Last night, the 12th of June 2020 I attended the World Premiere of Director Tom Paton’s latest release The Ascent (formerly Stairs, Black Ops in the US). However this was no ordinary premiere in the traditional sense. This was a Virtual Reality premiere that could be attended via the Altspace VR app on your Oculus Headset.
That is right folks during these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and the Apocalypse, Tom and his partners at Mosley Studios started looking for a new and innovative way to get The Ascent out there. Sure the guys could have dropped it straight to streaming services, which they will do on Monday but where is the fun in that. You want that big glitzy premiere right?. Well they found their own unique way to bring a sort of semi normal premiere theater experience to the masses.
I have seen the movie a couple of times thanks to guys being awesome to us, so I wont be going into a review of the flick (you can find that HERE). I just wanted to bring you my experience of this new innovative release format because as far as I am aware this has never been done before, this is a world first in the industry and I am so proud of Tom and his DOP George for just even entertaining this. There will be onlookers in the industry turning their noses up at this for sure but every now and then an evolution is whats needed to revitalize the scene and I genuinely feel like this could become a thing.
First of all let me take a quick minute to be completely honest and tell you how skeptical I was of this whole thing. I like to think I am a cinema going purist. I love being in a dark theater with countless people I don’t know and enjoying a movie on that huge screen for the first time with them. Call me sadistic but I don’t even mind hearing peoples gasps or cheers (so long as you follow the etiquette). When that light goes back up we will leave in our individual groups with our thoughts on the movie and discuss on the way home. You may love or you may hate the flick you just watched but one thing was for sure… You just had an experience… For my money the Cinema is the greatest place on earth. Overpriced nowadays? Maybe!!! Worth every penny? Yes!!! I don’t care how good your entertainment system is at home, you can’t recreate this experience…
However you guys know me by now… I am a big fan of what Tom and George have been cooking up over the last few years and one thing you can say about the guys is that they are always looking to innovate and elaborate. So when I saw the article about the guys doing the premiere in VR, well I ordered myself an Oculus headset (early fathers day present from my awesome wife and kids) downloaded the AltspaceVR app, familiarized myself with how the thing worked and looked forward to checking the flick out.
It was 10 minutes to the Premiere and I was all set. Sat up in bed with a big old glass of Coke (Haldon measure of Vodka of course) and a cheeky bowl of Popcorn. I was just chilling in my VR apartment for a minute, there is a big Billboard out the window advertising the Premiere of The Ascent which is pretty baller… Then I get the Notification.
Once entering the “Portal” I find myself in a courtyard outside the cinema with the official poster for The Ascent up on the wall looking the Bollocks. I casually stroll through to the theater and there it is, rows of seats, a big assed screen, a bar at the back of the room… Aww man this is cool as F**k. I make my way to a seat and turn to look at the screen. On stage stand three guys talking amongst themselves, I can instantly recognize two of the voices as Director Tom Paton and DOP George Burt. The third voice was an Executive Editor from Indie Wire and he was there to moderate a Q&A before the showing. You read that right, A Q&A. Before we all nestled in for the movie Tom and George did a quick Q&A answering questions from members of audience which was one of the coolest parts of this whole thing.
Then the The Ascent played in its entirety in Virtual Reality. So the way this worked was that across multiple rooms (I think the guys said 4) there were a little over 100 people from around the world Simultaneously streaming the movie. Not one tiny bit of lag let me tell you, zero buffering at all. Sometimes I cant even watch Netflix without some buffering. Something I was a tad worried about was all the different people talking, something I can usually get away with but I was conscious this is VR and that might be sensory overload but you can literally mute all the voices in the room if needs be.
Once the movie was finished Tom and George’s Avatars came walking back into the room and hit the stage for another cheeky little Q&A before asking everyone to head back out to the Courtyard for a selfie (Chris just threw up in his mouth) in front of the aforementioned big ass poster. Once the guys left the screening I hung around for a little bit chatting with some of the other movie goers, a feature that I think gives you a little bit of the car journey home feeling with your buddies after a flick. I even ended up visiting the Camp Fire hub a little later where I bumped into a couple of folks talking about the flick which was pretty cool too.
Overall I loved this experience and I would absolutely do it again. No I don’t think it will take over the cinema going experience but I do think its a very very healthy alternative and It will take off… If done correctly. Is it perfect?? No it’s not but this is still pretty new and tweaks can be made when moving forward. A couple of things I would have liked was an option that once the movie was on I could have the lights go down and lock in on the screen, mostly because I was super aware of people and it made me want to look around at things (this is my ADHD kicking in though) maybe take a note from the Netflix app when building screening rooms going forward. However I am absolutely sold on this format of VR Movie going I will be checking out more on my Oculus, AltspaceVR have a fan in me and who knows maybe 365 could put some content on there… Let’s just see.
Massive props Tom, George, Mosley Studios and Indie Wire for putting this whole thing together and a huge congratulations to the entire cast and crew of The Ascent. Shayne Ward, Samantha Schnitzler, Bentley Kalu, Alana Wallace, Toby Osmond, Sophie Austin, Spencer Collings, Simon Meacock, Pheobe Robinson-Galvin, Rachel Warren, Johnny Rhodes, Darren Le Fevre, Steve Mosley, Alexa Waugh, Max Sweiry, Mikel Iriarte and anybody else I have missed I salute every single one of you for putting everything into this flick and breaking new ground in a big bad way you all stand on the cusp of a true turning point…