What’s it Like, Attending a Memorial in Virtual Reality?

12 May

My good friend Christian Long passed away a week ago. I had sent Chris a message a few days before, because I realise that I haven’t been able to say goodbye to him. I wanted to send a personal thank you, and goodbye. I knew nobody would read it, and he was long gone. It seemed like saying goodbye digitally seemed fitting in our tech-heavy digital world. However what better way to say goodbye to somebody who was dedicated to virtual reality (VR) than holding a memorial in VR?

I’d like to add some personal experience to this story for context first. I used to be a pretty hardcore PC gamer. I would game long into the night, and would be part of clans and chat groups. It’s led me to attend ‘virtual’ Christmas parties on chat groups organised by members of the group. It was a strange opportunity to chat, play games, win prizes and get to know one another without playing videogames. You could recognise voices, and gamertags in the chat group. However once we started to add photos to the group chat, suddenly here were faces behind the voices rather than just digital avatars. It felt like you were part of a strange online family, that you’d never met before but had spent hours together with on adventures. I could argue that I knew some of these people more than my real friends, because I’d seem them tested under difficult situations and saw how they reacted and behaved in those situations. Virtual reality (VR) offers something similar, but different to these online digital parties.

Steve Bambury, Chris Madsen and Mike Armstrong managed to organise a beautiful memorial inside Engage. In fact, it was the same environment I mentioned previously –  the circular stone burials. However instead of a giant dinosaur floating in the sky, there were red arrows guiding attendees to the memorial space. An ethereal shining light lit the space where we would have the ceremony. I was the first attendee to come in, and it felt strange being physically back to where it all started. Bagpipes were playing in the background, and as I went to the space created for the event I started hearing other attendees come in. I could hear how moved they were, crying and sniffling. “Oh god. This is amazing.” With some technical guidance we all realised that we were on open mics, and everybody could hear us. We swiftly and promptly muted ourselves to cry into our VR headsets in our separate houses/office spaces. Yes we still all had digital avatars. Some of us had our faces scanned and put onto the digital avatars in Engage. However we hadn’t met before, we don’t regularly game together and we were essentially a group of strangers who had all come together for our love and appreciation of Chris.

As people started streaming in, a video slideshow of photos of Chris started playing with the background song of “City of Stars” from the La La Land soundtrack and the speeches started to take place. I realised this was a very special experience. I don’t know if there’s every been a VR memorial before. This might have been the first ever one to take place. As I looked around me, I saw avatars all dressed respectfully in black with the word ‘muted’ under their name. I heard the sound of birds, wind in trees, and tearful goodbyes. In a strange way it all felt real.

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Autumn leaves fall from the sky during the singing of Hallelujah.

As with all things related to VR, a surreal and beautiful moment took place. A young girl in Spain with her father started singing Hallelujah, and as she sang autumn leaves slowly started to drift down from the sky. It was so beautiful and moving. I had never heard somebody sing in a virtual world, let alone a dedicated song at a memorial. It was extremely moving. This suddenly felt more real than any of my Christmas parties I attended on Teamspeak. When I came to give my speech, I physically stood up in real life and in Engage. As I walked towards the podium and looked at all the avatars around me, it suddenly felt even more real. After giving the most tearful speech I’ve ever given,  I sat back down in my chair. Both in VR and in real life. I was shaking and the spongy protection eye cover on the HMD was wet.

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A RAF officer stands tall and salutes as the planes flew over us.

A RAF officer who served with Chris then spoke some beautiful poetry dedicated to Chris through a robotic voice (the bandwidth must have been suffering with the amount of people all in one space). Somebody then put a video of air planes doing a special tribute in the sky for fallen soldiers. They put the video up in the sky which was blue, and tilted it down towards us. It was like the planes were really doing these manoeuvres, and this RAF officer stood up in front of me and saluted. It was so moving to see this tribute.

His wife and children were all on one headset, guided by the help of Chris’s friend Jay. His wife had never been in VR before, and she said she’d been extremely moved by all the tributes and people Chris had managed to touch. Her avatar dropped to the ground and rose up again as Chris’s children giggled and said their thank yous and goodbyes (his children are extremely young). They were extremely joyful and playful, and I hope that the space/experience is recorded to return back to as an option when they’re older and more mature (yes it’s possible to do this in VR). Hearing his family, children and Jay was enough for me to break down in tears if the singing and planes weren’t already enough.

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We were then given the opportunity to put his favourite plane, the Lancaster, into the environment around us till the digital space would crash. What ensued were planes taking up all the space around us. Luckily my graphics card was pretty high spec and I managed to stay in long enough to see hundreds of Lancasters take to the sky. I could hear Chris’s children giggling and laughing as they were slowly surrounded by Lancasters.

I know it’s possible to have planes fly over a memorial and have somebody sing a beautiful song whilst autumn leaves slowly float down from the sky. However it requires a lot of money, influence and organisational skills to pull of something that spectacular.  It’s definitely impossible to have hundreds of Lancasters take over the sky, as well as for all these people from around the world to be at a memorial in VR. There were people in Scotland, America, Dubai, Spain and other various places attending this VR memorial. What I was missing was reading the body language, and facial expressions – but I could hear it when the microphones were un-muted. I could see people taking their headsets on and off during the memorial (presumably to cry), and it was such a moving, surreal and incredibly beautiful tribute to Chris. For me it was incredibly real, and I don’t think it could have been done any better.

