Doug Liman Discusses VR Project 'Invisible'

By Pritchard, Tiffany | Screen International, November 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

Doug Liman Discusses VR Project 'Invisible'


Pritchard, Tiffany, Screen International


Big budget television has segued to the world of virtual reality (VR) by way of The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman.

Based around an influential New York dynasty whose power to make themselves invisible (and thereby control most of the world economy) is on the verge of being exposed, Invisible is a five-part supernatural drama series running at around six minutes per episode. Made in partnership with Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), Jaunt and Samsung, the project is groundbreaking in its efforts to create a 360-degree VR action series that places emphasis on cinematic storytelling and production values.

"Nobody has done anything in this genre, and on this scale, within VR yet. We are chartering new territory, and we are all learning as we go," said CNE president Dawn Ostroff. Formerly head of The CW Television Network, Ostroffmoved to CNE in 2011 where she now oversees production of digital video, film and television programming spun offthe publishing company's editorial content.

In addition to a first-look deal with Twentieth Century Fox for its scripted television projects, the company oversees 4,000 videos annually as well as the mobile-first video channel The Scene. CNE's inaugural feature The First Monday In May opened the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, and its second film Army Of One is slated for release later this year. "The idea of immersing someone within a narrative storyline was intriguing," said Ostroff, who says the roots of Invisible go back two years, when VR start-up Jaunt gave a presentation that included a 360-degree concert video of Paul McCartney.

After joining forces with Samsung and Jaunt, she met with several high-profile film-makers, ultimately deciding that Liman's vision and slate of potential projects was the most innovative, particularly Invisible. "If I was still running the CW Network, this would be a series I would be interested in," she said. "Just like a television series, I knew the story could hook viewers. It has conflict, emotion and cliff-hangers to entice viewers to keep watching."

But there were challenges along the way. "Creating a cinematic, action-series in VR was daunting," said Ostroff. "Adding in special effects [VFX] and shooting on locations on top made it quite a challenging project that I don't think any of us realised at the time."

Liman's digital company 30 Ninjas develops and produces interactive programming such as Live: Conan 360 Comic Con 2016 - a live-streamed VR broadcast - and Vogue 360: Fashion Week. Together with 30 Ninjas co-founder and Invisible producer Julina Tatlock, Liman brought in film talent to work on the new series, including screenwriter Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club), stunt coordinator and second unit director Simon Crane and editor Saar Klein (The Bourne Identity). For the creative team, it was, says the director, a version of VR film school where "anything and everything was tried and tested."

Young film-makers Jerome Sable and Michael Litwak also joined the project, and co-directed with Liman throughout the shoot. "This is stuffyou haven't seen before," said Liman. "Most smart film-makers avoid action altogether, not to mention in VR with VFX requirements. But I like starting something not knowing how to do it, and finishing with a complete understanding."

Shooting over the course of a year, with final scenes completed in September, Liman and team tested out the waters both in VR storytelling and technology. "None of us knew what we were doing. It was truly a communal film school. But I knew what I didn't want," said Liman, who set out to break a few rules that other VR film-makers have followed, for instance moving cameras, editing within scenes, and use of close-ups. "I watched a lot of VR, and most of it was boring as shit. I am trying to do compelling, narrative storytelling. It has to be more fun and exciting. And you can't do that without editing, without camera movement. Those were the rules going in. …

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