I spoke with Filmatics’ founder Elia Petridis about the future go-to medium of horror storytelling — virtual reality! Among other topics, he revealed the importance of narrative-driven stories in VR, taught me about trasnmedia, and emphasized the importance of music & sound in VR. Read on to learn more!
How did you come up with the idea for this piece and why are you interested in horror?
Horror is one of my favorite genres. It still demands communal viewing, which is ironic when placed in VR, but there’s nothing like seeing a good horror film in a crowded cinema. I also love modernist horror, horror that reflects on the form and on what it’s saying about society’s shortcomings as opposed to simply presenting an antagonist, or, even worst, gorno. I really do not like gorno. I’d rather watch the news.
I love Freddy and Jason — they get me girls climbing into my arms in the dark — but I really admire Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Orphanage, The Others, The Sixth Sense. Overall, I much prefer good ghost stories
Springing off of this, when tasked by Wevr to think of a horror piece, the first thing I latched onto (and this comes from being steeped in Critical Studies at USC from age 18 – 22, drenched in the anatomy of films) was “what is the HORROR of the MEDIUM?” This brand new medium, what’s horrific about it? No one’s done that yet. No one’s made the Rear Window of VR. So, it occurred to me that VR is you trying on someone else’s eyes, trying on different pairs of eyes, and trying on ways that different people see the world. Marcus, our eyeless ghost looking for the perfect pair, was born from that concept. I also love the old ghost story trope of “unfinished business”, being that he can’t cross over, he needs those eyes to see his way over; simple, yet relatable, like a good ghost story, I hope.
What are you most proud of in this film?
I’m proud that it holds your attention for 12 minutes. It’s one of the longest pieces of narrative VR on the market and has to stand on its traditional disciplines of “are you still interested at minute 8?”, It turns the plot with dialogue and character so that they and the narrative come to the forefront and the medium of VR takes a backseat to serve that story. And I love that it has inclusion, that YOU feel like you are part of the group. I’ve seen this in a room full of high school kids, who are just there to be delighted, and they don’t know they dos and don’ts of VR, they haven’t seen a ton of VR before, and they shout back at the characters, they discuss, they recoil, they laugh. And, more often that not, people will come to me weeks later and says “Eye for an Eye! The Dead Don’t Lie!” which has nothing to do with VR, it just has to do with that fact that it’s “sticky”, and I’m really proud of that.
I am also very proud that this has a score and wonderful soundtrack to it. Jesca Hoop featured in Ruy Folguera’s arrangements provide the pedigree that VR deserves like any other narrative film.
What do you believe is key to a successful story in virtual reality?
The same it’s been since the dawn of time. Do I care? And is this the right medium for that story? Am I using that medium to incarnate the fullest potential of that story? Or is it just bananas on banana?
What are some of the technical challenges in creating a VR piece?
Your actors can’t drop a line. They have to have somewhat of a theatrical discipline to carry a scene like a play and be believable all the way through because they can’t rely on a few things. They can’t rely on cuts and close ups like in film, and they can’t rely on distance like in a play, so it’s a whole new ball of wax for them and it rejuvenates the discipline which excites me as a collaborator. I do so love my actors.
Embracing the stitch and immersion of the spherical space and surmounting those limitations. How do you make a candle blow out when you can’t have any crew in the room? You have your actors freeze absolutely still, run in, blow out the candle, shoot a blank plate, shoot the candle going out alone too, and then make an easter egg of all those different elements so that the film still pulls it off no matter whether you’re looking at that candle or not at the time. We don’t know where you’ll be looking, but we subconsciously guide you to look where we want you to at a given point, and if we miss the boat on that, you’re never lost as to what’s happening regardless; that’s a challenge. “Here, I’m alive, everything, all of the time.” There’s an alchemy to pulling that off, an in-between of action and reaction.
Have you done any other projects in VR? What is next for your company?
This is our first.
We’re going to do some gobsmacking music videos – not live – MUSIC VIDEOS that’ll blow your mind. We’re in discussion to make VR in tandem with some amazing films coming out of the industry in a transmedia sort of way, and we’re about to pitch some original content we’re really excited about.
How did you choose the music and how do you think it improves the piece?
It improves the piece for a few reasons –
Alone, it accentuates the horror as we’d like it to. Jesca Hoop’s vocals along with Ruy’s arrangement on If I Had A Ribbon Bow totally brings to life séance music as well as breathing new life into If I Had A Ribbon Bow and Ruy’s score from there on provides that added emotional guidance the piece needs to stay vibrant throughout its run time.
In the transmedia spirit there are reoccurring motifs and themes in both Eye for an Eye: Henrietta and Eye for an Eye: A Séance in VR and Ribbon Bow features in both as well, which establishes a recognition and emotional relationship, hopefully, with that music.
Also, Ribbon Bow has it’s own back story in the eye for an eye world. The character Jesca Hoop is singing AS is named Sylvia Mots and there’s a whole tale that relates to Henrietta and Co about how that song came to be and why it’s important. So if you keep exploring the world, the song earns depth for you.
What are the biggest differences in producing a short like Henrietta vs a VR piece like Eye for an Eye?
They’re both mad hatter-like in terms of “Will this work?”– films always are, but Henrietta provided us with more “traditional” stress, whereas Eye for an Eye VR was a little more carefree because nothing had ever worked before anyway so there where no mistakes to be made. Even if we were making mistakes, we were the first to ever make them, and that was cool. And the cast and crew had to amp up their faith in me for Eye for an Eye VR, they really couldn’t see what was in my head because they don’t have the grammar yet, no one does, to properly understand it as it was being directed. Plus I can’t be in the room when we do the takes, (I’m under the table most of the time) because otherwise I’m in the shot. I can preview, but that wasn’t so reliable at the, and I wouldn’t call cut in case the take was so far amazing. So yes, very much like theater, and yes, very much returning that faith back to the crew. There’s a moment in VR when you go “Okay, everyone ready? You’re on your own! Good luck!” and I left the room so as not to be in the shot – unnerving!
When and where can readers view this piece?
Wevr and Filmatics are ironing out how Eye for an Eye will go out on all platforms, Henrietta will make the festival round and then be available to screen in a VR movie theater in the goggles so that you can see them back to back in the goggles. At some point they’ll end up for the public on Vimeo and Youtube 360 as a last stop.