Today I am heading to Los Angeles for the Writer’s Guild Festival Screenwriting Conference. My flight at rainy SFO has been delayed by almost 3 hours (eek), which gives me some extra time to reflect on the sunny days I spent at the Creative Lab Hawaii Financing Ideation Workshop.
It was chock full of great practical advice to say the least. A huge thanks to Michael Palmieri for having vetted us into this friendly and supportive program to teach independent filmmakers how to navigate the various gauntlets (and gauntlets they are) in getting our work out there. I’d always believed I needed to have a script as close to production-readiness as possible, which does mean a very long period of spec development, but Michael introduced us to the power of selling a complete concept and packaging, which engages a very different workflow. During the Ideation program, we met with veteran sales agents, lawyers and producing entities keen to be of help and were given very useful assignments each day to best package ourselves for the next steps in our development process. One assignment saw me staying up late to create my key art, which I plan to finesse with a professional designer. And now that I have my completed script, I’ll be diving into my look book, the process I enjoy the most as a director.
It was also fantastic to reconnect with my old compatriot and fellow female filmmaker in the workshop, Connie Florez, who helped with publicity for Restoring the Light when we first premiered in Hawaii. I am so proud of her latest documentary, The Glades Project, about the fascinating lives of the Glade Show performers and their triumph over bigotry, hate and murder in the 1960s. Check it out!
In short, Hawaii has always been a very welcoming place for me and I look forward to returning in the near future with additional project updates. You know you are embraced somewhere especially when the locals think you’re a local :)
Next stop is Los Angeles for the #WGFestival. 2017 was the year Moonlight won the Oscars and I remain positive that the mainstream tides are shifting in favor of #diversity and #womenfilmmakers. In the year 2017, I still struggle a lot with my own creative identity. As a woman of Chinese-American descent, who also speaks and writes in Chinese and has lived in China for many years, I feel I am always living with two perspectives in my creative work, a Chinese sensibility grounded in American structure which I hope will find appreciation and understanding in the increasingly globalized marketplace. I think the world of virtual reality is handling this well, cultivating many resources for underrepresented voices to paint a fuller picture of our world. Let’s hope that film follows!
Thanks to the generosity of Oculus, I attended my first Game Developer’s Conference last week, or GDC. It was inspiring and creatively invigorating to meet top developers from around the world at one location. I constantly felt pulled between the rich networking opportunities and making sure to save time continue my own project developments. The surplus of creative energy in the air definitely helped with the latter!
A major highlight was definitely catching up with my fellow talented cohorts from Oculus Launchpad; Jewel Lim, above, has successfully shipped her VR experience FOUND to great reviews, and others like Evie Powell, are attracting long lines at test sessions of her newest game, Snowball Fight VR, soon to be released. Congratulations, ladies!
Dinner with Launchpaddians
Conferences are great places to take the temperature of the industry. From my conversations, it seems that expectations around the world for VR have been running high, that hardware and software is going through its grand shakeout, but that content has been disappointingly slow to follow. For example, the big question of “how do we create narrative VR content?” continues to plague developers and VCs, as evidenced in my discussions with folks as far ranging as an innovative fund from China looking to the US in their search.
Of course no GDC would be complete without test-driving some new demos and experiences! I tried out VVR and Battle Planet, though I was really hankering for some 360 video experiences. Unfortunately, Youtube was down when I visited the Google Daydream booth. I also made sure to try the much talked about and scary Paranormal, though found it difficult to navigate the tight spaces in Vive and therefore did not find the experience as affecting as I was expecting it to be.
Attending Oculus’ Game Day, there were quite a few shoot-em-up VR experiences that had long lines, but one simple but very effective game that impressed me was TERMINAL, created for Gear VR. It’s a game in which you need to infiltrate offices and hack terminals. What was most unique was its use of shifting POVs from 1st person to 3rd person (you watch yourself over CCTV during certain moments). Though this was a game, I thought this shift was used to great effect to create a sense of drama and tension as you dodge security robots and infrared sensors ready to swoop in on you and catch you red-handed at any moment.
The last day, I made sure to visit with some audio solutions, like WWise and OSSIC. I’d been big fans of OSSIC since previous VR meetups and this time they have created a new and very impressive audio demo, where you literally pick up audio objects in space and sense them aurally change as you manipulate their position around your ears. Sound hard to believe? Find them at their next VR demo to hear it for yourself!
