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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On Set: First Time on Set. First Time an Extra.

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Photo by Eli Cooper on Unsplash

Which moviemaking enthusiast hasn’t dreamed of one day being on a film set, and partaking in the moviemaking process? This dream of mine came true for the first time this spring.

It all started with me seeing an ad in an independent filmmaking Facebook group in my area. Someone was looking for extras for a student short film. No pay, but experience and fun! I was eager to help them out, for all I wanted was to be on a film set and have an insider’s look behind the scenes, so that I can get a clearer picture of what it would be like if I were to be a director or otherwise involved in the moviemaking process.

I private messaged the guy who had posted the ad in the group – he was the production assistant. He sent me a short pdf file that explained the movie’s general plot and introduced the directors – but nothing more. At first I thought I might not get the job, but just a few days before the shooting date, he told me they’d be glad to see me join, someone just recently left the show. Great for me!

A day before the shooting date, I shortly discussed with him logistics and how I should arrive on set – what I should do with my hair and makeup. He said, just don’t do anything crazy! So I figured, I’ll just go with braided hair and some natural looking makeup. Initially I had been concerned about the fact that half of my hair was blonde (recent dye job… not the best one :P), but he said that was no problem. So that was all I did for my preparation as an extra who is supposed to be part of a birthday party in a semi-formal restaurant.

As you may know, moviemaking starts early in the day. For me as an extra, my “casting call” was around 9:15 am or so. It’s best if you arrive earlier – gives off a good impression. So I was there at exactly 9 am. If I lived closer to the set/restaurant, I likely would have been there half an hour sooner at least.

I introduced myself with a smile and handshake to the people that sat at a table right in front of the restaurant. Later I’d recognize them as the director, directing assistant, producer, and makeup artist. They were all quite friendly and happy to see me.

To cut a long story short, I have not felt as inspired in a long time. Even though the shooting took several hours, there were some lulls during breaks (which could be overcome by engaging with the rest of the cast and crew), and I did not get paid a penny, I loved being on set. I could have stayed on it forever. Despite being an introvert, I did not feel drained at all.

The only thing I might have changed was my part in the film. While I was trying to act, I paid close attention to how the director was dealing with the cast and crew. This was a way to get a close glimpse on the filming process behind the scenes. There is no other short cut to seeing how a director operates on set – and that had been my main objective in joining this for free all along. I was curious about everyone’s part in the process. I talked with the makeup artists, the other actors, the cinematography assistants, and the director herself. It was a good way to make connections with other people who love film. 

A few weeks later I joined another film set for the same objectives as above, but this time as a makeup assistant. I could do my job fine, but it stressed me out much more. I still loved the process of shooting and being on set, but the part of the makeup artist is really not my thing. I can do it, but not without extra stress and exertion, which got exacerbated by one of the actor’s constant negative preoccupation with her looks. Thankfully I was only the assistant.

All in all, I would recommend joining a film set for free to anyone who is a newbie to the business and would like to gain more special experience, know-how, and connections with other film people. Additionally, it leaves a good impression on your resumé. It helped me with landing a cool video-making internship. 🙂

What have been your first experiences on set?