EDN Member of the Month – Georgy Molodtsov
In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for November 2016 is Georgy Molodtsov, programming director of EMC VR Film Festival, MIXAR VR Festival, creative director at VRability, Moscow, Russia.
EDN has among other things talked to Georgy Molodtsov about his transition from documentary to VR360 and the project Lake Baikal: The Science and Spirituality of Extreme Water that he will be presenting at this month’s IDFA Forum.
Georgy Molodtsov is the programming director of EMC VR Film Festival and Student VR Lab (Russia), and lead mentor of Steamer VR Lab (Israel). He is the co-founder of VRability social good project, and in 2016 he received Russia's Media Manager of the Year Award for promoting VR in educational and social projects as well as the MIXAR Award for the contribution to the development of VR technologies in Russia.
Georgy finished VGIK (Moscow Film School) in 2008 as a documentary director and started to work as a programmer of the Moscow International Film Festival the same year. In 2010, Georgy started to work as a freelance commercial advertising director. At the same time he continued to develop in the field of documentary cinema, where he worked both as a director (Let Our Lives Continue in Other, 2012; Forest is my Choice, 2013), buyer and programmer for the TV-slot Watching and discussing at TV-channel Russia-Kultura and as a producer. In 2012 Georgy was proposed with the position of the Vice-president of the Russian Documentary Guild. His main responsibilities here are connected with the promotion of Russian documentaries and development of the RGDOC.COM web-portal. In 2015 Georgy graduated from American University School of Communication with MA in Film and Video as a Fulbright graduate fellow.
EDN: You are currently very involved in the world of VR and you are the programming director of EMC VR Film Festival, MIXAR VR Festival, and the creative director at VRability. Can you start by sharing some information on these 3 initiatives and their profiles?
GM: VRability is a VR/360 project, which uses the possibilities of virtual reality to motivate people to be more active in real life. Working for many years in the field of social cause advertising, I’ve built strong relations with disability organizations. My colleague and partner on the project, technical director Stanislav Kolesnik, had a car crash and was rehabilitating after it and he told, that watching VR actually helped him emotionally and even physically. That’s how we understood, that VR might be a good tool for people with disabilities to be in the place they might or might not be in real life, as well as to show to the wider audience the power of the most active people with disabilities. We produce content, arrange screenings for people with disabilities as well as providing them with cardboards and posting the process online. Currently the project is concentrated on working with non-profits and creating 360 films and experience which would help spread the word in a more immersive way, as well as shooting 360 content for those, who want to try something but could not/afraid to do it in real life.
EMC VR Film Fest was an ambitious project by EMC Russia & CIS (currently DELL EMC). This IT company, who is providing big data solutions, invited me to do something no one had did before. We then decided that the best thing would be to do a VR Film Festival. 33 films in 3 programs, over 2000 viewers in 3 days were watching creative 360 films on over 65 Samsung Gear VR simultaneously, using the special synced system developed by Russian “Interactive Lab” company. That gave the event “cinematic” feeling, when everyone was watching the same work at the same time and heard the external sound of the film and the laugh/cry of the others, but at the same time they were watching it the way each of them wanted.
We had a huge media coverage of the event in Russia, so after that I did several more events like this – MIXAR VR Film Fest to mention (as a part of the biggest VR/AR conference in Russia), VR Film Fest | Stockholm, VR:Cinema day in Minsk, Belarus. For those I did mostly programming and presentation of the films, as it takes quite a lot of time to get the best 360 films.
EDN: Having formerly worked as documentary programmer, director and producer – what were you motivations for shifting to VR?
GM: I still try to be in transition between documentary and VR, keeping the position for Moscow IFF and RGDoc, however I like 360 and VR as it gives much more creative tools to tell a documentary story and observe the reality. We are trying to work with the quality of the material and make it competing with traditional video, but the limitations of the media are still quite big. So, great storytelling and interesting “framing” of the spherical shot makes your work more responsible.
EDN: Part of your work is focused on VR as an educational tool? Do you see this as one of the most important elements of the VR future or will VR also become a household/mainstream item?
GM: With our current Baikal project we’ve been involved in Google Expeditions program and provided beautiful 360 3D photos of Lake Baikal. The project aim is to show the kids in a classroom places on the Earth and explain it to them. I believe, that is something where 360 is useful – to give a better understanding and immersion into the places you wouldn’t probably see by yourself. However, gaming is the biggest part of VR and for that it might be a household item. Like with art cinema and documentary, our goal is to get the best position in this technology so that those, who are interested - not just in gaming, could have access to unique creative content, which then might also be useful as an educational tool
EDN: Can you share some insights regarding the funding for VR projects? Is there any and do you go to alternative sources from when you produced “traditional” documentaries?
GM: 360 as a technology is still a B2B tool and most of the commercial projects my colleagues from 360 productions are involved in are work for clients. It requires good stitching, good framing, but also good budgets. So, keeping the balance between B2B, B2C and creative projects will let you have a better understanding of the tools in VR/360. One project might cover the costs of development/buying a new 360 camera and then the skills of using this camera might give you creative ideas on how to do something unique in your own creative project. At the moment, I don’t see a huge amount of independent creative projects in 360, but creation of festivals, distribution platforms and basic monetisation tools are already happening all over the world, so soon there would be enough resources to get financing. Still, I think that finding a good commercial partner who will be interested in co-branding our content is the most efficient tool.
