Doug Liman and Melissa Wallack Discuss Their New VR Series, INVISIBLE

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by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Doug Liman has directed some of the most beloved films of the last twenty years. Ranging from Swingers to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, and Edge of Tomorrow, his movies immerse the audience in new worlds and experiences. When he decided to tell his first story in Virtual Reality (VR), he wanted to bring in a writer with the creativity to transcend the technology and the skills to maintain a human feel. He looked no further than Melissa Wallack. Nominated for an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, Wallack had been talking to Liman about an idea she had about a powerful New York family with the ability to control the world’s economy by turning invisible. The duo felt this could be the perfect story to tell in an emerging technology like VR.

Invisible was an idea that Melissa and I had been talking about for some time, and thought about it as a TV series, thought about it as a movie,” said Liman. “Melissa had written some scenes about what you could do with fight sequences when one person is invisible. That really attracted me. I thought, ‘That would be really hard to do in VR.’ So much of how you shoot a fight sequence is you cheat. We have all these techniques that we use to cheat. But you can’t cheat in VR — anywhere. Even the little cheats we thought we would do to save some money and time, we couldn’t do… One of the first things we figured out is you have to write the story for VR. You can’t just take something that was written for another format and just shoot it in VR. It’s a totally different form of writing. We had to make our own lexicon multi-verse, and that concept didn’t even exist.”

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Wallack agreed. “It was a very involved process. I had written five pages to shoot at Doug’s house as a test. We shot a bunch of stuff and started realizing what worked and what didn’t work. Then we went back and tried to think of how we write this. I had run into a friend of mine who runs Funny or Die. He said that they had just written 30 pages of script for five minutes of VR. I knew we had to approach it differently than a traditional script,” she said.

Liman wanted the viewer to be able to look anywhere in the virtual space. “That’s why it really starts and ends with Melissa, because the thing that became really clear is this story has to hook people, the characters have to hook people. It’s can’t be like it’s interesting here and everywhere else you look it’s boring or it’s a wall. We want to make sure that you have a robust 360-degree experience. Melissa’s script had to make you hungry enough to want to follow the story. Other than the commitment to storytelling, I don’t think there’s anything we could draw from traditional 2D filmmaking,” Liman said.

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Wallack structured the season in 5-10 minute episodes, but has been surprised to see people binging the series, watching it straight through. When asked about the potential of feature length content in VR, Liman is optimistic. “If it’s good enough content, why not,” he said. Wallack does see differences in VR and the average Netflix binge watch, however. “It’s the only medium that you can’t multitask in. It’s not like watching TV. It’s not like any other computer stuff where you can be answering texts or doing it around social media. You are in it. People talk about immersion but part of that is sensory deprivation of the rest of the world, too, which puts a huge amount of pressure on the story and character and the need not to be boring,” Wallack added.

The first five episodes of Invisible can be streamed in VR or through your browser at https://www.jauntvr.com/lobby/invisible

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

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