Some days ago, I got to know about an interesting VR storytelling project called MetaMovie. It is an experience that mixes Virtual Reality, storytelling, and theater in a quite unique way and I think that you should know about it.
VR can make you feel inside a movie, like the main character. In this blog, I have already outlined how this is awesome, since you can really live a story as if it were real, as if it were part of your life: for instance, in The Limit you can have an adrenaline adventure, in Defrost you can feel powerless, in Wolves In The Walls you can live as in the dreams of a little lady.
What is really interesting of MetaMovie is that it mixes this with theater: the characters of the story you are immersed in are not simple recordings, but are actors performing live just for their audience. This is more complicated to be organized (exactly as organizing a show in a theater is far more difficult than projecting a movie in a cinema) but has the advantage that is able to create a real bond between the actor and his/her viewer. Furthermore, the MetaMovie starts with interactivity in mind and this means that the viewer becomes completely part of the story and can interact with it.
To discover more this cool project, I have contacted Jason Moore, the mind behind MetaMovie, that will give you a long description of it. It will be a long and amazing journey inside VR storytelling.
Before leaving him the mic, I want to suggest you fund The MetaMovie project on Kickstarter, so that it can become a reality. It is so close to its goal…
Hello everyone! I’m Jason Moore, I call myself a cross-platform visual storyteller since I write, direct, and produce in film, single and multi-camera television, theater, and emerging media. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with wanting to not just watch a film, but experience it, from inside the magical world of the story. I know a lot of us share this dream. And as virtual reality technology became available to filmmakers, many of us have been experimenting to see what is possible with this exciting new toolset. However, to date, the results have been underwhelming.
I’ve watched and experienced many stories told using all varieties of Virtual Reality technology, and to me, they mostly come up short. Yes, there are some powerful 360 video documentaries out there, and some immersive stories told with gaming engines are clever and enjoyable, but nothing I’ve experienced yet comes close to what I’m after: I’m looking for a well-written story, set in a completely immersive virtual world, using cinematic techniques of design, music, sound, and light, with meaningful, believable, and emotional performances from actors. There’s nothing out there yet that can do this, and I believe one of the critical elements that keeps getting overlooked is the emotional connection between an audience and the fictional characters of the story.
When you’re watching a film on a screen, that fourth wall between you and the story actually helps you suspend your disbelief and emotionally fall into that story. We know it’s a story on a screen, our mind kind of ‘clicks’ and goes into ‘story-receiving’ mode and we’re ready and willing to believe the characters and emotionally connect to them and the story.
That same paradigm functions very differently in a virtual reality environment. VR shatters the fourth wall completely. If you are standing in a virtual space that looks and sounds and ‘feels’ real, the experience of watching pre-recorded actors (either photo-real or more cartoon style avatars) feels weird to me and I get very little emotional connection to the characters or the story. It’s fun to be inside a virtual space but I have yet to get sucked into a story the way I do with cinema. Virtual Reality is designed to be interactive: you want to move and explore, walk, run and fly, you want to hold and use objects, navigate that world freely. All of that inherent interactivity is what makes immersive VR so exciting. But when you stick pre-recorded, NON-interactive characters in this place, it goes against everything that VR can do and falls short of what traditional cinema does so well.
I always imagined that in my own fantastic journeys ‘into’ a movie the actors would be alive, breathing, talking to me, including me in their stories, letting me tag along, and acknowledging my presence. I don’t want to go into a fantastical world only to watch a bunch of robots marching through their paces reading pre-recorded dialog and totally ignoring me. For me, the story has to be interactive. The characters need to be alive.
That’s why when I started the MetaMovie project, I knew it would have to use live actors. I describe The MetaMovie project as an ongoing series of experiments exploring completely immersive, totally interactive movies set in the virtual reality metaverse. MetaMovies are influenced by interactive theater, video games, cinema, and role–playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of trying to apply traditional rules of cinema onto VR, I’m trying to listen to what VR is telling me and use elements from a variety of sources.
A MetaMovie is performed live, with a cast of live actors who are all using their own VR rigs in their homes or their office, to perform together, in the same virtual place, in real time. This allows our audience member, we call them the VIP, to have an experience unlike anything they’ve ever had before: a totally immersive, completely interactive, cinematic experience from the inside of the story. When you’re the VIP, you are given a role to play, a character, and the story unfolds around you. Our live actors are trained inimprovisational theater, so whatever you want to do or say, we’re ready for you. If you’ve ever seen HBO’s Westworld, or David Fincher’s film The Game, you’ll have an idea about what the experience is like: a story that puts you, the VIP, right in the center of the action.
Another term I’ve started to use for what I’m doing is Participatory Cinema. Our audiences become part of the story, it’s a shared storytelling experience. But unlike the type of shared storytelling that happens when gamers role-play during an MMPORG, this is not “user–generated storytelling”. I firmly believe that great stories begin with a great screenplay written by an experienced and talented writer. So for me, shared storytelling works best when there are professional storytellers running the show. Kind of like reverse Dungeons and Dragons: instead of a group of players with a single Dungeon Master who guides the narrative, in the MetaMovie we have a group of live actors who function as a group of Dungeon Masters, and we have one player at a time.
That’s an important part of the MetaMovie Project: for the moment, we take a group of actors and technicians and tell a story for one audience member at a time. This is not necessarily by design, it’s more a function of what we are able to do at this point in time. Since we give our VIP audience member complete and total freedom to do or say anything they want, it takes all of our energies to control and manage that freedom. Yes, it makes the experience difficult to scale, and I have solutions and ideas in place to deal with that, but at the moment I am less concerned with scaling and more interested in getting the experience to be incredible, amazing, transformative. And what I’m seeing is just that: our VIP’s are completely blown away by the experience.
For a VIP, the experience begins with a short introductory scene where we introduce them to the world of the story and help them understand a little about how the story will work. We help them create their character, similar to a D&D character sheet: we come up with some basic ideas of who this character is, to help them get into the role–playing aspect. As a VIP, you will interact with all the characters, but there’s no pressure to perform: our main characters – the protagonist, the antagonist, the supporting cast – they do the heavy lifting: we tell a story for you, with you, involving you, but all you need to do is go with flow: the experience doesn’t depend on you doing anything, but you can, if you want, do anything. We try to keep the story on the track that is laid out by our writer, and we’ll entertain some variations on it if you want, but we’re not a totally open world with a million story branches. We have a few and we do our best to encourage our VIP’s to follow our lead, and when they do, the experience is very rich, very immersive, and very fun. And when our VIP’s want to go somewhere else, we have ways on managing that, too.