The only woman on this panel is also a former Launchpad member!
In December, Restoring the Light broadcast in Ireland on Channel TG4. I was surprised to find in my inbox a message from the station. Apparently, many viewers wrote in to learn more about the story. I’m really grateful the film is getting seen. As a filmmaker, creatinggreater awareness has been the goal all along.
Restoring the Light also received a Best Documentary Award at the Sanford Meisner Film Festival. It was a wonderful opportunity to share this project with an audience of so many talented performers and imaginative minds. As the digital landscape for film distribution changes, I am still looking for the best way to bring this film to more audiences. It’s currently available on vimeo, which I have not been satisfied with, so stay tuned for more updates.
As an invited filmmaker at the festival, I was also able to learn from the Guest of Honor, Jon Labrie, CTO of Weda and Lord of the Ring’s renown, who discussed at length the technological developments in motion-capture and photogrammetry as they relate to the future of dramatic performance in virtual reality. It’s exciting what will be happening in the next few years, as the technological toolset becomes more accessible to content creators.
This fall/winter season also marked an engrossing few months of deep diving into acting, something I very much wanted to return to since one summer I had spent at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and a handful of experiences on sets since then. This process of embracing the creative process both in front of and behind the camera has helped me better find my dramatic voice. It’s enriching my writing process too as I complete my screenplay Leftover Woman.
Revisiting my blog, I see the need to consolidate my online presence into a more unified social media platform, which I look forward to doing and unveiling soon.
Saturday I made my way to the Art of Dying VR experience. I decided to volunteer for a six hour shift and left feeling very personally enriched as a VR viewer and creator. In my review below, I’ll detail the positive takeaways of the experiences I had a chance to sample.
First, the SPACE!
I applaud curator-creators Kelly, Lindsay and Sean for having put together such a compelling physical and virtual experience. I haven’t yet come across such thoughtful physical UX design in the time I’ve gone to VR events. Usually, VR demos are held in very “techie” spaces, plain offices or impersonal large conference halls. This felt more like a museum-quality experience, topped off with personal edgy touches in the dying themed decor that coincided nicely with Halloween. In fact, I would say the VR event felt more like an avant-garde Halloween party thrown at an off-hours exclusive museum or loft than an expo of VR content. I think Kelly herself referenced Sleep No More during my orientation.
It’s worth mentioning the notable number of AR, VR newbies who attended (props to the marketing!) as many did not know how to interact with the devices. There were even a few kids and folks in their 50s-70. That makes me fantasize about how VR exhibition and distribution might actually touch the larger public community one day beyond Silicon Valley, what the mainstream media keeps hoping will happen…
My map of the space
Onto the VR experiences and what I appreciated about each:
I personally manned the CG piece “CROSSOVER, a virtual grief ritual through three rooms” (Gear VR) and naturally, was dying (pun intended) to experience it after helping countless folks watch it. I loved how viewers had to sit together behind representational window frames and share a twin bed while going through the experience, which itself took place partially in a CG bedroom. I am sure the creator might have been influenced by or might like reading Journey of Souls…it was a profound topic to tackle in VR and I was surprised how transporting the good voice acting was.
AR Gallery - this was another station I manned, which consisted of several artist works that were viewable through three separate apps: Zenka, Blippar, and Aurasma. Paintings and drawings would be triggered to reveal more than meets the eye. The visitors were quite engaged, even though sometimes the apps were a bit finicky to activate. Several people I met commented on how much they loved the AR room.
Das Is (Vive)- I got to meet the artist Chelley Sherman and she graciously let me test-drive her piece at the very end of the night when my shift ended and when she was already packing up her equipment. The best way to approximate my experience: Walking through it felt like I was crossing and recrossing dimensional worlds of lines and planes, like I was finding my way through several alternate mathematical universes. She included her family tombstone “Das Is;” the quality of the stone carving and its realistic surface was an artful touchstone in the otherwise abstractly immersive world. I think the fact I could be mesmerized by the intricateness of the planes yet avoid feeling dizzy is testament to the careful, thoroughly three dimensional design. It was complemented nicely with a striking 360 audio soundtrack.
image credit: toshi anders hoo via dream logic’s facebook page
Transitions (a visual journey on the River styx after death) (Oculus)- This is an award-winning piece that I had to wait a long time for. The high-quality CG animation takes you on a journey down the River Styx behind a dog as faceless onlookers regard you from the banks. At one point, you flop upside down, which was a surprisingly fun jolt. At the end, you leave the boat and soar above into the sky with other flying dragon-fish. Quite spectacular, but one can tell a lot of manpower and resources went into this high-quality Oculus piece.
