out. I guess I didn’t need to submit to the store channel, but I am glad I went through that process.
This process has been just the right amount of time to force me to a deadline to create, and I am super glad I went through it. After I submit everything, it will be out of my hands for this process, but I am already thinking about other funding sources. There’s a 4culture grant for King County due at the end of the month. That might be an option, and now that I have the process documented and proof of concept, I plan to brainstorm other funding options with my producer.
I also have two projects I am really interested in pursuing: 1 - a stop motion, live action, 360 music video with a local musician here. I would direct and edit it. 2 - an app of sounds and color – I know a 360 photographer who’s made some awesome world creating 360 photos with lights. I think it would be great to put a user inside the light words and let the user float around them with tones and sounds. On the light project, I would be the developer – a new role for me, and one that I am pretty interested in, given that I will have more time to learn the programs (Unity/Unreal). So, once I polish this proposal and budget, that’s a wrap on this eventful, eye-opening summer. Looking forward to geeking out at OC4, and seeing all the cool stuff everyone has done. Thanks everyone!