INTERVIEW: Travis Cloyd On The Rise Of Virtual Reality

Recently Cultured Vultures talked with Travis Cloyd, the VR Producer of upcoming releases Distorted, starring John Cusack and Christina Ricci, and Speed Kills, starring John Travolta. Here’s how we got on.

For our readers who might not know what exactly a VR Producer is or does, would you mind giving a quick description?
My job is to take a virtual reality experience from ground zero all the way till delivery to market. So, from the inception of the story, how we’re gonna shoot it, cameras, our teams, put them together with the actual future production, go on the set of the movie and work with their cinematographers and entire production unit team to create a virtual reality experience. And when capture is done, we go into post and do the editing, stitching, and put together our final experience content.

Then we design and create a customized movie-themed environment through the platform applications and deliver to market. Our creatives are customized movie-themed experiences that house the multi-media assets including virtual reality, the 2D movie, and behind the scenes, EPK videos, trailers and anything else we feel fits well into the VR VoD (video on demand) solutions. We put them together in an application and then market, distribute, and deliver it to market so the user has the ability to download or stream the content within the application. We provide the user all of these assets available for them at their fingertips in an easy, accessible way. This provides our partners and film producers an additional ancillary asset on behalf of their film.

With technology available today, there’s not a lot of VR experiences that coexist with the movie, because of a lack of understanding how to go about this. So our goal is to be that solution and really create this new medium, where viewers have the ability to watch the movie in multiple formats.

I saw that up until last year, you were the marketing consultant on most movies you worked on, and the producer on some, too. What made you decide to make the switch from marketing to working as a VR producer?
I am not switching – I’m expanding. My goal is to drive consumers to hear and see your movie. VR is a form of media used to expand the stories you wish to consume. I have a long laundry list of marketing solutions to drive awareness, and so VR and digital media work together hand-in-hand.

At some point in time three or four years ago, I felt that virtual reality was something that would be a great medium for film productions. This format could be used for additional content within movies, and I didn’t see a lot of virtual reality experiences being created with big actors or stars. I was already making and testing VR for big brands like Reliance JIO and events like Daytona 500. So that past experience was really where I learned the advantages of this medium and where else it could be applied.

I wanted to get into making cinematic virtual reality as a way to help market the film, but more importantly, put users into the film and within the story. Ultimately this would help market the film and drive more awareness because of the new emerging technology. So when I look at virtual reality, I look at it two-fold. Number one, marketing and awareness as it creates substantial buzz. It helps helps create attention and get people familiar with the film project above and beyond the standard 2D version. Number two is monetization of this asset, so content creators can generate additional revenue through VR VoD solutions and increase the value of your property to the foreign market, providing buyers with multimedia content and not just another one-off film in an already saturated market. This is a hot topic and a great ancillary asset to create more awareness, but most importantly, allows the audience a new perspective to enjoy a story. It’s all about the audience and we are becoming more savvy to content and these technologies.

The old fashioned movie making process is changing because technology has advanced so much. Now we can go into the film and in experiences of the future change the outcome of the experience based on our actions and thoughts. This world is already here you just might not see it yet. When you release a regular movie today you have multiple platforms for which you have to drive awareness on digital. Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu etc. Even before digital, if the movie comes out in theatres, you have to create as much buzz as you can to get as many people into those seats as possible no matter who the exhibitor or distributors are. When it’s on VoD you have to drive as much awareness to the movie on those VoD and SVoD platforms as possible. This is the path to a successful project, it’s not about marking great standard films today it’s all about marketing and selling it to the audience.

When it comes to VR, this is a new beast. Already today we have Google Daydream, Gear VR, Oculus Rift, iOS, Viveport and more. It’s growing and direct to mobile, or in the future, via bluetooth. Today these platforms have amazing VR and AR content that displays exceptional interactivity, immersive games and very cool experiences, but it lacks star-powered story-driven content. That is where I see things evolving and why I feel VR is a tremendous opportunity for both marketing content, but also producing and directing these type of experiences. My mentality is in both marketing and production because this industry is still in its infancy stages and so you have to think with both hats.

Looking at the technical and entertainment aspects, what do you find most fascinating about VR, about the whole medium itself?
I look at it like this: when you watch your standard movie, you watch it in third person perspective and it’s this passive experience, and when you watch virtual reality content, depending on the way you shoot it, you’re now in the movie. It’s a new perspective and one in a 360° immersive environment. Your canvas is all around you, not a rectangle. You’re there and you have the ability to look in different directions, and from a storytelling standpoint there are certain things that you could do within that spherical spectrum. When you have a headset on, you’re within a 360° story; your perspective of the content may be different if you’re facing 12 o’clock vs 6 o’clock.

From my perspective, it’s a wonderful medium to expand your audience’s understanding of the story. Your audience has to absorb more, so there is a fine line how to do this right. It’s not a tested sector and there are not any cinematic VR books that guide you in this process. This is really the first time in a hundred years of cinema that our storytelling vantage point has become a 360° canvas. This is a special time when you can really create an immersive, high-impact story, in a whole new world that is still evolving rapidly. I think it’s a fascinating change in the way we view content and nobody knows where it’s going. I think that’s the most fun about being in this new medium.

