Urging Hollywood and the exhibition community to explore the potential of virtual reality, Fox futurist Ted Schilowitz asserts, "We're getting to the point when you are able to wear a theme park on your head. … We shouldn't wait, even if you don't know the business model yet. You learn by doing."
Schilowitz was one of the panelists Thursday at CinemaCon's Virtual Reality Seminar - A New Way to Experience Entertainment. The speakers were in general agreement that VR's full potential could only be tapped by applying the same talent and storytelling expertise that Hollywood is known for.
"It starts with story, and it starts with writing," said Jake Zim, senior vp virtual reality at Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group. "You will start to see filmmakers and particularly writers creating content for the format."
As an example, Zim described Sony's Ghostbusters VR Experience, a first-person experience that allows the user to walk around as a Ghostbuster, which was created with the involvement of Ivan Reitman.
But the exec also warned that since there's currently no business model, studios won't have a large budget for these productions. "It's going to be a partnership with theaters and filmmakers to get where this needs to be," said Zim.
Offering a theater owner's perspective, National Amusements vp and CFO Kevin Cardullo said his company is testing VR and seeing a lot of strengths, but there are also issues that need to be considered.
"We have to look at safety issues such as motion sickness. It just doesn't go away in an hour or so," he said. "Also the issue of people losing their balance. Should it be a seated environment? We also don't want to disrupt the flow in our theater. And how can we monetize it?"
Austin Barker, executive vp creative content for Universal Pictures Marketing, asserted that if cinema is the end goal, the VR needs to be conceived with that in mind. "The type of VR content that will work in theaters is something that you can't do at home - whether that be with an experience that requires physical space or a type of chair."
Barker recently produced The Mummy Zero Gravity VR Experience, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film that was playing at CinemaCon using the Positron Voyager motion chair. "I think this chair is one of the answers," he said. "That's a reason to go to a theater. You won't have this chair at home."
A similar message came from David Campbell, senior vp corporate development and theater operations at Imax (which presented The Mummy Experience). Imax is currently testing a VR model for theaters and other locations, and Campbell said it's equipping those sites with gear that would be expensive to have at home. That includes high-end VR headsets, motion chairs and haptic vests.