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Immersive Storytelling with Jessica Brillhart at C2 Montréal

Jessica Brillhart is an American immersive director, writer, and theorist, known for her pioneering techniques in virtual reality filmmaking

C2 Montréal took place May 22-25, convening leaders in technology, marketing, brands, and more to create an avant-garde business event designed to inspire & connect attendees for three and a half days in Montréal.  The name C2 stands for ‘Commerce + Creativity’, and the event was just that, with a broad range of content spanning diversity, technology, sustainability, management techniques, and much more.

One presentation which specifically stood out was a fireside chat with Jessica Brillhart, in conversation with Charles Melcher.  Jessica is an immersive director and virtual reality filmmaker.  She founded the immersive content creation company, Vrai Pictures, in 2018.

The conversation left any technology specifics aside, to focus on the big picture of immersive storytelling, how to do it well, concerns, dangers, and more.

Jessica was quick to compare the dynamics of traditional, and immersive storytelling, sharing that “Typically with film, there was an author who wrote the story, and the audience watched.  Now, the audience can have agency into the story of the film”.

When you sit back and really let this sink in, you begin to realize the size and scope of some of these immersive experiences.  I remember growing up, and watching a movie I had already seen, wishing the ending would change so I could experience something new, but it never did.  This is now possible.

Charles Melcher asked: “What Works with respect to immersive storytelling, and what doesn’t?”

To which Jessica responded “What hasn’t worked, is shoving one story into an immersive experience.  You need to let the audience have a role and be more actively involved.  That’s the thing about experience, there is more than one story and more than one perspective.”

Many stories, whether books or films, are from one perspective.  Even our lives, for the most part, are lived and experienced through one perspective.  Forcing the audience into one point of view in a story isn’t using ‘immersive storytelling’ to its fullest capacity.  This is adding VR into one story, and one perspective, without allowing the audience to choose their role and choose their journey.  A key component, and what makes immersive storytelling so powerful, is the ability to choose your perspective.

Another question which really stood out was about the responsibilities, and concerns, of immersive storytelling: “Do we have more responsibilities as storytellers, with all these new tools?”

To which Jessica responded, “As we get better and it [immersive storytelling] becomes more indiscernible from real life, and you bring about experiences which people feel like they actually had, you also need to ask if it’s dangerous or not.  Storytelling isn’t always good!  Some stories, and especially as of late, have caused reactions and have caused things to happen.  Again, storytelling is just one person’s perspective.”

This point is especially important for immersive storytellers and experiential marketers moving forward.  As technology gets better, and we’re able to influence and connect with people with site, sounds, touch, and smell, these stories will get harder and harder to discern from real life.  Immersive storytellers have a moral responsibility to think how their stories will be interpreted and consider any aftermath and effects these stories might have on the audience.

Jessica closed with a brief mention about Traverse, a spatial audio platform she developed with Vrai Pictures and Bose, to work with any AR driven audio.  Using mobile phones and a Bose AR device, Traverse is able to make listening physical, and make you feel like you're there.  It will be interesting to see how spatial audio integrates into more immersive storytelling experiences, and how it will help the experiential space going forward.

TAGS: Agencies
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