From award-winning erotic filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell, “Second Date” is a lighthearted, unscripted Virtual Reality 3D 360° portrait of two young people fumbling towards ecstasy; it is a portrait of intimacy, emotional and physical.
How did you become and immersive media content creator and why?
Virtual reality film pioneers Condition One saw my regular film work and approached me. They said they felt my work was based in intimacy and empathy, and noticed that their own approach to VR was very similar. They asked if I would consider collaborating with them to make a film about intimacy, and that I could create and direct the film myself. I am still grateful for this introduction into a new film language.
What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?
Shooting 360 is quite challenging in terms of the long shot length — you have to plan very carefully and then physically remove yourself from the set. Fortunately for me, my regular filmmaking style also involves tons of advance planning and then very little imposition on the improvisational acting process once rolling. So it was a really good fit for me and my crew.
What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?
The Netherlands seems to be on the cutting edge of VR. All the VR filmmakers and production people I’ve met have been enthusiastic to create community and share their knowledge.
What do you have planned for the future?
I have a new regular-cinema experimental film, Adorn, premiering in the fall. But I would be thrilled to direct another VR film if I could find some technically-savvy partners to do it with!
What would you like to share with fellow content creators and/or the industry?
The great thing about VR right now is that we are still making up the rules! Technology, film language, production style — they are all still massively in flux. It’s an exciting time. I also appreciate that mainstream VR festivals are enthusiastic about ethical, creative content that addresses sexuality. Regular cinema has become too bifurcated into camps. There is so much interesting, educational, enlightening erotic work yet to be created.
Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?
I think such festivals are tremendously useful. For festivalgoers, they provide an opportunity to see VR experiences with the ideal equipment and in the best possible exhibition space. For VR filmmakers and postproduction experts, they provide a great opportunity to meet colleagues and share ideas and resources. I’ve learned so much about VR through the festival circuit. If anyone is interested to see Second Date at home, it will be available in streaming and download formats soon on my website, www.blueartichokefilms.com.
Jennifer Lyon Bell is the American founder of independent erotic cinema company Blue Artichoke Films (Amsterdam, NL.) She creates erotic fiction films, documentaries, and experimental films which always show sexuality in an emotionally realistic way. Her award-winning films screen at international festivals, cinemas, and museums in America, Europe, Japan, and South America, attracting prizes from both mainstream arthouse film festivals and adult film festivals. The unique realism of her films has led her to be invited to show them at conferences and panels in sexology, feminism, and documentary filmmaking. Her trilogy Silver Shoes was shortlisted for the Netherlands Scientific Institute of Sexologists’ “Sex And Media Prize” — the only erotic film to ever be nominated. And her short film Headshot recently screened on primetime television for half a million viewers. Second Date is her first VR film, produced in collaboration with Condition One. Her newest film Adorn is premiering this fall. In addition to filmmaking, Jennifer enjoys giving erotic filmmaking workshops at film schools and festivals, and evangelizing for sex-positive social change. www.blueartichokefilms.com
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FIVARS (Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories) celebrated its successful 3rd installment on September 15-17, 2017 with what many raved was an exceptional showcase of the world’s best narrative VR and AR. Known as the most influential independent immersive stories festival, FIVARS strives to program a wide array of emerging technologies, bringing VR and AR to the forefront of discussion.
FIVARS featured the work of groundbreaking international artists dedicated to the innovation of virtual reality and augmented reality, telling immersive stories that challenge, defy, and transcend the status quo. During the three-day festival, attendees enjoyed over 30 unique VR experiences, artist panels, augmented reality art and other groundbreaking presentations.
The Festival of International Virtual & Augmented Reality Stories featured 35 titles from countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, United Kingdom and the USA. Every audience member rated each experience they viewed from 1 to 5 points and these were then tabulated and averaged per selection to find the People’s Choice Award for the categories of Best Immersive Spherical Video and Best Interactive Experience.
The Grand Jury Prize was selected by having every member of the judiciary committee – made up of senior VR industry leaders, technologists and journalists – select their top three favorite experiences and assign them a point value from 1-10. These scores again, were averaged to find the winner. Criteria used included: conceptual originality, technological implementation, innovation, effective use of the medium for narrative purposes and overall excellence.
