VR 20/20 2017: Storytelling Is All in the Edges

New York – Creating virtual reality content requires a different approach to storytelling, but content providers have to be mindful to let the technology enhance the story, not overpower it.

At a panel discussion entitled “The Medium and the Message: How Do We Tell Stories in VR?” at the Multichannel News/B&C VR 20/20 conference here, moderated by Jeff Jacobs, MTV senior VP of production planning, strategies and operations, panelists said that one of the biggest advantages of virtual reality programming and its ability to make viewers feel they are part of the experience is also one of the most overlooked.

Read More: Complete Coverage of VR 20/20

Moth+Flame VR founder Kevin Cornish said the idea that a VR experience has to constantly introduce new elements and encourage viewers to look around them is kind of missing the point. While a 360-degree view is essential, Cornish said the benefit isn’t in getting people to constantly rotate their heads to see what’s around them, but instead to feel like what they are looking at has no edge like a traditional TV, computer or phone screen.   

Cornish added that VR storytellers use all the same techniques used in linear storytelling, including being consciously aware of the viewers threshold for boredom.

“Attention spans are just as short or shorter in VR,” Cornish said. “The more you can look around, the easier it is to get bored.”

Espii Studios founder and executive creative director Sadeh Espii Proctor said perspective is essential in moving a story forward.

“The things around us help inform,” Proctor said, adding that while it is the viewer’s natural tendency to look forward, encouraging them to see what is around them, even peripherally, gives additional clues to what is going on.

Theatrical designer and director Victoria Pike said giving viewers different perspective views also informs the story, adding that using apps as well as virtual reality and augmented reality layers are ways to give audiences a more unique experience.

“We’re all trying to capture how to connect with people, how to bring the stage performance off the stage and into the audience,” Pike said.

Discovery Networks has been a pioneer in the VR space -- it launched its VR app in 2015 and earlier this month announced a VR series in partnership with Google called TRVLR. Discovery Networks director of branded experiences Kyle Ranson-Walsh said content makers have to come to grips with the idea that VR isn’t a genre.

“You’re in a moment,” Ranson-Walsh said, adding that a documentary with a talking head can be just as good a VR experience as one chock full of action and rushing zombies. “You want it to be immersive,” he said.

Cornish, agreed, adding that one of his favorite VR videos is a simple conversation with singer Taylor Swift.

“It felt like she was talking to me,” Cornish said. “That can be impactful. The thing that VR is going to do, it’s not about the places it will take us, it’s about the people it will let us meet.”

VR 20/20 kicked off NYC Television Week Monday (Oct. 16); read more #NYCTVWK stories here.