Noah J Nelson on Tuesday, Jan. 27th
At every Sundance Film Festival publicists and the press jockey to declare that year’s “It Girl.” This year the “It” is an “it”: virtual reality has come home to Sundance and is eating up headlines usually reserved for quirky comedies and groundbreaking docs.
To be fair: this year’s film crop sounds pretty good as well. It feels like this was a bad year to not make the pilgrimage to Utah. Especially if one wanted to see VR cinema history get made.
The big headline grabber was yesterday’s announcement by Oculus VR’s of their own Story Studio, which will produce five VR films this year. The pioneering company showed off its first efforts and some of the reviews are fairly ecstatic.
Just as exciting for those of us with an indie mindset is what Seed & Spark and WeMo unleashed today: a diversity-minded grant program that aims to bring filmmakers into the VR cinema field while it is still in its infancy.
Seed & Spark, as long time readers will know is a crowdfunding and distribution platform for film. Founder Emily Best is one of indie film’s—and crowdfunding’s—great crusaders, working tirelessly towards creating a more transparent and inclusive system for aspiring filmmakers. With this grant program Best and company are brining their ethos to the VR cinema world, which at present is so new it barely has any bad habits to break.
Joining Seed & Spark is WeMo the Venice, California company that is positioning itself as a platform for immersive media. The grant program is going to be invite only, but filmmakers who want more information can contact Seed & Spark (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see about how they can take part.
Earlier in the month I found myself frustrated with the coverage of VR coming out of CES. The technology was still being showcased, but the content—to use that broken down, bloodless term—was missing from the equation. A few weeks later and the momentum seems to have changed.
The Story Studio at Oculus doesn’t solve all the issues around content that the tech press has flagged this month, but it shows that the company is thinking the way a first-party platform holder and publisher should think. It is offering up models for how other creatives can engage with their tools. This is the same strategy that wins video game consoles fans, something that any hardware maker is going to need as would-be VR consumers make up their minds about whether to by Oculus’ Rift, Sony’s Morpheus, or to take a gamble on Microsoft’s HoloLens vision.
By putting money and attention into the VR cinema field Seed & Spark and WeMo are attacking the problem from a different angle: injecting even more indie ethos into what back in 2012 was a purely home-brew phenomenon. That’s the year that Hunger in LA, the Nonny de la Pena VR doc with a Palmer Luckey built pre-Oculus prototype as the hardware, debuted as part of the New Frontier at Sundance.
Now it would seem that VR cinema is finally ready to take its place as filmmaking’s next great adventure.