Making movies in virtual reality—that is, 360-degree video—is hard. Really hard. The cameras are big and expensive. They can’t zoom. Move the cameras, or cut too quickly from one to the next, and you risk making viewers sick. Keep the cameras in the same spot and you risk wearing viewers down.
But the biggest obstacle facing VR movies, according to some critics, is that viewers can look in any direction at any time, making it impossible for the director to control exactly what they see. In a MayScientific American column, tech writer David Pogue called audience attention “the towering problem that no VR filmmaker has yet cracked.” It’s part of why some VR experts, including Stanford University’s Jeremy Bailenson, think the medium simply doesn’t lend itself to narrative.
Pioneering VR filmmakers have coped with these constraints in various ways: limiting the number of cameras, avoiding frequent scene changes, abandoning traditional narrative structure, and above all, keeping films short. In the process, they’ve come up with some fascinating experiments, but few crowd-pleasers.
An ambitious new VR documentary about the 2016 NBA Finals, the result of a partnership between the NBA and Oculus VR, may help to change all that.