Oculus announced a new program called “VR For Good” that seeks to empower filmmakers with the tools they need to create immersive video content that “tell stories with an impact.”
Everyone is talking about all the great games that you can play in VR, but games are far from the only application for the new medium. Immersive video content has striking ability to elicit a strong emotional connection, such as empathy for the subject of the film. Documentary film makers have started to embrace this power to evoke empathy and are creating powerful films that have a real effect on the way we perceive other people’s struggles.
Chris Milk, a pioneer in 360-degree filmmaking, presented a TED talk in March 2015 titled, “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.” Milk spoke of his experience creating an immersive video about refugees from Syria and their daily struggle. Clouds Over Sidra is another short 360-degree film about Syrian refugees in Jordan. Its impact is credited in helping UNICEF raise $3.8 billion for the cause. We're also beginning to see 360-degree stories, such as this one about a Personal Energy Transportation (PET) project in Zambia from VR journalism startup StoryUp and IM360.
Oculus wants other filmmakers to showcase other important causes. It's rolling the "VR for Good" project out with two pilot programs. The first program, the 360 Filmmakers Challenge for Students, is designed to teach high school students the production skills needed to work with immersive video content. And the second program, the 360 Bootcamp for Nonprofits, will pair 10 professional filmmakers with 10 non-profit organizations that have important social messages to share.
Oculus said that it partnered with nine San Francisco high schools for the pilot 360 Filmmakers Challenge for Students. The company will provide the equipment needed, including Samsung Gear VR HMDs, Galaxy S6 phones and Ricoh Theta S 360 cameras. Oculus will also help pair each school with professional filmmakers who will help the students create 3-5 minute clips about their communities. The films created in the six-week-long student challenge will be hosted on Facebook and Oculus Video once the pilot program is complete.
The 360 Bootcamp for Nonprofits will launch in late July. Ten nonprofit organizations with “a variety of social missions” will be selected to work with professional filmmakers to create 360-degree films that will debut at Sundance 2017. Oculus said that selected non-profits will be sent to Facebook HQ for a two-day bootcamp where they will be provided with professional grade equipment to tell their stories. Each team will get Nokia OZO cameras and a budget for travel expenses. Oculus will also provide film industry veterans who can offer “one-on-one mentorship” and support in post-production.
Oculus will be accepting nominations of nonprofit organizations and applications from filmmakers who want to be part of the "VR for Good" program on May 30.
Update, 5/17/16, 1:52pm PT: Added credit for IM360's contribution in StoryUP's video.