Does 360 VR video work for news on TV?
Here’s a first fun proof-of-concept and a look behind the scene
Remember this summer? It was when a million people packed London’s streets as Jaunt VR captured the largest ever Pride in London for this neon feathered nod to diversity in 360. Called ‘Love Letter from London’ their VRX stars Olympic diver Tom Daley and London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan. The piece also proves how 360 cannot only create what @JauntVR calls a cinematic reality, but also how you can turn around news content fast in 360, says Jaunt’s Director of Content and Production EMEA, Canaan Rubin. So when the Raindance festival opened its LGBTQ strand with said VRX, I sat down with Canaan to talk Pride and global censorship, Tom Daley losing his virginity (when it comes to parading) and his first time producing a (news) piece in 360.
Canaan, kindly tell us about Jaunt, the VR production company you work for.
Sure, Jaunt does a lot. We have multiple divisions of the business and we are also a platform, a place where you can go and see VR. This means we are on most of the VR app stores, whether it is Play on Google or Samsung and we are partners of Huawei, who just put us on millions of their latest device. Also, we are the only non-Chinese company that can both create content outside of China and also distribute it within China. We got our foot in that door because the Shanghai Media Group (SMG) is one of our investors and together with China Media Capital (CMC), we run Jaunt China for virtual reality experiences, so we have one of seven licenses to distribute content in the People’s Republic.
When talking China, censorship comes to mind. How is the situation for VR?
There is censorship, but so far the kind of VR that we are doing flies above that radar, like working with Jaguar Land Rover or Gucci, branded content. We also directed a TV series in VR with Doug Liman, the director of Bourne Identity, that has gone into China (N.B. the Invisible series).
I don’t have the exact stats for ‘Love Letter from London’ in China but I do know that of all the films created by Jaunt EMEA this year, it is the most widely viewed and written about experience and talked about film. It’s impressive given that we did films with Paul McCartney, Star Wars, a lot of heavy hitters last year, yet this year we had massive amount of coverage for this film. It’s partly because we had support and involvement from the Mayor of London himself, Sadiq Khan, who not only gave us a blessing to put a 360 camera on the hood of his Black Cab in the parade but also made time for us to do an interview. Also Tom Daley, the Olympic diver, decided to support us and let us both film on the float he was riding on and he gave our host Clare tons of time. And this is actually Tom Daley’s first pride ever, so for him it was a big way to make a debut and he thought VR was a perfect way to do that.
It was shot live at London Pride and LGBTQ topics may not be much of a problem here. But what about places like Russia, did the 360 film make it there?
Yes, ‘Love Letter from London’ was written up not only in China but also in Russia and Japan. And just in the case of Russia, here is a country that is notoriously not behind LGBT issues but one of their main VR blogs picked it up, ran the story. It is a great visual, you see the film with all its colour and pride and it was a really supportive story behind it.
The experience is very inclusive indeed. VR is praised for stirring up emotions, empathy even. Do you think VR has the power to inspire tolerance and if so, how?
Yes, a 100 percent. And one thing that you get from this film if you’ve never been to a Pride parade before, is: you can be there without actually going there and see, it’s a party. It’s just a bunch of people coming together to have a good time and be happy and that’s what Pride is.
I think a lot of people who aren’t LGBT themselves may not have a fear of it but maybe wonder, well I am not LGBT so why would I go there — once you watch this film you are: actually, this is just a fun party.
As a producer, how did you go about capturing the spirit of Pride?
This came up in a unique way. Jaunt has an internal committee called Belong , it’s basically a diversity committee. We are a tech company. Our headquarters is in San Matteo, California, Silicon Valley and that’s a place known for not being very diverse. You know, Twitter, Google and other companies are really struggling to have diversity. Jaunt made a decision to get ahead of that and created Belong. I am on the committee and so is my production manager, and she is British and Sundanese.
I am a content creator at heart and when I joined the committee I heard them talk about a lot of things that were very worthwhile but none of them were actually about creating content. So at the end of one of the first meetings, I suggested to do a volunteering thing. We have a headquarter in LA, San Francisco, London, so I said, let each of these headquarters take a camera out, go down to the parade and see what we get, so at the end of the day we could have three really fun pieces from three different cities. I didn’t do the scheduling when I pitched it and it turned out San Francisco was actually on that weekend and LA only a week after. London was a lot further out so my office did it but it came out from an internal diversity challenge.
For you it was a first directing VR but you have been a content creator long before. Do you see any emerging trends at the moment?
Careerwise, I worked 15 years for Show Corp Entertainment Tonight, a global celebrity format and have created content on more than 3,000 episodes of that show. I created Duets for MTV and ran all digital content for Zappos, an Amazon company, so whenever I think, I think, how can we shoot, how could this be a show.
This film is proof of concept for networks like CNN, BBC, for news organisations to see, that you can film something on a Saturday and turn it around and put viewers there on Monday.
The way VR is going and what I love about ‘Love Letter from London’ is, that we are still on early days in VR. So if you take a step back, what this film is, is a proof of concept for several things. It’s proof of concept for networks like CNN, BBC, news organisations to see, that you can film something on a Saturday and turn it around and put viewers there on Monday. It is proof of concept for shows like Entertainment Tonight that you can get stars like Tom Daley and celebrities like Mayor Sadiq Khan, put them in a piece of content and that becomes a draw. So we are learning this right now.
That is indeed the impression you get, it is a great news piece but there must have been some new challenges, right?
Yes, essentially it is is a news piece and some of the old rules of broadcasting apply. We covered this much like when I was working for Entertainment Tonight back in the day. But it is also a learning curve. There is this scene when Clare interviews a dancer and the next thing you see is her dancing. We actually had to manufacture that moment so it is a bit outside the frame as we had to capture her dance so quickly. Or look at the leather daddies filmed from below, like a child’s view. We simply did not have time to pull the tripod back up as we had put the camera on standby at that moment of the parade. As they were coming through we could only press play and captured a brilliant moment. Overall, we had multiple cameras like the one riding on the hood of the Mayor’s black and we also had to come up with new solutions like fixing cameras on helmets.
With a look to beginners, what’s your advice for those wanting to get into 360 filmmaking or VR?
Shoot something. Just take a camera, go out and experiment. You won’t always get it right. I have been a director in the Directors’ Guild of America since 1999. Still, this is my VR directing debut and I didn’t know. You have to go out, you have to try it, you have to do it. Sure, there are a couple of shots where I cringe but you may never see the reason why so you just have to get out there and start doing it to get good at it.
What was your favourite immersive experience in 2017?
I am really liking animations right now because there is a lot of practicality you can avoid in the making-of and you can really create a new world. Also we now have the ability to take an existing film like ‘Love Letter from London’ and go back and make it interactive. So when you gaze at or point the clicker at Tom Daley it pops up all his stats, like that he is married to Dustin Lance Black, who is an Oscar-winning writer.
And if you look ahead, where will the industry be in five years time?
Five years out, we gonna be getting a lot better at this. What you gonna see in VR, even in one or two to five years, is great fictional content, where we are building cameras specific to shots, building rigs specific to a format. If you look at what Oculus is doing with Campfire Creepers, they are building rigs that are perfect to film at a campfire. That is where the industry is headed, to make the experience better.