The awards were announced at The Cadillac Lounge in Toronto, Canada – Tuesday September 19th, 2017. The proceedings were hosted by FIVARS executive director Keram Malicki-Sanchez and LiveStreamed via Periscope and Facebook simultaneously.
Winner: Guardian of the Guge Kingdom
Winner: Priya’s Shakti / Priya’s Mirror
Winner: Manifest 99
Watch the raw livestream of the FIVARS 2017 awards ceremony below:
I first saw Ethan Shaftel’s “EXTRAVAGANZA” (yes CAPS) at a summer BBQ at a private home somewhere up in Mount Olympus near Laurel Canyon. Ethan and I got talking by the swimming pool where it was a little quieter and away from the amazing crowd of artists, poets, musicians and technologists chattering away under the buzz of drone-mounted cameras zipping around over the banister and through the canyon. I tell him I’d love to see what he has been working on even as he snaps his Galaxy into the matte-finish GearVR. There is a black screen. Then a letter, and another, and they spell Extravaganza. Suddenly I am in a clockwork penny arcade, a participant in a strange world being observed by Paul Scheer. What came next made me gasp out loud and laugh at its audacity. I told Ethan I had a platform where this sort of provocative, self-conscious and daring work might fit just fine. But I had questions…
FIVARS: Tell us about your creative background prior to creating EXTRAVAGANZA?
Ethan Shaftel: I have a background both in games and traditional film, and for a long time created content for screens in a live setting — big pop concerts, theme parks, art installations. In those spatial settings, directing attention to the viewer and immersing them in an environment become a very primary concern, much like in VR. So when VR started to be buzzy again about 2 years ago, I felt like it was a perfect fit for my background and jumped in with both feet.
What inspired you to create a piece like Extravaganza?
Two central issues (maybe THE two central issues) in VR are point-of-view and agency. Basically WHERE the viewer is in this world, and WHAT kind of effect they can have on the world around them. The idea of making the viewer an animatronic puppet in someone else’s puppet show was really a way to address those two issues in an interesting way, a way to put the viewer in a place they’ve never been, and then also allow their body to be outside of their control, but yet very active with the world around them and the other characters. Someone else is pulling the strings, but it makes sense.
I also wanted to satirize the optimistic view that VR will somehow inherently bring positive change and greater understanding between people by creating a VR puppet show — the show-within-a-show that the viewer is forced to perform in — that is demonstrably NOT positive. It’s offensive, mean, and does nothing to make the world a better place. The puppets have to break out in order to stop it, now free to make their own choices at last.
Talk about the production process, how you found funding, how you handled post-production?
My team had been using Cinema4D animation software to create previz and placeholder shots in VR, not as an end in itself, but as prototyping and planning on the way to doing a live action 360 shoot. But at some point we realized that we had to stop prototyping and make a complete, standalone 360 movie to get into festivals. Doing something that was largely animated in the same software we’d been using for so long was a great way to do it cheaply, and by ourselves without having to hire or bring on many more people. By making EXTRAVAGANZA mostly animated we were able to do a traditional shoot with a non-360 camera for the small part of the screen that is live action, and thus avoid a lot of the cost and difficulty that goes into most 360 projects right now — the specialized cameras, the stitching, the visual effects fixes to visual problems, etc.
What would love to try next?
We’ve been writing and developing other VR films and interactive experiences using some of the lessons we learned with EXTRAVAGANZA — both roomscale (6 degree of freedom), volumetric, and linear 360. Right now is such a great time to experiment and play.
Do you feel there is a need/value to festival like FIVARS? Or will they eventually become a part of the regular entertainment landscape?
I love film festivals in general and am a big fan of going out to see movies that aren’t yet out on the market, or that maybe never will be publicly available outside of festivals. With VR, these festivals are even more relevant, because the audience needs to congregate in a physical space simply to have access to the right equipment — the headsets or whatever immersive technology your film utilizes. I think VR festivals and arcades will be the route that our culture takes to these platforms being more widely adopted as a storytelling and art medium. Maybe in the future we all have standardized VR contact lenses, but for now, you’ve got to come to FIVARS, or Tribeca, or Kaleidoscope to see what’s out there in the immersive art world.
FIVARS 2017 Runs September 15th-17th at House of VR in Toronto, Canada. It is a production by VRTO and Constant Change Media Group, Inc.