#1087: IndieWire Editor Eric Kohn on Deepening Critical Discourse within VR & Immersive Storytelling

Eric Kohn has been a professional film critic for 15 years, and he’s currently the Executive Editor at Indiewire, the Vice President of Editorial Strategy, as well as the co-host of IndieWire’s Screen Talk podcast. IndieWire first launched on July 15, 1996 as an email newsletter during festivals like Sundance in order to cover the business of independent film as well as the latest evolutions within the craft of storytelling. Kohn grew up playing open world games and has long held an interest in emerging forms of immersive, interactive, and social forms of storytelling. More recently, he’s been paying more attention to covering the immersive stories at festivals like SXSW as shown in his last article on VR “5 Masterful XR Experiences That Prove the Future of the Art Form Has Arrived”. He’s also interested in cover some of the business angles including this piece “Sundance Helped Launch the Metaverse Industry, but Isn’t Thrilled About the Future of the Business”

Kohn also teaches film criticism at NYU (Course CINE-UT 600), and has lead a number of different initiatives to help cultivate the next generation of film criticism. I was really curious to hear his thoughts about the level of critical discourse within the VR industry around immersive stories, and he compared the ecosystem of discourse to be very similar to smaller niche film communities like experimental film where critics may also be creators and friends with other makers. So there’s a lot of room for continued development and evolving of a broader and more diverse ecosystem of discourse within the context of XR storytelling. I suspect that this will requires a fusion of different design disciplines and critical frameworks from literature, film, videos games, interactive web stories, social media platforms, theater, architecture, and VR, AR, and immersive theater.

Kohn and I had a chance to reflect on all of these new frontiers of immersive storytelling, and talk about the need to facilitate more interdisciplinary conversations like this to help provide insights and resources to both creators and emerging critics of these new fields. There’s a plenty of insights that are coming from these different disciplines, but also how XR could potentially provide new insights back to these other domains.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So in today's episode is Eric Cohn. He's been a film critic for like 15 years at IndieWire, but also he's the executive editor at IndieWire. So IndieWire covers a lot of the independent film scene and started back on July 15th, 1996. as an email newsletter. So it would go to different film festivals like Sundance and then report on the business of independent film, creating this community hub of talking about both the craft of storytelling, but also a lot of the business of selling these different independent films. So Eric Kohn is someone I met at South by Southwest virtual edition in 2021. I actually met him at the VR chat party for South by Southwest and he recognized my voice. I was able to connect and chat with him and he actually runs a podcast as well and has been getting more and more into the virtual reality scene, especially in the wake of the pandemic when he got his own VR headset first to go and then eventually Oculus Quest and then got a friend in Oculus Quest and he's been doing a lot of different events within VR. but also going to these different virtual festivals. And South by Southwest was the first time that we've been back to a film festival that had one of these different events, and so he had a chance to check out some of the different experiences there. Although with his day job of covering the larger film industry, he's mostly focused on what's happening within the film world. But someone who's a film critic who's really interested in what's happening within the context of VR and looking at a lot of the similar patterns of the independent film and the film festival scene, but also different aspects of the avant-garde or the more experimental niche communities within the independent film world, and so different parallels that he sees that is happening currently within the VR realm. So it got a chance to talk to him about what is exciting for him about VR but also some of the insights that maybe the VR community can get from what's happening in the film criticism and the need to have a little bit deeper critical discourse within the VR community. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Eric happened on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:18.737] Eric Kohn: My name is Eric Cohn. I'm the vice president of editorial strategy and executive editor at IndieWire, which is a fancy bifurcated title that's changed a whole bunch of times. But basically, I've been in IndieWire for about 15 years. And for those who don't know, this is a publication that started a little over 25 years ago. It was an email newsletter at Sundance and really came out of the kind of indie film boom, the market for independent film that was sort of expanding out of the festival world as sort of an alternative to a bigger Hollywood product. And that history really informed the kind of coverage that I've done over the years for independent film. Emerging media and then eventually VR kind of came out of that because I was so festival focused. So when Sundance and other festivals started incorporating VR into the lineup, I was much more responsive, I think, than a lot of other journalists, because I've always had an interest in emerging media. I used to go to Henry Jenkins Features of Entertainment Conference at MIT, and I read a lot about transmedia and ARGs. And in the kind of moment where there was this sense of DIY filmmaking really gaining traction, you started to see it bleed over into other kinds of media. So when I was really getting going as a journalist, I would meet people like Lance Wyler, Brett Gaylor, and was really fascinated by the way in which they were sort of seeing their roles as storytellers as being much more expansive than the filmic medium, in a way. And that's just really exciting to me as both a journalist and a critic, because I think it allows for us to see so many more possibilities for what story can be in the 21st century. So in terms of VR in particular, I would say that my journey is sort of, there's like two parts to it. The first part would have been the kind of static experience that I've had at festivals, going to say New Frontier and putting on a headset and recognizing something like notes on blindness is unique to the medium itself. And then there's the last two years when, as the pandemic sort of created this sea change in the way that we were all spending our time, I realized that I had never really spent enough time with the technology that VR provided or that was necessary for the VR experience. And somewhere or another, someone pointed out how in 2020, how affordable a pretty traditional headset, a consumer grade headset was. And so on a whim, I went on online and of all things, ordered an Oculus Go. So my first headset I owned was an Oculus Go probably two to three years later than I should have. It was later described to me as like, I sort of, I bought the Nintendo when everyone had the N64 or something like that. But it was very eyeopening to me because the first thing that I was exposed to was the social possibility of VR. because it wasn't really possible to go into these open spaces where I'd network with other people with similar interests and going to places like Altspace, which was the main social app that I could explore because you couldn't do VR chat in Oculus Go. I was finding people who were doing screenings and social activities. I got invited to moderate an event and I was just sort of fascinated by how immediately obvious the social potential of VR was and also that so few people in my realm were talking about it. So I really at that point started to lean more heavily into understanding the medium and paying closer attention to that side of programming and all the major festivals that show it. And in terms of from an editorial standpoint, it's very early on the way that we cover this stuff because Part of it is almost like an explanatory process. You have to assume that the readers aren't necessarily going to be on the same page as you and know the difference between 360 and 6DOF or even what XR stands for. From there, you have to explain the appeal of the medium. And so a lot of the stories that I've been doing and the way that I've been talking about this has been sort of almost like explaining the appeal of an expansive approach to a story to somebody who's long assumed that story can only be one thing. And that's really exciting for me. So that's kind of where I'm at right now with VR.

[00:06:38.462] Kent Bye: It's really great to see more film critics getting into covering VR because I think the independent film scene is quite unique because it's very similar in the way that the distribution of these immersive stories don't always get out into the world. And so sometimes it feels like some of these pieces are like a theatrical ephemeral performance that you get to see, but no one else in the world gets to see. And so similarly, I guess IndieWire has been covering a lot of films and maybe the target audience in some sense is the distributors to be able to get the films out into a broader audience or the people who are able to actually watch that film at a film festival and want to just kind of reflect on it. So in that sense, there's a certain amount of currency of some of the different types of coverage that you do. And I found myself also being drawn to immersive stories, but trying to at least talk to the creators and more of an oral history perspective rather than say a film critic. So I'd love to get a little bit more context and background for your journey into being a film critic and the ways in which that you see this emerging medias of VR are kind of leveraging your wisdom of what you know about how to watch a film and criticize a film and talk about a film to an audience, and all these other game-like elements that are also being thrown in there, as well as architecture and theater and other things as well.

[00:07:51.087] Eric Kohn: Yeah, it's fascinating because my journey, I got really interested in being a film critic at a young age, but it was of a certain generation in which, you know, when you grow up also playing video games, I think that mentality travels with you, even if your sensibilities for another art form might go in a different direction. So, you know, I went from thinking, Raiders of the Lost Ark was the best movie of all time to Breathless and obsessed about French New Wave. But at the same time, you know, I had this awareness of going from playing like Sonic to Fallout and being excited about open world storytelling. So it was sort of like my relationship to interactive media through gaming was sort of deepening in tandem with my relationship to cinema. So I think even though I've became more of a traditional film critic because that's sort of the career path that was available. There was always this sort of awareness that there was more that could be sort of delved into in terms of the potential storytelling beyond that, even if those two fields didn't really seem to speak the same language as it were. So it was interesting because I became a critic After getting a degree in cinema studies and studying a lot of theory and history but also really being interested in reporting on the business, I found it as exciting in a way to look at how the industry was changing. So it was just very natural to look at other kinds of media and same time and, you know, as concepts started to come up that would show that the medium could be impacted by new forms of storytelling that was exciting to me as a critic, even if I couldn't see the end result. So, for example, Matt Hanson's project Swarm of Angels, I remember being really excited about this idea of a crowdsourced film in 2007, 2008, something like that. And most critics that I spoke to, the idea of a hypothetical end result is not really what they signed up for. But for me, that's an extension of the same process. You're talking about evolving narrative and that's, you know, aesthetically, I think that's really exciting just to think about. Now, in terms of writing about these things, it is a challenge. I think it's actually a The challenge of criticism in the VR space is similar to the one that you see in a lot of avant-garde storytelling. So in film, for example, most of the criticism about experimental cinema is done by people who are so deeply entrenched in that community. Perhaps they're filmmakers themselves or they're programmers and they write for specialty cinema magazines. So they're sort of writing about their peers. They're writing about it from a sort of community first standpoint. So you don't really get hard hitting criticism that sort of pokes holes in what doesn't work or is aspiring to some sort of greater level of quality necessarily. It's more about this sort of internal conversation. And I think on some level, that's what you see with VR and other kinds of emerging media is that it's often being sort of like cheerleading from within. And so I think there's a real opportunity for stronger criticism around this sort of work. And I have found that sometimes when I've express frustrations about the limitations of an experience that the creators are very sensitive because they're not used to that. You know, we don't have a Rotten Tomatoes for VR right now. So it's not like there's a whole infrastructure where people are sort of immediately being processed in a public way from a larger crowd of people who don't necessarily care how they feel about the response. So that's been really interesting to sort of see that contrast. I do think that we are on the cusp of a sea change in that respect because we're seeing more publications where the critic is more of a critic at large or a cultural critic writing about film and TV and then other areas. And probably within the next few years, as consumer grade headsets are more accessible we will see a deepening of criticism I think there's an opportunity there. And I'm hoping that we can help facilitate conversations about what good criticism in this space looks like. It's also been a challenge just to foster the next generation of film criticism, period, because it's not a very sustainable profession for a lot of people. So I've been teaching film criticism at NYU for the last nine years. I run workshops at film festivals. I created something called the Critics Academy. first in the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, and then with Lincoln Center and New York Film Festival, we created something called the Roger Ebert Memorial Scholarship at the Sundance Film Festival. And these were opportunities to just bring aspiring critics into an environment where they could produce hard-hitting criticism that could have impact. And that's the festivals, which are the front lines. So I think as long as we can find ways to get that next generation into those spaces and those spaces are creating opportunities to program VR work and other kinds of XR work, then we're probably going to see more criticism along those lines. But I do think also people have to be pushed to really exercise the same muscle and use the same kind of language that they used to write about movies, to write about these experiences. So it's a work in progress, but it's one that I'm really excited to dig deeper into.

[00:12:53.942] Kent Bye: Yeah, I find it's a big challenge in the sense that, you know, VR as a medium, there's not like a universally agreed upon framework or model for storytelling or interactivity and how to integrate these aspects of embodiment or agency and video games criticism versus, you know, film criticism and the cinematic and the story and the narrative. And then there's a, interaction parts of like, there's aspects of the web and human computer interaction that's also being fused into all this. And so it's kind of like a unique combination of human computer interaction with embodiment and architecture and theater and story. So my approach has been to try to talk to the creators from more of an oral history perspective. And, you know, I served on the XR jury for South by Southwest. And, you know, I feel like there's a way I can participate in that discussions, but I often find that sometimes it's helpful for me to talk to the creators to get what their intention is, to see what they were trying to do, and then match that with my own experience. And if there's a mismatch, either one of two things happens. Either there was something that they're doing not quite right in their own experiential design, or there's something that maybe this experience just wasn't for me and I just don't get it in some ways. And so trying to figure out the artist's intent by talking to lots of different artists has been I guess apart from me, before there's like a fully established critical framework to be able to understand these pieces, to at least start with the oral history as a way to kind of judge my own emotional and aesthetic response to something versus what the artist was trying to do and see if there was a communication gap there.

