Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh is known for pushing the boundaries of filmmaking — from his classics like Sex, Lies & Videotape and Traffic to his newest project, an interactive experience called Mosaic, a murder mystery starring Sharon Stone that was released this week as an iOS app in partnership with HBO.
So of course he’s looking into virtual reality next, right? Actually, no, it turns out.
“I wish I could short VR, because in a narrative space, I don’t think it’s ever going to work,” Soderbergh said when I asked about virtual reality during an event at HBO’s Seattle office this week. “It’s going work in 10- to 15-minute bursts as an immersion into something, but it is never going work in a long-form narrative space. There are too many things that you’re giving up that are crucial to a viewer’s locking in to a narrative.”
The first problem, Soderbergh said, is the lack of a reverse shot in virtual reality. This is the film technique that puts the audience in the position of one character, looking directly at a second character, and then flips the perspective to look back at the first character from the perspective of the second.
Here’s what he said on the topic.
The ability to shoot a reverse and look into the eyes of the protagonist who is experiencing the story is the bedrock of visual narrative, and you just can’t sustain something for more than 10 or 15 minutes in which you do not have a reverse in which you are looking at the character who is experiencing it. This is the difference between a game and a story. … As a filmmaker, that’s a problem.
The other thing is, currently, and maybe they’ll figure this out, but you’ve taken the editing away from me. I can’t do a montage. That’s a gigantic problem. You’re basically talking about a proscenium. It’s a 360-degree proscenium, but you’re basically talking about staging something as a theatrical piece, in a way. You can’t think of it in movie terms.
I look at VR and I just go, great for games. Great for these short of short-form immersion things, but long-form narrative? Right now, there are serious obstacles that, with the technology as it is today, to my mind, are insurmountable. I don’t see it. Start selling your stock, whatever. Or buying, depending on what you think about that.
This sounds like a challenge to the tech industry! Who can come up with a long-form narrative virtual reality experience that satisfies the likes of Steven Soderbergh?
For more from Soderbergh on technology and filmmaking, check out our earlier story on his new app Mosaic, including details from my conversation with Soderbergh and writer Ed Solomon at the HBO event this week.