Darren Emerson: Directing VR Documentary

VR documentary
In a series researching the impact of virtual reality filmmaking, we got to speak with director Darren Emerson from East City Films. In our chat, we discuss the effects of VR documentary, and whether it can have a lasting impact.

For more on virtual reality documentary, check out this film essay.

VR has previously been described as an ‘empathy machine’, with the possibility of creating a ‘Wikipedia of experiences’ for audiences to explore. Do you believe that virtual reality is able to make audiences more empathic to the social issues of others?

The idea that VR is an empathy machine feels too simplistic. I would agree that there is a process of emotional change experienced by the viewer when they put on a VR headset though. This very physical act requires the viewer to shut themselves off from the outside world; and this act is in many ways part of the experience itself.

Once in a piece of VR content it really is more about how the film or experience is communicated using the key attributes of the medium that can heighten the sense of emotional connection to the work. These tools are immersion, spatial story telling, filmmaking, audio design and a degree of interactivity.

Attaining the feeling of empathy for someone is, in itself, a cognitive process and I have a sense that we can as VR film makers create work that resonates deeply with the viewer which in turn allows that process to be enabled.

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