Strapping on an Oculus Rift or even a Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard is becoming increasingly common, with YouTube and Facebook 360 videos filling in the gaps to give most of the world a chance to see what a 360-degree film experience is like. But the novelty of simply walking down a street, or even surfing in the ocean, will eventually wear off, and right now filmmakers are figuring out how to evolve their storytelling to include the new senses, distractions and perspectives of 360 video.
On stage at Cannes Lions, in a presentation called "How Drones and 360 Video Will Change Creativity," Mofilm creative strategy director Elisha Greenwell said the greatest power this type of filmmaking has is to create empathy. "Filmmaking has always been about empathy, and in the past it's been about close-ups that put you in the eyes of that person, and I think 360 creates incredible depth and empathy because you're not just looking at someone's story through the eyes of the director, you're in that story, often you or the camera are the character," she said. "You don't just see what it's like to be this person, but you can feel it and experience it yourself with four senses."
The approach to storytelling is completely different, it's not just about storyboards, but a circle and directors have to consider every single degree. "As exciting as 360 and drone film is, it's also really challenging," said Greenwell. "If you're a really good filmmaker, you're used to strong, focused landscape, and all of a sudden you have this whole landscape within which your story has to exist. Just planning that out, asking where the viewers attention will be, is really, really challenging. Instead of one shot, it's every angle. So if you think about, there's a squirrel over there, a bird over there but I want you to look at the horse, how do you actually get somebody to do that? You have to think of the total experience, you're creating a world, not just a controlled scene."
One of the biggest challenges in 360 video isn't visual at all. Greenwell said sound is an unsolved problem. "A lot of the best 360 stuff doesn't depend on sound because you can't tell someone where to hear, you have a lot of conflicting sounds," she said. "There's this great 360 surfing video that Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook, and on one side you have birds, and the other it's the ocean and those sounds mix together. Sound is tricky because it's always overlapping, and in traditional film you cut sound, but when the whole world is your environment, how do you choose what to emphasize?"
Maintaining a focused perspective is also an ongoing challenge. Facebook has an icon on its 360 films that takes viewers to a specific place in that video. "There's one video with the cast of Hamilton, and when you push the icon it takes you to the person singing," said Greenwell. "But if you're in a place like the ocean it just takes you to the front-facing camera. So you can use it in different ways. That's one potential solution but I don't know if there is a real solution, I think filmmakers just need to consider everywhere as part of their story, and how it adds and builds onto the story versus thinking about it as distracting from what they're really trying to say."