4 Lessons Virtual Reality and 360 Filmmakers Can Learn From The Theater

As many classically trained filmmakers struggle to make the transition to virtual reality, they are given the advice to turn to the theater and use its approach not only regarding production, but also regarding storytelling. And there are good reasons for it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the play Mount Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy at the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival), which is an annual cultural festival that takes place each year for five to six weeks in May and June in Vienna, Austria. Mount Olympus was not only exceptional in delivery, execution, and art direction, but it also pushed the boundaries of the conventional theater format and storytelling. Instead of choosing one of the many Greek Tragedies, the director Jan Fabre opted to tell all in an impressive 24-hour stage production. Yes, you read it correctly, 24 hours. Even though the audience was allowed to come and go as they pleased, the goal was to transfer the physical exhaustion of the performers and the act of glorifying tragedy viscerally onto the theater-goer. And I think it succeeded at this brilliantly. But the reason I am writing about it today is that it also offered an opportunity for me to reflect on how theater and storytelling for theater is the closest existing structure storytellers can reference and work off when approaching storytelling for VR and 360-degree video.

Every Character is a Hero

As I was sitting in the audience, I was reminded about how theater calls for each character on stage to have a full storyline for the whole time they are on stage, since during a play the director cannot control where the audience will choose to look or which character they will decide to follow. Of course, the director can utilize such tools as sound or visuals to draw the audience to a particular point, which is also an instrument for use in VR and 360 Video. But even still, there is no guarantee if the audience will respond to these signals and that is what the director should prepare for. This goes as well for VR, which is so very different from film.

Read More: The Ultimate Beginner Guide to Virtual Reality Storytelling

In film where the director utilizes cuts to control what the audience sees and who it follows, the hero is often the only character who is given a full story arc. In some cases, a supporting character or two will also have their own arc to complete, but the other supporting roles only serve to push the main characters’ journey of discovery forward and to completion. But since it is different in VR and 360 Video, it is imperative that the writer lets go of the concept of the single hero or protagonist. Each character will need to be developed fully for the time they are on screen.

Take Your Time When Telling the Story

Aside from French Cinema, not one second is wasted or dallied with when it comes to film and the cinema. Each moment on-screen counts […]