How We Are Democratising 360 Video

When virtual reality began transforming the immersive journalism space, some of the biggest questions that arose addressed the accessibility of the medium, both for a consumer and a content creator. We decided to tackle this challenge by distributing Samsung Gear cameras to 8 Arab and African filmmakers and collaborating with them to produce their first 360 video.

The 360 film made by Roy Jamhouri in Lebanon.
See all the 360 videos here on the website.

With each passing year, more solutions to the accessibility of the 360 and VR technology arise. Platforms like Facebook and Youtube have become prolific spaces for watching 360 video content, not to mention the rise of affordable headsets like the Gear, the Google Cardboard, and more. Camera manufacturers like Samsung, Nikon, Kodak, LG and others have all also come out with cheap, pro-consumer friendly 360 cameras as well.

Still, the barriers exist, as people might feel daunted by the prospect of stepping into an entirely new world without prior experience of 360 video.

In “My People, Our Stories,” we partnered with Samsung to distribute Gear 360 cameras, equip and train 8 young talented filmmakers to ultimately produce 8 inspiring 360 videos that were published across our channels.

South African filmmaker Sipho Mpongo on set.

We specifically chose filmmakers who had never had any experience with 360 video before, as well as filmmakers from the Middle East and Africa where there has been less penetration of 360 technology. We wanted to help dismantle any barriers of entry, as well as help support people so they could tell their own stories, from their own communities.

For Saad Slimani, a 23 year old filmmaker from Morocco, he had been very interested in 360 storytelling but had not had the opportunity to explore it, “VR interested me quite a bit. The idea of being able to enter another environment without physically being there is fascinating.”

Here are the steps we took to guide these filmmakers in making their first 360 video.

  1. Identify the right candidates

We put out a call to action for an application process for young filmmakers who are from, and based in, the Middle East and Africa. We ultimately selected talent from Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Palestine.

The 8 countries chosen in the initiatve.

2. Equipment Transfer

We shipped a small kit consisting of equipment and training manuals to each of the candidates.

3. Training

We set up a 1 hour skype session with each of the filmmakers, going over a curriculum that covered 360/virtual reality technology and what makes a good 360 video. We then gave them a prompt, which was to follow an inspiring character that is addressing an issue within their community. They had two weeks to film it. We allotted some time for initial brainstorming to think through potential story ideas.

4. Production

The filmmakers had 3 days to get back to us with a storyboard and pitch. After the storyboard was approved by our editorial lead, they then had 3 weeks to film the footage. Through WhatsApp, we were on standby during the whole production process to walk them through any questions or issues that arose.

5. Post-Production

After they filmed, they uploaded the raw footage with the storyboard and sent it our team. We downloaded, stitched the footage, and edited the footage based on the vision provided by the filmmaker.

For Elia Ghorbiah, a 26 year old filmmaker from Palestine, who filmed a video about a young girl whose school was demolished by the Israeli occupation, and now must walk far to attend school in a barbershop, her drive in being a part of this initiative runs deep.

Palestinian filmmaker Elia Ghorbiah and 10 year old Hanan.

“It was important to see Hanan, the child, walking for long distances, but it was also more important to see the circumstances around her, the military tower, the Israeli settlements, and even the bedouin community in which Hanan lives. And I think we did it. We did it with the 360. You can feel and see what she sees.”

These different filmmakers all shared something in common — their drive and desire in exploring different mediums in order to tell authentic stories from their communities, about their people. Sipho Mpongo, a 24 year old filmmaker from South Africa, used the 360 camera to tell a story about how young kids in his impoverished community of Langa use gumboot dancing to keep themselves off the street. “I find it fascinating to use the VR medium as it reveals more than it hides unlike other mediums in the storytelling world. I enjoyed that 360 VR allowed me to truly show my community for what it is.”

The work was distributed and published across Al Jazeera and Contrast VR social channels, as well as premiered at the VR Corner at In/Out Documentary Photo Festival. It was the festival’s first year with the VR Corner, and for most people, “it was their first virtual reality experience; a lot of curiosity and enthusiasim could be seen on their mesmerised faces,” according to the coordinators Grig Vulpe and Bernadeta Patrascu. The short videos were well received, with over 100 viewers stopping by to experience the stories. As said by the coordinators, “We truly believe that new media technologies are a great opportunity to promote cultural and social diversity around the world.”

Photo courtesy of the VR Corner, In/Out Festival
Photo courtesy of the VR Corner, In/Out Festival