If you’d like to help Chris and his family please help support their gofund me page.

Who was Christian Long and What did he do?

12 May

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How I met Christian Long

Last week a really good friend of mine passed away. His name is Christian Long. I wanted to write and share my experiences of VR with him, because he was an incredibly special individual.

I met him last year in the most unexpected ways. He was a teacher at Langley College in Slough last year and had set up something special. He invited me as a journalist to attend a virtual reality (VR) classroom. The event was to showcase the potential of education in VR. This was my first encounter of an experience where around fifteen students, all equipped with HTC Vive headsets were put into the same world to receive a class in history, space and physics.

We were guided by Steve Bambury, a teacher who was in Dubai at the time. He gave us a basic tutorial lesson of the controls in the VR platform Engage whilst we were all in a classroom in Slough, England. We were then transported to a location where the first circular burial sites were built. Our objective was to find the centre of the sites. A lot of students got lost, and for many it was their first time in VR. When they got lost, I remember Steve putting up a giant dinosaur in the sky to indicate where we were in the digital world. I could not see the other student’s faces, (I was the only non-student part of this classroom) but I could tell they were excited by how they were testing and experimenting with everything.

Suddenly we were transported to a spaceship and told to go to through some doors, where we suddenly found ourselves on Mars. I was in awe. I was having a shared VR experience with people I had never met before, but we all stood there for a moment in awe as we took in the stars surrounding us in the sky. It was special because it was a shared experience. We were then sent on a wild goose chase around Mars to find Mars Rovers Steve had hidden across the planet. A flurry of astronauts were seen teleporting across the planet, getting stuck in crevasses, trying to jump in the sky (which wasn’t possible). It was like a children’s playground in space with absolutely no worry about loosing children along the way, or fear of them injuring themselves or doing something silly. A care free Magic Schoolbus experience.

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If that wasn’t surreal enough, we were then transported to a lecture hall where we were given a lesson about Quantum physics by Loren Carpenter. The co-founder and chief scientist of Pixar Animation Studio. I can’t even begin to describe how surreal this experience was as he told us how he created the algorithm that allows for 3D creating of 3D computer graphics. It was like meeting a God, but in VR. He explained who he was, and what he was doing now with quantum physics. Whilst he was giving his lecture, with the conventional slides in the background I spotted a student who kept staring at his hands. He was opening and then clenching his hands with his controllers and kept staring at them like he had never seen hands before.

I realised that unlike these students, I had been in VR before. They might not have understood the gravitas of the situation because it was so much to take in. Whilst Loren spoke about using VR to test the double-slit experiment in Quantum mechanics I used the opportunity to ask a ridiculous amount of questions about energy, particles and vibrations. I’ve been in a countless VR experiences as a VR journalist. To the point where it gets hard to impress me whenever I get put into a VR experience. This experience was one of those top three experiences that really changed my understanding of how shared VR experiences could forever change the way we learn.

Chris and the VR Diversity Initiative

Speaking to Chris afterwards, he was filled with enthusiasm and excitement. He wanted me to interview all of his students, specifically the young girls. His interest in diversity and education immediately led me to ask him for help with running the VR Diversity Initiative (VRDI) I was running at the time. Without blinking he insisted on being involved when he heard what I was setting out to do. We became good friends, and would call regularly. We would enthuse about VR hardware, software about the latest trends would offer introductions to people we thought could help the other. I realised back at Langley College that Chris was somebody quite unique and special when he told me he had built a whole wing for the school. I was flabbergasted by his humble kindness and enthusiasm for getting things done. He would help running the VRDI, wake up at 3am to come and help set up the VR headsets for the workshops (we had a lot of headsets to have people build and create VR). Like a whirlwind he would come, prepare, set up and fix all of the problems. Giving me the time and breathing space to deal with everything else. Always in the background, and never taking any credit for his time, effort and hard work. He was there with a smile, boy-ish twinkle in his eye and enthusiasm to help in any way he possibly could. To be honest, i’m not quite sure if I’d be able to set up another event without Chris!

We would call regularly, and were going to do some projects together somehow. Chris was somebody who gave himself into everything he did. He did it with enthusiasm and a smile. What was so incredible about Chris was that he would always figure out a way to fix a problem, no matter what. He asked for nothing in return, and there are very few people in the world who are so altruistic and simply nice.

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Chris Long on the computer as Jay tests out a headset for a demo.

I am still not over his death. It was sudden, shocking and has effected me greatly. I immediately thought we should do something for him in VR. Luckily Steve and his friends were two steps ahead of me. When I mentioned to friends and family that I would be in a VR memorial, I was met with confusion. Rightfully so. Is a concept so abstract, but a glimpse of the future.

Imagined Realities – my minds unconscious

15 Dec

There was once a girl. She lived in the city in a tiny flat. It was small but it was cozy and she felt very comfortable. She had a hectic life but for the most part, she was happy. Her friends were all envious of how happy she was but they loved to have her around. Her smiles would light up the room. The girl had a dark secret though.

Every morning she would wake up in a different flat. Sometimes one in the same building but other times miles away. She could never predict where she’d wake up. For awhile she tried to avoid sleeping. She’d stay awake for days on end. Her eyes were red and she was falling apart. Finally she’d give in and rest her eyes for a second, only to find herself in a foreign location.

She lost jobs and couldn’t maintain relationships. Everyone assumed she had commitment issues. She found herself at a breaking point when a friend suggested to film herself. So she set up a camera in front of her bed. She fell asleep and the most amazing thing happened.

