#286: Rose Troche on the Vulnerability of a 1st-Person Perspective


Rose Troche knows that the first-person perspective is flawed, and she wanted to show people just how vulnerable it can by telling a single story between four different points of view. She teamed up with Specular Theory’s Morris May again for Perspective Chapter 2: The Misdemeanor, which is a powerful example of storytelling that’s only possible in VR. It gives you a direct experience of how our perceptions and biases can shape our eye witness testimony of a police shooting.


Perspective comes in four different segments, and each segment cuts between what each of the four different characters see. Each segment is self-contained in that you could watch it and get one variation of the overall story of a police shooting that happens between two cops and two adolescents of color. But in order to get the all of the first person perspectives and all of the stories, then you have to watch all four segments. The order in which you watch these segments can dramatically alter your story of what happened.

After watching all four segments at the Sundance New Frontier program, I had a direct experience of how my own biases and pre-existing narratives where completely overturned by evidence that I hadn’t see in any of the other previous three segments.

I had a chance to catch up with Rose at Sundance where she talks about her research process, her goals of creating a piece that leaves people questioning their biases, and how she crafted an experience that allows you to empathize with each of the flawed characters who all make mistakes. Perspective is an ambitious piece of immersive storytelling that challenged my perception, my memory, and my concepts of the truth.

Perspective is being shown all of this week in the mobile VR section of the Sundance New Frontier program.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:12.022] Rose Troche: My name is Rose Trochet. I got into VR through Shari Frillo, who is kind of the genius behind New Frontier. She had met with an innovator in the VR space named Morris May, who started a company called Specular Theory. And he had this idea to do, like, kind of use VR for first-person perspective, which is, as filmmakers, we've all been wanting to do that more intensely. You know, like, we do subjective camera, we do this thing. this was an offering to really get yourself into someone's shoes. So he had an idea to do a dinner table scene, and I wrote that, and we tested it, and it was fine, but I thought, like, we can do something really even more impactful. And I threw out five ideas, I remember, and one of those five ideas, which was my favorite idea, was a sexual assault piece. And fortunately, Morris really liked it and Sundance really liked it. And then I wrote the script for that and pursued that one. That was last year. That was Perspective Chapter One, The Party. And from last year, pretty much I knew that I wanted to do this piece about I'm not going to call it police brutality, it's not. It's about a shooting, a police officer shooting a young man. And I spent sort of the better part of the year after, you know, trying to get financing, and then interviewing people, interviewing young people of color, and I think the real eye-opener as a person of color myself like you know it was there were stories that I kind of knew there were narratives that I shared and it was really in interviewing police officers that I got this other side of the story which was not really perhaps what I was after in the first place. I knew I wanted to make an empathy piece. I knew I wanted to further a dialogue about what it is like to be in this situation, what it is like to be a young person of color, you know, and what is it like to be a cop who's in a neighborhood where you feel like you are persona non grata, where you are the enemy, and what that makes you feel like. My cousins, my uncle, my brother are all police officers in Chicago, which is a very violent city. As a matter of fact, my brother left the Chicago police force a little while ago to go, he's like, I need to get to the suburbs. And these are all people of color. All of those people are Puerto Rican, by the way. And I just sort of found out that they feel like their lives are at stake on both sides. Everybody feels like their life is in jeopardy, you know, on both sides of this equation. And something's got to start a conversation about that fear. That fear makes us do dumb things on both sides of it. That bias makes us do stupid stuff on both sides of it. I know. I mean, all my run-ins with police, which really kind of almost are exclusively in Chicago when I was growing up. are really around me just being like, you're an asshole, I'm not. You feel like exercising an authority that you don't have. So we have a pre-existing narrative. So in the piece, I think the young people have a pre-existing narrative, and the police officers do. He's trying to be a good cop, he's trying to be like, hey guys, stop, what do you got? Let's make this brief, let's make this quick. And when he gets resistance, that sort of perception of himself being a good guy, a good officer, a good police officer, an understanding guy, I could be you. kind of thing, just dissolves. And then he's just like, I have the authority to come back at you at two times the force that you came back at me, which is a very subjective measure. So anyway, all that is, you know, I just want to explore that in the piece. So if you look at the piece and you look at being all four of these people, What I hope is that you have sympathy all around, because it's been such a polarizing issue. And just like last year, I just want to further or continue a conversation around how to get to a better place with this. If we all just hunker down in our positions, and we're completely polarized, then I don't know how we move anything forward.

[00:04:00.618] Kent Bye: What's striking for me is that you're telling this story from the perspective of four people, whereas last year it was from the perspective of a victim and a perpetrator. And in this time we have two cops and then two black teenage adolescents. And so it was interesting because you are intercutting between the two perspectives and there's four individual pieces that takes about 20 minutes to watch all of them. because you're kind of going over the scene over and over there's slight variations for how the acting is done and you're focusing on different things and you're cutting between the perspectives and as I was thinking I was like wow this is kind of like memory because you know it's like this perspective is kind of like this is what someone's recollection of the story may actually be and I thought it was a really amazing way of actually capturing that.

[00:04:42.956] Rose Troche: Yeah the piece is absolutely about using 360 for where your eye is. It's challenging the first-person perspective. The first-person perspective is faulty. We all know that people have been put in jail for the rest of their lives and have been put on death row from a first-person's account. This is a demonstration. This is like a 360 demonstration. So I'm happy that you really caught that because it makes me really happy. Because the piece is meant to be that. It's meant to also be, okay, so to finish that point, the piece is meant to show you the vulnerability of a first person perspective. You can see like three of those things and you won't know that he's getting shot from this, but you won't know to look. because you're looking at the conflict, your eyes on the conflict. Arroyo never sees Bell shoot this guy. He's just like, what the fuck just happened? And you know, he's just, so he has to turn around and he's gotta go like, oh my God, so this, oh yeah, I get it. I'm not an idiot. I see that you have your gun up and this kid's on the ground. So, but, you know, no one's stopping the escalated situation. And as you know, like, I mean, everybody's talking on top of each other. Everyone's like, you know, like, which is a really fun part of VR for me as a director to not have to suppress someone else from being in a scene, you know, not to have them do a line clean, like, hello. You're like, my name is, you know, it's good to meet you. You know, like that sort of thing. People can be really immersed in the experience. So that's sort of the piece is really to sort of show you in this really subtle way, being in a body and being there is not having an objective opinion about what happened. It's only having a completely subjective experience and your influence by how one tells a story. So when someone goes, I like to call the pit because like, you know, like all these, the pieces that are there at New Frontier, those of us who are in like the pit are, you know, like, you know, you put your headset on, no one knows who's watching what. It's sort of very random, whereas last year I knew exactly who was going in and out of the experience. But so in not controlling it, I kind of relinquished control, knowing that it was going to happen this way. And I said to myself, you know, I don't think anyone's going to watch all four. They'll probably watch one. Maybe they'll watch Belle. Maybe they'll watch Arroyo. Maybe they'll watch... And then they're going to come away with that one story of being that one person. And that in and of itself is how life is. You know? So if someone goes and has a conversation outside of this festival, or during this festival, yeah, I saw the misdemeanor. Maybe they won't fess up to just seeing one piece, but then they'll only know the one perspective. And that's how life is. You have the opportunity to see it from all four people's perspective. You have the opportunity to see the whole story. But if you're sort of pro the kids or pro the cops, you're going to choose who you

[00:07:18.023] Kent Bye: see so it presents a challenge to the viewer so that's the other part of the whole piece is you know I love that because you know by the time I got I watched in alphabetical order and so by the time I got to the last one I thought I knew what the story was and then the kid who ends up getting shot is like most provoking and throwing stuff. I was like, that's, I didn't see that in any of the other cuts or, you know, it's just, or I didn't notice it or, you know, so it was just like, I wasn't looking at it. And so I was like, oh my God, that totally changes, like what happened.

