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Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Wu Po-Hung 吳柏泓

17 October 2019

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Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Wu Po-Hung 吳柏泓

Interview by Chng Ying Tong

In My Syrian Neighbours《我的敘利亞鄰居》, director Wu Po-Hung uses VR to simulate the experiences of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Told through the perspective of Judy, a young Syrian girl, it also details her budding friendship with her unlikely neighbour Anny, a Taiwanese mother. The 7-minute short follows 20 Gifts 《二十個禮物》, another of Wu’s VR works which won the 2018 Taipei Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award. My Syrian Neighbours made its world premiere at the 2019 Kaohsiung Film Festival in its VR Film Lab Originals segment.

Sinema had the opportunity to sit down with director Wu as he discussed his vision for VR in the making of documentaries, and the challenges he faced while filming this bold short: 


(Director Wu Po-Hung)

Is this film your first time working with VR?

Strictly speaking, this is my third time. But I think that this is my first true experiment with VR. Before this film, I have used VR to capture the Wangye boat burning festival, but I have not completed the post production. At that time, it was more of understanding the technical aspects. This film was my first real try at using VR and its 360 degrees filmmaking to tell a story.

I had limited experience with VR. My initial impression was that VR would be suitable for filming documentaries, so I tried putting VR and documentary together. The aim of documentaries is to see and present reality to the audience. At that time, I thought using VR to film documentaries would be a breakthrough since the audience would be fully immersed in that reality, as though they are at the documentary location.  

這一個作品不是你第一次嘗試拍VR對嗎?

嚴格來講是第三部,不過它比較算是我第一支正式的VR。在這一部之前,我有拍一些像是台灣的燒王船的慶典VR,但是我也沒有真的把它剪出來,因為那時候還在技術層面的理解,而這支是我真正用 VR 或 360的思維真正在嘗試怎說故事。

我接觸VR的時間不長。起初會接觸它也是因為它跟紀錄片本身是很適合的。我想嘗試把兩者結合看看。拍紀錄片其實就是希望把一個真實的故事透過影像來觀察、呈現給觀眾。 那當初就會覺得用VR 來做紀錄片可能是個突破,本來做紀錄片是要讓你體會到真實,透過VR就讓你彷彿在整個紀錄片的第一現場裡頭。

Looking back at the making of this VR short film, is there anything that you would have liked to change or do in a different way?

I don’t think I have fully grasped how to do narrative storytelling in VR yet. I think what is most important for me is to improve how I can tell my story through the use of 360 degrees filmmaking. 

The clearest difference between making a documentary and VR is in its framing. In VR my frame is rectangular. I would have to use long, medium, and close-up shots of my subjects. With VR, my framing would essentially be circular. Your environment, starting from my camera, is a circle around me. Making a film traditionally only requires the incident to happen before my eyes. As a director, I would have a clear vision of what I want the audience to see. Yet because of the nature of VR, the framing design feels more like theatre. If I wanted the audience to experience what is like to be a refugee, I would want them to look all around and not just with what is happening in front of them. I don’t think VR can tell a complicated story, but it might be able to convey an idea.

So if there is really anything that I want to change about the process, I hope to think of what narrative could best fit and what is possible with VR and its 360 degrees filmmaking. We could not apply the same techniques with VR as with traditional filmmaking, because there are no close-ups, no edits. For example, if I want to show someone who is always in a hurry, always anxious about everything, I could express it through camera and editing techniques. This is not possible with VR. VR mostly relies on the sense of space and human relationships to communicate its message. VR has not formed a narrative structure yet. I hope that, in the future, there will be more topics, more opportunities for cooperation, and more stories that would fully realise VR’s language.

回顧過去拍攝這部VR短片的經驗,有沒有什麼是你會會想要改善/以不同的方式去做的嗎?

只能說現在我還沒有辦法完全掌握VR的敘事。我覺得其實對我來講最需要改進的可能是我360說故事的方法。 

做紀錄片和VR最明顯差別是,以前我在做一般紀錄片,我的構圖可能會是一個框形的構圖,如果我拍這個人,我會有遠景、中景、特寫,但是在拍VR的時候我的構圖變成圓形的。你這個環境,從我這個攝影機這裏開始,我的四周對我來說是一個圓形。拍電影的思維是我只要讓事件發生在我的眼前。我身為導演,我會有一個很明確的思維希望觀眾看到。 而在設計上,VR會有點像劇場。可能我今天想要讓你去理解一個難民的環境,我不是只要你看前面,我也要你看後面、上面﹑左邊、右邊。我覺得VR沒有辦法去說一個複雜的故事,它可能是要傳達一種概念。 

