Emmys: Doug Liman Urges Industry to "Stop Making Excuses" and Consider VR

VR series Invisible - Key Art -Publicity -H 2016
Courtesy of CNE

As virtual reality expands its footprint, more VR filmmakers are eyeing the Emmy race. In fact, the team behind Doug Liman’s episodic VR series Invisible is offering itself for consideration in some key Emmy categories, including outstanding director for a drama series and outstanding short-form comedy or drama series (as well as picture and sound editing).

“Part of VR coming of age is that you have to stop making excuses for it and you have to compete for the audiences and the affection of the audiences without a handicap,” said veteran director Liman, whose credits include The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. “Those of us making series like Invisible are pursuing story and characters — the same elements that I pursued on TV series and in my movies. VR is so immersive and when it works, it draws you into the story in a way that is truly unique and powerful.”

Invisible is a scripted drama about a family with supernatural abilities, set in modern-day Manhattan. Written for VR by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club), the series' directors are Liman, Simon Crane, Julina Tatlock, Jerome Sable and Michael Litwak. It stars Sofia Black-D’elia, Olivia Boreham-Wing, Michael Siberry, Austin Caudwell and Lewis Cancelmi, and was produced and distributed by Conde Nast Entertainment, Samsung, and VR firm Jaunt with Liman’s 30 Ninjas.

“From a directing standpoint, the challenges are also the opportunities,” Liman said of working in VR. “All of my fellow directors, I think, would agree that in whatever medium you are working, the challenges and obstacles push them to be more creative. That’s the case with VR."

“With VR, you are directing in a 360-degree environment. The biggest challenge is that the viewer can look anywhere,” he said. “They might look at the the weakest moments, the very things you edit for TV. You don’t control where they look.”

This means that sound also poses unique challenges. “I had one scene in Invisible with 12 actors delivering dialog at the same time," Liman said.

The Virtual Reality Company (The Martian VR Experience) is also targeting the Emmys, presenting the pilot of its developing animated series Raising a Rukus for consideration in the category for an interactive experience.

“VR is a new medium but we always said it has potential to be more than a way to play games and it’s a potentially powerful vehicle for storytelling,” said VRC founder and chief creative officer Robert Stromberg, who directed Disney’s Maleficent and is a two-time Oscar-winning production designer.

The 12-minute Rukus pilot takes viewers on a magical adventure alongside a brother, sister and their mischievous new pet dog, Rukus. It also includes a branching narrative, meaning that at one point, viewers can choose to follow either the brother or the sister for a different perspective on the events in the story. The episode is directed by Josh Wassung and animated at VRC, with creative oversight by Stromberg.

Additional projects in the Emmy conversation include VR docuseries On Stage from Hulu and Live Nation, which examines the creative process of an artist’s live music experience. Episodes have included Lil Wayne and the trio Major Lazer.