You said before that you have three movies coming out this year, namely The Humanity Bureau, Speed Kills, and Distorted, but what’s next? Do you have any plans yet for 2019 and beyond?
Yeah. There are a couple of different projects I’m in discussions with right now. From VR films and docs series that range from treasure hunting, car racing, fantasy thrillers, women-leading inspirational biopics, sports documentaries, and a lot more actually. Like everything in Hollywood, it’s hard to determine what’s real or not until it happens. A lot of encouraging meetings and lot of education with everyone involved, but I’m not fond of announcing projects until they are real and about ready for principal production. I’ve noticed that with cast, schedules, and financing, things can happen anytime or fall out of place within minutes. I’m a tech guy trying to make it entertainment and there are a lot of ideas in Hollywood that don’t always pan out.

The most interesting thing about right now is there are a lot of great filmmakers, technical specialists, actors, agents, producers, companies and partners wanting to push this industry forward as a whole. Projects like the ones we’ve done and others have created a lot of buzz for this industry as a whole, so as I mentioned, this is only the start, so I’m eager to keep working with great people on great immersive experiences.

When you create virtual reality content on behalf of a movie, it’s a little different than just being an independent virtual reality producer with the freedom and flexibility to go create content on the fly tomorrow. It takes proper planning and execution to deliver it to market. When you coexist with a feature film, you have to wait for all the elements that go into that feature film to work itself out into fruition, from financing to casting, cast availability and schedules, so it takes a lot of time and planning for all aspects to come together.

There are several big companies pushing VR for gaming and other interactive applications, but there doesn’t seem to be any huge push for VR movies. Do you think it’ll make that leap from sideshow to main feature?
Yeah, I do. I see that market evolving and I agree that, right now, there’s a lot more gaming content and interactive content on the market. I look at today as really the early stages of what virtual reality can actually do for the medium as a whole. I see a lot of people that are still very unfamiliar with what you can do and most importantly how to create it. Anyone can create a movie, but not everyone can create a VR movie. There’s still a huge market of people that do not have headsets or really view VR content on a regular basis. So I see that market evolving and with that market evolving, I think the fans, the viewers and the people out there are gonna be very excited about gaming and experiential VR for this period of time, and at some point in the near future I see the mass adoption occurring.

I look at virtual reality the same as I look at going to a movie in theatres. For me to go watch a movie in a theater, I want a great story, I want a great cast, I want to lose myself in that world for an hour and a half and escape into that realm. This is the same reason why we’ve all gone to the movies for many years. So, at some point, I see virtual reality becoming more than just a ten-minute experience, or a game that you can be in for five minutes or for an hour. I see the virtual reality future to be a place where people can lose themselves in an amazing story, but within 360 degrees. And with well-known actors that capture our attention and lead us into an imaginative state because of their acting performances.

I envision VR will allow us to get into this state of mind that we’ve never experienced throughout all of cinema’s history. Today we have to create VR that coexists with the movie in order to generate mass adoption. There is not a lot of that today, but this will come over time. Five years from now I think we will all want to put on a headset from our own homes, planes, or other location-based zones and just lose ourselves for a period of time, enjoying immersive 360, VR, 3-screen, or standard content like never before, but within this spherical medium.

I like that you have the same standards for VR content as for other content, because although it might seem self-explanatory that you should have that, I still see a lot of people saying: “Oh, it’s good for its genre” and that’s not something people should strive for when they make that content, so it’s definitely good to hear people who are working with it saying: “We should be exactly as good with the content we make and we’re not backing down.”
One hundred percent! I mean, there are certain things that the industry still needs to work out. We all know hardware and software are evolving every five minutes. And again, if you compare virtual reality to the standard format, the same cameras, the ALEXAs, the REDs that you would use for a movie, all of the top camera gear that you would use today, is the same quality as camera gear you used last year. And for virtual reality, the same cameras that I used last year are not the same cameras that I use today, and so on and so forth.

The evolution of VR is happening faster than the evolution of standard format. The world of hardware and software in VR is changing and evolving left and right. I’m not in the business of trying to recreate cameras or recreate software, I’m in the space of wanting to create engaging content with the latest and greatest. I’m only given so many opportunities to work on amazing movies with amazing casts and that happens when the producers, financiers and studios jump on board first.

For me I’m like an athlete ready to play ball anywhere anytime and ready to jump in and make the best of it with the best people, cameras, resources, software and stay focused on the story. Making sure that when you’re given a great story and brilliant people to work with that we bring into all into a 360 degree environment with as little time, energy, and effort from everyone else. Yet still providing the audience content they can enjoy. So, no backing down and only full steam ahead. I am going to make the most of every great opportunity.

Moving on to the last question, although VR in general had a sudden rise in popularity with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PS VR all releasing in 2016, the hype went back down pretty fast again. Do you think there will be another hype wave soon?
I think it starts with the content. As we learn to produce better content and establish the visual storytelling language of VR, it will motivate more people to purchase all the headsets. This is the key to the next hype wave.

It’s like all new mediums – there is always a slow path to mass adoption, but over time you forget and it just becomes the norm. For now it’s just gonna keep slowly evolving, but it will get there. I also look at the amazing companies that are in the VR sector. Google, Intel, Facebook/Oculus, Microsoft etc. These are a handful of the most amazing companies in the world, and they’re committed to this space, so it motivates me to keep going. They’re committed to this market, and I think over time that will evolve and mass adoption will occur, the same as it did for telephones, television, the internet, mobile, digital media, and so on. I see virtual reality just gradually building until it becomes a medium, in the future, that’s as common as watching television today.

Travis, thank you.

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