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The Creative Possibilities of 360 Video



INFLUENCER: Citizen 360 @ Dark Energy's David Betteridge clears a few things up surrounding 360 video

The Creative Possibilities of 360 Video

When the well seasoned/pickled commercial producer I have known for some years announced to his assembled huddle of Sapporo-clutching production bods that 'Awl you gotta do as a freesixtydirector is decide where to put your faacking pole, hahahahahahaaaar'. It was just another clue that maybe some of us creative types don’t really understand what 360 video is all about, and treat it in the same way that perhaps the big hefty Neanderthals treated our skinny little ancestors. We all know how that ended.

I didn’t need reminding of this misunderstanding. I have been directing 360 video for the last four years for some of the biggest agencies and brands on the planet. Where to ‘put my faacking pole’ is not the major issue I have to deal with. A massive misunderstanding of 360 video and how it fits into the rapidly evolving mediascape however is. Some would argue that the off the scale engagement we were promised by this shiny new empathy machine has not materialised beyond a few stand-out examples. However if you peek behind OZ’s curtain, you will find a loose-knit cadre of experienced 360 filmmakers and VR developers who are building the language of immersive storytelling with some solid, innovative work. They see a bright future and there are case studies to back them up.

If by using VR headsets, you can raise $2m in an evening with a 360 video documentary (as Charity:Water did), or cure lifelong phobias more effectively than with face to face therapy (as has been done) or indeed make politicians cry (gotta be a bonus), then surely the issue is not the medium itself, but how it is predominantly being used.

Before the fateful day when a producer at Google stuck a cardboard headset on my face and showed me my first 360 video documentary, I hadn’t really gotten the point of the medium. The real value of 360 video, the reason I sliced a perfectly good career as a filmmaker in half and disappeared down the 360 rabbit hole, is that when it is combined with a headset, you are no longer watching the story, you are in it, experiencing it rather than looking at it through a little window on a screen.

We live in a world of 4:3 / 5:4 / 2:1 / 16:9 / 1:1 and now the appalling 9:16. Our little rectangles are our primary connection to the reality of the stories around us. But this is not always going to be the case. The unfortunate irony of course is that today most 360 video is still watched within frames as you scuttle through your Facebook feed rather than in the headsets that give the medium so much promise. We all know how our businesses have been radically changed by 'FaceYouGram' - but at least you are still being asked to cram your carefully crafted stories into rectangles. For now. 

In the same way that campfire stories became theatre, became cinema, became TV, became YouTube, SnapChat and whatever other app we will be downloading this week, so our little rectangles will be pushed to the side by the next episode in the history of storytelling - screenless, immersive environments delivered in headsets. You may scoff but when you sync your first set of Apple iSpex to your phone (Xmas 2021?) and look for something to do, it will most probably be 360 video that you turn to first. 

The early days of 360 video production were expensive and often a technical nightmare. Some production companies cleaned up but some clients got burned and the work was often mediocre. Thankfully that’s no longer the case. Production costs have come down and many of the cowboys have shuttered their stables. 360 filmmakers have become more skilled and both clients and creative departments now understand that the scope of the medium goes way beyond virtual tours or strapping a 360 camera to someone’s head. 

One of the most important decisions to make for any 360 video campaign - which needs to be built in right from the beginning - is deciding how the audience view it. If it’s social, it’s a no brainer, standard rules apply but having some form of headset experience whether it be at an event, at point of sale or through an app, will expand the chances of really connecting with an audience

So given that, at least for now, there are ‘only’ about 170,000,000 active users with VR headsets in the world, what’s the strategy? Here’s some examples from some recent campaigns we made at Citizen 360 that have included some form of headset experience within the delivery.

• A three film 360 lifestyle documentary campaign for HP, delivering the films over social channels and at point of sale on headsets and tablets.

• A case study 360 documentary for Google, selling G-Suite to business customers using Cardboard headsets at Google’s biggest European event.

• A 250 scene campaign for travel company Tui, providing 360 content for 90+ headset apps for use in store, at resorts and during the online booking process.

• A 360 video travel experience for The Egyptian Tourist Board, commissioned specifically to be shown in the Discovery VR app, across multiple VR platforms as well as across social channels.

Another easy route into 360 video for brands is to build a 360 element into an existing campaign. We recently made three short 360 trailers for NBC of the back of a branded content shoot, that were used over social channels to promote the larger campaign. Low cost, high impact.

Although 360 video is related to filmmaking, it’s a different skillset, sitting somewhere between film, theatre and VR. Experience means a lot. At Citizen 360 we have created 360 content for some of the biggest players in VR including Google, Samsung, HP and the Discovery Channel, handling the complete pipeline from strategy and creative (if necessary) production (courtesy of Dark Energy Films) with experienced directors, technicians and app developers. 

So what’s on the virtual horizon? The good thing is that now that the hype around the medium has died down, we are back where we should be, with the need to make well-crafted, audience relevant immersive 360 stories and experiences and contrary to popular belief, this is not just about deciding where to ‘put your faaking pole’.

David Betteridge is director at Citizen 360 @ Dark Energy

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Dark Energy Films, Fri, 30 Nov 2018 15:38:45 GMT