She was flying. Every night when she fell asleep, she was completely unburdened by all the stress of the day and freed of that weight she was in turn unencumbered by gravity or even walls. Her mind was free to wonder wherever it wanted and her body would follow.

The next morning she returned to her flat and watched the tape. A tear came to her eye. She had an idea. The next night she was prepared. She wore gloves and hat and attached a camera to her feet. She sent a feed of the video to all her friends and family. that night they were all as free as she.

 

-James Stowe-

Brexit, being a TCK and Filmmaker in London

31 Jul

I’ve refrained myself from writing this blog, because I don’t want to have a political profile online – but the Brexit has had such a personal impact on me that I’ve been left no choice but to voice my opinion. This is a very personal blog and I hope that by writing this I can both alleviate the personal frustrations I have but also help people understand a different viewpoint.  

A few months ago I was working on a music video with Riz Ahmed. Not only was I humbled by his down to earth manners, but I loved what he was rapping about in his song “Englistan”. Here was a man that was featuring in some amazing feature films, including the up and coming Star Wars, shaking hands, hugging and having conversations with anybody and everybody on the street. He tried to encapsulate what it meant to be English. We shot in the oldest Synagogue in London where I listened with awe to the history of the Jews coming to London to weave clothes in East London. He wanted to capture all the people of England from the barber shops, kebab shops, Polski skleps, the old English gent in the pub down the corner, the Hari Krishna, the various temples and churches next to each other, the list goes on. He wanted to show England’s diversity and depict how rich it was in cultures, language and history. Built on the hands of slavery, trade and colonialism I’ve watched one of the most developed and richest countries in the world turn on immigrants, the weak and the fear of ‘others’ and turn towards hatred, anger, discrimination and violence.

Riz’s other songs are just as powerful. I was moved by his his song “Benaz”, about honor killings, mostly because my ex boyfriend was also from the Middle East and I related to it. His mother lives in Greenford where during my first year at University the honor killing of Geeta Aulakh took place. It was all over the news and only a street away from where the incident took place ( I never told my mom). Going out with a Middle Eastern man, I suddenly realized the open attitudes I had grown up with had shifted when it came towards people of the Middle East. Perhaps it was because of the fear mongering created by America’s powerful propaganda on its ‘war on terrorism’. I had to be careful, people were afraid I’d become ‘islamified’. I’d start wearing a turban and run away to Iran where my passport would be taken away, and I’d become enslaved and trapped. What a load of bullshit.

Not only was I dating the son of a political refugees and a very progressive forward thinking parents, but an atheist as well. Raised in London he had grown up with Rasta’s, surrounded by little boys and girls of all descents. He told me he was the only ‘white boy’ at school because the rest of his classmates were all brown skinned or black.  As the years went by I learnt more about the Middle East and Kurdistan than anybody else I knew (this was before Kurdistan became headline news). I educated myself about what Islam was. It’s origins, history and development throughout civilization. I was intrigued by the culture, music, dance and family hierarchy. It was so different to mine, I didn’t want to be part of the culture but I choose to respect and defend his background in every conversation I had.

Being adopted, growing up in nine different countries and from a political background – I am an unusual citizen of the world. Belonging to the box of ‘international students’, I grew up going to French schools then aptly moved to the American International School System after being beat up by teachers. I’m what people would call a Third Culture Kid (TCK). If you were to type in ‘third culture kid definition’ in Google, the results will be as following:

“Third culture kid (TCK) is a term used to refer to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years.”

I have a Dutch passport, it is the only passport I hold. My first language was Dutch and when I get stressed or angry I started thinking in Dutch. Yet ironically I don’t know what it means to be Dutch except loving Nasi Goreng, eating Belgian fries, licorice and bitterballen or always being embarrassed with the Red light district and legalization of weed turned up in conversation. Just like Riz, I started to ask myself from a young age, “what does it mean to be Dutch?” Even today, I cannot answer that question.

I cannot even pronounce the word “home” in Dutch

As a young girl I was sent to a sailing camp in Holland where I was continuously told “you’re not Dutch”. It traumatized me. I have spent at least a week or two of every year in Amsterdam my whole life and have always been told I’m Dutch by my parents.Yet  I cannot even pronounce the word “home” in Dutch because I cannot say the vowels “ui” which make up the word “huis” or “home”. In International schools we had one day appropriately named ‘international day’ where children and parents were encourage to dress up in their traditional clothing, bring their traditional cuisine over and we would celebrate diversity, culture and food of different nations. In American International Schools I had to sing their national anthem during assembly. I was often one of the only Asian children at the school and if there were in my class – I couldn’t relate to them on any cultural sense. Yet when I made Dutch friends and went to their house I still felt ‘different’. My Dutch would be corrected by their parents at dinner table and I could never truly be part of Dutch culture because I hadn’t grown up with the same songs, social or cultural norms.

I grew up having to provide evidence of who I am as a person and argue with people about being Dutch

I grew up in countries were I was openly discriminated against, people used to point at me, yell ‘ching chang chong’ at me, make hand gestures where they make their eyes slanted, assumed I could use chopsticks, assumed I was good at math, assumed I was tech savy and in general made me fit into a stereotype in their head. When introducing myself to people now I almost have to sigh inwardly, because I know I’d have to start a long conversation about who or what I am. I grew up having to provide evidence of who I am as a person and argue with people about being Dutch.

