The power of virtual reality: shooting Mamie’s Dream
Last week, we released our new virtual reality film, Mamie’s Dream. The film gives our supporters the opportunity to walk in Mamie’s shoes and experience her story of overcoming the obstacles of being a girl in Sierra Leone.
We speak to the one of the producers behind Mamie’s Dream – James Louis Hedley. We ask James about life on location, the challenges of making Mamie’s Dream and why virtual reality is taking the world of storytelling by storm.
How long have you been working in virtual reality?
I’ve been making virtual reality/360° films for just over five years now. It’s an exciting time at the moment, with the introduction of virtual reality headsets to the market in the last few years… 360° films are receiving a lot of attention and there’s high demand for content!
What are the challenges of making virtual reality films?
Virtual reality filmmaking is a new form of storytelling; a new art form. We’re still exploring paths and avenues to tell stories with this technology. Generally speaking, you can’t just troubleshoot something or find out methods online because a lot of the work we do (and how we do it) is being done for the first time… it’s all about inventing new methods to shoot and finding new ways to produce fresh, innovative content.
How did shooting Mamie’s Dream differ from other projects you’ve worked on?
Working with a director who was new to the virtual reality world was beneficial for both parties. Mary Matheson (Director) was really ambitious in the way she wanted to use the 360° camera, which resulted in a wonderful synergy between our creative minds, and some excellent content being produced! This was refreshing for both Mary and us – we implemented skills that she brought to the table through her experience and made it happen in a virtual reality 360° space, the perfect team eh?
Why do you think VR is a powerful storytelling tool?
The nature of virtual reality and the way audiences consume it, by putting on a headset, lends itself to telling intimate character driven stories. As a content creator, you are actually offering the viewer a chance to step into a world or a space, rather than just offering a window to peer through into it. The viewer is given a chance to meet a person/people, and feel like you’re actually there with them… therefore becoming an experience that they might not be able to have otherwise in real life.
Inevitably virtual reality storytelling has become a powerful tool for charities as you can create a feeling of connection between their supporters and the people they are helping.
What was the most challenging shot to get for Mamie’s Dream?
The scene where we see Mamie and the young girl she teaches walking through the courtyard to the school was definitely the most challenging. It required some very slow and steady camera movement and also very specific blocking of the action. The environment was challenging – it was shot right in the middle of the day at 35 degrees heat, in a very busy school courtyard, during lunch break. The kids from the school were naturally excited and intrigued to see this ridiculous looking cable-camera set up floating through their courtyard at lunchtime, so a few of our crew members had the fun but exhausting task of keeping them entertained as we did the shot. We got the shot in the end and even though it took a number of takes and a lot of sweat was lost, it ended up being a beautiful, intricate moment in the film and a shot that we’re very proud of.
Were the children in the community excited about the film?
The kids were brilliant! We were interacting a lot with them wherever we went. They were so warm and friendly and interested in what we were doing. We’ve got this crazy looking camera with prongs sticking out of it, attached to a drone or a zip line, so it’s no wonder the kids were thinking what on earth is going on!? We had a lot of laughs and fun with them.
How was life on location in Sierra Leone?
One word, inspiring. I’ve shot in rural communities throughout the world, but it was my first visit to Sierra Leone and I was truly overwhelmed. The people there had this incredible energy and spirit and they made us feel very welcome.
What was your favourite moment on shoot?
Meeting Mamie. She said to us while we were wrapping up “her life had changed for the best since the filming began, because people in her community would now see her important”. She thanked us for this, but really the pleasure was all ours. She’s an inspiring person for all to learn from, a role model in her community and without sounding too cliché, more people like her will help make the world a better place.
What do you hope Mamie’s Dream achieves?
I hope it offers hope to girls similar to Mamie. Mamie refused to have FGM and as a result she was outcast and ostracised by her community. She stuck by her decision though and was incredibly strong. She joined Plan Internationals Learning Assistant Programme and now she’s a teacher and a community role model. I think it goes to show that if you stand up for what you believe in, you can still prosper and flourish. It’s not just inspiring for girls, but it’s inspiring for everyone around the world.
Where do you see the future of the virtual reality industry going?
It’s a new art form. It’s a new medium. A new way of telling a story. We are still experimenting and finding out ways to best use this technology, and everyone else who is making virtual reality is doing the same. So I think at the moment we are in the teething stage and it will only get better and better… virtual reality is not just a fad, It’s here to stay.
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