Interview: Director Of HBO Doc We Met In Virtual Reality
Learn how to the most interesting documentary of 2022 came to be.
We Met In Virtual Reality is a new feature-length documentary film that follows the stories of five individuals using VR technology to connect with each other and the world in a variety of a unique and throught-provoking ways. The entirety of the film was shot in VRChat, a social VR platform where users can create and explore their own virtual worlds using custom avatars.
The film was directed by Joe Hunting, an experienced filmmaker and documentary photorapher, who spent hours inside VR chatting with the community. Along the way, he gained a better understanding of the tremendous role immersive technology plays in some peoples lives, from a dance instructor using VR and body trackers to conduct online body dancing classes or a sign language teacher leading a community of deaf users.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Hunting to learn more about the inspiration behind the film and what the future of communication and storytelling looks like using the power of immersive technology looks like in his eyes:
How exactly did this project come to be? Did you happen to be recording in VR when you came across these incredible stories or did you begin with the express purpose of putting this film together?
“The inspiration came from a lot of different things, really. I came into VR specifically VRChat, the platform the documentary’s filmedm in 2018 , and was making other films. I made two short films in a series and very quickly I was interested in a documentary and capturing stories about socialization and the culture of VRChat and how this platform was helping people and pushing for good motivations with the technology.”
“It’s really the pandemic that made me start filming and capturing my lived experience, and through immersing myself in different communities and meeting different people and finding stories that spoke truth to me, the film started to find itself and it was born. It was a year of filming in total.”
The film covers a myriad of relationships and connections made in the metaverse. Was there any moment in particular that resonated with you?
“Oh gosh, I think that’s such a great question. In the trailer, we see someone in a wedding dress. So it’s not a spoiler to say that there is a wedding in the film. And that wedding, to me, spoke so much truth in how relationships can be celebrated online and in VR.”
“And that whole wedding, capturing that and working with [users] DragonHeart and IsYourBoi on celebrating their day and wedding their avatars in this virtual utopian event, that was so incredible and such a euphoric moment that I will never forget, and never could have planned as well. So the virtual wedding certainly was a highlight of the whole production and the film as well. And I really hope people enjoy that scene.”
That was such a special moment in a film littered with incredible interactions. I also noticed that many of the films’ subjects were outwardly passionate about VRChat. What do you think separates the platform from other metaverse’s?
“That’s a great question. I think every social VR platform has its own committed and amazing community and VRChat is no more or less than any other platform. But I can definitely say that the VRChat community, to me, I’ve felt so much more immersed in the space. And I think the biggest reason for that is embodiment in your avatar and also the freedom of creativity and expression as well.”
“VRChat is a platform where you can create your avatar from scratch in Blender and Unity and also create world from scratch and that’s given people the ability to express themselves in a way of complete freedom. And I think the ability to do that has brought communities together in a much more rich sense in the way that we accept each other for who we express ourselves.”
That’s a fantastic summarization. I love the idea of VRChat evolving into the “Wild West” of VR. It’s as terrifying as it is exciting.
“That’s a great way to put it. It certainly feels like the Wild West of VR and that’s a really wonderful term. It’s a place of freedom with its own issues, but also it’s deeply emotional at points and has reached so many people in such a great way, which. I hope the film recognizes.”
I was pleasently surprised by how cinematic the film was. It really got me thinking about the potential of VRChat as a storytelling device. Have you thought at all about directing a fictional film and/or series?
“I love that question. I think it’s so exciting to be apart of the forefront of this new cinematic language. I think VR is very similar to animation but also very similar to live action. It almost feels like it’s own genre in terms of technical production. My intention is certainly to help it grow and keep pushing the virtual production tools that we have in the VR tech community, but also in the greater scope of VR as well.”
“In terms of my own personal interest, I can say documentary is such a fascinating world to explore through VR. To me, filming in VR has always been a vessel to tell human stories about people and culture. Fiction is certainly a whole new world and one that I am certainly interested to explore. To answer your question, I’m not sure if I’m going to go straight into that, but it’s definitely something I’m considering after working in documentary for a long time.”
We Met In Virtual Reality is available now to stream via HBO Max. For more information on the film visit here.
Image Credit: Joe Hunting