Pixvana chats with the director about his award-winning VR experience

In the near future, five prisoners are brutally shackled together in miserable conditions in accordance with a new American regime. So is the case in “State Power,” a VR experience directed by Jeff Stanzler, a filmmaker and professor at Chapman University’s film school, that aims to spark and possibly transform opinions and leave an indelible marker for how things may appear from the “other” side.

After premiering in an immersive jail-cell installation, “State Power” won the Impact Award at FIVARS, the Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories. The Impact Award is granted to “any narrative experience that, in playing to the strengths of the medium, creates an indelible call to action or helps or affords a unique and empowering perspective with potentially positive sociological ramifications.”

Undeniably, the film uses the genre of speculative fiction and the medium of VR to engage in sharp political dialogue. “Although State Power was conceived as a 2D independent film, it’s always had a political edge to it,” explains Stanzler. “As our political landscape has gotten increasingly severe, it was recommended to me to approach it as a VR project. We were trying to take a new approach to issues that seem unprecedented—why not approach it with unprecedented technology?”

According to Stanzler, the immersive tech became central to how the film would engage its audience and inspire meaningful conversations. “We’ve become very passive people as a society, and this technology immerses people and activates them,” he explains. “I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or a reaction, but this technology couldn’t have come at a better time.”

State Power VR

At the film’s premiere, Stanzler noted that VR created a unique opportunity to present experiences that were both personal and communal. “The thing about VR is when you have content that’s compelling and immersive, you get this neat moment right when an audience member takes their headset off; you can speak with them about a personal experience they had before a tribal mentality sets in,” explains Stanzler. “After ‘State Power,’ rightists said they didn’t want to see the country descend into a military state, and leftists said they got a new perspective on how power gets abused. By being truly immersed in an experience, they’re interacting with it so much more directly than they’d be able to in other media. The conversations afterward were great: the ‘State Power’ experience is equal parts film and conversation.”

Power of VR

To make this communal experience possible, Stanzler used SPIN Guide to simulaneously cast (Simulcast) the experience to groups of viewers at once. “Pixvana was recommended to me because we were looking for ways to Simulcast,” said Stanzler. “I met Beverly [Pixvana’s head product]—and after a demo, I realized that not only we could Simulcast but we had access to so many useful features.” The experience was presented in an immersive, surround-sound installation: “When we bring people into the Location-Based Entertainment jailcell installation, we give them a choice of how to watch the film: from a political-right perspective or a political-left perspective, which changes which bits of dialogue they can hear. We combined in-headset sound with sound played from speakers in the installation to create an experience that’s at once personal and communal. We weren’t sure we were able to line everything up correctly, but miraculously it worked. Thanks in large part to Pixvana, for sure!”

“This is not like film, TV, radio, theater. It’s something else. It’s not a fad.”

A longtime filmmaker, Stanzler is excited about how XR is opening the door to new types of storytelling. “This is not like film, TV, radio, theater. It’s something else. It’s not a fad,” he says. Currently, he and his students are using Pixvana’s ingenic editor to create VR films and sharing experiences using SPIN Play. “State Power” is the first installment in a 12-episode series, each of which will use immersive storytelling to engage with an urgent political issue. On the horizon, the “State Power” VR installation will next be available at the Infinity Film Festival in Los Angeles on November 8th and 9th. In the meantime, you can check out this discussion panel about “State Power” at FIVERS.

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