Virtual reality is here. We may not know exactly how the technology will evolve or how it will be integrated into our daily lives, but somewhat suddenly, it has arrived. Few companies are embracing VR as a new medium for storytelling as much as the New York Times. Recently, they tapped filmmaker and artist Daniel Askill to utilize VR in creating a series of immersive portraits titled, “Take Flight.” We caught up with Askill on a recent visit to NeueHouse Hollywood, getting his take on the technology’s future, and learning a bit about his identity as a filmmaker.
NeueJournal: How do you see virtual reality enhancing the power of good storytelling?
Daniel Askill: This is my first experience making a virtual reality piece and I must say that, as a result, I’m kind of a convert. Obviously, it’s going to be an amazing tool for storytelling but I kind of believe that, moving forward, it’s going to get close to being a kind of parallel to real life. It’s got incredible potential for storytelling but even more so, it’s got this incredible potential for a whole new form of experiential entertainment and education.
NJ: We were in the Miami program with Vanity Fair and we brought Nonny de la Peña, a pioneer in immersive journalism. It was incredible — putting on the headset and being in a refugee camp in Syria.
DA: Imagine when it’s not the goggles anymore but it’s embedded in a contact lens or something. We can pretty quickly start imagining a future where people are living in paradises of their creation. That’s kind of the dystopian, as an incredible amount of beautiful stuff is gonna come of it as well — being able to make people empathize with other people’s situations is gonna be a really powerful way to use the technology.
NJ: Do you have any reservations or anxieties about the technology?
DA: I wouldn’t say it is an anxiety, but you can also start wondering if we are already living in some weird extrapolation of some technology…it can get quite trippy.
NJ: Do you see virtual reality as the natural next step for motion picture or is it a separate medium entirely?
DA: I still love the motion picture — the idea of a frame, the control you have of a composition in that space, directing someone through a story. Hopefully, VR won’t be something that obliterates that craft.
NJ: What is your favorite saying or aphorism?
DA: I mean this is a bit cheeseball but, if I’m on a shoot things are getting a bit hairy, I will often find myself saying in my head, “Bring love and good energy.” I find that that chills me out.
Ksubi Kolors Directed by Daniel Askill
NJ: Who’s your favorite poet if you have one?
DA: The first name that comes to mind is a filmmaker who I think really is a poet — Tarkovsky. My favorite films are ones that verge on poetry more than traditional storytelling.
NJ: What do you mean when you say film that is more like poetry?
DA: Something that is less of a traditional narrative and more storytelling through mood and connection between image and music. I guess there is a sense of poetry in metaphor, abstraction, things that are implied, things that leave more space for the viewer.
NJ: What natural talent do you wish you would have been gifted with?
DA: This is a bit of a supernatural talent, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind just because of this project: I’d like to be able to fly.
Sia’s “Elastic Heart” Directed by Daniel Askill
NJ: What do you hate?
DA: When people are judgmental. I don’t hate people who are judgmental, but the judgmental sentiment is something I find difficult.
NJ: Where would you like to live?
DA: I have been thinking the next place I would live is Los Angeles or back home. Where I’m from in Sydney, you can have an urban life but still have a home in nature. LA has that too. Where I live in New York, I have a house upstate.
Paul McCartney’s Hope For The Future Directed by Daniel Askill
NJ: Do you have any heroes?
DA: Filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Tarkovsky. People like David Lynch have always been a big influence on me, not just regarding filmmaking but also a type of attitude towards creativity — creativity as an intuitive force that you need to be still to tap into.
NJ: What book inspires you?
DA: This collection of stories by a guy called J.G. Ballard. He’s an English writer with a really broad range, most of it is pretty weird and sci-fi. The other book is called ‘Sketchbook With Voices’ which is a book I picked up when I was 19. It’s edited by Jerry Saltz and has a whole bunch of empty pages and at top of each page is a line or paragraph from an artist that is a call to action for a young creative, maybe something as simple as, “Empty yourself from everything.” As you flip through, it really gets your mind thinking in different ways.
Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal