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