[00:14:25.107] Eric Kohn: But I think that that's a really good point. And I get a lot out of talking to filmmakers in a similar kind of way. I think sometimes also I'm exposed to cinema that isn't necessarily successful in an immediate way when I experience it. But I find that there are some fascinating stories in terms of the pathways people found to making this thing or how it sort of reflected the conditions of the moment in which it was made. So there are a lot of different ways that you can sort of engage with these things beyond sort of it's good or it's not good, but it's a fascinating challenge too because part of the process of criticism is this idea that it's not the responsibility of somebody on the receiving end. to comprehend every aspect of how something works in order to formalize their response to it. So the kind of the pure critic mentality is one that doesn't necessarily need to be impinged by the voice of the artist and which has become a murky kind of thing nowadays because everybody's firing up on social media and trying to engage in back and forth discussion and so forth. But, you know, I've had some fascinating conversations with people where it's like, you see a movie and you don't necessarily understand say the historical context under which it was made, but you think it was really beautiful and effective or emotional in a particular kind of way. And that's a valid response because it had that kind of impact. So part of the challenge of criticism I think is understanding context enough to be able to explain what this experience is in tandem with informing readers. But with documentaries, you see this all the time, where it's like, if the documentary is about a subject you don't really understand, and it's a very traditional kind of middle-of-the-road, talking heads thing with infographics, so maybe kind of boring and unexciting, but it's an important thing and you learn something, then the reactions tend to be very positive about that thing. And it's the nuance and the challenge is really to be able to express that even if this is educating us about an important topic, it doesn't necessarily rise to the level of great art. And so that's in general, I think what criticism needs to be able to do is to parse these things out while at the same time being a form of cultural journalism and informing its readers. And so I look at VR along these lines as well. You know, I think that 360 experiences are really interesting to look at right now because it's very easy to be dismissive of them almost categorically because they're just non-interactive experiences. And so, you know, you're basically in a 360 movie theater and you look at people who haven't really gone too deep into these questions being dismissive of them, you know, Soderbergh, for example, complaining that you can't edit in VR or whatever. And the reality is that you can edit in VR, obviously, there are different kinds of workarounds that people are finding. But in some cases, it's the wrong kind of question. I mean, I think what Felix and Paul do is fascinating in that respect, because the use of 360 is sort of a justification unto itself, because they're exposing you to the immersion of a world that you've only really in most cases experienced in 2D. So whether that's the Oval Office or the International Space Station, the 360 medium, you don't necessarily need to be able to have agency in those spaces because the 360 medium is sort of an end unto itself and it could only be experienced that way. You know, if you were to watch a 2d version of one of those things it just, it wouldn't be as compelling and it wouldn't really have any justification and we kind of like a installation piece or something. So, I do think it's really important to look at the specifics. of what the work is doing, and then also to recognize if it's not effective to you personally, how do you balance those two kinds of aspects? It's a big challenge. It's a challenge for the most traditional kind of criticism, which is why I think it's even more challenging with media that so few people have been exposed to before.

[00:18:20.716] Kent Bye: And I'd love to hear your take on the relationship between genre and film criticism in the sense that, you know, in film, the genres have been pretty well established, I'd say over a hundred plus years. You know, there's obviously always new avant-garde innovations, but in VR, it feels like it's a fusion of all those existing genres, but also things that are completely new that don't really work in other media. more environmental storytelling or guided tour type of experiences, or maybe a little bit more aspects of interactivity and agency that feels a little bit more game-like, but it still has narrative components, or at least, you know, the level of immersion and embodiment. Composition is an example that feels a little bit more like a game that was at South by Southwest, but still had other elements that were giving you this depth of immersion, but it was mostly a center of gravity within the interactivity. So I do find that even within meta, there has been historically a split organizationally between the part of the company that's focused on gaming and the other part that's focusing on more narrative aspects and, you know, the more immersive experiences that they call it. So there's been this split between the more center of gravity of coming from more of a cinematic film world or coming from the more center of gravity of the game and interactivity. But there feels like that, you know, sometimes how the format, whether it's 360 video or a 6DOF experience, that that feeds and informs the different genres that are emerging within XR. But at the same time, there's existing genres from the game world and existing genres from the cinema world. And then, you know, as you blend those together, there's going to be even more genres that are emerging from VR and how you start to do criticism when those genres are still forming.

[00:20:01.878] Eric Kohn: Yeah, these are all really important questions to ask, but at the same time, I think that the experience should be sort of a language unto itself. I mean, if I have never experienced a horror movie before, I should still be able to tell you why it's scary. So, you know, I do think that trying to import, it's frustrating when you experience something you've experienced before, but I also think that it gives you a language and that language can be really satisfying or not. So, Gaming in the most traditional form is certainly something that shouldn't be talked of as something other than gaming. It is important to think of the different kinds of categories these things exist in, but also that they can be broken down. When I experienced composition, it was remarkable to engage in this interactive music-making experience. and not really be thinking in the moment what category I would place it into. I mean, on some level it was sort of participatory, improvisatory music. It was installation art, you know, a meditation on community. But it was also, in its own way, I think a kind of avant-garde cinema. It reminded me of the stereoscopic works I've seen by avant-garde filmmakers like Ken Jacobs, because you're staring down at this radial projection that is moving image and you just happen to be participating in the creation of it. So it's in retrospect, I can find all these different access points, but also in the immediate moment, you know, it was totally foreign to me because it was just the experience I was having there. It's kind of fascinating to see when cinematic experiences are sort of imported into VR, for example, horror is a big one because of jump scares and this idea of if you turn your head in one direction, you might be scared by what you find there. It's sort of one step beyond the traditional QD jump scare, but it's an evolved version of that. And so I don't know if it's necessarily the most exciting application of the form, but it is a very organic way to implement it. So I don't know if any of this answers your question, but I do think it's really interesting to see how genre can sort of take a lot of different forms depending on the media that it's placed in, but it also, it should be a justification unto itself when you are, you know, sort of in the immediacy of the experience.

[00:22:18.880] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was going back and looking at some of the ways that you used VR on Twitter just to connect to different IndieWire articles you've done over the years and was surprised to see how far back you've been at least talking about VR or pointing to other people. If it wasn't you that was writing different pieces, that was other IndieWire artists that were covering specific projects. over the years at these different film festivals, but that you've also had opportunities to talk to folks like Chris Milk. And it feels like you were keeping track of these different selections at these film festivals, because oftentimes you're already there covering the film festival from the films. And so maybe you dropped by the VR, but I'd love to hear your own evolution and journey of looking at those different selections. And it certainly sounds like from looking back that there was a turning point that happened during the pandemic where you actually bought your first VR headset with the Go and then the Quest, and then participating in some of these virtual conferences and watching the programs. But I'd love to hear a little bit more about your own journey of how you sort of made sense of, it's usually kind of like a special selection off to the side, you know, the new frontier isn't a part of the main competition, it's not awarded in the same way. Venice Film Festival is maybe the first film festival that puts VR at the same level, both VR and AR and collectively XR at the same level as the films. But most of the film festivals have still treated these emerging technologies as something on the side that isn't at the same level. Although that, you know, that's changing coming up with the Peabody's starting to award different aspects of these immersive experiences at the same level of other stories. But yeah, I'd love to hear a little bit more about your own journey of going to these festivals and checking out and getting more and more interested in what's happening with immersive storytelling?

