Most virtual-reality experiences only last a few minutes, but one new project is taking a long shot: feature length.
VR-focused production company Wevr and indie-film crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark are diving into virtual reality about as deeply as they can with their latest project, “Memory Slave.” It’s among the first feature-length projects shot for VR headsets, an immersive technology that makes viewers feel like they’re in the middle of the action.
The plot of the movie, too, centers on virtual reality: The main character is an entrepreneur who sells her socially-conscious VR startup to a tech giant for billions, only to watch it become twisted it into a manipulative, addictive marketing and entertainment tool.
“The whole intention is to ask a lot of questions about the medium,” said Emily Best, Seed&Spark founder and CEO, who is also a producer for the project.
Virtual reality is an immersive entertainment format that’s among the buzziest consumer technologies this year. It uses responsive headsets to simulate an environment for the wearer. Tech giants like Facebook, Samsung and Google are investing substantially in developing VR headsets and making them widely available, but applicable content is limited.
And feature-length stories are uncharted territory for the format, which is still so new that most consumers haven’t even sampled it.
Several other creators are working on feature-length VR, such as a crowdfunded movie about the Mafia by one first-time filmmaker and a whodunit called “MansLaughter” by production company Cinemersia. And Wevr itself previously made 100-minute VR thriller “Gone,” which was released over 10 sequential episodes.
Wevr and Seed&Spark have joined forces on VR before: “Hard World for Small Things” by filmmaker Janicza Bravo, which exhibited at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals, and “The Visitor,” which was directed by James Kaelan and Blessing Yen, who are writing and directing “Memory Slave.”
The companies will distribute the film exclusively on Wevr’s Transport app, which serves as a virtual-reality content network. Wevr is contributing technical expertise, production hardware and some funding.
Wevr co-founder Anthony Batt called his company’s participation “a warm embrace to [the filmmakers’] creative idea.”
A portion of the project will be crowdfunded through Seed&Spark. Best said the campaign to fund “Memory Slave” will likely go live in the fall.
“Last year, everyone was saying VR cost about a million dollars a minute to produce,” Best said in a statement. “We think that’s insane. We’re not interested in another cost-prohibitive exclusive creators’ club.”
She said their previous, seven-minute VR short “The Visitor” had a production budget of $7,200.
As part of Friday’s announcement, Seed&Spark said it will open its film-only crowdfunding platform to allow VR projects. Wevr will open up its distribution app Transport to projects funded on Seed&Spark and will also invest in a marketing fund to promote those creators.
Like many elements of VR, feature-length films face uncertainty. Wearing a headset for extended periods of time can make some viewers feel dizzy or nauseous. Those who view VR on a mobile device like Samsung Gear VR will have to contend with their smartphones running out of juice or overheating during long periods of use.