WATCH ABOVE: Knot For Sale (VR Narrative Short Film)

360° video…how do you tell stories in the round?

In the fall of 2016, Associate Professor, Maureen Bradley, and fifteen of her students at the University of Victoria decided to make a short 360° film in order to find out.

The first challenge was finding the right script. None of us knew how to write for 360 and it took a number of revisions to come up with a script worthy of shooting. Knot for Sale was written by the class (Writing 420) based on a story by UVic writing student, Chandler McCorkindale. With each draft we simplified the story.

The second challenge: how do you film, block and plan a 360° film? Bradley directed the spherical version of Knot for Sale and planned the visual storytelling in seven short blocks of story/content where she tried to slow the pace of the story down significantly from that of fast-paced flat filmmaking. Because you can’t be sure where the viewer will look in the 360° field of video, audio can be a powerful trigger to guide viewers’ eyes.  Blocking was also a challenge. We tried to find locations that would be interesting in at least 270° of the field. We also avoided having characters talking to each other in a 180 formation (how you traditionally shoot a 2-hander dialogue scene) because we didn’t want to give viewers whiplash while following their conversation. We blocked most dialogue in an 80° to 100° range and allowed time at the top of each scene for viewers to look around and orient themselves before crucial action or dialogue took place. When blocking, bear in mind that peripheral vision spans approximately 120°.

The third challenge: how do you edit in the round? Natasha D’Amours edited Knot for Sale and with each cut, we slowed the action down more and more. No fast cuts—in fact, there are very few cuts at all. We found it critical to actually make final editing decision while watching in the 360° format with VR goggles. Watching the equirectangular flat version on the computer just didn’t cut it when it came to pacing. Since there are no editing programs that allow you to edit while viewing in the round, be sure to lock your cut only after you’ve watched with the goggles.

The bottom line: this is an entirely new medium.  Our best guess is that 360° video is best suited to experiential storytelling rather than traditional flat screen storytelling. Because this is an entirely new medium, the language of 360° is still emerging. So keep thinking outside the frame.