London so far is one of the only cities in the world where I have lived, where I feel I don’t have to fight so much. When I say fight, I mean make an effort to prove who I am to people. Everybody is so multi-cultural and often times you don’t hear English at all. You’re continually bombarded by different languages, cultures, religion and food. It’s fantastically, rich and diverse.

Weeks before the Brexit took place I asked my Dad to get a British passport. I had now lived in London for six years and was eligible for one. England now is also the country I had lived in the longest  – before that the longest country was Germany which was four years. He said not to worry and that Brexit would never happen. Fast forward to a week before Brexit and I was now in a panic state. I had started my UKVR Hackathon, I had made my film connections and network in England and didn’t want to start from the bottom again in another country. I was convinced all my English friends would vote to Remain and couldn’t stop talking about it. Not only was Brexit something I am against for the general greater good of young English citizens (worker’s rights, human rights, trade, travel etc.), but it also felt like an attack on everything I stand for as a person.

Here I was in a city where I felt like I was accepted for who I was as a person. London also represents to me a society or city in which different cultures, people and religions can co-exist and flourish. All of my films focus on equality, representing or giving a voice to ‘the other’. From women to people who are not white. I fight for them in my work and my films. I want strong female characters and I do not want only white lead actors to continuously lead the spotlight. I believe in diversity and equality, for individuals to be judged on their talent rather than their social class or skin color.So far, even with all its faults, I thought London had done a pretty good job. It’s national dish is curry, they drink tea from India and they drive German cars for crying out loud!

Perhaps it was too much too fast.

The night before the Brexit my flatmate was watching TV and I decided to go to bed early. My phone had run out of battery and I put it on charge. I remember it was a beautiful sunny day and heard my phone vibrate. The first message I read was

“Brexit is een feit. Hoe voel je je?” 06:34

which translates to “Brexit is a fact. How do you feel?” then I saw another text message from my best friend

“are you awake!!” 06:04

“we’re leaving!!!” 06.06

I started crying. I couldn’t believe it. I must have gone into shock. I was scared everything I had done was for nothing. I also realized that if people could vote to Leave that Trump was a real threat. I knew that my fears before the Brexit had become a reality. This was the beginning of the end of the European Union. It would be a domino effect and far right political parties would use this as a stepping stone to dismantle the Union. I heard the TV and sat next to my flatmate in silence as I saw David Cameron stating he was going to resign. I texted my three best friends and to my absolute shock and horror found out that one of them had voted to leave. It felt like I had just broken up with a boyfriend I didn’t know exist. That day I sat in silence and for three days I couldn’t eat or sleep properly. I went out that night to the Pheonix Artist Club with my friends in the hopes that alcohol, good company and music would cheer me up. Yet my friends are journalists, writers and in general very strong minded. We refused to speak about it till the end of the night and after one of my friends started to explain the real consequences of it to my friends I don’t know what happened to me but I broke down and started crying (I’m a pretty strong character and crying in public is NOT something I do on a regular). I had to go home.

I sought support from my friends – but they were taking drugs at music festivals or travelling the world. I saw hatred and fury on Facebook and decided not to go on any social media for the next few days. I would go visit my family and had my best friend who voted to leave coming in a few days and I didn’t know how to deal with the situation. Everybody said I was over reacting – that if you couldn’t control it there was no reason to be upset – that after the dust would settle things would be fine – it would take two years for article 50 to be enacted so don’t worry. I had never felt a whole city feel so dead before. That atmosphere at WeWork was dead, start up companies had gone bust immediately and the pound had dropped to record lows.

They want Britain to be ‘great again’.

I realize now that we are the generation after the baby boom generation and that having lived in this idyllic London was illusion and a farce. London and the other cities had developed and grown too fast. The generation of Thatcher, the urban areas where internet was impossible to find, the areas in which only white populations existed had been left behind. English people felt they were importing too much foreign produce and services. They want  England to be ‘great again’.  Just like Trump wants America to be ‘great again’.

What I don’t understand is how people who have lived through WWII or people who studied history cannot see the similarities. The iron curtain, the England trying to isolate itself from the problems it had created by drawing lines across borders in Asia and the Middle East, sending troops there to kill and expect no repercussions. The difference now though is that we live in a Globalized world. The Schengen agreement allows for free travel where the British have taken full advantage of buying up houses in Europe and trashing the Islands in Greece, Spain and Italy. There is still this notion in the UK that believes in its age old colonial power where it enslaved people, took resources and were deemed as ‘Great’. I understand that England wants to create its own farmland, become an industrial power once more, but such an innate reaction without doing the full political research shouldn’t be allowed to have such a huge impact let alone allow the media and political slogans outright lie to its citizens (Farage backtracking on his promise to put £350 million into the NHS). If they want change they should stand up and become that change.

It looks like history is repeating itself

The dust is trying to settle and since then I’ve slowly gotten back to social media again. The world now looks like a real life simulation of Sid Meir’s Civilization. I’ve bought the incredible book “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall, which I urge anybody to read, borrow and buy. On the last passage of the chapters on Western Europe are some very powerful paragraphs in which Marshall describes how the EU was setup after the World War.

What is now the EU was set up so that France and Germany could hug each other so tightly in a loving embrace that neither would be able to get an arm fee with which to punch the other. It has worked brilliantly and created a huge geographical space now encompassing the biggest economy in the world ( Marshall, p.102) .

