'Follow My Lead', A Brilliant VR Documentary

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'Follow My Lead', A Brilliant VR Documentary
September 16, 2016

Afternoon all. I’ve just watched a possible game changer in VR. The documentary Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals is 24 minutes long, edits as fast as a normal documentary, changes locations all the time, goes up and down in height, and essentially breaks just about all the unwritten rules in VR, yet it absolutely works as a VR film. I loved it.
 
For those of you that don’t know basketball the NBA Finals this year were contested between the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and the 7 game play off went right to the wire to the legendary Game 7. The film essentially covers the 3 week period of these games, from the training courts and press conferences to the winning block to the trophy parade and everything in between.

The film is broken into 2 parts but I watched both back to back, meaning I was inside the Samsung Gear VR for 24 minutes and I had absolutely no problem with that at all. The way I see it is that if the VR film is good enough then duration really isn’t an issue. VR City have made documentaries north of 10mins and time and again we see people settling into the films, getting immersed and never once mentioning the duration. If there’s a compelling story and the film is technically well made we shouldn’t be worrying too much about how long it is. There is no magic “it can’t be any more than 5mins”, so please ignore anyone that says there is.
 
The editing of the film is also fairly rapid, which flies in the face of VR convention. You move around the basketball court during sequences of play, from the hoop to the court side, to the arena and it really poses no problems at all. You also jump around locations pretty freely from court side to press conferences to outside the arenas, and again this doesn’t cause any distress or disorientation. The key to this in my view is the fact that the filmmakers don’t overly challenge the viewer by keeping the point of focus (what they want you to be looking at) in the same place at cut points. In fact if you were to look at my orientation heat map I would say the red area would stay pretty central throughout the whole film meaning I ultimately did very little looking around the 360° space.
 
This approach to the editing meant that I was able to trust the fact that each edit would keep me focused on what I needed to be looking at. So you could say the film stuck to the principals of linear editing in normal “flatty” films, which of course is very familiar to all of us. So in effect I was sitting and watching a frame in front of me much like watching a film on TV and therefore happy for things to happen a little more like a normal TV show. The difference being that this frame filled my entire field of view and beyond, meaning that if I did choose to look to my left or right, or up and down I would see more of the space in which I was in. This knowledge or awareness meant that I developed the all important sense of presence but was still able to enjoy a rapidly edited, multi location documentary which is supposed to be off limits in VR.
 
The access was incredible and this at times led to some seriously thrilling moments that can only be achieved in VR. There’s a moment where we are literally on the shoulders on the Cleveland Cavaliers pre match huddle in the bowels of the arena before the all important Game 7. It truly felt like I was there for the huddle, particularly as we could hear LeBron James pre match rallying speech. This sense of presence just simply cannot happen in standard filmmaking.
 
The film was brave and not too precious. It encompasses fixed camera shots rigged to the nets on court, handheld moving shots where the camera man is in shot, and well framed interview shots where time has clearly been spent to light and get the cameraman out of shot. But the key thing is everything is included if it’s deemed to drive and enhance the story. Which for me is what it all comes down to — the story. It’s a great story, with fantastic access, and the filmmakers focused on these two trump cards. The VR itself is also incredibly forward thinking and done with a passion and spirit of experimentation that ultimately is a huge success.
 
This is an exciting film for VR and confirms to me that proper VR films are definitely going to be a big thing. You can watch the trailer below but if you want the full VR experience you’ll have to get yourself on a Samsung Gear VR. Do it. You won’t regret it. Have a great weekend.

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