Some Thoughts on the Future of 360° Films

Over the course of this term, whenever I told people that I was working on a 360° film, I got a variety of responses, varying from “What’s that?” to “That’s cool!” to the more serious “Do you think 360° is the future of filmmaking?”

The short answer to that last question is: I don’t know. The long answer is something like this…

When I started Writing 420 in September, I’d never even watched a 360° film with a headset, let alone made a 360° film. I immediately found the concept of working in 360° appealing, though. While some people in the class were hesitant about virtual reality and would have rather worked on a flat film, I was eager to explore this new technology. I didn’t know if it would turn out well. I was sure there would be less trial and error (and likely a better final result) if we worked on a traditional film, but the idea of 360° filmmaking was exciting. I’m intrigued by new technologies. I like exploring new mediums for the sake of exploring the medium, not necessarily because it’s the easiest or even the best one.

Then we began working on the script for the film, and I realized how little we as creators understand about this new medium. Coming up with a concept that not only works in 360°, but actively thrives in 360°, that ideally depends on 360°, is a daunting task. Did we achieve this? Maybe not. Maybe no one has achieved it yet. But we experimented, and with such a new medium, that’s all we can do. After decades of flat filmmaking, it’s hard to transfer what we know about visual storytelling to this new medium. It’s difficult to tell a story when we can’t tell the audience where to look. It’s difficult to make something so new seem useful instead of gimmicky. And it’s difficult to know how to use a medium to its full potential when we’ve never seen it used to its full potential – we have no models to follow.

After doing camera operation and editing on our 360° film, I’m more intrigued than ever about the future of this medium. At the moment, 360° is mostly used for documentary and video games. Documentaries rely less on the filmmaking techniques that 360° lacks: camera direction, close ups, cuts… Video games are made for the kind of immersion and viewer participation that 360° provides. In fact, one could argue that 360° films are forcibly bridging the gap between film and games: 360° films demand viewer interaction (even if that interaction is just looking around) in a way that traditional films do not. Is the future of narrative 360° a hybrid of gaming and filmmaking? Drawing the viewer in to participate in the story, the way video games already do? As 360° films become more common, will we see less of a divide between what is considered a video game and what is considered a film? Or will 360° filmmaking take a turn that we can’t even imagine yet, carving out its own space as a medium apart from both films and games?

— Natasha D’Amours

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