RoundRound (Gear VR)- As dancers twirl around you, the play of light, mirror reflections as well as the superimposing of images induce you to turn around and around in a (well-placed) swivel chair to take in the range of visuals.
Bardo (Gear VR)- Having read excerpts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I was engaged by the choice of the subject matter. I also liked the requirement to lay down on the (comfy) floor to view the experience from a horizontal position. Lying down and experiencing perspectives of objects moving away from you was very powerful and I could see playing with different levels, perhaps in live action vs. animation, to be a very intriguing line of design to develop…
Imago (Gear VR) tried to employ first person POV in combination with CG. I really appreciated the use of a wheelchair as a haptic device. Sitting on the wheelchair, one is all the more ready to experience the VR as the disabled protagonist.
Ceremony for the Dead (Vive) - As it was wildly popular, I waited extra long after the end of the show to experience it. The interactivity was freeing and the colors and designs were pretty incredible; however, in this one I did experience a bit of vertigo, probably because I wanted to go through it in as short a time as possible so the co-volunteer could pack up and go home! Suffice to say, I need to give it another whirl.
Sadly, I wish I could provide more photographs in this post, but as I was technically working, I did not think to document at the same time. I also ran out of time at the end of the night as the stations broke down before I could experience a few others, including fellow Oculus LaunchpadderErica Layton’s piece, Recursion, that was situated in a comfy corner with two inviting chairs.
I’m sure Dream Logic, the originators of this event, will publish some more photos in the coming days. Meanwhile, here’s a video Cameron Mark Lewis put together of the event:
Recently, I’ve been focusing more on my screenplay, LEFTOVER WOMAN. I’m encouraged to report that an early draft of it has received an Honorable Mention! I really appreciate the encouragement!
Here’s some info from the 10/26/16 Hedgebrook Press Release:
“As a Humanitas philanthropic partner, Hedgebrook receives funding from the Woolf Pack, a powerhouse community of 100 women in Hollywood. Humanitas Executive Director Cathleen Young describes the Woolf Pack’s genesis: “Named for Virginia Woolf’s renowned essay, A Room of One’s Own, which explores the needs and challenges of women writers in a male-dominated world, the Woolf Pack now comes together twice a year, to support a non-profit engaged in social change. From the overarching Humanitas mission to change the world one story at a time, stems the Woolf Pack’s mission to unite and support women authoring change.”
The Woolf Pack heartily back the Lab with their contributions. Members include: Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Jenji Kohan, Mara Brock Akil, Lena Dunham, Danai Gurira and Mindy Kaling, among many others.
Chosen from a talented applicant pool of 226 screenwriters from around the country, this year’s five Screenwriters Lab participants are: Ellie Foumbi, from New Rochelle, NY; and Jessica Chou, Desha Dauchan, Gabriela Garcia Medina and Bianca Asibu from the Los Angeles area. Honorable mention semi-finalists are Megan Swertlow, Ana Brown, Caroline Keene and Carol Liu.”
Some recurrent health issues required that I postpone my VR updates. But I’m climbing out of my fog today. In fact, much happened behind the scenes while I was off the air. Let me try to recap.
The last two weeks in France, my technical producer and I raced to make maximum use of the hardware loan we had. After rapidly prototyping several scenarios we know we would like to eventually feature in our final piece, stitching them in-house and watching them in our GearVR headsets, it became abundantly clear to us that we wanted to create atmospheric experiences more so than intensely interactive ones while still promoting inclusive understanding.
1. Finding Compelling Visual Experiences:
@Ossigirl, you’ll be glad to know we were able to find a water channel to recreate the transitionary voyage I had initially envisioned as a part of our VR experience. The ride is smooth and quite breathtaking from our test. However, we’d need special effects to minimize the presence of the people and the boat. I have a few other post-production things to try with this batch of footage.
2. Being Talked Down to as a Woman:
This 3-part prototype was interesting to produce. We recorded the dialogue and then audio produced the monologue of each character (what they are thinking in their heads). We then shot in first person POV from both characters as well as in 3rd person. The effect of taking on the identity of a character is quite immersive and convincing. We developed this as a technical test for whether our content would be interesting in this format. We will continue designing the interactivity of how the three pieces intersect and will break this out in a more detailed upcoming blog post.
3. Field Interviews with Women in Tech
Following prototype 2 above, I spent a day with women working in tech to conduct field interviews about their personal and professional experiences in a corporate environment. This deserves its own full-length post. Briefly, I’ll say the takeaways I had with these brave souls who shared their most troubling experiences in the years they have worked in tech offices is that everything we have read about is absolutely true and absolutely deserves our continued attention. What is particularly interesting as the women tried to self-reflect on actionable insights:
Women-only conferences and mentorship programs are not helpful enough.
Corporate action requires training not just for those on the receiving end of discrimination, but those in the majority who must both understand and be part of the change.
It is not a women’s issue, but a human issue requiring both sides to get involved.
4. Transportive Locales:
Something we wanted to feature in our VR project was transportive locales that expressed the inner yearnings of our character and to visually take the viewer to those places when the character was otherwise physically impeded. To that end, we sought out a beautiful sunflower field. There is a person who appears in this scene on the left, if you look closely.
5. Constrictive Locales
What if a character were constrained to her room? This would allow the imaginative explorations to be further affecting on the viewer. Visuals are still in post-production and will be posted soon!
6. Post-Production and Interactivity
I still have a host of footage to process since my return. We’ll be bringing these seemingly disparate pieces together to feature in our full-blown VR experience. Stay tuned.
So it feels a little like the early silent film days. I’m faced with this incredible technology and all I’m trying to do is master tricks. Reminds me of the time of the Méliès brothers, putting all the spectacular phenomenon they could on film, like this lady performing the serpentine dance in Paris in 1896.
So, why focus on “tricks,” you might ask? I’ll get to that in a minute. First, a recap of this last week:
I want to thank Intel for a temporary hardware and software loan towards the research and development of our project. This week, we received a Gopro Freedom360 rig, Autopano software and an Intel+NVIDIA powered station to stitch and render with. In exchange, we are testing all we can to design a 360 narrative video experience that provides compelling interactive choices for the viewer. We added other basic components to create our VR filmmaking arsenal, like tripods, sound recorders and lav mikes (we definitely look forward to complementing our project with 3D sound).
At the moment, I’ve been taking the equivalent of the early silent film steps aforementioned. First, I played around with perspectives. Below, we capture our surrounding countryside in spectacular 360 panorama in a “second person” test talk about nature. Second person here means acknowledging the viewer’s presence. You might think of an instructional video for reference.
We then experimented with “first person POV,” enabling the viewer to feel like a character in the story. While we were able to capture the effect of a character body (that the viewer can see when he/she looks down), we also experienced some difficulties with the seams of our stitch, which we will continue working on perfecting. Note the ghosting below.
This was followed by playing with “first person without a body,” different from second person in that you are still a character in the scene, just without a grounded body. In the following case, the camera was placed at a low level to simulate a child’s vantage point as she looked on at her parents. It was hard shooting on slanted horizon [image below is a crop of a spherical video. Earlier images were screenshots from Go Pro VR player].
My friend and technical partner at game development studio Tintash, who has graciously lent his support towards some initial R&D, also helped us consider how we might deploy gaze-based and hot-spot based interactivity in our developing narrative. At the moment, I’m writing specific scenarios to test unique interactive functions.
Regarding resolution, we’ve decided to aim for 8K so that we have high enough resolution to also be able to distribute on PC eventually. This coming week, I’ll pay homage to Méliès and do the equivalent of some of those early silent film tests to reproduce visual tricks that will probably be totally underwhelming in 100 years (like seeing an 1896 serpentine dance on youtube in 2016). Well, it’s the beginning of VR and we’ll just have to start at the beginning to inject some whimsy into VR 360 video narrative storytelling. I’ll keep you posted!