Merged Editorial and Production Processes
At this point in the medium’s development, producing a piece of virtual reality media requires a complete merger between the editorial and production processes.
In June, director Dan Edge went to Toronto, where Secret Location performed the digital production. This co-working phase was crucial; as noted above, the Ebola production drew upon people with rare specializations, and with the abilities and temperaments to collaborate well. Through the digital production phase, the TV documentary makers learned a great deal about the narrative and technical sides of VR. They improved their understanding of what raw material to collect from the field, how VR experiences might be structured, and how this medium can combine motion graphics and live-action, immersive video.
Notably, the digital production phase was the first moment wherein the teams were tightly integrated. In an ideal world, a member of the Secret Location technology and production team would have joined Edge in the field to collaborate on setting up the camera and generating ideas in real time about what to shoot to tell the VR-specific story. However, because of the restricted access to the subjects and locations, this was not possible. Hence, all the video collection, both linear and VR, became Edge’s responsibility. It appears to be unrealistic to expect a two-person field team to produce video for different mediums at the same time. In the field, conceptual and operational resources dedicated to VR would have been an advantage.
So, a VR field team must have multiple, uncommon skill sets: Although there are no “standards” for journalistic VR directors, logically it is beneficial for the people collecting the raw material to have direct experience authoring a narrative in the medium. But collecting material for journalism is an advanced skill as well, done best when the director intimately understands (at least) the facts of the topic, the psychology of interviews, the ethics of filmmaking, the practicalities of fieldwork, and has a vision for the story. As a result, the ideal field team would include, at least, a technically proficient VR producer and camera operator to work collaboratively with the journalist/linear filmmaker.
Over time, virtual reality documentary may become so common that many individuals or small teams have all the necessary skills to produce it. A standard, narrative grammar may emerge, so that a post-production team can be confident that any moderately experienced crew will return from the field with the footage needed to tell a story. For example, using traditional documentary filmmaking as a contrasting illustration, experienced directors know they will need close-ups, medium shots, wide shots, establishing shots, perhaps sit-down interviews, reversals, and as much action as possible. In some cases they will have a pre-written shot list. These practices are standard, because experienced filmmakers understand the grammar and potential structures of narrative film, and how it is produced in the edit suite. However, until such time when a standard, VR-video grammar emerges, it seems likely that field teams will require dedicated VR staff. It’s advisable to merge the processes and teams from an early point in the production process.