Updated: Dec 22, 2021
The MetaMovie: Alien Rescue Starring You!
Imagine a movie where you play the lead role, shaping and controlling the flow of the story. One where supporting characters, played by live actors, respond to your words and actions. Sounds impossible? Well, it's not. Enter The MetaMovie: Alien Rescue.
So what even is The MetaMovie? An experiment in participatory storytelling, it brings together elements of film, immersive theater, role-playing dynamics and immersive VR to create a movie starring you. Rather than simply accepting a story, it is now in your hands for you to shape- literally. While there is a plot or goal to reach but much like a Dungeons and Dragons tabletop campaign, the journey is yours to craft, allowing you to experience a myriad of possibilities and outcomes. With such a high degree of player agency, every show is its own unique story.
It was this innovative approach to storytelling that won The MetaMovie several nominations, including the recently concluded 2021 Raindance Immersive Awards.
We had a chance to meet Jason Moore, creator of The MetaMovie: Alien Rescue, where we discussed the impact and future of VR.
“I remember clearly as a kid, seeing Star Wars in the theater, and desperately wanting to be inside the Millennium Falcon, shooting Tie Fighters with Luke and Han. I didn’t want to watch the film, I wanted to be IN IT.”
You certainly have an impressive resume, having worked in the film industry for over 25 years. What drove your decision to dive into VR and subsequently make MetaMovie: Alien Rescue?
I’ve been a filmmaker and visual storyteller all my life and I’m always striving to make my work as immersive as possible. All filmmakers do: we want to pull audiences deep inside our stories. I remember clearly as a kid, seeing Star Wars in the theater, and desperately wanting to be inside the Millennium Falcon, shooting Tie Fighters with Luke and Han. I didn’t want to watch the film, I wanted to be IN IT. That dream has been with me all my life, so when I started experimenting with VR I realized this was a tool that could potentially realize that vision. Alien Rescue is the result of a multi-year “MetaMovie Project”, a series of research experiments and performances designed to help me understand how I might actually put an audience inside a movie. I’m happy to say that all the years of hard work has paid off, and Alien Rescue does just that: you don’t watch this movie, you live it! We are thrilled to have just had our World Premiere at the Raindance International Film Festival, where we won Best Multiplayer Experience.
Did you encounter any unique challenges or additional considerations while working with VR and how did you solve it?
There are some similarities and some differences when telling stories using VR (and in my particular case, these stories are told live, with live actors). When making a film or a play in 2D, we have our script, we cast our actors, we work with teams of designers and technicians like Cinematographers, Production Designers, Costume Designers. We build sets, design costumes, light our scenes, and film with cameras. In VR it’s a bit different. Instead of a Production Designer I work with 3D model makers. Instead of a Cinematographer and a camera, we perform live, with no camera at all. Instead of making a costume, we design an Avatar. And there are additional considerations, like the interactive nature of VR - you can hold and use objects, like a laser gun, and when you shoot that at, say, a creature, it can do damage and even ‘kill’ that beast. This requires a programmer writing code, something not really done in film. And of course the fact that our show is live, well that takes cues from live theater: rehearsing actors for months on end in order to memorize the show and perform scene after scene in real-time, as opposed to the filmmaking process of shooting scenes and editing them together later. So there are some similar thing and then quite a few differences.
Do you think VR will change the way films are made? How and why so?
Having made 2D films all my life, I have a deep love for traditional cinema. As a passive art form, it can be soothing and relaxing to just melt away into a chair and let a story wash over you on a big screen. However, once I discovered the magic of VR, it’s really hard to go backwards. In VR I am completely immersed in the space and that feeling is so much more intense and exciting than anything a big flat movie screen can do, it’s not even close. The interactivity and agency I have inside a virtual world is delightful and highly active, making me feel very connected to the world, characters and stories. A live interactive VR story is quite different from a pre-recorded film on a screen. I think we’ll always have movies, but personally, I have sold my film gear and am committed to working in this new exciting medium. I think audiences are going to be thrilled to explore this new and exciting way to experience storytelling and I think storytelling in VR is here to stay.
How do you envision the future of VR?
The future of VR is wide open. We are in just the earliest stages now. VR headsets will get lighter, cheaper, and easier to use. It will be just like putting on a pair of glasses, as opposed to these clunky boxes we wear today. More and more virtual worlds will be created, and those worlds will become even more immersive and magical than they are today. Visual clarity will improve so that the cartoony look of today’s metaverse will soon feel photo real, indistinguishable from reality. When that happens, things are going to get very, very interesting. We have to be careful though, there are companies out there who are spending billions of dollars to dominate the market, push out competition, and force one single vision of VR upon us. We can’t let that happen. The metaverse needs to be open and accessible, with lots of stakeholders, not just one big company.
Last question we promise. Having launched a successful VR project, do you have any tips for someone eager to get started in this space?
For anyone interested in making similar work to my own, my advice is to jump in and learn how VR works by simply exploring worlds, going to live events, and meeting with VR designers and makers. Learn the language of VR, of game design, and start to assemble a team just as you would on a normal film or live theater project. You need to be pretty technical, able to troubleshoot, and not be afraid to make mistakes. Making VR work is more complex and difficult than making 2D work, so you have to have a good attitude and stay patient.
Interested in experiencing The MetaMovie: Alien Rescue for yourself? More details and
updates can be found on the official website.