EDN: In June this year you hosted the first edition of the EMC VR Film Festival in Moscow. What was the idea behind making a festival and how did it turn out? Will it take place again and also in other locations?
GM: EMC VR Film Fest was a commercial initiative and very ambitious. An international panorama of the world’s most famous 360 works, and an international competition of works made by independent studios were two out of three main programs. But what we really needed was original Russian content. So we organised the EMC VR Film Lab in partnership with the Moscow Film School and the Augmented and Virtual Reality Association. After theoretical and practical lectures, provided by me and by my colleagues from LenVR and other studios, students (producers and directors) developed pitches for short 360 films. We selected several of them, and provided a budget and equipment/post production facilities. At the end, we had 6 films with quite outstanding ideas in different genres – comedy, horror, documentary, dance performance and, the one I love the most, The story of one Jester shot in Middle Age atmosphere and based on a famous Shakespeare tragedy.
So, we have been able to not only show the films to a Russian audience (for most of whom it was there first experience in VR), but also to create almost the first Russian films of this kind which has became the base of the Samsung VR “VR Cinema” channel in Russia and have already been screened in France and at some of the other events I have organised.
The success of the festival raised huge interest from regular cinema theatres and many of them approached me to do a stand-alone VR theatre with regular programming. Those projects are in the development now, so I’m pretty sure that soon there will be several places to show 360 and VR projects commercially, as well as venues ready to host another festival. For now, I believe that the festival and its team would work next year, just not sure if under the same title.
EDN: At the upcoming IDFA Forum you will be pitching the cross platform project Lake Baikal: The Science and Spirituality of Extreme Water. What is the project about and in which stage of the production are you?
GM: Last winter we started this project lead by US producer Michael Owen from MediaCombo, based in Brooklyn, NY. His initial idea was not only to provide photos to Google Expeditions (and we are proud to be the first original Russian 360 3D expedition in their collection), but also to create an immersive documentary about different aspects of the biggest fresh water resource on Earth. The main idea behind the project was to show how the science, culture and social life of people are driven by the uniqueness of this massive Lake.
We’ve been able to shoot over 25 scenes of winter in and around Baikal. One of the most unique locations we shot in was Involginsky Datsan, the heart of Russian Buddhism. Usually TV crews are allowed to stay in the corner during the ceremonies, but we were allowed to place the camera in the very center of the space to capture the entire 360 degree experience. Five episodes from the film are now presented as an “Introduction to Winter Baikal and Its Culture”, but we are planning to make the most picturesque part in summer with drone and underwater 360 filming. The finished film will include winter and summer scenes in a longer 360 documentary on the importance of Lake Baikal as a source of fresh water, and its cultural and scientific significance.
EDN: Lake Baikal: The Science and Spirituality of Extreme Water is a co-production with USA and MediaCombo. How was this collaboration initiated and how is it functioning in practice?
GM: Michael Owen was the initiator of the project as he has been developing the idea of a documentary about Baikal for a long time. As the 360 technology became more affordable, he decided to try it and having Google Expeditions on board let him start the process. As we’ve been really active in the 360 market in Russia, we’ve built a team for the specific needs of the project, working with my colleagues from the production companies VRability and Prosense. While working on the project we mutually decided that it would have more potential as a co-production than as a work for hire so we have built our relationship based on this idea.
EDN: What are your expectations from presenting the project at IDFA?
GM: We expect to get financing and potential distribution of the project from the large media companies in attendance that already have a strong foothold in VR. VR360 is a new medium, so there are no strict rules on duration, content or storytelling and each company may have its own preference for how VR stories should be shot, edited and presented. We are interested in finding out how we can keep our original idea and also fulfill the needs and expectations of the companies who want to work with us. Also as in regular documentary distribution, the target audience and market are really different from platform to platform, so we hope that our “observational” style with its scientific and educational background, will interest those who would like to show unique nature and culture, rarely seen even on a big screen.
EDN: What makes in your optic a good VR project?
GM: 360 is not fully a VR, but VR is the most effective tool to watch 360. So I really believe, that a good VR project is a project which has a total understanding of the audience who will watch it and when. What I like about 360 projects is that they are multiplatform and they are the gates to the world of VR. The idea of observation with no crew, no light, no actors around and long shots to explore the space is much closer to our traditional understanding of documentary. So, I guess, with the current development of technology and it’s popularity, 360 documentary projects about remote areas and interesting visualization including basic CGI with interactive elements made for VR (Oculus, Vive), mobile VR stereoscopic version with no or limited interactivity and online monoscopic version for Facebook and stereoscopic versions for YouTube/Samsung VR and other platforms have a better chance to be popular both with the wide audience and with festivals.
EDN: After IDFA and the pitching - what lies next for you?
GM: The biggest challenge is to try to create a system of VR360 content distribution at least in Russia to show that independent works might give some money back from distribution. That’s the main project I’m developing now with my partners and I hope that content producers from around the world would be willing to help with the content as well as understand how tough it is to start it commercially and not ask for millions from each sale.
For more information visit: www.gmolodtsov.com
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