VR Creator — Jenn Duong (Director of VR)

JC: What’s your current involvement in VR? What VR films/experiences have you created?

JD: I’m really excited to share that I’ve joined some really brilliant folks at 1215creative as their Director of Virtual Reality. 1215creative is an agency/studio working with several multinational agencies and blue chip brands to give them directive into the world of VR for both live action and interactive. Independently, I’ve experimented with fictional narratives in VR. Fortunately (and unfortunately)those all failed miserably. I learned a lot about what works for me as a storyteller in VR and what doesn’t. I did work at RYOT for a little and that was hands down one of the most rewarding experiences for me.

JC: Please tell me about yourself — where are you from and where are going?

JD: I was fortunate enough to realize at a young age that I wanted to tell stories so I studied theatre and film heavily from secondary school thru college. I was actually committed to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for a brief moment, but because I had to put myself through college I opted to go to community college. I quickly wrapped up my Associates in Arts and Humanities there and just threw myself into work. Now, I’m in virtual reality, and it’s really a perfect medium for me because it’s the intersection of film, theatre, and technology. As for where I’m going? Not too sure. My dream would be directing a straight play on Broadway. (Straight plays are plays that aren’t musicals.)

JC: When did you decide you wanted to be part of the virtual reality movement?

JD: As a teenager, I always struggled writing original scripts because they were really visceral experiences, and to be honest I wasn’t that great of a writer — it’s still something I’m working on today. It took me forever to realize that on a traditional screen it is more difficult have an internal conflict driving your entire story. Then I had my first VR experience, and that changed everything for me.

JC: You are the Co-founder of SH//FT, which recently launched. Can you tell me about SH//FT’s mission and how and why you started the organization?

JD: Haha, I would say we’ve soft launched. We’ve really only announced our team and advisory board, and it’s so exciting seeing how receptive the community has been. SH//FT stands for Shaping Holistic Inclusion in Future Technology, and our mission statement is to partner with industry leaders in emerging tech like AR/VR to sponsor and create opportunities for underrepresented groups. As to why we’ve started this non-profit, it’s because diversity starts at the beginning. We are at the beginning of virtual reality as well as augmented reality. We have this really amazing opportunity to make sure that diversity and equality is a cornerstone of these industries.

To be really honest with you, it’s difficult to create a movement around just gender or race. What I mean by that is SH//FT isn’t necessarily just about minority groups. At SH//FT’s core it’s about providing equal opportunity. I don’t think that just because someone is a woman or that he or she is a person of color that they should get a job. Whoever is hired needs to be able to successfully do that job. But there is a HUGE barrier to entry. We’re starting to slowly see it now. VR companies will put out job posting for developers and require 10–15 years of experience — there are not enough women that have that for there to even be a chance at equal representation. We’re not seeing enough entry to mid-entry level jobs that will allow underrepresented groups to develop and refine their skills. There is also another HUGE barrier to entry in terms of cost of developing VR/AR. So the idea behind SH//FT is to be a foundation and a platform that underrepresented groups can use to define their skill set, refine it, and become competitive in the job market. We want to do everything that we possibly can to provide equal opportunity for EVERYONE regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

By providing opportunity and getting behind this idea of inclusion/equality, we can change the industry image of “this is a boys club” and make it something that everyone can see themselves succeed in. People tend not to pursue things if that can’t see themselves in it. What is exciting is that VR is such a multidisciplinary disruptive medium that if we can make it so that there isn’t a glass ceiling now, it’ll trickle down into entertainment, tech, startups, etc. That being said, we’re working on a lot of various things at SH//FT and I look forward to sharing those details with everyone when the time is right. We have an incredible team and so many great advisors helping us. I really wouldn’t be able to do this without them.

JC: What VR content has been most influential to you and why?

JD: I’ve actually had the pleasure of working at a company that I feel is doing some of the most important work in VR: RYOT. They’re telling some of the most extraordinary stories, and they’re empowering audiences. They’re taking the buzz word “empathy” and actually creating experiences that will make you feel.

PAVR is also doing some really incredible work in terms of fictional narrative storytelling in VR. I haven’t seen anything quite like what those guys are making. For interactive/gaming content, I will always be continually blown away by the work being done by indie studio Stress Level Zero. Their title “Hover Junkers” is the best use case for gaming in VR I’ve seen. You’re able to do the experience as a standing one or room scale and yet you can navigate a world on a ship. It’s also incredibly social. Thrilled to see where those guys go.

JC: VR is moving rapidly, but it hasn’t gone mainstream yet. What do you think can help VR become a mainstream media?

JD: In short: time, good content, realistic expectations as well as accurate representations about the state of the industry, and porn.

JC: What is the future of VR for you?

JD: This is a tricky question. I’m still learning something new about VR everyday, and I don’t have a magic crystal ball in front of me that can predict the future. I will say: I do think that 360 (spherical) videos/experiences have a place in the future of VR right along side interactive content. I believe that creating 360 videos really becomes an art when you challenge yourself to create a compelling, passive VR experience that will stand the test of time (when the novelty of 360 wears off) and successfully direct an audience’s agency in a way that drives a story forward.

The types of stories that I hope to tell moving forward as a creative are stories that are emotional, intimate, and provocative. I want to tell stories that leave enough room for people to insert themselves into a character and walk away from that experience learning something about themselves. And this is something that I hope to do successfully as a 360 video.

JC: What VR film/experience would you like to see that hasn’t been done, yet?

JD: I want to see a VR film that really pushes the envelop in terms of narrative storytelling. I know that’s really broad, but I just feel like there are content creators that are playing it safe. It’s too early to play safe. As an industry we keep saying, “we’re experimenting” yet we see the same types of experiences coming out different studios.

If “disrupt” is going to continue to be a buzzword around VR, then let’s get weird! Let’s truly disrupt storytelling! I’m excited to explore weird funky things at 1215creative and I hope that everyone in VR still feels that way about their content that they’re making.