Part Four: Nollywood directs 360
I wake-up from an email from Point Grey support asking me more questions. I get that they don’t know my set-up but it’s frustrating not to get any actionable direction that I can try out. It’s midnight where they are so I’m not getting any answers today. I don’t have time to email back. I need to fix my storage situation and dedicate the 4Tb to the Ladybug/PC, transfer the footage to the 360fly/Mac. I play around with the capture settings on the Ladybug and decide that the laptop that we’re working off of doesn’t have the power to capture uncompressed frames at 15fps, but if we capture compressed JPGs, we can get it back up to 15fps, which is the top frame rate for the Ladybug3. It’ll have to do.
After shoving down a quick breakfast and not enough hot tea, we load into the van to go meet another esteemed Nollywood director: Tunde Kelani, also known as “TK”. TK has spent 40 years making films specializing in making mainly documentary movies about Nigerian culture.
The first set up is going to be a straight up HD interview with TK. The plan by our Fearless Leader is to interview him and then have him direct a scene in 360. We even think to go super-meta: At the end of the interview, Dan will ask if TK wants to see the VR set up. We’ll roll both the HD cameras and the VR camera at the same time. If we do it right, we can show the HD film in a square and then, at the right moment, cut to the exact same scene in 360 where suddenly the entire crew and all the assistants that are watching the interview, once hidden off-frame, are now part of the scene. This is a concept I’ll come back to when making the final cut for what will ultimately become “Kanju”.
At the end of the interview TK unknowingly tees up the meta set-up and declares “what the hell is VR 360?!”, to which Dan responds “We’d like to show you.” TK crosses over to the VR set-up for a bit of an anti-climactic, but completely honest response: “What do you do with this?” Not unlike many American directors and cinematographers struggling to figure out VR now.
First African VR Director?
Dan opens up the possibility of TK directing a scene in a marketplace. TK says the markets are too dangerous (we all take note of this as we are planning to go shoot in Idumota, the most populated and overrun of all the markets, in a few days) and suggests the most communal local meeting place: the Gas Station.
We pack up the gear and walk out the dirt road down to the Gas Station. As we walk through narrow alley ways narrowly escaping zooming motorcycles going in every direction, TK asks me how one directs in VR. We discuss the psychology of the viewer; how the viewer can look in any direction. I suggest that as a director, he control focal points with action rather than with framing. In this case, we don’t have control over sound and lighting in a meaningful way, so I leave that out and instead give him a run down on the limitations with this particular camera.
Initially TK wants to put the camera down in the middle of an open space. I encourage him to look around for a location that will bring the action closer to the camera. Ultimately, he chooses an excellent place that has the gas station on one side, bus stops on the other, and is the middle of some make-shift textile sales people. It will give the audience an easier way to chunk the action and puts them closer to it, which is necessary for this camera. TK seems to know everyone at the Gas Station. The curiosity of the strange looking cameras attracts many onlookers who are eager to learn more. We embrace this interaction and invite TKs colleagues to help us with the set-up.
There are also several problems with this set-up.
As with Bond, the exterior light is blowing out my lens, and I can’t see the computer screen to calibrate. Sand is flying everywhere, all into the computer, and we have attracted quite a mass of onlookers. Not a problem in a normal set-up, but here, if the viewer looks behind them, they’ll see a horde of Nigerians staring at their crotch.
More of a problem when in an uncontrolled setting with the Ladybug is the mount. Again, the camera comes with a cumbersome mount that just wasn’t feasible to bring with us, so Aaron has done an incredible job MacGuyvering solutions along the way. The lightstand solution we are currently at is just too frail to “set and forget” in the middle of a busy intersection. We’ve tried to attach it to a regular tripod but the thread doesn’t fit and since the firewire cable needs to come directly out of the bottom, we can’t block attach the camera to a solid base. This annoying design flaw will become the BAIN of our existence as we are constantly trying to find new ways to mount the camera more securely with random tall items and gaff tape. Here we again utilize the lightstand and I sit underneath the camera for several reasons: 1) to make sure no one will steal the camera, 2) to provide the power and storage without the cables being in the shot and 3) to stabilize the lightstand. Unfortunately, I can’t get completely out of the shot. I mark in my mind that we’re going to need to limit the frame in the final VR film so that people can’t look down and see my back. For sound, I’ve just brought the Brahma since the TetraMic would take too much time to set-up. TK is miked with the wireless lav.
TK immediately embraces the 360 element. Smartly, he uses himself as the focal point to direct the audience’s attention. He starts from off in the distance, and talks as he walks directly up to one lens. He then moves the conversation around the audience, walking around the marketplace and over to the bus stop.
We decide to try another set-up where we will attract less attention. TK leads us behind the gas station to another road where chickens roam, children play, and – like so many streets in Lagos – men are working on broken down cars.
For this scene, TK takes the same approach: starting from a distance. But this time he plants people to talk to at different locations around the camera. He buys fruit from a stand, walks around to give it to two other people then goes behind the camera to talk to some children. He creates action. This is a director. I’m fighting with over-exposure and have to cut the shot. TK resets as I adjust for the ever-changing sunlight overhead and we take two.
This one shoots seamlessly and TK calls out “That’s a wrap!” when he’s done with his sequence. Great solution for having no one behind the camera to call cut. In the future, I’ll plan to bring in-ear IFBs for easy communication on 360 sets. More importantly we all wonder if TK was the first African director to direct a scene in 360?
Afterwards, we discuss how people will view the 360 material. The idea of wearable headsets and viewing it in an HMD doesn’t quite click. As with so many people who first hear about VR and then actually get inside a headset, you’ve gotta see it to believe it.
It’s already past noon and we need to be on the road to Makoko village. Eke has told us that this area is unsafe to be in after 4pm and we still have a drive ahead of us to get there. I’ll have to charge the gear with the inverter in the car. We also still need to figure out a more stable mount. The answer we eventually come up with is equally bizarre and challenging.