Monday, June 11, 2018
WHY (AND HOW) MARISHA PESSL’S “NEVERWORLD WAKE” SHOULD BE ADAPTED AS A VR VIDEO FEATURE
WHY (AND HOW)
MARISHA PESSL’S “NEVERWORLD WAKE”
SHOULD BE ADAPTED AS A VR VIDEO FEATURE
Neverworld Wake is a great read! It is also a model for the kind of novel that is perfect material for adaptation as a feature-length VR (3D 360) video!!!
-- update: 6/16/2018 --
Marisha Pessl is on a book tour. (http://marishapessl.com/tour/) . On Thursday (6/14) she spoke at BUILD. (Build is a new TV studio, apparently run by AOL, that broadcasts on the web, live and on demand (www.buildseries.com). They have fine interviewers, interesting guests, new programs in development, and tickets to watch live in the studio are free.) Marisha was fresh, even tho' just back from a whirlwind trip to Florida and Texas. She was friendly, eloquent and interesting. Here's a video of her interview. (Note: that's me, asking the second question about her characters. I just started reading her first novel "Special Topics in Calamity Physics"; I've finished Part I. The book's about 600 pages long, funny, interesting, and a tour-de-force of style, craft, and content!)
I enjoyed prize-winning novelist Marisha Pessl’s two most recent novels, NIGHT FILM and NEVERWORLD WAKE. She seems to be a writer who excels – through meticulous planning, preparation, and skillful plotting -- at creating a supernatural mood, while providing the possibility of a rational and natural logic. She shows great style in using words and creating sentences, and employs a plethora of similes and metaphors. Marisha also displays a keen sense of humor, with sharp observations that made me laugh.
NEVERWORLD WAKE is her new, fine novel about five friends, one year after High School, who try to understand each other, while probing the mystery of a sixth friend's death and competing to stay alive.
Marisha has a penchant for “meta-fiction,” and using famous tropes: for example, the characters comment on features of the story’s architecture that recall other works. (Of a repetitive experience, one character calls for tweets from the public with the hashtag “Groundhog Day is real”. Another character muses on Peter Pan’s “Neverland,” implicitly suggesting a relation to the “Neverworld” of the title. And a dark and stormy night plays an important role.)
* * *
I try to say very little about the plot in this article,
but the remainder may contain spoilers, nevertheless.
I suggest that you read the book first before continuing to read the rest of this article.
Note: Marisha Pessl will be at B&N in New York
signing books on Wed 6/14
if you’d like a personal copy!
Here’s a schedule for the whole book tour:
* * *
NIGHT FILM, Marisha's second novel, is for adults, and has transmedia elements: (Note: Transmedia is the extension of a story from a single media type to many. It is as old as humans: Religion is the earliest example, telling stories, myths, using music, art, costuming … And live ceremonies -- services, rites of passage like marriages and burials, and more -- all to tell a collection of related stories.) Marisha seems to have investigated the lives and world of her characters so thoroughly she could (and sometimes does) create all types of ancillary media around their stories.
NEVERWORLD WAKE, her latest novel, also evokes the feeling of being fully imagined, but has a different audience than NIGHT FILM. NEVERWORLD directly targets teens, basically females. The main character is female. The primary secondary characters are female. Males mostly play smaller roles. All these characters are a year out of being the “cool” “beautiful” kids at a rich-people’s boarding high school. The story opens with an invitation to a reunion at the seaside estate where they used to gather. And evolves into a mystery about Jim who, though central to the story, is a mystery we get to know almost entirely through the other characters.
It seems to me that the environment and story of NEVERWORLD WAKE, and more generally, Marisha Pessl’s writing technique, lend themselves especially well to the requirements of VR video. (Beyond VR, her use of real-world locations also allows for AR and MR extensions of the story, with the possibility of viewers interacting with aspects of the story at the locations where they happen.)
I am particularly interested in the narrative structure of Virtual Reality (VR) dramatic fiction (as well as all eXtended Reality video). Recall that eXtended Reality (XR) is the collection of all the new technologies being enabled by the continuing exponential explosion of digital processing power.
XR includes the visual technologies of Virtual Reality, where a headset (often called a Head Mounted Display, or HMD) immerses the viewer in a completely enveloping world of sight and sound that excludes whatever is happening outside. VR videos are both 3D and panoramic – they include the full 360x180 sphere around the camera position. To the viewer, the position of the camera becomes their own position in the scene.
Augmented and Mixed Reality (AR and MR) use a smart-phone or headset to show a view of the real world to the viewer, mixing it with computer generated images and information.
The essential new feature of VR dramatic videos that makes them so special is the fact that, in addition to effects that can be achieved with ordinary 2D film, VR can seem real. It is as if you, the viewer, is there in the middle of the action. It feels like you are in the presence of the characters, that you are immersed in their environment.
There are several reasons why Marisha Pessl's work and her story NEVERWORLD WAKE are so well adaptable to VR:
- Marisha’s technique for understanding her characters and their environment in detail, way beyond what is explicit on the page, is one reason her stories seem to me so well adaptable to VR. She makes it real.
- Her ability to create strong, mood-rich experiences matches well to the feeling that VR creates when you put on an HMD and move into another world – a rich, suggestive, atmospheric, attractive, surprising, real world is the most compelling.
- The story has a driving momentum, and the characters have interesting layers. Mysteries translate well to video.
- While NIGHT FILM had these same features and could make a profoundly powerful VR experience, it is a complex book. A VR promotional preview could be awesomely powerful. Creating a VR feature length version might be daunting. NEVERWORLD WAKE is simpler.
- Marisha stocks NEVERWORLD WAKE with many interesting locations that would translate well to a 360 3D world in which the viewer can look around in all directions.
- The locations and scenes are also optimal for each scene to be played out like location-specific theater. This is actually a terrific way to create VR, because it allows the director and crew to be out of the picture, and allows the action to flow longer and be more realistic. For VR, it is important to create a feeling of presence and immersion, and it requires that the scenes are allowed to ”live” as they would in reality. The many locations in which action occurs allows for stories in each location to play out, while having enough different options to provide significant variety.
- Most VR cameras have lenses for which the best distance for detail is about 4-5 feet from the camera. With a small set of characters who talk to each other, scenes can be set up to take advantage of the optimal distance for filming.
- The story is told in the first person: The principal character tells the story as it is happening. She is at the center. This means placing the camera at her location is a natural place to station the camera for most scenes.
- Narration can sometimes be a problem in videos, but when done with restraint and realism it can work. It fact, is not necessary that everything be told from the first person viewpoint. It would be possible in many scenes for there to be an alternative view of the scene. The image can fade from one view to another. Or, even more interesting, in many places in the video the user could interact with the video, selecting the way to view it.
- Some practical, mostly financial reasons why adapting NEVERWORLD WAKE for VR makes good sense:
- There are not a lot of characters, and they can be played by top level young actors, just out of the best film acting programs.
- There are a lot of practical (ie existing, real-world) attractive locations.
- There are few special effects, or second unit action teams required.
- For VR, probably the greatest expense is hand-stitching (ie VR cameras have lenses pointing in different directions, and all the images must be “stitched” together so there are no seams). But stitching programs are getting better and better; careful placing of the action and the cameras and the background is now reducing the impact of the stitching.
- Most VR videos are only a few minutes long. However, I have watched complete movies on Netflix in the Gear VR and the Oculus Go with no problem. I rather like it. When a story is good, and the images are attractive, VR is now capable of presenting feature length content.
- At most VR meetups, the attendance is about 80 – 90% male (I’ve counted), and 25-45 years old, well past their teens.
- NEVERWORLD WAKE, by contrast, targets female teens way more than other demographics.
- However, for anyone interested in bringing young females into technology, VR is the perfect place to start. It is as true now of Virtual Reality, as William Goldman said years ago of movies, “Nobody knows anything.” We are all at the same starting point. There is no reason that young females could not and should not participate in the development of eXtended Reality at equal levels with males.
- But they are not there now. So a feature VR film of NEVERWORLD WAKE is unlikely to make a lot of money in retail sales, but it is a perfect vehicle for sponsorships from people interested in bringing women into technology: sponsorships to promote VR video to young women.
- The beginning is the right place to start: watching a VR video feature, and catching the bug!
- And, of course, creating a pioneering VR Video feature would be a superior promotional adventure!
As a vehicle for VR video narrative structure, I think NEVERWORLD WAKE is a perfect example. It has many attributes that make it an exceptional prospect for adaptation as a VR feature.
It’s also (especially) a really good book! I hope many people read and enjoy it!
I hope it becomes a great VR feature length video!
FACEBOOK GROUP: MP BOOKWORMS
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FOR MORE ABOUT EXTENDED REALITY
Finally, here’s a Q & A with Marisha about