VR for Good – Taking Storytelling to the Next Level

VR for Good - Taking Storytelling to the Next Level

Ben Roffee


In this last #SDCVR post, Ben Roffee, Immersive News Producer at RYOT, shares his passion for VR and reveals how it’s helping journalists sleep better at night. 

One of the biggest challenges for journalists and filmmakers is making the stories we encounter just as impactful for our audiences as they are for us. Often we feel that our work falls short of the true thing – it’s the “you had to be there” effect. I’m excited about virtual reality because it narrows that gap, at least enough for us to sleep at night. It helps us bring stories home as they were meant to be experienced.

Make no mistake, this is a revolution in media. VR is not just a fad, and it’s won’t kill conventional linear video. It’s here to stay, and evolve, but the storytelling must be exceptional. VR won’t rescue lazy or mediocre storytelling from itself. At RYOT we operate as if both misconceptions are true and tell every story as best as we possibly can.

I began at RYOT as a writer, then shifted to spearheading our social and editorial strategy. As social 360⁰ video emerged on YouTube and Facebook, we saw the potential and realized we could stake a claim as a leader in 360⁰ news and documentaries. Opportunities like that come around once in a lifetime. I’m part of building something that, one day, the world will hopefully look back on as a major turning point in the history of storytelling.

My day-to-day is far less boring than I ever imagined as a kid – and fortunately involves way less math. In the office, I work on pre and post production of 360⁰ editorial content and head up RYOT’s social strategy – in which 360⁰ plays a huge role. In the field, I’m usually sweating a lot, detangling wires, and falling in love with the places, people, and creatures we meet along the way. One of the pieces that I’m most proud of is ‘Toxic Tour’, which I shot with my best friend and partner in crime Tarik Benbrahim. It documents the past, present, and future nightmare of oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We covered a lot of ground and linked the passage of oil from indigenous lands to our doorstep right here in LA.

As I’m sure many VR creators can attest, our greatest limitation right now is 6DoF (six degrees of freedom), the freedom of movement in 3D. My whole crew at RYOT is very anxious to combine our storytelling interests with explorable real world spaces. When that becomes available in a format we can bring into the furthest corners of the earth, we’ll be taking a massive leap forward.

The most interesting VR application that I’ve seen is Marshmallow Laser Feast’s work. They’re mapping real world spaces and turning them into mind-bending digital experiences. It’s this kind of experimentation that’s driving the field forward. Compared to established mediums, there aren’t any rules yet, and nobody has much of a head start. VR has no Tarantino, no Dalí. Anyone can become the forerunner. The key is to begin now. There are still infinite ways to inspire that haven’t been tapped.

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