Joe Hunting met the subjects of his documentary in the physical world for the first time during the film’s tour.
We Met In Virtual Reality is the full-length documentary now streaming to HBO subscribers and it was captured by Hunting while finishing a film-making degree in COVID-19 isolation. Using VRChat’s built-in capture tools modified with the community-made VRCLens to add cinematic capture effects, Hunting met with subjects in virtual worlds and put together a documentary showcased first at the Sundance Film Festival.
Now, We Met In Virtual Reality is introducing HBO Max watchers to VRChat culture and the capabilities of modern VR headsets. The film’s director recently sat down in our virtual studio using Quest 2 standalone headsets with hand tracking, and answered some questions about making the film.
“I hope that people see the film and judge it and are confused and are really shocked, especially in the opening of the film,” Hunting told me. “My intention is to start a conversation…the reaction that I really want to achieve, it is to open minds and to show people that we can find community and support and express ourselves in very unique ways that are constantly evolving and constantly changing.”
Hunting said for earlier short film project A Wider Screen he revealed the physical appearance of his VRChat subjects and, when talking with viewers, realized it “was actually quite upsetting” that their “favorite moment” was often seeing that side of them.
“I wanted people to connect with their more fantastical images, their representations of themselves, and see the excitement and the joy that I see in them when filming with them in VRChat,” Hunting said. “And so I took that inspiration really into We Met In Virtual Reality, and I really wanted people to connect with that side of someone and I think it’s more interesting when seeing a film like this, especially a documentary that you leave those questions to the imagination and you let people tread that line between authenticity and more of a fantasy. I think that’s what makes the film so fascinating and also what makes VR so fascinating. I never saw the real images of the subjects of the film or anyone featured until the film was finished, and so the film is how I saw them as well as a director and as a filmmaker and I want audiences to feel that too.”
Hunting shows the subjects of We Met In Virtual Reality only as their avatars in VRChat but, spoiler alert, “towards the end of the film I really wanted audiences to feel that the subjects of the documentary and their stories were actually moving outta VR and into the real world.”
He met his film’s subjects in the physical world for the first time while it was touring festivals.
“I can certainly see audiences having their alarm bells rang after seeing this film and thinking, oh my goodness, these people need to get outside and engage with their real friends and engage with the real world,” Hunting told me in our interview on July 22. “But the beautiful thing is that they do, they all have jobs and they’re all engaged with their real friends and real relationships. And I really hope people feel that and all of the couples that we see in the film are also together in real life right now, as I’m speaking…I’m in Brooklyn, we just had our premiere of the film in New York, and we’re all together here in person and so obviously that’s not in the documentary, but it certainly is a story that’s attached to that reaction that we are facing about people seeing our subjects in the film in a way that is close minded. I hope that the journey that we’ve had making it as well as the film itself presents the idea that isn’t the stereotype, that these stigmas are false and we can have a healthy balance if we engage in the technology in the right way.”
Hunting said he intends “to stay in VR for my next project” but didn’t want to reveal too much as “it’s super early days.”