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VR: now with Hollywood actors under your control


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“Broken Night” is a virtual reality that lets you play puppeteer


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“Broken Night” explores the changing memories of a woman remembering a traumatic crime.

Broken Night

For a virtual reality experience that probes a fractured mind, “Broken Night” does a good job of putting delicate pieces together.

The experiment, which will be presented on Saturday at The Next program loaded with virtual reality at the Cannes Film Festival, explores the traumatic memories of a woman as she recounts a crime to a detective. The viewer, grappling with her to figure out what really happened, chooses which of her memories to follow.

But more than its twists, “Broken Night” offers a glimpse of something new for virtual reality: what it feels like when creators already know what they’re doing. “Broken Night” combines a team from Eko, the company most experienced in making interactive live videos, with actors Emily Mortimer (“The press room,” “shutter island“) and Alessandro Nivola (“american hustle“, the current of HBO”The magician of lies“), some of the most talented actors to show a lot of strength in virtual reality to date.

Virtual reality, which uses headsets to make viewers feel transported in the middle of a story, is one of the hottest trends in tech, attracting huge investment from giants like Facebook and Google. But one of the issues holding back VR’s popular appeal is the lack of compelling content. The biggest hurdle for VR filmmakers over the past two years was simply creating experiences that didn’t make you sick or blast the feeling of “being there.” Once that hurdle is cleared, “Broken Night” shows what it can feel like when the gameplay and interactivity are expertly handled as well.

“It feels more like real life than cinema or theater,” Nivola said in an interview.

Mortimer and the “Weird Robot”

“Broken Night” was the first dab into virtual reality for Mortimer and Nivola, who play the film‘s fighting couple and are also married in real life.

Acting in virtual reality felt like it had touchstones in other kinds of performance, but ultimately no true analogue, Mortimer said.

In typical movies and TV shows, the actors play their characters with the reality of the cinema – directors, cameramen and an army of other support staff standing around silently chewing gum – filling in the other half of the room. With VR, however, everyone but the actors has to evacuate as soon as the camera starts rolling, as that usually requires shooting in 360 degrees. This leaves the actors literally alone.

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Mortimer and Nivola, who are married, play the fighting couple at the center of “Broken Night.”

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

It was like being “left alone with this weird robot,” Mortimer said in the same interview, but the setup had some partial familiarities. It reminded him a bit of starring in a Woody Allen movie, with a director who rarely gives the actors a detailed idea of ​​where the camera is. (Mortimer was in Allen’s 2005 thriller”Match point.“) VR also felt like exhibiting like theater, she said, due to a similar feeling of standing in front of the audience with nowhere to hide.

Hollywood actors have already braved virtual reality. In late 2014 – a long time ago when the only “headset” an average person could try on was Google Cardboard – Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon and Oscar nominee Laura Dern appeared in a virtual reality short of three minutes related to their film “Savage.” Last year “Mister Robot“cast members performed a backstory from their USA Network series in virtual reality, and Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender made a guest appearance in a”Assassin’s Creed” experience.

Hollywood actors have largely appeared in virtual reality as a sideshow to a traditional movie or series. Until “Broken Night,” none have taken on the kind of plot complexity with quirky characters the way Mortimer and Nivola did.

But removing the artificial trappings of a typical shoot heightened the sense of reality, both men agreed.

“You don’t scale the size of your performance to the size of the shot. All you can do is just play the scene as real as you know it to be,” Nivola said.

Mortimer nodded. “It felt more like being that character in a real world. We had that feeling…it was just you and me,” she told her husband.

Eco Room

Virtual reality stories typically exist between two poles: those you play as games and those you sit down and experience as a movie. As filmmakers began experimenting with more interactivity in virtual reality, cinematic experiences crept into the realm of games.

“Broken Night,” for example, gives viewers the option to choose between branching plot points. At some point, the characters split from one couple into two. With just seconds to choose, the action will follow the couple that catches your eye. The complex nature of such storytelling is where Eko Between.

The company, formerly known as Interlude, first came to public prominence in 2013 with a widely seen revival of Bob Dylan’s classic “Like a Rolling Stone”. This video allowed viewers to switch between 16 channels of different actors and reality TV stars syncing Dylan’s lyrics while continuing their normal routines. Since then, the company has continued to create interactive music videos, short films and commercials that give viewers choice.

Alex Vlack, the author of “Broken Night” and vice president of creative at Eko, said the company’s years of creating interactive stories have ingrained “deep beliefs” about what interactivity can and must do.

“In these early days of VR, you hear a lot of live VR projects described as interactive, but only because you can look around…or you can move your hands,” he said. . “But does that do anything to the story? When we talk about interactive storytelling, we’re not just talking about the ability to look differently. We mean the ability to actually affect the story as you go. let it unfold.”

So, we don’t play “Broken Night” as a game, with objectives to achieve before we can move forward. It unfolds as life does, giving you a limited time to decide which course to take before the rest of the action rolls on – and takes you with it.

Vlack said Eko hopes more live-action virtual reality projects will embrace interactive storytelling, which has been rare so far.

“It’s not because the world is full of unambitious creators in VR. It’s just a new medium, and it’s really difficult,” he said. “This is proof that it can be done.”

Corrected May 22, 5:00 PM PT: The network that runs “Mr. Robot” is USA, not FX.

Virtual Reality 101: CNET tells you everything you need to know about virtual reality.