[00:07:49.552] Rose Troche: He upped himself to a felony. He threw a heavy object at a police officer, which hit him. No matter how benign that counts. And it is benign, but unfortunately it does count. You know, going down the rabbit hole of doing the research for this, and I don't suggest anybody do it, or maybe we all should do it. it just leaves you so, it leaves you with a sense of hopelessness, but I'm just offering up this piece to say like, can we just feel what, can we see, we all make mistakes. Everybody, the key factor in this piece is that everybody in the entire thing makes mistakes. That's all part of the narrative. First Damon pushes the officer. You can't push an officer. You just can't. You have to comply fully. As much as that makes us feel like dumb bitches, we gotta like, you are supposed to. And that's a whole other thing that I can go off on, but that's the party line, right? Now he pushes him, but then if you push an officer, they're allowed to respond with two times the aggression, right? So he's just like, oh no, you're going down, and then gets overly aggressive with him. overly aggressive pushing his face in the ground like putting like you know being like I was trying to be cool with you but now like that what you did to me so it's it's everybody's making mistakes and the younger brothers just pushes the officer off his brother because he just wants him to leave him alone like they didn't do anything they didn't really take they took like at wholesale cost like 25 cents worth of stuff you know like this should not have happened But it's just about attitudes and perceptions of both sides. And then he does that thing where he throws the bag, which is an act of... Weirdly, pushing a cop is not going to make them draw their weapon. It's when you come at them with deadly force. Deadly force can be an object. So that was the moment. I had to learn a lot about being a police officer.

[00:09:36.316] Kent Bye: I had no idea, you know, I just sort of you know, but it's interesting that all the levels of depth because I did come away Realizing that my sense of what the truth is should be a lot more uncertain because you know I am only seeing one certain perspective and I had a lot of biases going into it.

[00:09:50.270] Rose Troche: Absolutely. It's a that's oh I'm so happy because you You're making me so happy because you experienced the piece the way I intended it to be seen, which is to just leave you questioning. And we should question. We pick our favorite news spots, and then we go to those to tell us what to think. And we can't be that way. We can't be that passive in these things that matter so much in our lives, in these things that matter to our future, in the future of the people around us. We just can't be. Not in world politics, not in anything. And look, I go to NPR all the time, and I'm like, I let them tell me what to think and I think I'm a thinking person because that's where I go. None of us can be that passive. We have to look for the truth of what everything is and not be so quick to jump into a group and say like, this is where I stand. Even if that's where you end up after all your research. You can end up in that spot after it, but you're informed. You're well informed. And look, the one thing I would hope for would be for police officers to really, really learn how to train in de-escalation. I think that that's really what needs to happen. Because these things happen in 30 seconds. They happen in 30 seconds. And all someone's doing to someone is yelling and yelling and yelling at them. And people don't respond well to that. So what if you took a calm voice and said, look, I need you to stop right there. Nothing's going to happen. I'm putting down my weapon. I'm not pulling my weapon out. I need you to put down the knife or whatever it is. And then you get on the ground instead of, you know, this thing that's because everybody's afraid of being killed. And I understand it's a real threat. I really do. Not as much as if I were a cop, you know? But I get that that's a dangerous job. But it's also freaking dangerous to be a kid of color. You know what I mean? On both sides. I don't know. You choose where your sympathy is. And hopefully it's all around. Hopefully you have enough empathy to give to everyone. I'm hoping. I specifically mean one of the officers of color because I think that there are so many police officers of color who come into a system of brotherhood that the rules have been there long before they ever entered it.

[00:11:51.637] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:11:58.910] Rose Troche: Oh, I think, you know, sometimes I'm on panels and like I get so blown away. It's like this event that I was at, it was at the Power Storytelling just before I got here and all these people are just doing amazing work to change the world from making people aware of climate change to the Syrian refugee crisis and everything kind of in between, these personal pieces in between. And I look at that and I think to myself VR fits so firmly within that. It's such a beautiful moment right now because it's the beginning of it all. It is like the black and white moment, silent moment of cinema. And I don't call it cinema because I think it's its own thing. And it's in its little clunky growing stages and some people are doing amazingly beautiful, beautiful work for millions and millions and millions of dollars and then there are those of us who are doing work for thousands and thousands of dollars and like, you know. But I think that it's wonderful that it can exist in both of those forms. But its ability to put yourself in a first person or in a situation, just the simplest thing to take the camera and put it in a line at a Syrian refugee camp, like, you know, line for food, to be there right after an earthquake, just simply putting a 360 camera in a space, nothing, you know, nothing about storytelling around except that you as a viewer get to turn your head all the way around and be like, oh my God, I get it. And then that person is like, because they understand it more, because they're there, your mind understands that you need to do something about it. Either give, do something, give, get online, do, like, you know, like, talk to your congressperson, like, you know, it just has, it's a powerful, powerful tool. I was on a panel with someone who does VR work for the UN, and they were saying, like, it's like 60%, people give 60% more. Just saying. Okay, great, well, thank you. Yeah, thank you.

[00:13:49.199] Kent Bye: And thank you for listening! If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voicesofvr.

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