In East London, I came to an event and watched a trailer for One Deadly Weekend In America.┬áThis was a 360 video which offers a hors d’oeuvre for the main, full length documentary releasing on BBC Three in a few days. The documentary will explore gun violence in America, and the terrible ways it effects families – the VR trailer provides a complementary experience to draw viewers into the world.

Have to say, it worked.

(Spoilers hereafter, based on the video above)

First thing which struck me was the use of theater tricks through the footage. The flashes of (real) footage draws the viewer around the experience, making use of the 360. And the final silhouette at the end did a great job of drawing the person in as well, following their shadow to a gun barrel. They’re smart techniques, and Parable VR made good use of actual immersion without falling into gimmicks.

For a first outing, the company left an impression. Jonathan Rudd, their Creative Director, commented that VR is a cool and different medium for film exploration. “There are a million 2D trailers in the world; VR provides a unique, engaging two minutes which immerses the reader much more than another medium.” (In later research I found that he has 150 film credits over the 25 years of his career, and I accidentally gagged on my peppermint tea as I found out – it’s damn impressive.)

Dark and well put together

The key point I want to draw out from my post-experience discussion with him is that he wanted to make something original and new. I’m a bit wary of any brand who says this; jumping into VR because it is ‘original and new’ is a death-toll unless they have a particular reason to use an immersive form of storytelling. Thankfully the company did great, though the short runtime left me wanting more than less; considering it was created to bring people towards the documentary, this was likely a deliberate creative choice. It was also a shame that the room where it was demoed was so loud; the whispers of footage sounded intriguing, and the sound design was well articulated.

Afterwards there was a Q&A, where some interesting topics were raised. Danny Horan, the commissioner, commented that the documentary cost a lot of money to make, and while BBC Three has an excellent social team, the organisation has started to investigate VR as an alternative means of drawing an audience to iPlayer. At the back of my mind I made a mental note to investigate whether there would be a high conversion rate; we have seen charity donations increase because of VR, and I am intrigued to see if the same can happen for entertainment.

Deadly Weekend is a good example of VR done right

Then David Wise, the CEO of Parable VR, had his say. In his words the team orientated around ‘editorially focused’ content; in other words, leading viewers with on-screen ‘treats’ to push forward the narrative. David also commented that VR will never replace TV, as it is a supplement medium. So far, so good.

What intrigued me was his consideration that, over the next six to twelve months, we will find more brands and companies use VR videos to supplement their material. That’s a rapid timescale, and when an audience member asked whether it will take five or ten years to develop, he joked that it would be slightly quicker than that. Honestly it’s an great point, and we will definitely see more companies ‘experiment’ over the next year – it’s just a question of whether they are partnering with the right creative minds to apply the best ideas.

Overall, it was a very fun evening. The Deadly Weekend VR experience succeeded in drawing me to the documentary, which is exactly its purpose. For a first outing it is impressive, and I am intrigued to see where the crew at Parable VR and BBC Three goes next with their ongoing ideas. With iPlayer getting a possible redesign in the future, I’ll be keeping an eye on them – time will tell if the team keeps up their good skills.

Tom Ffiske