Screenwriter’s Journey: How to write a 360° VR Script for the First Time

What distinguishes a screenplay from a novel is its inherent need to be visualized and realized. And for the first time, I was being given this opportunity last summer in the Netherlands. If you want to know the process behind writing the short 360° experience “Wake Up” (TNO), keep on reading.

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Excerpt from the first page of “Wake Up”

Certainly, screenplays can have emotional and psychological impact without visualization and realization – and as a beginner, it is important to just write. It is rather rare that your first script will be converted into movie format straight-away.

The first (short) script I ever wrote, from start to finish (in German), was called “Spinner”. It is about a heartbroken young man who is feeling bothered by a buzzing sound, and whose brother mysteriously disappeared. He is being visited by Fly (a man in a fly costume), who poses him a riddle that could solve the mystery. But is Fly his helper, or actually leading him to his demise? This script went through a lot of re-writes, and I had hoped to shoot it, but there was not enough time, no crew, no equipment, so I let it be. Afterwards, I started writing another German (short) script called “Jagdliebe”, about a hunter who finds out that his girl is on a date with another man, so as they take a walk, he goes on to hunt them down. Once again, this story idea did not get realized either.

Eventually, I got the VR movie internship at the Dutch Research Organisation TNO in the summer of 2018. I had around one month or so of time to come up with a script for a 360° short video that was supposed to be interactive and branch into different endings. This was quite a challenge, but one that I welcomed. The opportunity to finally be able to realize a script of mine was a dream come true. 🙂

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Excerpt from the Flow Chart for “Wake Up” (2018)

The goal was to create a script that could be realized within the means at my disposal, which were a Insta360Pro, and around extra 1,000-2,000€ (which is around $1,500-3,000).  I could choose whichever genre or storyline I wanted, as long as I could meet those parameters. I was quite delighted over that fact.

After some research and exploration of current VR videos, I decided that it would be best to go with (slightly campy) Horror and a gothic aesthetic. (Most narrative VR Videos nowadays are Horror.) Also, I figured it would be best if the video was overall static, because nowadays, movement within a VR video can create motion sickness too easily.

Based on those parameters, my interest in sleep paralysis, and loosely employing the formulas of the Riddle and Escape plots, I created the script for “Wake Up”: You wake up in your bed, but you cannot move! A Succubus (female demon) appears. You either outsmart her Tarot card came and wake up, or you die in your sleep! How can you survive if all you have is your gaze?! (Sleep paralysis survival story)” 

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Diagram for “Wake Up” (called 180° because the background is a wall)

The unique challenge in 360° VR is accounting for all the possible angels and viewpoints the viewer/player can focus on. Due to that, I “color-coded” my script, created a flow chart and 360° view diagram, as you could see above.

Admittedly, the end product looks and sounds a bit different. That’s because of the production and post-production process…

For that, stay tuned! 😉

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Screenwriter’s Journey: Books and Websites

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Source

If you are new to anything, you’ll have to learn from those who’ve successfully walked the path before you. As a newbie to screenwriting (apart from that one dabble in it in High School, where I wrote a “one shot” for class), I was pressed to find resources and guidelines that would introduce me to the craft of screenwriting, and teach me how to do it properly – in a short amount of time.

Typically, the first thing we do in this day and age is using Google. So like my fellow Modern Westerners I went ahead and googled screenwriting, which was followed up by a move towards Amazon.

I purchased Charles Harris’ “Complete Screenwriting Course” ebook, which I can highly recommend. This book is certainly all you need, in my estimation. It’s affordable and very well-structured, instructive, and useful.

Harris’ book guides you through the process of writing your (first) script, from start to finish, including how to develop an idea, and eventually pitch your script and get involved in the business.

Browsing through my own personal library at home, I discovered I had already bought a book on Screenwriting a few years ago; the German version of one of Syd Field‘s screenwriting books, called “Das Drehbuch“.

Field’s book is more personal in nature, and less structured. It reads more like a personal story on how he got into screenwriting, how he assesses the value of scripts, and how his students did in his classes.

If you don’t have much time (like I did), you’d be better off focusing on something more instructional and to-the-point like Harris‘ ebook.

Personally, I read both books alongside each other to gain the most value and knowledge in a short amount of time; relatively short. Within one month or two, I felt mostly confident in my ability to set up and write a script, thanks to the books above and the following websites/articles:

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/meet-reader-writing-first-screenplay

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/balls-of-steel-dear-new-screenwriter

http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/writing-style-mistakes/

At last, some of my friends recommended Robert McKee’s “Story” to me, which I have heard some audio excerpt from before. I imagine it to be quite interesting, and I might check it out more closely another time.

With the help of the above resources, I managed to finish my first short movie script within one to two months, starting from absolute scratch.

I hope this article was helpful to you, and I’d like to hear which resources you’ve found valuable on your way to writing your own (first) scripts. 🙂