IFFR goes VR

By Nick Cunningham

Yesterday's day-long virtual reality session, run in association with VR Days Europe, comprised a robust examination of this emerging sector, Submarine's Corine Meijers told IFFR Pro during a well-earned break.

The Submarine Channel production Mona, to be directed by new company head Michel Reilhac, was one of four VR projects pitched at the session. In Reilhac’s film, models from the world's great paintings leave their frames after museum doors close at night and convene in the parallel world of the Salon. Scott McPherson’s The Illuminatus! is an adaptation of The Illuminatus Trilogy! by Robert Anton Wilson. Barbara Lippe’s ADA/M describes the work of three scientists working for the survival of our species, while in Wiebe van den Ende's My Only Way Out two friends are given an ultimatum: seven days to raise 300,000 euros or they and their loved ones will die.

"I think it was a very nice opportunity to have Mona presented at Cinemart, plus it is the first time that the Submarine Channel has presented a project," said Meijers. "Michel has been writing the concept and the treatment for the last 6 months. We already have OKIO as a French co-pro partner, one of the largest VR production companies in France."

How to assess the potential

IFFR PRO (Feb 1) outlined the dilemmas encountered by practitioners in the virtual reality trade, notably how right now it is difficult to assess the potential of VR projects, and that a consumer market is still to be established. Is VR - let alone fictional VR - over-hyped or under-financed? What financing models apply for this hybrid art form? Is it an art form, or just another medium?

Meijers addressed some of these questions. "It is about finding good projects and making good projects, but also finding a good team to make it. For our Ashes to Ashes for example (which premiered November 2016 at VR Days, Amsterdam), it was the first time that the whole crew did something like that, which made it a very interesting and a nice challenge to work on. Everybody has to jump into this challenge, but not everybody is ready because you need to put lot of your own investment, and your own time, into it."

What’s more, budgets are higher than what companies can be expected to raise within their own borders, “but now with Mona it is very nice that we can do this as a co-production. It is a funny drama project but it also has an educational level for young people to get to know the paintings and the stories behind them, so that will help us to find more financial partners and funding.”

Designated viewing areas 

In terms of the public roll-out of VR, Meijers points out that more and more cinemas are creating designated viewing areas, but high quality content is still the main sticking point, productions that theatres can justify charging a steep ticket price for. "Online customers can of course find content and it is often free, but it is still hard to access those and you still need to have your own gear. And you will need the right gear, because sometimes there are nice films available for IOS but not for Android, so it is still a step we have to take."

Within a sector that is still finding its feet, having content in line for free can queer the pitch for companies looking to charge. Some producers are wary that audiences my get too used to not having to pay for content. For Submarine however, reaching the widest possible audience is more important, at least for now. "We want impact and we want to reach a large new audience. We want to make sure that we can share the experience as widely as possible."