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Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Hsiao Ya-Chuan 蕭雅全

15 October 2019


Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Hsiao Ya-Chuan 蕭雅全

Interview by Chng Ying Tong

Premiering at this year’s Kaohsiung Film Festival as part of its VR Film Lab Originals segment, That Summer, I Got Fired Five Times《那年夏天,我被FIRED五次》 is a 9 minute VR short by acclaimed director Hsiao Ya-Chuan. His first feature-length film, Mirror Image (2000), was selected in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes in 2001 and has won numerous awards, such as Best First Feature at Torino Film Festival, and Best Film and Best New Director at Taipei Film Festival. The director’s second feature, Taipei Exchanges (2010) was a hit with audiences, winning the Audience’s Choice Award and Best Music at the Taipei Film Festival in 2010. 

That Summer, I Got Fired Five Times《那年夏天,我被FIRED五次》tells the tale of a Taiwanese youth recently entering the job market and the various jobs he takes on through the span of a summer. Through VR, the short allows the audience to experience work in a chicken farm, bee farm, and as a high-rise window cleaner – amongst others. 

Sinema had the opportunity to sit down with its director to discuss the making of this short, and the future that VR could bring to storytelling.

How did you begin the process of making this VR Film?

I was invited by Kaohsiung Film Festival. Actually, if they hadn’t asked, I would have liked to give it a try, but I wouldn’t know how to start. 



(Director Hsiao Ya-Chuan 蕭雅全)

How long was the process?

About two to three months in total. But the filming process only took two days.


大概兩三個月, 拍攝只有兩天。

What is the biggest difference in the process between traditional film production and VR films?

I don’t think there’s a big difference in the preparation phase for the VR film as we treated it like any other production. 

However, the biggest difference would come from the filming process. Firstly, it’s the ideation of the content. I have to consider what kind of story is suitable for the medium, and can better play to the characteristics of VR.

Another difference is for the art department because the camera encompasses all 360 degrees. At times, there is a need for the art department and lighting department to work together. With indoor shots, there is also a need for the crew to coordinate with deciding how and when the props should be moved around to prevent them from being seen on camera.

The next difference is the on set directing experience. In order to ensure that I’m hidden during the shoot, I am not able to be up close with the actors and that makes me feel uneasy. I usually try my best to stay close to the actors while filming. There will always be an area that I can remain unseen so I could stay there and watch or interact with my actors. 

However while filming in VR, I have to hide really well. And so, in preparation for this, we also made sure to have rehearsals for the actors as I was worried that they would be unsure about the process, since they have to perform together with the black ball VR camera. 

Another thing of note would be how there is no way to see the scene in real time through the monitor screens, as the transmission speed between the camera and the screens is not fast enough. The only way to check what we shot would be through playback, and I found this method to be particularly rough.

Finally, there was a huge difference in the post-production process as well. There were several shots of the floors and sky that had to be fixed. In total, the process took about one and a half months just for those few minutes of film.






但拍VR我得跑到完全不穿幫的地方。第一,我因為這個事情我之前先做了一點rehearsal,因為我擔心他們沒有做過rehearsal,到時候他在現場要面對個黑球做表演,他會很不自在,會不知道怎麼辦。所以我們之前都先讓他們對這一個黑色的球先做 rehearsal。

還有,既然我沒有在現場我只能透過monitor。可是monitor沒有辦法用realtime的方式讓我看。這是因為現在的傳輸的速度不夠快,所以看不到,所以我要嘛就要用這個playback的方式去check, 要嘛就以比較rough的方式去check剛才的表演。post-production這邊是很大的不同。花了很久的時間,大概一個半月完成幾分鐘的影片。地板和天空,有幾個地方是縫不起來的,哪個地方還需要修掉的。

(Film still of That Summer, I Got Fired Five Times《那年夏天,我被FIRED五次》)

With most of the film seen through the eyes of the protagonist, why was it decided to keep the protagonist’s body unseen? 

I hesitated about it initially. After watching a few VR films where the character’s body can be seen, I felt that the effect was not convincing enough to make me believe that I am the protagonist. 

Secondly, when I look down and see that the legs are not my own, I find it hard to believe that it is me. Because of this, I decided to not allow the audience to see his body. One of the biggest reasons is because unless you include interactive components,there is no way to convince viewers that the legs they see are their own. It will feel like the audience is disconnected from their body. For example, I could move my legs but the legs in VR won’t move. I could reach out with my hands but I wouldn’t see it in VR. Or maybe the ground could be tilting but my body wouldn’t feel anything. Whether the body is seen or not, these challenges cannot be surmounted yet so I decided not to proceed with having the body seen. 




Looking back on the overall process, are there any areas where you would want to change?

Firstly, I might have wanted for it to be even more extreme. For example, I thought about simulating diving because it would be something that not many have experienced but there were difficulties technical-wise.

Another change which I hope would come soon would be the issues with only being able to review a scene in playback through a monitor instead of viewing it in realtime. I think I might have made some more specific adjustments to the film if I were able to review the film in realtime.


第一 ,我希望可以讓它更極端一點。比方說,我也思考過潛水.因為就是讓人體驗不同的環境。那後來沒有做潛水是某些技術的問題。 


(Film still of That Summer, I Got Fired Five Times《那年夏天,我被FIRED五次》)

If given the opportunity to do another VR film, what would it be about?

I would definitely think about what genre would be more suitable for VR. I think it’s suitable for thriller. For example, I can hide clues in the background, or intentionally have the audience to only focus on a particular area. Two viewers could draw different conclusions on who the killer is and what exactly happened. This experience would have been difficult to recreate in cinemas.



What do you think of VR’s role in the future of storytelling?

I think it is another step forward in our history of storytelling. However, I think some would feel that VR might be a step backwards, believing that the medium is focussed more on direct “brain” connection rather than sensory communication.

On the other hand, if I can continue to convince your senses that what’s happening in VR is real, then VR would be a clear step forward. I think the medium is now in its transitional phase. I can’t tell what the future holds but I am sure that we will not be having a silly headpiece in the future for VR. 

I am also unsure if VR will completely replace the traditional way of telling stories. However, I always believe that at the heart of storytelling is the connection between the storyteller and their audience. 





Check out the trailer for the VR film and the behind-the-scenes interview with director Hsiao Ya-Chuan below: