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Five Questions with Night Night Director Guy Shelmerdine about the Future of Horror and VR

Night Night. Courtesy of Dark Corner; photo by Matej Tresnak

Earlier this month — and just in time for Halloween — the production company Dark Corner, known for its genre films and virtual reality projects, launched a new app that aims to become the go-to platform for horror, science-fiction and other genre VR. The app itself, named after the studio, is available for iOS and Android devices as well as Oculus Rift, Google Daydream and Samsung GearVR. It’s free to download, and offers individual titles as both free content and in-app purchases, generally for around a dollar each. The initially available projects include two past works from Dark Corner founder Guy Shelmerdine — Catatonic (2015) and Mule (2016) — as well as a new piece called Night Night, which was co-produced by the VR and VFX company MPC and premiered at the New York Film Festival in September and came out on the app soon after (check out this video trailer of some of the current offerings).

One of the great obstacles to the spread of VR is that the marketplace is not as well defined as that for, say, VOD. By diving deep into a single type of project and fostering a curatorial vision that brings the best horror, sci-fi and genre VR pieces into one place, Dark Corner hopes to improve not just its own brand but also provide a way for filmmakers to access a paying audience and establish a viable commercial operation that will pay for their next films.

I talked with Shelmerdine about Night Night and his own productions, as well as his hopes for the future of Dark Corner and virtual reality horror.

Filmmaker: Horror​ ​is​ ​a​ ​genre​ ​that​ ​particularly​ ​relies​ ​on​ ​directing​ ​the​ ​viewer’s​ ​gaze.​ ​What​ ​was​ ​it​ ​about VR​ ​that​ ​attracted​ ​you​ ​to​ ​making​ ​narrative​ ​genre​ ​pieces​ ​like​ ​Night​ ​Night?​ ​What​ ​does​ ​VR bring​ ​to​ ​horror​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​it​ ​different​ ​than​ ​traditional​ ​film?

Shelmerdine: What​ ​attracted​ ​me​ ​to​ ​VR​ ​was​ ​the​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​new​ ​chest​ ​of​ ​tools.​ ​VR​ ​actually opened​ ​me​ ​up​ ​to​ ​wanting​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​horror​ ​as​ ​a​ ​genre.​ ​Prior​ ​to​ ​horror​ ​I​ ​had​ ​worked​ ​primarily​ ​in comedy.

For​ ​me​ ​a​ ​big​ ​part​ ​of​ ​horror​ ​is​ ​plunging​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​into​ ​a​ ​world​ ​that​ ​they​ ​might​ ​be​ ​nervous​ ​to enter​ ​into,​ ​and​ ​then​ ​feeding​ ​them​ ​the​ ​unexpected.​ ​With​ ​VR​ ​we​ ​have​ ​the​ ​good​ ​fortune​ ​of​ ​getting 100%​ ​of​ ​the​ ​viewer’s​ ​attention.​ ​When​ ​you​ ​put​ ​on​ ​a​ ​headset​ ​and​ ​headphones​ ​there​ ​is​ ​nothing peripherally​ ​to​ ​distract​ ​you.​ ​This​ ​enables​ ​us​ ​filmmakers​ ​to​ ​fully​ ​immerse​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​into​ ​the world​ ​you​ ​are​ ​creating.​ ​When​ ​you’re​ ​dealing​ ​with​ ​horror,​ ​scares​ ​and​ ​surprises​ ​are​ ​just​ ​a​ ​natural part of the experience.

Filmmaker: Night Night is your third horror VR piece. How do you see your work progressing from Catatonic and Mule?

Shelmerdine: Each​ ​film​ ​we​ ​have​ ​created​ ​has​ ​evolved​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​cinematic​ ​quality.​ ​With​ ​live​ ​action​ ​VR​ ​I​ ​don’t feel​ ​that​ ​anyone​ ​has​ ​achieved​ ​greatness​ ​yet​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​a​ ​high​ ​level​ ​of​ ​cinematic​ ​craft.​ ​We​ ​are striving​ ​to​ ​better​ ​our​ ​execution​ ​to​ ​help​ ​elevate​ ​the​ ​medium.​ ​With​ ​that​ ​said​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​just​ ​the​ ​quality of​ ​the​ ​cinematography​ ​or​ ​design​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​for​ ​a​ ​great​ ​VR​ ​experience.​ ​The​ ​story​ ​you​ ​are​ ​telling is​ ​vital.​ ​We​ ​have​ ​to​ ​stay​ ​committed​ ​to​ ​creating​ ​narratives​ ​that​ ​are​ ​compelling,​ ​taking​ ​people​ ​on​ ​a journey, and making viewers want to sign up for the ride.

Filmmaker: Can you tell me a little bit about your production process, such as your customized camera rig or the sound design?

Shelmerdine: We​ ​have​ ​created​ ​custom​ ​camera​ ​rigs​ ​to​ ​accommodate​ ​our​ ​needs​ ​for​ ​our​ ​various​ ​films.​ ​Because we​ ​have​ ​been​ ​exploring​ ​mainly​ ​POV​ ​storytelling​ ​it​ ​means​ ​that​ ​we​ ​have​ ​to​ ​get​ ​the​ ​camera​ ​in​ ​very specific​ ​positions.​ ​We​ ​created​ ​the​ ​Dark​ ​Corner​ ​camera​ ​rig​ ​with​ ​Radiant​ ​Images​ ​for​ ​our​ ​film​ ​Mule, which​ ​required​ ​the​ ​camera​ ​to​ ​be​ ​placed​ ​in​ ​a​ ​position​ ​that​ ​could​ ​mimic​ ​the​ ​POV​ ​of​ ​a​ ​man​ ​lying down.​ ​The​ ​camera​ ​rig​ ​was​ ​designed​ ​specifically​ ​to​ ​be​ ​as​ ​small​ ​as​ ​possible​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​capture information​ ​from​ ​the​ ​body​ ​of​ ​our​ ​actor,​ ​but​ ​at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time​ ​we​ ​needed​ ​a​ ​great​ ​sensor​ ​that would​ ​work​ ​under​ ​low​ light​ ​situations.​ ​So​ ​we​ ​built​ ​the​ ​Dark​ ​Corner​ ​Rig​ ​using​ ​Sony​ ​A7Sii cameras.​ ​Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​year​ ​we​ ​have​ ​developed​ ​this​ ​rig​ ​even​ ​further,​ ​adapting​ ​it​ ​to​ ​work​ ​as​ ​a much​ ​more​ ​compact​ ​unit.​ ​This​ ​newer​ ​version​ ​of​ ​the​ ​rig​ ​is​ ​what​ ​we​ ​used​ ​to​ ​shoot​ ​Night​ ​Night. Our​ ​music​ ​and​ ​sound​ ​design​ ​were​ ​created​ ​by​ ​Dražen​ ​Bošnjak​ ​and​ ​his​ ​company​ ​Q Department,​ ​who​ ​are​ ​all​ ​absolute​ ​geniuses​ ​at​ ​the​ ​forefront​ ​of​ ​spatial​ ​sound​ ​development. Their​ ​proprietary​ ​Mach​ ​1​ ​spatial​ ​audio​ ​makes​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​you​ ​are​ ​completely​ ​immersed within​ ​the​ ​world​ ​of​ ​the​ ​film,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sinister​ ​sound​ ​effects​ ​and​ ​music​ ​cues​ ​add​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​new level​ ​of​ ​fear​ ​and​ ​suspense​ ​to​ ​the​ ​piece.

Filmmaker: How​ ​do​ ​you​ ​envision​ ​a​ ​curated​ ​platform​ ​for​ ​genre​ ​VR​ ​influencing​ ​the​ ​field​ ​artistically? What’s​ ​the​ ​curatorial​ ​process​ ​like,​ ​and​ ​is​ ​that​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​release​ ​mechanism,​ ​where​ ​viewers can​ ​access​ ​projects​ ​that​ ​are​ ​generically​ ​or​ ​thematically​ ​similar,​ ​going​ ​to​ ​become​ ​more common?

Shelmerdine: Our​ ​vision​ ​is​ ​that​ ​by​ ​creating​ ​and​ ​maintaining​ ​a​ ​high​ ​quality​ ​of​ ​narrative​ ​craft​ ​within​ ​this​ ​niche field,​ ​with​ ​its​ ​ardent​ ​international​ ​fan​ ​base,​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​inspire​ ​other​ ​filmmakers​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​and produce​ ​great​ ​genre​ ​content.​ ​Our​ ​platform​ ​acts​ ​as​ ​the​ ​premiere​ ​outlet​ ​for​ ​top​ ​genre​ ​VR experiences​ ​and​ ​we​ ​are​ ​cultivating​ ​many​ ​relationships​ ​with​ ​likeminded​ ​filmmakers​ ​all​ ​over​ ​the world.​ ​In​ ​time​ ​we​ ​intend​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​into​ ​the ​go-to​ ​destination​ ​for​ ​dark,​ ​thrilling​ ​content​ ​in​ ​the​ ​VR space.

Filmmaker: How​ ​will​ ​it​ ​work​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​monetization,​ ​both​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​building​ ​a​ ​customer​ ​base​ ​and for the project creators whose work is included?

Shelmerdine: As​ ​the​ ​base​ ​for​ ​VR​ ​expands​ ​we​ ​feel​ ​that​ ​our​ ​consumers​ ​will​ ​intuitively​ ​understand​ ​that​ ​these kinds​ ​of​ ​top​ ​quality​ ​experiences​ ​are​ ​something​ ​that​ ​should​ ​be​ ​paid​ ​for.​ ​Currently​ ​we​ ​have​ ​many films​ ​on​ ​our​ ​platform​ ​available​ ​for​ ​free,​ ​while​ ​our​ ​more​ ​premium​ ​experiences​ ​are​ ​offered​ ​at​ ​a small​ ​cost.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​many​ ​elements​ ​in​ ​VR​ ​that​ ​are​ ​developing​ ​at​ ​a​ ​rapid​ ​pace,​ ​including​ ​the content,​ ​capture​ ​technology,​ ​headsets, ​and​ ​distribution​ ​systems.​ ​We​ ​believe​ ​we​ ​are​ ​building​ ​a business​ ​model​ ​that​ ​lays​ ​the​ ​groundwork​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future​ ​of​ ​VR.

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