How Travis Cloyd became a VR film visionary

Travis Cloyd started making virtual reality films three years ago, and he has made four of them so far. That record was enough to earn him the award for VR Visionary at the Cinequest film festival in San Jose, California. That’s because VR is such a young medium, and Hollywood storytellers like Cloyd are still experimenting with how to do these films.

At Cinequest, Cloyd showed off his VR film that promotes the new Nicholas Cage movie, The Humanity Bureau. It’s a dystopian science fiction thriller set in the year 2030, when a massive recession and global warming catastrophe forces society to get rid of its unproductive members. The 2D film debuts on April 6.

Cloyd has also created VR promo films for John Travolta’s upcoming Speed Kills and the Wesley Snipes film The Recall. At Cinequest, Cloyd won Best VR Feature Film for Speed Kills and Best Sci-Fi VR Film for The Humanity Bureau.

With those VR films, Cloyd had to work around the schedule and production for the 2D films, and he also had to figure out how to place the cameras so they captured 360-degree action — without making viewers seasick.

Cloyd is still making the transition between traditional film and the new storytelling medium of VR. He thinks it has great potential to draw attention to upcoming films, and eventually VR movies will be a medium of their own. He made The Humanity Bureau with Mind’s Eye Entertainment, and it is being distributed by OneTouchVR on a variety of platforms: Google Play, Oculus VR, Oculus Gear VR, and iOS. Steam and HTC Vive are coming soon.

I interviewed Cloyd at Cinequest, along with my own budding filmmaker, my daughter Danielle Takahashi. We covered everything from his hopes for VR to what he’s learned about making films in a new medium. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Travis Cloyd won the VR Visionary award at the Cinequest film festival.

VentureBeat: How did you get interested in VR as opposed to traditional film?

Travis Cloyd: My background is more from a digital marketing type of arena. I started off building websites, running social media campaigns, building applications, doing video compression and video conversion for corporate videos. Trying to build awareness for companies and brands and entrepreneurs I worked for. I’ve been running that digital marketing agency for the last decade.

Over the course of the last few years, I decided I wanted to tell stories in this new immersive format. But before I got into cinematic VR I was doing a lot of branded VR. I would shoot concerts, live events, sporting events, branded 360 content. That was used for more promotional purposes. I was also still marketing movies. I wanted to combine that.

VentureBeat: Creating trailers, or —

Cloyd: Creating supplemental VR experiences that coexist with the movie, so that the fans could enjoy those 360 experiences, but also lead them to go watch the movie. It started off as a marketing solution to create more buzz and awareness for the 2D movie, so that people would become somewhat familiar with the movie through 360. But at the same time, they could watch that and think, “Oh my gosh, now I’m in the movie. This is really cool.”

VentureBeat: And for you, that work started in the last couple years?

Cloyd: I started doing VR at the beginning of 2015. In 2016 I started to write.

VentureBeat: So before the original Oculus shipped.

Cloyd: Right. In 2016 we started making cinematic VR. The first movie I did was with Mind’s Eye Entertainment out of Canada called The Recall, with Wesley Snipes. Wesley was a visionary actor. We approached him to take part in the VR experience with the movie, and he was really excited for it. We created a first-person passive experience through the eyes of one of the characters in the movie.

We shot the 2D movie, but then we took one of the actors in it, removed him, put in a 360 camera operator, and taught the cast how to interact with him as if they were in the movie. Technically an actor isn’t supposed to look at the camera, right? But when you add a 360 camera for a first-person perspective, they have to act with that camera as if it’s one of the characters in the movie.

The Recall launched on VOD and in theaters in June. We also delivered it in a 13-minute VR experience simultaneously. Since then I’ve done four movies in VR. The next one we did was The Humanity Bureau with Nicolas Cage, and then I did a movie called Distorted with John Cusack and Christina Ricci. Recently I did a movie called Speed Kills VR with John Travolta, Jennifer Esposito, Matthew Modine — a lot of great actors were a part of that one.

Above: The VR room at the Cinequest film festival.

VentureBeat: How did you make the transition between traditional filmmaking and VR?

Cloyd: When I was in the digital marketing space, I was a part of some movies. I shot documentaries and executive produced some films. But at the end of the day my mind was always focused on—even if I was making a movie, it was about how to bring that movie to market. How do you make people familiar with your film, considering how many films are out there?

I’ve always had an issue with filmmakers, as compared to companies, for example. When I would market a company, I could do ad campaigns. I could do social media campaigns. I could build different types of strategies to generate awareness for the company. But that company would always grow over the course of time. In movies you spend all these resources, time, energy to market a film, and as soon as it comes out you have a very small window for people to purchase it or watch it. Then it’s old news. The years it took you to make the movie – write a script, tell a story, film it, edit it, market it – was for this one day of release and a short window after.

I always felt that was a horrible business strategy, compared to companies that spend resources over time to grow a business. You’re building a movie brand to get people to see that film and then all of a sudden it’s over. I wanted to create another experience that could coexist with the movie itself. People could watch it in advance of the movie coming out. There’s a place for people to enjoy the film, the brand, for a period of time leading up to the movie.

With that came a lot of hoops to jump through. How do you write those scripts, tell those stories, educate an actor to understand this new medium? How do you create distribution mechanisms to monetize it, or create the applications to showcase them on the market? How do you create marketing to drive people to see VR, but at the same time use it as a format to create awareness for your end product, the feature film?

VentureBeat: When you’re doing these shoots with the actors, are you essentially a second filmmaker on the same set as the 2D director?

Cloyd: Each movie is a little different. Some movies, we’re a part of the production. We have the luxury of coordinating multiple formats during the course of the production. I’ll be the VR producer and the feature film executive producer. In other cases, we’re just a completely different unit from the main production. Almost like we’re the C cam. We’re there to coexist with the movie, but we’re an entirely separate unit that just jumps in and shoots our content when it makes sense for the case and makes sense for the 360 environment.

VentureBeat: Have you had to learn this kind of filmmaking as you go, as you get your hands on new technology? It seems like you have to learn a lot very quickly.

Cloyd: Each movie that I’ve been a part of—you learn so much as you go. This is the wild west of VR. There’s a lot of choices that we have as filmmakers to tell stories in 360, in VR. You’re given a wider landscape. You’re given a bigger format in a 360 world to create your stories. Nobody is a pro yet. Everyone’s still learning as they go.

That’s the great thing about this business. If you think about it in comparison to the history of cinema, for the last 100 years you’ve been solely focused on a 2D screen that’s been the same shape and used the…

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Peter Bordes

Exec Chairman & Founder at oneQube
Exec Chairman & Founder of oneQube the leading audience development automation platfrom. Entrepreneur, top 100 most influential angel investors in social media who loves digital innovation, social media marketing. Adventure travel and fishing junkie.
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