FACE IT: Yet Another Tech Thing To Conquer
By Michele Willens
Remember when many of us cheered when we mastered email? LOL. Soon, IM-ing came in and then texting and we struggled to keep up. As soon as we signed on to Facebook, our kids signed off. Then there were Instagram, Snapchat and their brethren. High Definition TVs once seemed far in the future, yet within days we all had to have them. When did Netflix go from snail mail to “watch now” on our laptops and large screens? When did Siri become Alexa?
Now, apparently, we need to master VR, (as in Virtual Reality) said to be the fastest growing media form. For dummies like me, here’s how it goes: With VR, content viewers can (maybe, but not necessarily, wearing special glasses) look in any direction and choose what to focus on, sometimes even walking through a scene. The simplest form of VR is 360, which allows us to see the video on any computer, laptop or smartphone. We can gaze by moving the device or touching the screen. For a more intense experience, we can put on a headset, then magically shift the scenes with the turn of our heads.
Rather than suffer a nervous breakdown and throw my latest remote against the wall, I caught up with a young man named Gev Miron, one of the go-to guys of this frontier. Miron, 32, was born in South Africa, raised in Israel, but now makes his home in Hollywood. He is a partner at MVH Creativeworks, which last month won an award for Best 360 Video for Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue at the Emmys.
“I think what made the Emmys experience so special was that viewers could, for the first time, experience what it feels like to be inside that theatre, next to the biggest stars, and even go backstage with the winners,” explains Miron. He has also worked with Snoop Dogg on the launch of YouTube’s 360 platform and is currently involved with Facebook’s first big 360 venture, in which we are IN the kitchens with some of our favorite celeb chefs.
So wake up, passive viewers! This latest innovation may not technically be interactive, but what those of us who report on the theatre world consider immersive. “When people speak of their experiences with VR, they don’t say ‘I watched,’” notes Miron. “They say ‘I’ve been’ or ‘I went to.’” Lest you think this is just for the indie Silicon Valley types, know that news organizations like the New York Times (Daily 360) and CNN (CNNVR) are experimenting with the concept.
The Times even sent their subscribers Google Cardboards, a cheap version of a VR headset. As Miron points out, this won’t take full hold until we can all enjoy the full experience with better headsets, which cost between $100 and $700, but will eventually come down. (As did those once- out- of- reach HD TVs.)
He says there is no doubt we are all heading into the 360 HR experience, which--again using theatrical terms--also break the fourth wall in a way. Here there are no closeups, no medium shots, everything is pretty much a wide shot. “The on-camera talent needs to see this as a conversation with the viewer,” says Miron, who has directed many commercials and videos over the years. “The ability to look someone in the eye and tell a story never existed like this before, because the screen was a barrier. VR breaks that barrier.”
To get a look at the latest in Miron’s work--done in conjunction with the production company Surreal-- check out his Facebook 360 food series. There, you will be smack inside Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen as he cooks breakfast with his daughter, or in Wolfgang Puck’s as he “dishes” while celebrating a ten-year restaurant anniversary. No, we can’t quite taste the sizzling steaks or roasting garlic, but hey, maybe by the time this article comes out…
“There’s a huge place for cooking shows in the VR world,” says Miron. (The first episode alone pulled in some four million views.) He does admit that this new reality entails new techniques: “A lot of the work is different,” he says. “Many of the things that are essential to film go away and everything has to be extremely compact, as we are shooting in one entire room. And the crew sizes are smaller because it is hard to hide!”
I say leave it to Gev Miron and the others to pave this next obstacle course. We don’t have to make the stuff, we only have to click on something to go inside and experience it. And I have no doubt that we will.