所以如果我真的要改善的話、我是很希望可以去思考到底在360敘事和VR敘事上面,他會有什麼樣的可能。 我們已經沒有辦法用電影的思維來思考它,因為他裡面沒有特寫,沒有剪輯的概念。比如說,我想要表現一個很匆忙的人,對任何事情和焦慮。 我可以在一般電影裡用一般的鏡頭語言把你的人格製造出來。我可以透過剪輯很急促,塑造出這樣的一個人。這是不能在VR 360做到的。VR比較是透過這個環境的空間感和人的關係。VR還沒有一個成形的敘事結構。未來我希望能有更多題材,有更多的合作機會,甚至有更多的故事可以讓我們去嘗試說,這個就是VR文法。

(Behind-the-scenes footage of My Syrian Neighbours)

What do you think is VR’s role in filming future documentaries?

I think VR itself is very suitable for documentaries. Let me give you an example. We might not be able to have first-hand experience being at the ground in the Syrian Civil War, the border issues between Mexico and the US, or even the issues in China and Hong Kong. We could feel pain over these issues but it’s still very difficult to know how it feels to be in the shoes of those who live there. This is why I wanted to focus on overcoming one challenge, which is how far I can go in simulating that feeling of being there. With traditional documentaries, what I feel is mostly because of how I can relate to a certain character. But this emotion is what I project on myself based on what I see with others. But I think even by its first scene, VR will enable us to feel like we are a part of them. If I can make some Taiwanese and international audiences to wear the VR goggles, it would really feel like they are with them. I think the atmosphere they experience is completely different from photographs or film. 

I think the challenges now with VR is if there is any way to make post-production more efficient, and if there is any way to the goggles more comfortable. 

你如何看待VR在未来的纪录片中扮演的角色?

其實 VR本身是非常適合紀錄片,我舉個例子,可能現在敘利亞內戰發生, 美國墨西哥的問題,甚至中國跟香港問題, 這一些事情,我們可能並不是第一現場者。 我們會對這一件事情心痛,會有點感受但是我們可能並沒有辦法真的完全用一種換位思考方式去說原來現場是這樣。所以當初我只想要挑戰一件事情,我有沒有辦法把真實的事情推到極限。一般傳統紀錄片,我再怎麼感動, 我感動的原因是因為我認同這個主角。但是這種感動是我看別人而投射在自己。 但是我覺得其實做VR的第一現場, 你開始會覺得你跟他們是一樣的。 如果我可以讓一些台灣的觀眾和各國觀眾戴上頭盔,就真的像在現場,我覺得那個氛圍跟你去看人家拍的照片跟影片是完全不一樣。

現在的差別可能是在有沒有辦法去突破後製處理效能消耗。 有沒有辦法讓戴頭盔的人更舒服。

How long did the entire production process take?

Actually my producer has been involved with this short for a long time. In fact, “My Syrian Neighbour” started out as a traditional documentary. Before applying for Kaohsiung Shorts Grant, there were already two years worth of pre-production. 

從收到補助到製作完成大概需要多長的時間?

其實這一部片我的製片人很早就 就在這裡面。其實《我的敘利亞鄰居》當初是一個一般的紀錄片。在投高雄拍以前,前期製作已經有兩年的時間。

(Film still of My Syrian Neighbours)

What were some of the challenges faced, and how did you overcome them?

This year was actually my first year in Turkey and that was also when I first met the documentary’s lead. However, the producer and lead already knew each other, as they went to Turkey together before and filmed some materials from there. My producer is the one who is most familiar with the story of the documentary, and the advantage here is that she can tell me a lot about it. I also did not have to spend much time with preparation and research. It only took about a week for location scouting, site coordination and personnel coordination. We spent most of our energy and effort on thinking of the best ways to present the story with VR.

After receiving the grant, we spent about one to two months preparing the crew. Thinking back, I think we were pretty brave, at that point of time, we weren’t very confident – although we know the story, we did not fully understood the capabilities of VR. We thought of using some of the grant to hire a VR production crew from Kaohsiung. But if that was the case, I still wouldn’t have understood the process of filming in VR by the end. My whole crew did not have experience with VR, leaving me as the most experienced even if I cannot consider myself as a professional in this aspect. I could only mostly rely on my own imagination and understanding to work on the project. Before we started, I approached the Kaohsiung Film Archive for assistance and found a colleague with experience with audio recording for VR. Before we left for Syria the five of us had sort of a training session with him, listening to him talk about how to receive audio with VR, and how to make a 360 sound field.

