Subverting the Gaze
That’s where the viewer comes in. This isn’t a film about voyeuristically watching, about being a fly on the wall. It’s the opposite about that: it’s about empathy. Not just seeing, but being seen. The Girl wants to be seen, and only the viewer can give her that agency by utilizing the full spherical image to engage with the apparatus of looking. The viewer will take up the camera, step into the space of The Girl, know what it feels like to interrogate the world with a gaze and to in turn be exposed by the return of that gaze.
Cinema has been sidestepping the issue of what the female gaze is for a long time. It’s about time we confronted it.
What if you felt a force building up inside you—something you couldn’t explain or see or give voice to—but knew with all your heart was there. Would you tell the world about it, share it with those closest to you, or keep it to yourself?
The Girl is changing. She knows it when she looks in the mirror, feels it when the earth trembles and the lights flicker simply because she wills it. And sometimes she sees it in the way others look at her. The question is, will she suppress what’s happening to her, hiding herself away, or will she reveal who she is, even if it risks further alienation?
Understanding location, flow and mapping, and scripting have been essential in the research and development cycles of this project. However, the heart of the project remains performance—particularly as conceived of by Binge Culture and their unique way of working—and using it to tell a story we believe can only be told in this experimental new form.
Here's a clip of two scenes from the film. This cut was put together using rehearsal footage. The first shot is a screen tests with actor Isobel MacKinnon, testing the viability of the camera rig which is worn by her throughout much of the story. The second shot is scripted to contain a mirror, where The Girl analyzes her reflection. The final shot will require some rotoscoping and post-production to pull off the concept. For the purpose of this test, the the director appears as a stand-in for The Girl's reflection. This cut is also being used to playtest how the movement, scale, camera resolution, and post production process work in a VR environment.
When Jill Soloway gave her masterclass on Laura Mulvey and the female gaze at TIFF last year, she made one particularly salient point: that there is such a thing as the female gaze and women directors practice it from the physical way we hold ourselves on set to decisions we make in leading a team of artists. By working with a female director, lead performer, producer, researcher, and male artists alert to significance of this process, the aim of The Girl Who Sat by the Door is to challenge the predominant gaze by offering up an essentially female one. We intend to do this not just at a theoretical level as Laura Mulvey called for in the past, but at a physical embodied one as Soloway has pointed out is both essential and practical.
With his Single Shot Cinema workshops and lectures, documentary filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich has discussed the importance of camera movement as it relates to capturing reality and truth in the cinema. His research has been both theoretical in investigating the work of F.W. Murnau and Andre Bazin, and practical in building his own handheld rigs and using them to shoot his documentaries.
This is the model we’re interested in. We too believe that in order to fully explore an emotional POV in spherical cinema, the camera must move in an organic handheld way. But this movement must be smooth and adhere to the kinds of rules that prevent motion sickness from setting in in a virtual environment.
Our handheld rig utilizes an ikan Beholder gimbal with a few modifications allowing for the mounting of Samsung Gear 360 Camera. Part of the complexity surrounding any rig for a 360 camera is that the rig itself and the camera operator will appear in frame. The Girl Who Sat by the Door not only takes this into account, but uses the idea of exposing the apparatus to its advantage. The story is very much based on the a deconstruction and repurposing of the gaze. The Girl must hold the camera and own her POV. By working with Binge Culture and their theatrical methods, we intend to introduce a performative aspect to camera movement that will exploit the gaze, point-of-view, and hand-held camera motion in the virtual space.
What does the rig look like in action? We've put together a short clip illustrating how it works. It's hand held—ideally at the performer/camera operator's eye level—and the electronic gimbal is calibrated to do the rest. Take a look:
What does the spherical video look like when shot with this hand held rig? The results are promising. In this short clip, the camera is walked around the bays of Wellington. It's clear that the operator's movement should be smooth and slow. Fast movements and floaty pans can induce nausea when experiencing the video in a VR headset. Early experiments with jump cuts, cutting on action, and composing for 360 indicate the rules aren't that different than what we've already learned from generations of "traditional" filmmakers. However, the nature of the VR experience dictates that certain kinds of verite filmmaking techniques like whip pans, dropped frames, and shaky cam don't translate very well. Other concerns such as scale—particularly that of perceived scale between the viewer and the spherical environment—matter a great deal. These are the issues we will continue to explore in the making of the short film, The Girl Who Sat by the Door, associated with this research.
Who Are We?
The Girl Who Sat by the Door is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Binge Culture, Weta Digital, Wrestler Entertainment, Victoria University School of Design, and Victoria University Film & Media Studies. We aim to utilize experts from the fields of Theater, Visual Effects, Design, and Film Theory in order to explore what the new rules are for storytelling in virtual reality. Maybe there are no rules. We're interested in finding out. Any questions? Get in touch!