What It Feels Like To Be Inside The Film You’re Watching

Director Armando Kirwin talks Don Cheadle and the potential of immersive cinema

July 19, 2017

As VR becomes an increasingly essential artistic form, a new vocation has emerged. A few years ago if someone called themselves a professional VR director, it would have seemed aspirational at best. But much has changed in a very short time. As immersive technologies evolve at an almost dizzying pace, a first wave of VR directors have arrived to pioneer the medium on an array of fronts from the purely experiential to classic narratives. 

Armando Kirwin is just such a figure. He has helped create over 22 different VR projects which have earned four Emmy nominations, seven Webby nominations, and the Grand Prix at Cannes, along with debuts at Tribeca, SXSW, and Sundance. Along the way Kirwin and his peers are helping to forge a brand new visual language and set about to discover which, if any, cinematic rules apply to VR.

As much as any experience, the New York Times produced “Great Performers: L.A Noir,” on which Kirwin served as director of VR, illustrates both the similarities and profound differences between the flat screen and immersive narrative experience. Featuring a cast of Hollywood heavyweights including Don Cheadle, Natalie Portman, Kristen Stewart, and Casey Affleck, the experience transposes film noir, perhaps the most cinematic of film genres, into 360° VR.  

"If you watch the piece, you’ll have Natalie Portman or Kirsten Stewart or Don Cheadle staring you in the eye and treating you like you’re there."

It is both a bold and appropriate venture. More than any other genre, noir has pushed the visual and narrative boundaries of cinema incorporating non-linear stories and expressionistic lighting.  It was in noir that filmmakers experimented with a first person point of view in the 1947 Raymond Chandler adaptation of Lady In The Lake. And while that film proved an interesting novelty at best, The New York Times’ L.A. Noir experience offers a step into something far more profound, the integration of audiences and story. 

In our Wevr Transport conversation with Armando Kirwin, the director discusses to inherent challenges and opportunities of directing VR, the nuances of working with actors in immersive first-person, and where he thinks this is all heading.