Crowd DNA filmmaker Tom Eccles explores the latest broadcasting tech at BVE 2017 in London...

BVE is one of the UK’s largest entertainment and media tech events. It’s a metaphorical sweet shop for filmmakers, broadcasters and tech addicts – with over 300 exhibitors showing off the latest film equipment, and a packed programme of seminars exploring the world of entertainment.

We kicked off the day with a talk from none other than national treasure (and personal favourite) Louis Theroux. Known for his irreverent, innocent and playful interview technique, he offered plenty of practical advice for budding documentary makers that can also be applied to research. One of his first tips (made slightly awkwardly at a tech-obsessed event): don’t obsess over the technology. The story is key – and tech should enable you to tell that story, rather than entirely driving it.

Louis spoke about the changing patterns of video consumption – pointing to long-form documentaries like Making A Murderer as evidence that on-demand platforms are creating new opportunities and formats for filmmakers to take advantage of. One interesting audience question asked for the three ideal qualities of a documentary maker. His answer: curiosity, the ability to get on with people without being too imposing, and tenacity – that journalistic edge, allowing you to take the interview to an uncomfortable area. All of which can be as equally important qualities for researchers.

Advice from Louis Theroux
Advice from Louis Theroux

Next up, Peter Collis from Inition, London-based VR and AR specialists, gave valuable insight into editing 360-degree video (something we’re branching into here at Crowd). His first lesson centred around the creation of a VR performance of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Initially, the film was intended to be based solely in the middle of the orchestra – but the team wanted to add more insight and storytelling to the experience.

To achieve this, they went back and filmed other environments building up to the performance – the backstage corridors, the entrance, and the pre-show practice. This builds up to the eventual grand performance and, coupled with an interview with the conductor, gently eases the viewer into the VR space.

Peter’s second example was a 360-degree film produced for Unicef. Without the use of traditional film techniques, such as close-ups or focus shifts, the challenge was to direct the viewer through an experience in which they can look in whatever direction they like. Inition used animation to bring the viewer into the VR world, and having viewers all starting at one specific point (termed the “north point”) helped to provide a clear point of focus from the beginning.

Our next event was a panel asking whether VR is a fad, or here to stay – surprisingly, the latter! Catherine Allen, who has produced a range of VR content for the BBC, believes that VR should only be used when there is a genuine purpose; for example an experience or place you wouldn’t normally have access to – incidentally, one of the reasons we think VR is perfect for research. Some stories, she argued, are simply better told through traditional film.

Matt Graff, co-founder of VR City, wants to see VR escape the confines of the headset. He gave the example of a giant projection dome created for a whisky client, giving a virtual distillery experience. In a similar vein to Louis Theroux, he made the point that technology shouldn’t get in the way – it’s about how you can use that technology to bring people closer to an experience.

Francisco Lima, VFX technology supervisor at Gramercy Park Studios, pointed to studies having shown that people recall VR experiences like real life memories – as if they actually happened. Once headset/projection technology improves, it will be less virtual reality, more teleportation – which then raises ethical considerations.

All valuable insight for exploring further VR and 360-degree film work at Crowd DNA.