[00:23:56.586] Eric Kohn: Well, I mean, the credit to these festivals, the people who programmed New Frontier at Sundance or Tribeca Immersive, I mean, these are people who are also film programmers or South by Southwest. I mean, so the, the programming itself was sort of emanating from a desire within the film community to introduce this kind of technology. And so as a journalist on the ground in these environments, you're exposed to that programming just through the lens of somebody else who's experiencing it and introducing it to a traditional film context. So I think that makes a difference. But also you started to see, I would say, 10, 12 years ago, something like that, a good amount of entertainment industry entities who are experimenting with VR for marketing purposes, or just experimenting to see what might happen as a side project. And that was fascinating to me because I said before, I've always been excited by the idea of immersive storytelling that builds on traditional narratives. So, you know, I love the idea of the transmedia as a sort of monolithic concept was really exciting to me. You know, the idea that Matrix 2 and 3 weren't good to most people because they didn't experience every other strand of media associated with that story. That if you read the comics and played the games and watched the short films, it all kind of fit together. And that was only kind of true, but it was, I think, one of the moments for me where it kind of clicked into place that there's so much more expansiveness that you can do There's so much more that you can sort of expand narrative to experience in new kinds of ways. And I think that festival was being able to see things that say Anna Purna was doing 10 years ago with that Chris Milk experience of the train moving through the air. I'm trying to remember the name of it. Maybe Evolution of Verse. That's the one. So that evolution of verse was remarkable to me, not only because it was a fun sort of play on the original Lumiere brothers train arriving at a station silent film that opened people up to the kind of shock of moving images, but also because it was produced by a film studio. It was directed by somebody who was sort of originally on traditional filmmaker path. I moderated a conversation with Chris Milk at South By on its sort of early immersive track that they had for Certain Conversations when that piece first became available. And I remember what he was saying was that, you know, we're sort of in the silent film era with VR right now and trying to figure out what this language looks like for the future. And so that was sitting with me for a long time. And we had an opportunity to partner at Sundance a couple of years after that with MIT's Comparative Media Studies Lab to cover new frontier projects. And I was really adamant that that was something we figured out because it allowed us to not sideline that work at Sundance. And because of the work that I was doing at that time, it really is a traditional trade critic seeing all these movies in the lineup and reviewing a huge volume of content. I often did not have the bandwidth at the festival to dig into the VR lineup. So we outsourced it to PhD students at the Comparative Media Studies Lab. And that was great because they were working through this media with the kind of scrutiny it deserved. And more recently, I've been trying to do that myself. So it was great to be back in person at South by Southwest because I do think, ironically, even though being able to have a headset at home, and now I have a few of them, has been a great opportunity to dig deeper into the medium. Having an external space that you can go to to kind of browse the lineup, including VR, we're not exclusive to VR. In some ways, it's much more intuitive because it allows you to utilize the time that you've allocated for this work. And when you're on your own, it's just content in a sea of content. I mean, this is the same argument, I think, for why theatrical movies still have a life in our media climate, because there are films like, say, Drive My Car, that are difficult to watch for a lot of people. But if they go see them in a movie theater, they get it because they made time for it. And there are fewer distractions and so forth. And I think VR is very much like that. I think VR at home is a very important kind of social utility in a way. but making time for a VR experience at home requires a very committed sort of mindset. And in my particular case, as somebody who also has to watch a lot of different kinds of moving images throughout the day, that becomes a challenge. So the festival environment has been hugely important to me, and I'm excited that it's coming back. I'm excited to go to Cannes in May, to go to CannesXR, and hopefully find time to go into those spaces to do these things, because it's just harder. on your own. And I think that's part of the marketing challenge that a lot of these companies have to contend with is how do you catch people off guard and make something worth their time? You know, I finally did Goliath at South by Southwest this year. I know that I could have gotten that on my own time, but being able to do it in this site specific way was actually in some ways, I think much more rewarding. They had a setup there where the ground was sort of covered in lights. So any light bleed that you got into the headset was sort of integrated into the experience itself. And so obviously I wouldn't have gotten that just sitting at home with my Quest. But also I thought that having some of the creative team there and being in an environment where other people were doing the same thing, that's kind of what makes it more valuable in a way. So it doesn't seem like this sort of secret thing somewhere, it becomes a collective experience. And that's a really important part of how all of this art, I think, should be processed.

[00:29:38.085] Kent Bye: Yeah. I think I've noticed that film festivals, as you go and watch a piece, you walk into the installation and then you, you see the piece. And so just like there's a ritual when you go see a movie and you know, they lower the lights and dim them down a little bit, you watch the trailers and then eventually the movie starts. and you see the credit sequence and the music, and then you suspend your disbelief. And so just the same, the process of actually going physically to an installation and a conference, I find it much easier to be able to slip stream into the experience rather than downloading it, making sure that, oh, that doesn't have index support. So now I have to like wire up my Oculus. And so, you know, everything's just kind of taken care of for me. But I do think that there has been a marketing challenge of VR seen as a gaming medium. So, you know, even Oculus, I think has had difficulty of trying to really show the immersive storytelling aspects of it. It's clear when you go to these festivals and you see everything like 30 plus experiences all in the same context where everybody is focusing on the potentials of immersive storytelling, but then you go back into the distribution channels and there seems to have been a huge gap between. Yeah. the artists creating these experiences and then having the distribution channels to get them into the hands. Oftentimes it has been traditionally like sometimes up to one, two, sometimes three years after something appeared in the film festival before it actually comes out for the audiences to be able to see it. Or you see things that just never get picked up for any distribution. So Similarly, in the way that there's a lot of films that maybe get shown in these festivals that never get a showing beyond the festival circuit, that it feels like VR has been kind of trapped in that area where there have been some really standout pieces like, you know, Traveling While Black or Book of Distance is something that has had both a great premiere at Sundance and then it's on Steam and it's available, but still just have that curatorial selection to highlight some of these experiences are out there. Like you said, Goliath, it came out and premiered at Tribeca last year. And then they had the final version at Venice where it won and it's been out on the store. But yet for you, you seeing it in that context and in that curation was exalting it to the point where you know that it's going to be worth watching at that point. So I feel like there's been this gap that I don't know if there's analogs between like the independent film market and what's happening with these immersive stories in VR.

[00:31:59.609] Eric Kohn: No, there are. I mean, it's you can dig deep into certain kinds of parallels. I mean, the crisis and distribution is vast and complex because there are films that for one reason or another just are not easy to get out in the world. And so people don't pick them up. or maybe they're too costly to make, and so they're too costly to acquire for release. I think that there is opportunity in the VR space to think about how to eventize experiences beyond, say, the festival environment, if there's some sort of equivalent to the theatrical experience that can meet them halfway. Because ultimately, I don't think that the theatrical experience in a commercial sense is necessarily going to be this fixed thing. I think that if AMC theaters and Regal theaters could show sports tomorrow and just give up on Batman or any other blockbusters, they would. So the main goal of the commercial industry is just to get people to go to these site-specific places. And so I think like with VR technology, there is an opportunity to kind of engage there. I also think the gaming audience is maturing and fascinated by new kinds of experiences. So I think on some level, we have to reassess what the definition of the word game really is and how expansive it can be. I hear it thrown around now in ways that I wouldn't have thought. And part of that is because people see things exclusively in gaming terms when they're not thinking about film and TV. I went to a meditation class in VR and someone described it as a game, and I would not have described that as a game. But then again, why not? I mean, if it is using a part of your brain to sort of complete a certain challenge that's interactive for a finite period of time, then it certainly could be. And so I do wonder if perhaps there is a way to think about the evolution of the gaming industry. to create more space for emerging media in tandem with the question of, you know, what is the future of exhibition look like? I mean, I certainly believe that we could see, you know, art house distributors starting to integrate more VR kinds of work into their business models if there was some sort of promise that you could make money doing it. So if you are selling tickets for people instead of watching a movie to have a VR experience, you know, there's potential there. It's just a question, well, how do you present it in a way that makes it worth people's time getting out of the house? And I think there is something to that. You know, we look at theatrical as an exclusive window that can, you know, tremendously valuable for the future life of something. So if a VR experience is traveling around to New York and LA and Chicago and Seattle, and you had to pay money to see it, then you might be excited to do it. But also, that might raise awareness for when it finally becomes more widely available on headsets. And for films, we call that a platform release. So I do feel like there is opportunity there. It's going to require a little bit more risk on the part of different kinds of stakeholders who want to make sure that they're putting content out into the world that people want to experience. Because I do think people want to experience this stuff. It's just that they're not always being made aware of it at the right times.

[00:35:06.716] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that the streaming companies that have been focused on more passive films, I see movements of interest in games, but also potentially in the future, exploring the possibilities of maybe immersive interactive stories as well through Whether it's Amazon or Hulu or Netflix, you know, I think that I hear rumblings of people that are from within the XR industry that are involved in discussions at these big streaming companies. But again, I think it's a matter of, you know, the distribution form of how to actually, whether it's cloud streaming or whatever it ends up being, if it's a form factor of some of these headsets to be able to receive some of these different experiences. But I do suspect that in the long run, just as the streaming has completely changed the economic dynamics of not only the independent film market over the years from places like Sundance and other places, but also the Oscars and everything else, it feels like that there's been a huge economic shift within the method of which these films are being distributed and that inevitably that's going to eventually get into both gaming and these immersive experiences. So I don't know if you've been tracking that as well, if you have any sense of, you know, in the timescale of the next five to 10 years, we're going to see something very similar to what's happened to the independent film market in the context of, you know, these streaming services.

[00:36:25.283] Eric Kohn: Yeah. I mean, Netflix has very openly said that it sees its future in gaming. It just hasn't been able to message that in a serious way. You know, it seems to be like this primarily a consumer play with mobile opportunities and things like that that are not particularly deep or exciting. So I think the real question here is when does this go from being sort of a side project to something that the key chief executives at these entities actually see as the future of their business model? I mean, Meta, for all the challenges that it has had, and for the kind of terrible optics that it's dealt with in PR crises, seems to be the only company where the CEO has expressed a full-throated endorsement of what VR technology can offer for the future. And even though that comes with all kinds of caveats, I think from a creative standpoint, it's very exciting. It just should be encouraging other people to learn more about this. So we see metaverse becoming a buzzword, but we don't really see companies leaning into understanding it. They want to hire somebody else to figure it out. Disney's going to hire some new executive to be their metaverse person. And I think until we get Bob J. Peck, of all people to say, you know, this is the future of what we do as a business. We're not going to really see any serious progress on that front. It's kind of an interesting example now that I think about it, because JPEG was the head of the theme parks before he was CEO of Disney. And, you know, it should be obvious to people from that world. But I think at the same time, there's been a sort of a lack of understanding about the through line of earlier interactive experiences and interactive experiences enabled by current technology. On some level, I almost wonder if we need some sort of broader coalition that could demonstrate this technology at some of the biggest media companies in the world, so that they can more fully understand its potential because they're the ones who have the real ability to affect change and to say this is the kind of experience we're providing for you now. And if you buy into it, even a little bit, you'll probably see what it is. I mean, I can tell you, I had in my last two years of becoming more of a headset person, I wound up with an extra headset and I gave it to a friend. And now we. do experiences in VR together all the time. And I think of that sort of ability as such a rarefied gift. Very few people can just do something like that. If we all went online and bought a Quest 2 for our friends, maybe we would be proselytizing a little bit more. But if the companies could actually create content that really got people excited and created a narrative around that content, that got people as excited as they are about, say, a new Avengers movie or whatever it is, then I think we would start to see a real shift. And there's a hesitation there because the executives, by and large, just don't understand why it's relevant to them. And they might see it as potentially some sort of future, but they're outsourcing it to other people that kind of incubate it. And that's not really how you make serious progress on something.

[00:39:26.709] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. The metaverse, when I think about it, I think there's an inherent social component. So yeah, just the way that you are able to have a shared social experience with your friends and film festivals have been doing that in terms of having different VR chat worlds as a part of festival experience. In fact, I think that's actually where we met last year in South by Southwest at the VR chat world.

[00:39:49.898] Eric Kohn: Right. Well, and I was listening to your podcast and I heard your voice across the room and I was like, I know that voice, which happens to me for my podcast screen talk at IRL festivals all the time. So I love seeing that having an effect on me. I mean, you're obviously proselytizing your own way, but also, you know, listening to what you're doing is a good sort of gateway for someone who wants to learn more. What's going to be an interesting challenge is, you know, you saw those ads during the super bowl or whatever. I mean, the messaging isn't there because the people who are, throwing money behind that kind of messaging, I don't think they're fully committed to the task at hand. And that's a challenge because I think that as long as we're seeing VR experiences that are just sort of like, you know, sidebars to the real developments of the business, we're not going to see them fully integrated into our society and culture. And maybe part of that is just that the headsets need to be more comfortable and consumer friendly. And when we have AR goggles that with a VR functionality that are incredibly cost effective, you know, we'll finally see some sort of turning point. But I feel like a lot of people are missing out on the fact that the technology is already here and the experience is already here. and they just have to be open to trying them out. I'm on board on every level. I socialize in VR, I do VR experiences, I work out in VR. It's just fully a component of my life in tandem with these other things that I do that are more familiar to other people in my field. So I don't think I'm an anomaly. I feel like maybe I might be slightly ahead of the curve in terms of what I do, but I do think that it will become more and more normal for people who are just getting into all kinds of media now.

