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Is virtual reality ready for Hollywood?

An IRL chat with “Baywatch” director Seth Gordon. (Yes, “Baywatch” is going to be a movie.)

Movie director Seth Gordon sees big potential in an overlap between virtual reality and social participation.

When it comes to virtual reality, Seth Gordon has a unique perspective. As the director of films like “Horrible Bosses,” “The King of Kong,” and the upcoming “Baywatch,” he’s no stranger to making content for a wide audience. He’s also deeply interested in technology, and is an avid follower of games and gaming culture. I decided to quiz him on the wave of VR that is inevitably coming to all of our screens, big and small.

Where would you say Hollywood is with VR?

Completely nascent exploration. The consensus is that it has a lot of potential, but no one has cracked it yet. There’s a lot of dabbling going on, even from a few outfits that are proven. It feels like there’s a strong future — but really compelling, immersive storytelling that is distinct from, and improves upon, the best console games hasn’t quite shown itself yet.

Is there anyone you’re watching in the field?

I feel like Chris Milk is the early trailblazer, doing really interesting stuff. So are the guys at Twisted Pixel in Austin. For Milk, check out his TED talk. Essentially, his take on VR is that it’s an ideal means to build empathy by putting yourself subjectively in the point of view of the protagonist. For a good example of his work, look for “Clouds Over Sidra,” a VR experience from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. You really and meaningfully visit her displaced existence. It is very cool and powerful.

To see what Twisted Pixel is working on, look out for their upcoming (2017) release of “Wilson’s Heart.” It’s innovative on a number of levels.

Where do you think VR fits into the entertainment landscape?

At the moment, before any of the consumer platforms (Oculus, Vivo, etc.) have taken the dominant position, the real competition for this kind of content will be the exceptional console gaming experience that’s already available. If you play a game like Uncharted 4, for example, you find it gives you an unbelievable amount of freedom: You can explore numerous variations of the narrative set in incredibly original locations. VR has that same capability to explore a world, but it must go beyond the gimmick. It has to create as compelling an experience as we already have in the best games.

With VR, it feels like early days. It’s powerful, but it still requires standardization. Everyone needs to commit to a format. And there has to be one or two killer pieces of content that people who don’t yet own a device will be so interested in that they feel compelled to get one in order to get engaged. We haven’t seen that yet.

So we need to get critical mass for the real creators to get involved?

Yes and no. Creators are willing to try anything. But a studio has to be able to make money, unfortunately, before it’s getting involved. We’ll see investment in VR once a studio (or gaming company) sees a bright path to a core audience. Then, they’ll be willing to fund bigger investments and operations.

So VR needs its Pokémon Go moment?

Yes, that was a watershed moment, for sure. People I knew who didn’t ever talk about their devices or use them for anything but email and phones were talking about it. It was wild.

And until then?

The breakthroughs will come from a handful of independent artists, or even branded entertainment. Those are people who will try to do great VR and put money toward it. Once they prove that VR can reach a mass audience, you’ll see a tipping point. And then everyone will get involved.

What do you think is the biggest potential for VR?

For me, the way VR could overlap with social is very exciting. If you could create an experience that was flexible but could relate to peoples' social participation online, that would be transcendent.

As CEO of Possible, Shane Atchison leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, nonprofits and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the internet and its impact on their business. Reach him @shanePOSSIBLE.

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