White Room? More like Alright Room…

By Chandler McCorkindale, University of Victoria

While doing research on 360-degree narrative films, I stumbled upon White Room: 02B3 (available for $3.99 on the App Store). I chose to write about this film because like our film currently in production, it was shot in both 360 degrees and a traditional Flattie format.

In terms of the script, the film revolves around six strangers who awake seated around a table in a white room with a gun on it. Unsure of who they are, or how they got there. They only know that they are a part of an experiment that tests their ability to settle disputes with communication or conflict.

This script is ideal from a 360-degree standpoint because it allows for a controlled shoot. Roddenberry Entertainment doesn’t have to worry about camera movement or positioning. They don’t have to worry about weather or natural lighting. Instead they can situate the camera in the middle of the table and just shoot the footage. With this we get a straightforward shoot, with complications coming only from the actors themselves.

I noticed when watching the film in my VR viewer, that the depth of field was lacking in the shots. Even though the film was shot in high definition with an SA9 360 camera, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters seemed eerily faraway from each other when seated. When they walked behind each other they were mere steps away in the flattie, but it looked like yards in the 360 version.

I felt that I was far away from the action as well, because unlike our film, the camera doesn’t move so I was confined to the middle of the table as a viewer. The film just also looked flat ironically, it was as if you could tell people were confined and stitched to certain spheres. Even if you zoomed in, this didn’t fix the problem and when you zoomed out if you went far enough the film looked like it was still in the editing bay.

There are a few shots near the ending where I could barely notice one character no matter how far I zoomed, but in the flattie close-ups were used to clarify this issue. I also noticed in the shots here that the heavy use of the shade black in this setting made it seem as if there were no floor or roof and that they weren’t stitched in. Perhaps they weren’t, and they just didn’t think people would zoom out on the film. So, herein lies the dilemma in the shoot because if you aim for simplicity shooting is no problem, but if you aim for the complex like we are you may not get the shot, but you also may get a more immersive experience.

I watched another film from the Google Spotlight Stories app called Help wherein they did use tracking shots like we are doing. The narrative wasn’t as compelling, but the film was put together in such a way where I didn’t notice any viewing issues. It’s all action of a monster chasing a woman and so it moves fast enough you don’t catch any errors. This may be because almost the entire film is in CG, except for the actors themselves. It appears having control of the world around you makes it easier to fix these issues that White Room couldn’t.

I wonder how much White Room was specifically shot for Domed Theatres? Apparently this is becoming a thing around the world wherein the 360 films are screened in literal domes and you are situated in the middle of them walking around viewing the film. Perhaps it works and looks better in this format over my viewer.

The Flattie experience was completely different because to me there were no issues except perhaps poor acting. This is because the director had complete control over how the film is shot. There were more ways than one to shoot and put together a scene.

In the 360 shoot you seem to just shoot it, stich it, and pray what you have is good. In the Flattie shoot there is more of an auteur feel as if everything can be controlled. Someone seems too far away in a shot? Fix there blocking or go to an ECU to see them better. Can’t see the reaction you want to see because your head won’t whip around fast enough? Cut to it. In this format you may not be as visually immersed in the story, yet you aren’t being taken out of the magic of the film world because of 360 errors you are noticing.

One thing we can take from both these films and use on ours is that we need to find a way to not have the audience just in the middle of the action, but on the edge of it. In watching a featurette about White Room I also had my fears confirmed that making sure the actors are basically always acting is going to be a struggle. “If you mess up a five-minute scene at the 4:43 mark, then you are shooting from the beginning again,” said Doug Jones an actor from the film. This is something we will have to instill in our actors.

I also liked how they had monitors hooked up to each camera with an additional three script supervisors monitoring continuity with the director. I think if this is possible, we need to do this because it is going to be awfully hard for one person to monitor continuity from 360 degrees. Something may slip through the cracks.

I think like the director says though in the featurette if we have everyone thinking in 360, we will be able to make something great in 360.

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