VR Cinema to Take its First Step into Theaters
Apr 10, 2018
- Writerby SONG Soon-jin
A VR Experience Better Than Anything You Can Get at Home
The age where VR films are screened in theaters has begun. Following the ‘VR Cinema Special Screening’ organized by Lotte Cinema, CGV has released the VR melodrama Stay with Me.
The fact that the two movie theater chains making up the bulk of the local market are showcasing VR films around the same time is more than symbolic. As several film festivals in Korea and abroad, such as Sundance, Cannes and Busan, have recognized VR as part of film technology, the Korean movie theater industry has wasted no time to join this trend. If rather than small-scale VR-specialized theaters, theaters with bigger budgets and improved facilities tap in, VR definitely has the potential to grow into an entertainment industry available to all. Accordingly, the two multiplex theater chains have also formatted these VR films into 2D for moviegoers who want to watch them without the constraints of the head-mounted display (HMD) required for VR screenings. Other noteworthy advantages include the sound system of the theaters being of far better quality than the ones included with the headsets, without mentioning the premium seats these companies have been providing for years with great effort. We wanted to check out the strategies of these two film exhibition companies that are spearheading the new VR Cinema age, as well as the few issues they must deal with in order for VR Cinema to become a new standard.
Lotte Cinema: “We are planning to keep an eye on audience response and carefully approach VR Cinema through special screenings”
Lotte Cinema held a ‘VR Cinema Special Screening’ at Lotte Cinema World Tower, Theater 6. The goal was “to introduce to the public with theatrical screenings VR Cinema content that was previously only available at film festivals or exhibitions”. The program is made up of 9 titles chosen among all the VR films ever produced: 6 live-action films including the horror thriller Nine Days starring SONG Yun-a, and 3 animation works. In addition, Damon Games CEO KIM Youngho discussed during a lecture on ‘VR Cinema and Platform’ the dilemmas facing industry professionals in their endeavor to bring VR content to theaters. This special screening is the result of a collaboration between four different companies: Samsung Electronics oversaw all the technical aspects of this joint effort with Lotte Cinema and provided the HMDs and Galaxy smartphones to be used as screens, while the VR content itself came from the companies participating in the VR film production program of the Korean Academy of Film Art. Lastly, Damon Games provided the operating system. Lotte Cinema’s Program Team Leader KANG Seung-hyuck explains: “All four parties took part in the discussions to select the films of the program. We wanted a large variety of genres and works”. The selected 9 titles are divided into live-action films and animation. In the case of live-action films, the selection comprises of domestic and international works, while the animation films include various genres, from a documentary-style period piece to a fantasy film. Also, since the spectators would have to watch the movies with HMDs (Samsung gear VR headsets) in a sitting position, we chose VR films shot in 270 degrees instead of 360-degree videos.
This special screening marks the beginning of Lotte Cinema’s effort to follow the evolution of VR Cinema as it’s carefully considering how to introduce it to the market. KANG Seung-hyuck pointed out: “After this showcase, we realized we need more staff to hand out HMDs and assist spectators who have difficulty adjusting the focus or are experiencing discomfort during the screening. Equipment investment is also an issue. This time we had a collaboration with Samsung, but if we set regular VR screenings, it will be the responsibility of the exhibitor to cover equipment costs. In this case, the issue is to determine whether there is any content profitable enough to cover these costs. Theatrical VR film screenings will eventually become more popular once the ecosystem of VR content becomes stable.
CGV, “We hope to advance into the market through 4DX VR”
CJ CGV, on the contrary, is taking a more aggressive stance. Through the theater screening system CGV 4D PLEX that they have been developing and selling, CJ CGV is planning to introduce ‘4DX VR’ by applying VR technology to the 500 4DX theaters across the world. At the press conference for VR film Stay with Me in March 22nd, head of 4D PLEX Innovation division YOO Younggun stated: “4DX already was at the forefront in terms of immersive theater systems. Since last year when we introduced the “4DX with SCREEN X” concept, we have been planning to take a new challenge with VR”. He added: “VR aims for content that breaks down the barrier between virtual reality and reality. And visual elements are not enough to accomplish this. By allowing people to touch, smell and hear the movies thanks to 4DX technology, virtual reality in the true sense can be realized. We hope to create a VR experience better than anything you can get at home.”
There is a special reason for selecting the film Stay with Me (distributor/producer Barunson E&A Corp, co-producer EVR Studio). for its first 4DX VR showcase. Produced by filmmaker KWAK Kyung-taek and directed by GU Beom-seok, director of VR film BOHWAGAK (Korean title), this youth melodrama follows the romance and breakup of Woo Jin (played by KIM Jung-hyun), who dreams of becoming a musician, and Yun Soo (played by SEO Yea-Ji), whose dream is to become an actress. Filmmaker GU Beom-seok explains: “When you think about VR, it is usually adventure, action and horror genres that come to mind, but as a filmmaker, I think the greatest quality of VR lies in its capacity to connect emotionally. As I was making this film, I became even more convinced of this. Romance is the genre that corresponds the most to this idea of connection. I believe one of the most important goals for VR is to come up with universal stories that can connect with a large audience on a deeper level”.
With its 38 minutes of running time, Stay with Me is the longest VR film ever made in Korea. Although it was produced specifically for theatre screening, it has been filmed in 360 degrees. Since it was specifically designed for theatres, a 4DX effect team joined the project from the development stage. YOO Younggun explained: “4DX motion effects for VR should be different from those made for other movies”. If the usual 4DX effects employed for action or sci-fi movies are usually made of powerful motions such as strong tremors, sways or the effects of a car chase, those created for VR films tend to focus more on the delicate and natural emotional range of the protagonists, out of consideration for the spectators who may feel dizzy otherwise. Some scenes in Stay with Me were born as a result of this approach, such as the metaphorical scene where Woo Jin and Yun Soo are drifting in space to express their hearts racing as they are going to fall in love for the first time, or the one where Woo Jin, swallowed by a deep sadness, sees his bedroom is filled with water.
With Stay with Me, CGV is contemplating a major expansion in 4DX VR. YOO Younggun reveals: “We are planning to create a ‘VR add-on package’ (a system allowing exhibitors to show VR films) and offer it to the 500 4DX theaters all over the world. We hope to make it possible for the audience to watch VR content in theaters and for theaters to add VR films to their schedules. Also, as there is no platform between VR content producers and the consumers, we hope 4DX VR will serve this role”. CJ CGV also has ideas for content supply and demand but also plans to expand content pipelines such as VR films, VR trailers of older films and advertisement films, by collaborating with major overseas studios with which they have established ties through 4DX. He also emphasized the company’s mid to long-term goal to “build theaters dedicated to VR Cinema”.