In My Syrian Neighbour《我的敘利亞鄰居》, the voices can come from different directions. I am not sure if everyone can hear it but this is my first attempt. In addition, we did not want to use a multi-camera stitching to make this film, so in the end we found and worked with a Chinese camera manufacturer. At that time, I only took some of my works along and went alone to Shenzhen to ask if they could assist me. They later sent a technician to join us in the shoot, and we only needed to pay part of his salary and equipment rental fee. He played the role of technical director in the team since he was most familiar with their equipment and the areas which VR should pay attention to. It is because of this where we responded to many on-site situations well.

在整個過程中遇到什麼樣的困難或狀況,又是如何應變的?

我其實今年第一次去,第一次和主角碰面。但製片和主角認識,他們曾經一起到過土耳其,當時也拍了一些素材回來。這樣的好處是,製片會跟我說很多關於那裡的事情,她其實是最熟悉這個故事的人,因此我少了很多需要去田調的時間。場勘、場地與人員的協調也只花了大概一個禮拜,我們把最多的心力花在如何用VR來呈現這個故事。

拿到金費後,大約一二月時在籌備人力,講起來蠻勇敢的,其實投高雄拍的時候我們一點也沒有把握,因為我們雖然了解故事,但我們並不了解VR這個技術。拿到金費時我們曾經考慮拿去找高雄的VR團隊製作,但這樣當製作結束,我還是不知道VR的製作過程。因此後來整個劇組裡,攝影師、收音師都沒有接觸過VR,裡面最懂VR的人就是我,但我比起業界的人也說不上專業,只是用我自己的想法和認為的方式去做。當初我透過高雄電影館的幫忙,找了一位做過VR收音的同仁,在出發前像是做集訓一樣,全員四五個人一起聽他說收音該怎麼收、該如何做360的聲場。在《我的敘利亞鄰居》中聲音是來自不同方向的,不知道大家有沒有聽出來,這也是我們首次嘗試的。另外,當時我們不想用環接攝影機來做這支片,所以最後找了一個很好的中國攝影機廠商合作。當時我只帶了一些作品就一個人跑到深圳,問他們願不願意幫我,後來他們派了一位技術人員跟我們一起去,而我們只需要付一部分的器材租借費以及他的薪水。他就在團隊中擔任像是技術指導的角色,因為他熟悉他們的設備,也熟悉VR要注意的事情,這樣合作下來,現場許多狀況的應變能力都蠻好的。

(Producer Shinyu Tai)

Was this your first time working with your producer? 

We have known each other prior to this project. How I came to know this story was because when I was making documentary proposal in New Taipei City, I was preparing other stories when I came across the producer with this one. We kept in touch later, and she told me that the story was a bit difficult to produce since the original co-director had no idea how to continue the process. Although the goal was to record the story of the Taiwanese mother, because of the controversial nature of the story, the producer did not want to overexpose the story. So the idea of VR was put forward by me, hoping to change the way we present the film. She was acceptable of the idea since the medium of VR made it so that the speed of spread is slow, while allowing people to really experience the content of the story. It was as if the shortcomings of VR became advantages for the story. That is how we decided to use VR to fully portray the atmosphere and environment of the scenes.

在前面很多次談到這次的製片,那你們是第一次合作嗎?或是之前就認識?

我們原本就認識了,我會知道這個故事也是因為當時在新北市做紀錄片提案,我當時準備的是別的故事,但在這個場合認識了拿這個故事去的製片。後來我們一直保持聯繫,但她告訴我這個故事有點難產,因為原本合作的導演也不知道該如何繼續下去。雖然拍攝的動機也只是單純想記錄這個台灣媽媽的故事,然而因為故事的爭議性,製片一直不希望在曝光過於快速的影展。所以VR的這個想法是我跟她提的,希望可以嘗試把這支片子換個方式來陳述。對於這件事她的接受度是高的,因為VR在某種程度上散播的速度是較慢的,卻也讓來看的人能真正體驗到故事的核心內容,好像VR的缺點在這個故事裡變成了優點。於是最後我們就決定善用VR的特性去完整陳述現場環境的氛圍。

Are you preparing for any VR, MR or XR projects for the future?

I just came back from a Pacific island country with a production team a few days ago. My next VR story will be about the aborigines there. Maybe VR will be used to record their ceremonies and dances. I think this is one of my breakthrough experiments: in addition to using VR to record reality, I also tried to include singing and dancing elements. 

導演有沒有在籌備下一個VR、MR、XR的計畫,有的話會是什麼呢?

我和一個製作的團隊前幾天剛從一個太平洋島嶼的國家回來,這是我下一個VR的故事,內容大概是關於南島原住民,可能會用VR來記錄他們的祭典及舞蹈。這也是我比較突破的嘗試,除了利用VR紀錄真實,也嘗試加入一點歌舞的元素進去。


Check out the short’s trailer and behind-the-scenes interview here:

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