His most powerful paragraphs are his last two, in which after describing how NATO is fraying and how Russia is trying to take back European countries he gives ode to the past.

In his book Of Paradise and Power the historian Robert Kagan argues that Western Euroeans live in paradise but shouldn’t seek to operate by the rules of paradise once they move out into the world of power. Perhaps, as the euro crisis diminishes and we look around at paradise, it seems inconceivable that we could go  backwards; but history tells us how much things can change in just a few decades, and geography tells us that if humans do not constantly strive to overcome its ‘rules, its ‘rules’ will overcome us.

This is what Helmut Kohl meant when he warned, upon leaving the Chancellorship at Germany in 1998, that he was the last German leader to have lived through the Secod World War and thus to have experienced the horrors it wrought. In 2012 he wrote an article for Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, and was clearly still haunted by the possibility that because of the financial crisis the current generation of leaders would not nurture the post-war experiment in European trust: ‘For those who didn’t live through this themselves and who especially now in the crisis are asking what benefits Europe’s unity brings, the answer despite the unprecedented European period of peace lasting more than 65 years and despite the problems and difficulties we must still overcome is: peace (Marshall, p.110-111).

It looks like history is repeating itself once more and geography, selfishness and capitalism could potentially cause another World War. This article written by Tobias Stone, really puts it into perspective as does this fantastic TED talk by Alexander Betts.

The key is in education

Education has always been the key. As you can see from my personal experiences at schools and growing up, I’ve been lucky enough to be educated by people who are open, accepting, curious and respectful of one another.

As a filmmaker I’ve been struggling with trying to find my voice and balancing money to survive as a freelancer. I find myself trapped by having been trained in drama , but unwilling to become a cog in the wheel for the sake of money and stability. My drive for making films is to have an impact, a social and political impact. I want to be able to tell a story that changes the way a human being thinks about another.

Ever since the Brexit, ever since the fear of Trump I’ve realized that I do have a responsibility to myself and the future generations. People told me this is out of my control, but a single film, a single story, a single individual can make a huge difference. All it takes is one voice and single action to make a change. I’ve been  pushed more towards documentary, art, music and short form documentary and VR or 360 filming. I want to create empathy and understanding for ‘the other’. I want to help make audiences see that when it all comes down to it – we are all just human.

A great example is this video.

As most of you know I have a background in Gaming. Perhaps that’s why  I’m so interested in new technology like 360 films. It’s been called the biggest empathy machine and I hope to cultivate a community of VR and AR developers for people to look into each others eyes when seeing a 360 film.

Having grown up around the world I have seen death, poverty and corruption on a scale that some people have never seen. I’ve seen it first hand. Being there and seeing it with your own eyes is different to seeing 2D pictures projected onto your tv, tablet or phone. When you look somebody in the eyes there is a sense of communication that has no language. It’s magical.

I hope to use VR and documentaries and combine them with interactivity to bridge the divide and gap between two different people. Being a filmmaker I feel responsible for helping to educate people, now so more than ever before. I hope these films will educate, I hope it will teach people to not judge somebody immediately on the basis of skin, religion, ethnicity or accent. I hope it will prevent the younger generation from being discriminated against, humiliated and attacked. Despite being told not to be upset about things that are not in my control – I think I can make a difference. Even  if it is the smallest most minute difference.

If you are interested in telling a story or participating on my journey to create a difference by sharing and embracing culture I would love to speak and work with you. I want to use 360 and VR films to psychologically place people in other people’s shoes. Please contact me. Let’s spearhead this change.

Male perception: A confident woman is intimidating

16 May

Last weekend was beautiful. It was sunny, it was warm, I had some ‘Franco Manco’ Sourdough Pizza in London Fields and I was surrounded by old university friends I hadn’t seen in a while. It was glorious, ‘gezellig’ (as we say in Dutch) and I was smiling.

As the sun rays disappeared between the branches the group went to a pub where they served banana beer (it’s disgusting, not even worth trying). The guys next to me then started talking about taking dibs on a woman and how they didn’t believe in it.

“I call dibs”

So, two guys are standing by a bar with a few drinks and this beautiful woman enters the bar. One of the guy says “I call dibs” and as the rule goes, he gets to ‘own her’ or he has “dibs on her”. This in theory means his friend cannot make a move on her because he called “dibs” first.

My two friends said they believed it was the woman’s right to choose between the two guys, not the men. I thought to myself, “wow these guys are really  progressive in their thinking. I’m really happy to have friends who think like this.” Then somehow the conversation flipped and we got onto me.

“I find you intimidating”

One of my male friends said that he found me intimidating. I was shocked, “what have I done?” My friend (female) sitting next to him look equally confused, “she’s not intimidating, but I’ve known her for a long time so I might not see what you see”, she said. My friend on my right then confessed that he knew a few people who were intimidated by me as well. There was a loud protest now from my left where two girls who had studied psychology said, “she’s not intimidating at all!” I asked for clarification again, “what did I do to make it seem like I’m intimidating?” The girls said weak men who are insecure found confident women intimidating. They project their own insecurities onto men.

I didn’t think much of it for the rest of the night. A week has passed and the encounter is still in my head! I realise that I’m infuriated and angry at being called intimidating. If I was man, I would not have been called intimidating. I would probably have been called a ‘go-getter’, ‘strong’, ‘ambitious’, ‘confident’ and a ‘leader’. However just because of my gender, I am seen as ‘intimidating’ or ‘cocky’?

True, it may be British culture where women are pushed to be fragile, feminine, a secretary or PA rather than a leader themselves. The status quo still needs to change here. English culture is still conservative on many fronts – but we are in the 21st Century now. I can’t believe that I still have to fight this old mindset ingrained from our parents generation! With my so called forward thinking friends, I am still fighting to stand up as a woman! My friends, who believe a woman has a right to choose a partner rather than the males choosing to ‘own’ her, still believe that a confident woman is scary.

Playing the devil’s advocate

I know I have American tendencies, and from American culture I’ve learnt to be warm, more forward and confident. I also grew up in a political environment where you are forced to have small talk with ambassadors and other officials. From a young age I’ve been uprooted every three years and I’m forced to make friends quickly. I did talent shows, musicals, sports and student council – and I taught myself to be more confident when speaking in front of a crowd. (I was extremely shy before.)

I told one of the guys that I was going to write a blog about the incident, and in his defence he said that he found all strong minded people intimidating. ( I don’t believe this for one bit, he has a lot of friends with strong personalities).

I’ve been told I’m an alpha female, I am strong willed and have a strong character so perhaps that is why some people perceive me as intimidating. However I think those are the wrong words to use. I am a team player as well, I like listening to other people, I love hearing their stories and working together. I am interested in their lives, I like to have a good laugh, I love people who are passionate about what they do. Yet those qualities and characteristics are all ignored and pushed to the back once you call me ‘intimidating’. Why can’t you call me strong? Why can’t you call me ambitious? Why am I not equal to a man with the same characteristics?

What happens if you are a strong female in today’s world?

I found a fantastic article written by Alison Crossley that was published last year, which I can relate to. It discusses the firing of Jill Abramson in 2014 from the New York Times despite winning eight Pulitzer Prizes during her editorship there. Prudence Carter states within the article that women in leadership positions with the same qualities as men are considered “pushy and difficult”. Decades of gender norms have shaped men and women societal roles and gender expectations.

“It is widely accepted that women should be nurturing, deferent, kind and warm. Men, in contrast, are valued for being confident, in control and outspoken. The problem for women is that the qualities essential to being a successful leader, such as assertiveness and directness, are contrary to predominant norms of femininity. Because of this, women leaders are often penalized. They may be disliked by their colleagues, or their communication style critiqued, which can result in their being fired or missing out on important promotions or assignments.”

 

( Cite: http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2015/women-leaders-does-likeability-really-matter

Of course I cannot compare myself to Jill (comparing her achievements to mine), however the status quo that she is challenging is the same world I live in today. Women are almost four times more likely than men to think they have fewer opportunities to advance because of their gender—and they are twice as likely to think their gender will make it harder for them to advance in the future according to this study.

Women in new media and technology

I went to a Gapgas Google Campus last month to mingle with start-ups, entrepreneurs and tech savy individuals. I was the third woman in the room. Upset, I brought up the topic with my male colleague, to which he responded that women have a natural hormonal and instinctual desire to be nurturing, opposed to men who are less nurturing and therefore more wiling to take risks.

“At every stage, women are less eager than men to become a top executive. They are more likely to cite “stress/pressure” as a top issue, and this is not solely rooted in concern over balancing work and family. There is evidence pointing to another explanation—the path to leadership is disproportionately stressful for women.”

(cite: http://womenintheworkplace.com/)

London’s first VR woman meet up

Women are 15% less likely to be promoted compared to men.  Not only are these facts reflected in the gender inequality in Hollywood (only 19 percent of those directing Hollywood’s top 250 domestic-grossing movies in 2015) – but in many other areas such as Technology, Gaming and Engineering. I went to London’s first woman VR meet up last week and met some amazing women in the industry. It was so great to see a new part of the media industry, meet like minded people and women as well!

Meeting women in tech/media is tough. If you haven’t seen my documentary “Gamer Girls” please check it out, it focuses on women’s representation in video games. Not only that, I also have a little sister who does computer science and I care about her future.

I know that female coders and programmers are in the minority . A friend of mine was explaining how she was asked by her male superiors to leave a meeting because they thought she was a secretary and not somebody who actually built the software. She was being ‘mansplained’ to and couldn’t get a word in. If that isn’t disrespectful, I don’t know what is.

It may seem like I am loosing track, but I have a point to make here!

 

Women’s future roles and positions in VR, Tech and Gaming

 

I believe in gender equality and when I was organising the European Student Film Festival I made sure that 50% of the panel would be women. I wanted to showcase and empower women in the film industry. When I made my documentary “Gamer Girls” I made it with the intention to make people aware of gender inequality in a massive industry that is unknown. I am writing this article/blog to enlighten people (perhaps more in Europe rather than in America) of the danger of gender inequality in new media.

It is incredibly important to entice young women to work in new technology. We need to not only help and support them to enter new tech industries, but also support them when they aspire to be strong. Respect the leadership qualities of a woman and not call her bossy or bitchy behind her back (I’m talking to you too women). Encourage young girls to go into tech, engineering and male dominated industries. Spur your young daughter to start up her own business, even if it will fail. She will learn from it and only grow stronger.

We all know the benefits of gender equality and I am firm believer that if we treated women with the same respect as a man, and not call her ‘intimidating’ we would move towards a better world for both men and women.

 

 

Jelly is back: Pushing 360 VR

27 Apr

Hi guys!

