A Conversation with Christina Elizabeth Hall, screenwriter of Wilde Eastern VR Experience

We had the chance to have a talk with Christina whose interactive VR experience created with Wonda VR has been selected to be showcased at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. She shared with us the making of her film noir.
First, can you please present yourself?

I label myself as a creative technologist, alternative filmmaker, and storyteller working at the intersection of art, media, and technology. I seek to examine the impact of exposing new modes of interaction through emerging technologies and how these modes affect a story for the viewer. My work explores non-linearity primarily through interactive installations, live performance, and VR environments.

Is it your first experience as an interactive VR screenwriter?

Wilde Eastern was the first time I dipped my toe into interactive VR. I really enjoy immersive theatre and experiences, and for me VR was an easy next step in my work’s exploration.

What is Wilde Eastern about?

Wilde Eastern is a multi-ending immersive 360º film where the viewer enters a high contrast black and white world of film noir. Private eye William Wilde is investigating the disappearance of Scarlet Redd, the wife of a furiously jealous yet prominent businessman Beau Redd. Scarlet was last seen at the Montauk Manor, a local hotel with a dark history.

In the film, the viewer follows William through the historic Montauk Manor filled with curious characters with questionable intentions. Be sure to pay attention: you wouldn’t want to miss a clue that could have dire consequences.

William Wilde investigates the manor
What camera did you use?

We decided to use the Jaunt ONE camera because we wanted the best resolution possible for this film. Because this camera is a 24-camera rig, you can see every little detail in this beautiful historic manor.

(from left to right) Rebecca Martos, Producer. Penelope Lawson, Co-creator, Director, Executive Producer. Celine Tricart, Director of Photography. Christina Elizabeth Hall, Co-creator, Screenwriter, VR Specialist, Editor.
How much time did you spend on the project?

This film was created in an interdepartmental collaboration between both the Graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and the Graduate Film Department at NYU (New York University) for a class called Directing VR taught by Sarah Rothberg and Carol L. Dysinger. Wilde Eastern was our final project for the class, and so we had about four weeks for script writing and pre-production. We ended up shooting the film in one day, cut down from two due to scheduling and budget. Fortunately, we were able to shoot the entire film, with the two separate endings, in the one-day shoot.

What were the narrative difficulties?

In this immersive 360º medium, it can be difficult to direct the gaze of the viewer. There is so much to see, especially in this elegant manor, and it can be a challenge to guide the viewer’s gaze to see the important aspects in the narrative. The techniques I used were light, sound, and actor movement to draw the eyes of the viewer to the ‘clues’ and locations of importance. At first I was concerned that viewers wouldn’t see the ‘clue’ that would bring them to the alternative ending, but because it was choreographed well with the aspects mentioned above, on average 50% of the viewers got one ending and 50% of them got the other.

How did you learn how to use Wonda VR? Did you find it easy?

The reason why I ended up using Wonda VR was because it was so easy to use. For this film, gaze detection was a very important element for me. I wanted the viewer’s attention or lack of attention to dictate what happens in the film. If you see the ‘clue’, you get one ending, but if you aren’t paying attention to the narrative, you will miss the clue and get the other ending. Gaze detection can be done in other softwares, but Wonda VR lets you do this without having to touch any code. This was a nice relief for me as I had a quick turnaround time to complete the edit for this project.

What kind of feedback did you receive from the viewers?

When viewers find out that there are multiple endings in Wilde Eastern, they get really excited and want to jump back into the headset to watch it again. All of my work has a component where the audience has an influence on the narrative in some fashion, and I really liked that Wonda VR allowed gaze and attention be the determining factors as to what the viewer experiences.

Is there one VR experience that marked or influenced you ?

Dear Angelica is such an incredible immersive experience created by Oculus Story Studio. I was really impressed by the fact that not only is it the first animated movie that has been drawn entirely within VR, but the fact that stroke by stroke, the animated individual lines are drawn out to direct the viewer’s attention as the story unfolds around them.

Look around the manor and find the clue!
What’s next for you? Have you got any other future projects in VR?

I do, but I’m afraid I’m not allowed to talk about them at this time ;)

Le mot de la fin ?

We are very excited that Wilde Eastern will have its World Premiere in the VR library at Festival de Cannes / Le Marché du Film this month, May 8–13, 2018.

Also, be sure to check out our website, WildeEasternVR.com, and our Facebook page for more information about the film.