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

15 October 2019

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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. 

你是如何開始參與製作這個VR影片的?

我是被高雄電影節邀請的。如果他們沒有來詢問,我其實也有意願去嘗試,可是我也不知道怎麼開始。

(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.

這部VR短片製作過程大概多久?

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.

那傳統拍攝跟VR拍攝的最大的差別會是什麼?

我覺得這個準備工作室是沒有甚麼特別,我們都是當成是拍片在準備。

拍攝的現場是最大的差別。第一個是內容(劇本)的發想,我會想說什麼樣的故事是適合用VR,或者可以把VR的特質發揮的比較好。

現場的美術有一點不一樣是因為這個拍攝是360度.有時候美術跟燈光可能要一些合作.基本上是在室內的時候最需要合作,可能誰要幫誰藏住東西,因為會完全的穿幫。

再來就來到拍片現場就有很大的差別。因為有可能會完全穿幫,做為一個導演是很不安的,因為我不能靠近演員。一般拍片,我會盡可能靠近演員。總會有一塊是拍不到的,所以我會在那裡看演員或者跟他相處。

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. 

在影片中,我們之後有看到主人公(我們透過他的視野看這個VR)。那為什麼在VR中,沒有給主人公在VR中設置身體呢?

我有猶豫過。我決定不這樣做的原因是因為我看了一些這麼做的作品,好像也沒有讓我比較相信我就是他。就是那個效果好像沒有這麼好。

第二,當我低頭看到有自己的腳但卻不是自己的,我不相信這個就是我。我因為這樣所以決定不放腳。有很大的原因是因為除非你有加入體感(體感的意思就是有裝置有其他的輔助),否則即使拍到腳還是沒辦法讓我相信這是我自己的腳,就很容易跟我的其他感官脫節。比方我說我動我的腳可是它沒動,我想伸手可是我的手沒有靠近。或者是地面在傾斜可是我的身體並沒有感覺他傾斜,導致這種很不一致,也不會真的產生這麼強大的效果,所以我就決定不用。

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.

回顧你在拍這VR的過程有沒有想過有甚麼地方是你想要改善的嗎?

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。 

另外一個改變是我很希望趕快發生的,就是我剛說說的那個監看的monitor。我覺得如果當初可以更加明確我可能會做有些調整。

(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.

如果你有機會做下一個VR影片,你會想做什麼?

我當然會去想像如果我要做VR我要選擇什麼比較適合它。我現在覺得它適合做兩種事情,一個是推理。我可以把一些東西躲在後面,或者是我故意不要讓大家都統一看一個地方,讓你們兩個觀眾看不同的東西。谁是兇手可能跟你想的不一樣。他跟我的認知可能會有點不一樣。它符合我那們在現實生活中觀看的某些限制,VR好像可以複製這種經驗。回到電影院會有一點困難。 

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. 

你如何看待VR在電影未來故事敘述扮演的角色.

我覺得整個說故事的歷史是在進步的.我不知道用進步好不好因為有些人覺得是退步.另外一種看法會覺得也許故事是純粹腦的溝通而不是感官的溝通。

可是如果從另一個角度,我越來越讓你的感官相信的話,這可能是一種進步。我覺得現在的VR應該是一個過渡期。五年後,或者十年後我覺得不會有這個東西.不會有個頭盔。

可是這個事情會不會讓那種很傳統說故事方法完全的被取代,我也不確定。因為我認為一直以來有很多人認為說故事重在說故事者和觀眾的心跟心的這種交流。


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

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