So it’s been a while.  I’m not even sure if anybody really looks at this blog, so really it’s like a very public online diary. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long, I have been fighting for a career in filmmaking and if you’ve been following me – you can see that I have been making a little headway! Not so much as I would like, and I’ve realized now where I will be directing my energy towards.

I am interested in creating stories through the form of 360 /VR and AR. I come from a gaming background and during my 5 years of studying film, I started a YouTube channel where I started uploading video gameplay. I learnt about strong storytelling, developing powerful and intricate characters as well as imaginative ways of using the camera in an unlimited space. These experiences have not only allowed me to tap the online video content world, but also understand the online community and its behaviour.

The primary reason for my interest in VR and AR is its ability to fully immerse a viewer in a story or character. Just like in games, VR storytelling allows viewers to be actively engaged in a story – their actions make a difference. This immediate and close connection to characters or animals, I believe is the key to creating empathy. This is the what storytelling is all about, creating or evoking strong emotions from viewers. The aim of many documentaries is to incite action or change from their viewers. What better way to tell stories than VR films?

With the fast developing sector of interactive media, 360 rigs and cameras, apps, games and software, the landscape of storytelling will shift to viewers being fully immersed. For the first time, viewers are able to get up close and personal with people, situations, landscapes and creates like never before. The barrier that exists in theatre and film, or the ‘fourth wall’ can be broken and a viewer can literally be put in the shoes of another person. Not only will this be useful for telling the stories of people with disabilities, illnesses or those experiencing severe trauma – but it will help people around the world understand people of different cultures and generations.

I have met many talented creators whilst making films. From actors to dancers, make-up artists to set designers. I have also met a lot of start-up tech companies that are developing apps or video games. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I grew. Film makers, writers, journalists, singers, dancers, painters – all of these creators are trying to find new ways of connecting with audiences. To create different types of art. At the same time there are extremely talented developers and coders who can create beautiful interfaces and software, but aren’t trained in creating stories. They probably know how to build an app, game or stitch a 360 film, yet they lack the experience in telling stories or creating art. I want to change that.

I am going to start a festival or workshop based in WeWorks where creators and developers are able to meet and discuss for the first time. I hope to create connections and a platform for creativity to be built. I also hope to meet tech developers, marketing and software developers who would help me push 360 films forward into the future. Having grown up in 9 different countries, I have always known what it is like to be an outsider. I have always appreciated other cultures and people by experiencing and seeing their lives. I want to be able to share these experiences with others as well. To transport them to the Barrier Reef in Australia so they can see the bleaching of one nature’s greatest wonders before their eyes. I want them to see the horror the children in the Jungle Calais experience everyday, so they can compare it to their own. I want viewers to experience what it’s like to travel on a rocket, break the surface of the ozone layer and look down at planet earth from a space station. I want to work together with journalists, environmentalists, writers, adventurers, entrepreneurs to push for positive change. I want to use the format of 360 films to do that.

Discussion with companies, start-up tech companies, different NGO’s, 360 film companies are already underway. Let’s see what will happen.

We Need to Talk about Kevin Review: How adaptation should be done

19 Apr

 

As a morally conscious parent, wouldn’t your worst nightmare be slowly finding out your own flesh and blood is capable of murdering and killing the people you love and care about? Love and Hate, yourself/your body and soul/ your blood. This film explores this perfectly.

Inner demons? Can somebody be truly evil?

Inner demons? Can anybody be evil?

So for those of you who do not live in the UK, BBC iplayer is probably one of the greatest applications and services available in the UK. It offers not only catch up series but great films as well and I happened to stumble upon “We need to Talk about Kevin”. Quite old now, I had heard so many great things about and JESUS CHRIST THIS FILM GETS INTO YOUR BRAIN! In a very, slow, patient and consciously sneaky way. Just like the story it follows. I put the film in the background whilst painting, and found I couldn’t look away from the screen. Probably the most sinisterly creepy little kid ever. It’s a horror film, filmed in daylight mixed with a country soundtrack. Who would have thought that was possible?

Based on the book ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver the story follows Eva Katchadourian and her silent, cold relationship with her son Kevin as he grows up. I love the title of the book and film because it really exemplifies what the film is about, silence.When Eva gives birth to Kevin he would cry and scream keeping her up to the extent that when she stands next to a man drilling it sounds like heaven. He would stop crying when anybody else, especially her husband Franklin holds him or speaks to him. As Kevin grows up, stranger characteristics come forward. Like Eva wanting to take Kevin out for dinner to spend some time together, and when she’s ready to leave she sees him with a whole chicken in his mouth and his excuse is, “I was hungry”. Eva is forced to move out of the city she loves to the suburbs in order to accommodate Kevin, her world turns to bizarre scenarios wherein Kevin psychologically plays games with her.

The story is cleverly told from near the end of the film, intercutting from the very beginning where Eva and Franklin meet to the aftermath of something wherein Eva is slapped, treated horribly, tries to find a job, her life and her house. This makes us curious to find out what happened in-between to have cause such a stark contrast from the before and after. What did Kevin do?

SPOILER ALERT!

So when I was speaking of pure evil, I am speaking of serial killers, murderers. It also reminds me of a short film I made at university wherein a psychoanalyst explains that covering shootings, mass killings at schools from all angels on the news 24/7 creates almost an affect of “being famous, being remembered”. In short the news coverage encourages other young children and people to re-enact the malicious acts of murder and killing in order to be remembered.

Kevin not only murders fellow classmates inspired by a story Eva told him of Robin Hood, with a bow and arrow, but he also kills his little sister Celia and his father Franklin. At the end of this film Eva asks him why he did it and Kevin says, ‘I used to think I knew, now I’m not so sure”, in contrast to when Eva wakes up in front of the television to a tape Kevin made explaining his act so that he would be remembered forever; be somebody rather than a consumer in front of the television.

Here’s Kevin’s speech:

“Alright, it’s like this. Wake-up, and you watch tv. Get in your car and you listen to the radio and you go to your little job or your little school , but you’re not gonna hear about that in the 6 o’clock news. Why? Because nothing is really happening, and you go home and you watch some more tv, or maybe it’s a fun night, you go out and watch a movie. I mean it’s got so bad that half the time people on tv, inside the tv, they’re watching tv. And what are all these people watching? Huh? People like me. I mean what are all you doing right now, but watching me?You don’t think they would have changed the channel by now if all I did was get an A in geometry? (scoff)”

I have no read the book, but as an adaptation this film has done extremely well in translating written themes into visual. The film has made excellent use of casting, sound design, soundtrack, color, lighting, mise-en-scene and editing in order to fully explore and exploit the themes to its utmost extent. They all help drive the story forward in a very subtle yet strong way.

Robin Hood becomes Kevin's idol, and the sound of water sprinklers haunt us from the very beginning of the film.

Robin Hood becomes Kevin’s idol, and the sound of water sprinklers haunt us from the very beginning of the film.

Color is a powerful tool used in food, set design, costume, lighting and props.

Color motifs are used to strongly decorate and give the film an overall flavor. Tomatoes, red; the film starts at the end of the story in the imaginary world of Eva. In a mass of bodies drowned in tomatoes for some sort of festivals, everybody is covered in red. When she wakes up everything is red, she walks out her house and the front of her house as well as her car have red paint splashed onto them. Red, the metaphor for blood, death, love, lust, passion, the devil and hell. It is a re-occuring color. The color will re-appear, foreboding death and almost like Rosemary’s Baby where the devil has impregnated the woman with a devil child. Reinforced that when we see Kevin for the first time (when he is not a baby, he is wearing a bright dark red t-shirt).

What does red signify?

What does red signify? From passion, love and lust. To evil and death.

Yellow, though very subtle, it is used in combination with stripes and patterns to subdue the bold primary color. Yellow can have many significances, but in relation to the film and its context, I would relate it to being sick, but as well as being extremely happy. Having bright yellow objects in the background in a very bland, plan space makes it feel like happiness is missing within the frame/house/family. Perhaps when over analysing it, eggs are used a lot in the film. During halloween to egg the house, when Kevin is eating his fingernails intercut with very similar scenes with Eva taking out the egg shells of an omelet, like the yolk or inner egg is suppose to represent happiness but is infected and diseased instead.

Food and color plays a major role. You will cringe when you see Eva taking out white egg shells intercut with the scenes of her finding out about the killings at the school.

Food and color plays a major role. You will cringe when you see Eva taking out white egg shells intercut with the scenes of her finding out about the killings at the school.

Blue is a color even less used, but it seems to represent the cold relationship between Eva and Kevin, the silence, the lack of love, the lack of body contact and the seemingly icy hatred towards one another.

Silence

Silence

Here are examples of how it is used in set and props, perhaps to show foreboding of certain characters.

Props and Set Design

Props and Set Design

Costumes also play a major part in helping audiences figure out characters and their motives.

It's the little details that make the difference

It’s the little details that make the difference

Besides the use of color motifs in mise-en-scene, lighting, décor, props and costume this film is quite significant because it uses sound specifically to help move the plot forward. Audio pieces help paint a picture of what could have happened, the consequences and helps zone in on past and future moments in time. The sound of the a water sprinkler will forever haunt me. Besides that, the use of country/folk music as soundtrack is very daring. In contrast to the rather boring and plain neighbourhood and house, with not a lot of activity happening on screen makes for a stark contrast in mood vs. visuals aesthetics, making it all the more eery and unsettling.

The casting was amazing. I usually associated John C. Reilly with cop movies or feel good family movies, which was great typecasting in order to further emphasize Franklin’s character as a good wishing father. Jasper Newell was incredible, having worked with young children before and knowing how hard it is to keep the focused, little Kevin was unnerving to watch; unblinking, no emotion and just staring. I get unnerved when people stare at me for too long anyways-it’s rude. Tilda Swinton was amazing, the lack of make-up or over the top costume really brought her face in focus. Her face is very interesting to watch, and I felt sympathetic towards her and understood what she was going through. Ezra Miller as the older Kevin did amazingly well, in combination with strange asian music I had the feeling he was Japanese. I looked him up, he’s not. His twitching smile and silent stares in the reaction shots, with just pure silence could make anybody watching the film unnerved, being used to watching action, dialogue or movement.

I applaud the film for being a fantastic adaptation and using so many different filmic elements in order to fully bring the film to life. For a film with so little actors, or need of special effects, I fully enjoyed it’s use of strong colors, film techniques to completely freak me out. What do you think about the ending? Is it self-acceptance of herself or have they finally made a connection? Is it possible for anybody to be evil? Here is an interesting link to the lucifer effect, a theory that everybody can be turned to evil under certain conditions and circumstances.

Love/Hate two side if a coin.

Love/Hate two side if a coin.