[00:41:35.358] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. It's hard for me to know what the catalyst is going to be to take it to the next level, just because I'm so enmeshed into it. It's, these are such a large thing. You never like welcome to the hottie versus an example was a piece at South by Southwest that I saw the piece and it was technically interesting, but then they showed me a video of a hundred people in a movie theater, all kind of like batting their hands. And I was like, wow, this is actually potentially going to be like a catalyst for getting this out into completely new markets and creating a whole shared social experience that feels like a little bit of a ritualistic experience that maybe is a new type of experience where, you know, at Sundance a number of years ago, they had some comedies that they showed 360 videos where people watched as a group. And I felt like comedy is hard to do in VR just in general, but it felt like there was a Lynn Walsworth's piece that was in the Egyptian where there was like hundreds of people all watching the VR experience. And I had already seen the piece, And it was pretty much indistinguishable from singing by myself versus singing in a big group of people. So what is it that being in a big crowd of people is going to add to the experience? And I feel like having a little bit more of like this music video concert experience where you can see four people at the same time, but also just hear other people as they're experiencing it, I feel like is going to maybe start to create that type of collective experience that goes above and beyond what you may experience when you're just, you know, part of the reason we go to movie theater and watch a film is the type of shared experiences that we have with the people that are there. And there's different types of genres of movies that maybe work better and sing it in a film, a comedy as an example, or horror or extreme fandom with everybody getting excited about certain scenes. But taking those aspects and having immersive experiences, I think also may play a part of giving people a sense of that embodied experience of what it means to have a shared social experience in these virtually mediated environments. But it's still, like I said, difficult to know what those incremental things are going to cross the chasm into the mainstream and help move the needle.

[00:43:31.556] Eric Kohn: Well, part of it is also just the content creators understanding how they can profit off of this. I mean, the Megan Thee Stallion piece, which I didn't get a chance to do, but it feels to me like that's a marketing spend for somebody. And then I would be surprised if the musician herself was, you know, really invested in this medium. And you see these kinds of things all the time, like when we had the VR experience with I don't think Matt Damon was necessarily super invested in that particular way, or even Ridley Scott in that particular way of telling that story. But somebody in the studio in some division saw an opportunity to do something that would raise the visibility of this larger product. But when I went to see Reggie Watts perform in alt space, it was really eye-opening to me. because he was performing across multiple instances and utilizing the medium in VR and all these clever ways where he could move across the entire space and we could follow him, but still feel like we were getting this experience that was fully performative. It wasn't a stunt. It was a ready. I've seen him perform many times IRL and this felt consistent with that. and then also was using the medium in really exciting different kinds of ways. And if you think about, you know, some of the really amazing minds we have out there in music and film and TV or other kinds of storytelling, immersive theater, if they just understood the medium a little bit more, they would want to make that their vocation, you know, and get paid to do things in that context. We've talked before about the challenges with big screen, for example, of being successful as a venue for watching movies. But I do think that somebody's going to have to crack exhibition in VR because there's such an active user base already. I mean, it's not as massive as the people who go see big blockbusters at movie theaters even now, but it's substantial. largely a gaming audience and Discord communities that also then go to VR experiences. And if you are, say, a boutique distributor who releases movies on a few hundred screens at a time, it would be important to understand that you could also charge for admission in VR for those things. And if you could do that, you could get significant revenues associated with that. And then maybe you do it all the time, and then you may open up this whole new pocket of revenue for an industry that really needs it. So I think the more people understand the business opportunities here, the more we're going to see this sort of leaning in that direction. But it just requires a lot more experimentation and a sense of risk to get those results.

[00:46:06.613] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think to this point specifically, it's worth also pointing out that I've had an interview with Darshan from Big Screen talking about how what he sees are some of these potential anti-competitive behaviors from Meta, meaning that in order for him to sell a ticket to show a movie in Big Screen, he actually loses money because of the licensing fees he's getting from the films, but also the 30% cut that Meta is taking. And so there are certain ways that Meta has created their app and their ecosystem and their payment system and structure so that literally the only people that could really make that a viable business would be Meta themselves. Because they're kind of eliminating that as a possibility, because maybe that's something that they see they want to own and control. And so because of that, any of these upstarts like Big Screen would run into this brick wall, meaning that there's a certain way in which at the platform level, there's these economic decisions that Meta have made that are fundamentally anti-competitive.

[00:46:58.995] Eric Kohn: Right. Yeah, and I think eventually someone's going to have to confront that head on. So whether or not big screen can sort out this problem or another coalition has to be formed or Meta just has a monopoly on exhibition for a while, there is going to be some sort of opportunity. I mean, if Meta wants to create something in the space and own it, I think that's unfortunate for society in a way that that kind of behavior. But I also think that it creates opportunity if somebody knows how to use it to their advantage. So I mean, look, like the film industry, the movie industry has had issues with monopolies and theaters for basically 100 years, right? Block booking was a real problem and we had to change laws in order to make it impossible. So I don't think that it's any different than that. I think that probably we're going to see more antitrust suits and so forth. And hopefully more people at high level government positions who understand these things and that that may yield some sort of change. But in the meantime, if you're working on a smaller end of the spectrum, you just need to understand what are your opportunities for exhibition. So if you're a film distributor and your only real option for releasing a movie in VR is one company, then you should probably understand how to work on their terms to get the best possible outcome. Right now, we're not really seeing that, but I do think we should be moving in that direction, whether that happens with big screen or whether it becomes a meta-size fits all kind of a thing.

[00:48:29.119] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, we just came back from South by Southwest. It's the first film festival that I've been back to. I went to AWE, but that was more of a trade show. This was the first time that the XR creative community that I'm familiar with going to these different film festivals, coming back together in Austin. And there was about 33 different experiences and I had a chance to see all the experiences and then actually did 18 interviews with different people. So about 14 hours worth of conversations and then follow up with some more after the conference. So about 21 different interviews and 17 hours of conversations about this selection. And I know you just wrote up a piece kind of with your highlights. I'd love to hear just some of your thoughts of what were highlights for you from South by Southwest this year.

