Step into the Frame: As Arthouse Cinema Becomes Immersive
The Line - by AVORE - is a 15-minute piece of immersive cinema, which won “Best VR Experience” at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. It’s set within a model of 1940s São Paulo and follows Pedro, a miniature doll and newspaper delivery man, who runs the same route around the model every day, leaving a flower outside the house of Rosa, the girl he loves (Courtesy of UploadVR). But this is no review...
The aim of my new blog - Strictly Immersive - is to chart my early journey of discovery as a writer of traditional '4th wall' drama diversifying into immersive storytelling.
SPOILER ALERT...! The following is my creative interpretation, and not necessarily the intention of the creators. Your disagreement is both expected and welcomed...
What effect did 'The Line' have upon me?
You can safely assume I loved it. Why? The narrative design, aka.. 'the writing'. Amongst its themes: the uncertainty of life despite our best efforts, the dangers of narrow thinking, environmental sustainability (for the flowers run out eventually), divine intervention, and deus ex machina (as we the audience intervene), and our innate human reaction to adversity.
So where are we? Not in a cinema. And who are we in this story? Simply a voyeur? Not quite. So what's our backstory? In immersive stories, we often don't know this yet.
Well, in 'The Line', I was drawn in with the discovery of a scrapbook or photo album, as if I was being invited into the past to discover more about a recently-deceased distant relative, or perhaps I was here to clear the house of a stranger after a sparsely-attended funeral. It is indeed a familiar and effective screenwriting technique. Turning the page of the album to discover the key to the attic, felt like a metaphor for the interactions which would follow: a sense of stepping back in time into a secret world. Pulling the light on a string also serves as a tutorial, a taster of how we will be interacting, subtly setting up a contract with the audience: pure immersive theatre.
Each interaction is pleasingly simple yet tactile, like turning a page, emphasizing the meaning of the moment. As in interactive fiction with a linear narrative, we are invited to perform a click or page turn because we are motivated to know what's is going to happen. Levels of meta (or do I mean metaphor?) are multiple...
Our sense of empathy is compounded when we discover the secret world below, a glimpse under the hood and a realization that this world has been built by some unseen creator (Lego Movie?).
Indeed the use of proprioception is clever – rescuing the hero as we crouch down into the clockwork. Here is another lovely example of immersive theatre as we become a clandestine participant – physically engaging with our entire body – as sensation intensifies our visceral immersion. We feel his discomfort of his dangerous predicament as we crawl into the confined space of Pedro's temporary prison. Once inside the mechanism, I found the physical task I had to perform quite fiddly - which only increased the sense of intimacy, given the concentration required under duress. In 2D cinema, the camera performs these actions for us - so we don’t spill our popcorn or scald ourselves while ironing in front of the TV! In 2D video games, we might press a button on a thumb-pad, leaving us feeling less engaged.
But like arthouse cinema it follows the 3-Act structure of a screenplay and asks questions about life themes. It also finds its own version of the cinematic edit using the scene changes of the traditional theatre, using lighting to shift our focus, as the full cityscape becomes segmented into individual Dioramas within their own oases of light.
But, enough from me. if you want to hear an expert discuss how immersive theatre and video games contribute to the narrative design, look no further than StoryFutures Academy Masterclass with Mohen Leo, narrative designer for ILMxLab's VR story, Vader Immortal: