Creating Live Action Drama in 360

IMG_2063The Echo Chamber – Notes 08

When we first embarked on the live action 360 drama journey, some we spoke to suggested that we were crazy to consider it. It seems that filming drama in 360 is known to be notoriously difficult, with the formal constraints of having to use cameras that can only really capture the action in mid-shot, and the renegade behavior of viewers who might just look the ‘wrong way’. In approaching the production we also wanted to explore what it would be like to create a live action drama on a tight budget, delivered to Google cardboard, therefore maximizing access to the film. We were stacking up a range of challenges to overcome, or at least in a research and development context to tackle and learn from.

We believe that a lot of innovation happens at the edges of things, where creative opportunity meets constraint, and in this case we were limited by the vision that we’d be able to capture, as well as the constraints of the sound design. We’d originally hoped to use binaural sound to push and pull audience attention, but our chosen platform meant a stereo mix at best, so we were also limited to some extent with what we could do with sound.

Directing the actors brought another series of challenges which we’ll cover in another post, but clearly with a camera rig shooting in 360 degrees, the physical space of the set has to be cleared of any crew, and the director who would ordinarily be present on the other side of the cameras also has to be absent. This led to a very different way of working across the production, and was characterised by a certain calmness and trust between crew and actors which was separately commented upon by many of those involved. This relationship was very much down to the professionalism of the actors and the director, and relied on very clear communication and a preparedness to try and re-try different approaches.

With no live view of what we were shooting we had to work against the script and the constraints of the technology and the sets to ensure that we were getting what we needed for the edit, as well as shots which wouldn’t be so distorted that we would need weeks of post-production to fix them. We found that the handy little Ricoh Theta S camera could be placed into the scene to provide a live view via their app, of the shots that we were likely to get. The Theta also proved useful as we tried out various camera rigs and set ups for the in-car shots – yes, we have shot 360 inside a car, which is also according to current thinking a bit bonkers.

All these uncertainties combined with absence of a huge fix budget to throw at problems, could have resulted in much stress, and although there have been moments, in general the process of producing a live action drama in 360 has been highly creative and innovative. The proof of course will be in the final film, but with the picture lock now with the sound designer, and the online edit booked we are on track to offer a film experience we hope you’ll find thoughtful and moving.

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