[00:49:12.991] Eric Kohn: Yeah, I mean, well, first of all, I wish I could have gone deeper and gone as extensive as you did. And I've been following what you were doing with your Twitter thread and the conversation you did with Blake, because to me, it's important that somebody is paying that much attention to this program, because much like a film festival lineup, everything is there for a reason. And if it's not there for a reason, then somebody didn't do their job. So, you know, the thing that was most eye-opening to me about when I started going to film festivals is when you felt like you were experiencing programming just by virtue of experiencing the program, like you could literally feel someone else's intellectual decision-making process through the work itself. Oh, I understand why this is here and I understand why this is in that section and so forth. So, you know, I would love to be able to go that deep with these things. but the VR experience that your jury awarded on the morning you wake to the end of the world was very gratifying to see because I had done the first part at Sundance and while I liked it I did feel like it was sort of brief in a way like it was just right when I was sort of starting to feel more engaged with the documentary element and the sort of drama that was unfolding there it ended and you know I was talking before about sort of The constraints of 360 storytelling and I thought there were some really beautiful moments in the first chapter, but at the same time I was I was wanting something more. And I really got it in the second and third chapters, the way in which it sort of combined so many different levels of storytelling to talk about what it's like. to be in a situation where you think a ballistic missile is heading towards your island. I mean, I have no doubt of what it was like for somebody in Hawaii at that moment after watching these three chapters because of this idea of VR as an empathy machine really comes into play. The different ways that they use scale and first person identification and documentary recollections while also informing us of the kind of broader context of the risk at hand and you know you really feel the essence of the nuclear threat in personal terms, but also in. in a way that ends up giving you a sense of hope through community so it allows you to feel like you're part of the, the fear that people experience as well as the mentality that got them through to the other side of that by the end so I was really impressed with the way that came together. But in terms of traditional VR experiences, I would say that one and Goliath were the two that really stood out to me because by and large, I was trying to find my way into experiences that were a little bit more interactive and site-specific. So in that respect, I would say probably the one that I really enjoyed the most is another one that I can't wait to see in its completed form and that's Future Rites. So this is a VR dance experience. It's a ballet version of Rite of Spring that turns you into a participant. So you're wearing an Oculus headset and there's a dancer wearing a perception neuron trackers and they're sort of improvising around you as you react to what you're seeing in this three-dimensional environment. And there is a kind of a stage director off to the side, also improvising in terms of scale and how they duplicate the dancer in different kinds of ways around you. So what was fascinating to me was that as a public performance, you become the performer, but you're also informed by other performers. So I watched the previous person not really engaging and sort of made a conscious decision to engage more in my own experience. And so I thought that was sort of fascinating. You're sort of, you get to sort of preview what you're in for and then come up with your own strategy for how you experience the performance. And the dancer is remarkable because of the way in which she is performing so many different entities at once. So Sundance had a dance piece that I thought was really remarkable called Cosmogony that did certain things similarly in the sense that you had many more dancers that were visible on the screen than actual dancers performing. And that's certainly something that I think from an immersive media dance perspective seems to get normalized now and a really important part of how the medium can evolve. But what I really liked about Future Rites was that it was absolutely a perfect example of how to build on existing media, right? Because everybody knows Rite of Spring. I mean, it was such a familiar work, similar to, you know, seeing how Tender Clouds can do Shakespeare. I mean, we've seen a lot of Shakespeare in VR. But to see this, to see ballet in VR in real time and to integrate both the audience and the performer in this sort of very specific site, specific experience, I think that's something that's really exciting to think about in terms of where the medium can go. So that was a really rewarding one for me. And then I guess I should also come back to composition. So, cause we talked about it earlier and what I liked about composition was that it was so gratifying to feel like you were part of the creation of the experience from scratch. The idea of moving these cubes around with different faces on it and that the music would change and the imagery would change. You know, you enter into that experience with, zero understanding of its language and then you sort of learn it in time. And honestly, I could have been twice as long. My biggest gripe was that it felt like it ended right when I started to grasp what I was doing, you know, and I felt like I could have just continued there and I almost wanted to come back later and try again. And that's something that suggests this could have a much longer life to it. But also what was great about that is composition is a great example of something that can exist in the same space as VR, but doesn't really have a direct relationship to it. It's something very different. And I'd like to see more programming like that in the XR space as well.

[00:55:03.859] Kent Bye: Yeah. It's using projection mapping, which I think is a spatial technology and interactivity and agency. I mean, I see it as an XR piece, but yeah, Vincent Morissette said that there's about 25 minutes of content for that six minute demo and they wanted to get as many people through as they can. I ended up recommending it to everybody that was there because it was the one experience that you could not experience in the same way if you were seeing it virtually. You really had to have that physical installation to actually be there. And so the physicality of that piece and also the agency and the way that they invoke these feelings of awe and wonder and novelty and fun and immersion, I think it was one of my favorite pieces that really showed the potential of these location-based and site-specific art installations that I think are really important. Yeah. And the future rights, I'm excited to see as it continues to develop. I thought they were really hindered by not having six off tracking on the dancer. It was almost like, at least the version I saw, it was like the dance is so static in the way that it almost had this uncanny robotic nature to it, that watching it from outside the dancer looks so much more poetic. And it was, you know, cause it was a real dancer. It was a human that was dancing there and then the ballet, but I thought there was something that was lost when you stripped out that sixth off tracking in that piece though. I'm hoping that they're able to put that back in.

[00:56:18.554] Eric Kohn: I mean, I think what's missing is perhaps some level of expressivity too. I mean, I would like to see some sort of, you don't really see the face of the performer, which in dance can be a critical aspect as well. So that's a good point. I think I was just so taken by the just overall immersive part. I'm not a dancer. Right. And it's the idea of, of being sort of in this universe with other people and knowing that it's so singular, it was just, you know, very exciting.

[00:56:43.739] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm glad that there was prototypes that were shown things that were not really fully baked, but trying to innovate in a way that, cause it was one of the more innovative pieces that were there. And yeah, I'll have other pieces that I was a big fan of like the radio ghost and other experiences that. you know, literally required me to take a two and a half hour journey to a mall to do the 70 minute experience. And so there's things that I'm glad I got to do, but only like 30 or 40 people of all of South by Southwest got to see. So looking forward to unpacking some of those other experiences that were harder to see or other incremental innovations that I say in the medium itself that, yeah, just a really strong overall. you know, to have the competition, but to look back for the past three years and to highlight some of the different experiences that may have slipped through the cracks because of the pandemic. So it was nice to see that as a selection for people to come in, it was really quite a good introduction to that. So yeah, looking forward to unpacking more, like I said, I did like 21 different interviews. This is like the 22nd. So trying to get those out in a timely fashion is another challenge, but.

[00:57:45.773] Eric Kohn: No, but it's so important because I know a lot of these artists aren't getting enough of an opportunity to talk about their work. You know, it's even in the festival context where a lot of other people are being constantly forced to be on sort of a promotional circuit because they're trying to sell it or leverage their brand in some way does feel like these artists are not getting a chance enough to kind of explain extensively what they're up to. So I'm really glad that you're doing that. And I hope that we can do it more in IndieWire. I hope that other publications are trying to figure out their own solutions because the more that we engage in these conversations, the closer we get to normalizing them in a way.

[00:58:25.492] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, just to start to wrap things up, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and XR, the metaverse might be and what that might be able to enable.

[00:58:36.973] Eric Kohn: Yeah, so that's a big question, obviously. But I think that there's two areas here that are worth looking at. One is social and the other is narrative, because social is so intuitive. I mean, people who have never been in VR before, I think, can socialize with very little onboarding. And so that aspect of it is really important for people to understand. So I think we're going to see a greater element of socializing, whether that ends up being through Facebook Horizon or VR chat or wherever. But I also think that on the level of narrative, we're heading in a direction where we're going to see a greater integration of gaming in a way that appeals to a wider array of sensibilities. So I don't think it's happening tomorrow or something, but I do think that we're heading in a direction in which it's not going to be so radical for somebody to talk about a great VR experience that they had, or to talk about a great VR game the way that it is now, because it is sort of rarefied. it's niche, even if there are some consumer grade headsets out there. And so I think bottom line is that the more people use the technology, the more comfortable they become with it. And so I think VR is heading in a direction in which it will become normalized and the kinds of experiences it offers will become normalized, but there will always be cutting edge. you know, I don't think that it's necessarily a good thing for every artist to try to make something that is what we've seen before. And as a critic, that's the least exciting thing for me. So as we see sort of a solidification of, you know, maybe what commercial VR looks like, I think we're always going to need people who are kind of pushing that medium into new areas and trying to figure out how to take it apart and put it back together again. And so that's what festivals will have to be responsive to. You know, the biggest challenge I think that places like Sundance have faced over the years is this pressure to become more and more of a marketplace and less curation for exciting creative voices. And so when you have, you know, a movie that was made for several millions of dollars with big stars attached and is selling for tens of millions of dollars to a studio that needs product for the year ahead, you're not really a festival, you're a market. And so there is this desire to kind of have both. And I think VR is going to have to continue to assess how it can continue to popularize itself as well as being a platform for the cutting edge. Because the cutting edge is where we always see The potential of the medium to evolve.

[01:01:06.949] Kent Bye: Awesome. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:01:12.070] Eric Kohn: Just like reach out to me. I mean, I've obviously, I'm sure if you're an expert in, in any of the fields that we've discussed, you know, you could see where the gaps are in my knowledge and sort of stumbling through it in real time. And that's always been the case for me. And I don't know if I'll ever become as fully immersed, so to speak in this world. as some people simply because, you know, there are so many other kinds of conversations going on in the film community. And I don't think that all film is dying and that, you know, I'm going to stop caring about what a 2D feature length experience looks like just because I'm also invested in VR. So I need to hear from people about exciting work and explain to me why it's different or make time to connect with me or socialize in VR spaces and show me the work because The only way that I learn about these things is by sort of feeling like there's this sort of porous relationship between the film and XR communities. And so personally, what I'd like to be able to do is figure out how to bring those worlds together more and more. So I'm hoping we can host more events. I'd love to talk to people about that, you know, panel discussions and so forth, where we can kind of feel like we're at least addressing the gap between what the traditional film space has been doing what the XR community is doing to the extent that we can and facilitate a better dialogue. And then for my own work as a journalist, so I understand it better. So just, you know, all I can say is, you know, a lot of people are used to kind of just talking to their own people, and I'm not fully one of those people. So I hope that people will think about me when they're looking to get, you know, news and information out about new work, because it is important to kind of go beyond your own crowd to get further appreciation for the work that you're doing.

[01:02:55.715] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really exciting to see. And I know that you've done a great job in the pieces that I've seen you write up where you'll reach out to folks like Chris milk and get an update or, or talk to Palmer lucky, who I think was the one who gave you the metaphor for you as somebody who, uh, bought the super. Nintendo instead of the N64. But yeah, just to be able to talk to folks and part of that journalistic process of being able to find the deeper stories of not only covering the form and your aesthetic response to these experiences and what they make you feel, but also look at some of the business sides. And I do expect as things move on, there will continue to be a convergence between both interactive and immersive experiences in gaming and this film world that, like you said, these big streaming companies are thinking about it. And as we move forward, having a way to take that film criticism knowledge and apply it to some of these immersive experiences. So I'm really happy to see you take some of that on and start to both of highlighting things that you think work, but I'd love to hear more thoughts on things that you think don't work and why they don't work and have more of those conversations within a broader context for people that are in that intersection from that cinematic background, but also experimenting with the immersive storytelling. So I'm excited. I see as a exciting potential that I'm really excited to see where it goes. And I'm, I want to see all the experiences and talk about them and, uh, happy to help facilitate those conversations or be a part of those dialogues of these two different communities coming together. Cause

[01:04:21.118] Eric Kohn: And education is really important to me too. I alluded to it earlier with the kind of the workshops I do, the classes I teach and so forth. So I'm also really interested in trying to figure out, well, how can we get more people, young people who are just getting into the workforce, exposed to new technologies, and especially people who are writing about entertainment to write about these technologies. So that's one area that I really want to dig deeper into.

[01:04:45.293] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Eric, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast to look at these convergences of the foam worlds and these immersive worlds, and really appreciate your perspective and look forward to see how you continue to cover this space. So thanks again for joining me today.

[01:04:59.238] Eric Kohn: It was a joy. I love the podcast. I love connecting with you about this stuff and I hope we can do it again sometime.

[01:05:05.000] Kent Bye: So that was Eric Cohn. He's the vice president of editorial strategy and the executive editor at IndieWire. So I'm going to prevent takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I'd love to hear just Eric's journey into virtual reality from going to the different film festivals and come across different experiences and being involved with different conversations with Chris Milk back in the day when the evolution of verse was just coming out back in 2015. And then checking in the film festival programs over the years. And then, you know, in the wake of the pandemic, I think really seeing what this potential is. So Eric is somebody who always wanted to be a film critic and also just is really passionate about the film as a medium, but also plays a number of different video games. And so he's always been thinking about different aspects of the open world, but also the future potentials of immersive storytelling and how There's this blending and fusing of different aspects of not only the video game world, but also the social aspects that are going to be added into the dimensions of immersive storytelling, is a question that he's wondering. It was really interesting to hear how there are specific communities within the film community, like the experimental film community, where the criticism that's happening is much more insular, meaning that people who are practitioners or people who are Tightly connected to a lot of the people so there doesn't seem to be a lot of harsher criticisms that are happening from your peers so he sees that VR is still kind of in that area where a lot of the immersive storytelling creators aren't hearing like Really raw critiques of there were kind of like what you would see on Rotten Tomatoes or just on the wide internet It's much more niche and small and still insular and certainly as somebody who is seeing these different experiences I definitely feel that as a social norm in terms of not being too critical. Although it's always something that I try to be honest with my own emotional reactions. And for me, I try to be in conversations with the different creators and try to air that in the conversational form rather than writing my thoughts in a much more formalized way. So I think one of the things that Eric is really trying to do is to build up the larger critical discourse, especially within the context of film community, but Be very curious to see how as we move forward having more fusions between some of the different immersive creators and talking about the insights that the medium of VR is providing versus what some of the different lessons that the tradition and hundred-plus years of cinema has to provide not only craft of storytelling and all the different dimensions of spatial storytelling within the context of world-building and editing and lighting and all the different things that still have one-to-one translations over into VR, although there's an expansion into that, into different aspects of scale and specialized audio and directing attention and much more theatrical aspects that are coming in. And so there's a fusion of theater and architecture and cinema and game design, as well as human-computer interaction and the internet and social media. and fusing all these things together into virtual and augmented reality and immersive storytelling at large. So, yeah, lots of different interesting thoughts here, and I'm very curious to see how this larger conversation between these different communities continues to develop. And I hope to see more film critics getting into seeing what's happening within the virtual reality scene and hearing some of their thoughts as they look at some of these different programs that are happening at, say, Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca Film Festival, or Venice Film Festival. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage, so you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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