About the VR Film Broken Night

About the VR Film Broken Night

Chao Sun, 2017-10

Last weekend I went to the event The Future of Storytelling, and here I am trying to analyze the work I saw there, the VR film Broken Night. It was produced by Eko, Hidden Content and Realmotion, in association with Irving Harvey. It tells a story that “a woman and her husband (Emily Mortimer & Alessandro Nivola) return home one evening to discover an intruder.”[1] The couple was quarreling then, and facing the intruder, they took out the gun. In another scene, the woman is attempting to recount her experiences that night to a police detective to explain why the person been shot was her husband and the only fingerprints on gun are hers. The viewers are required to choose between two ghosts of her memories to complete her recount: one leads to the plot that the intruder was grabbing her gun and shot, hitting the man in the belly; the other goes to the action that the woman shot at her husband unintentionally in the belly. But whichever the choices are, the woman’s recounts are inconsistent with the fact that the gunshot wound is on her husband’s brow.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 17.14.00

The main feature of the film is that story is told in live-action 360-video. This immersive way of seeing has important implications. On the one hand, the 360-video, a technologically enhanced version of panorama in painting, is indicative of “a ‘democratisation’ of the observer’s point of view”[2]. Unlike traditional films, whose perspective of one scene is provided by cinematographers and editors, following the director’s instructions, audiences’ point of view in Broken Night, with the 360-degree views, is “not fixed but mobile”[3]. Given such rights, they can decide which part of the whole scene presented is their favorite. They could even choose to view the settings, the decoration of the room, instead of following the plot if they like. In fact, the settings of a plot are also important, serving to creating particular ambience. Thus, without following the director’s guide and being an editor themselves to some extent, audiences are empowered to choose their own perspective and point of interest. Also, unless audiences watch a film on their own screens, they have to choose one particular seat in a cinema, and the arrangement of seats may turn out to be hierarchical: the best position is reserved for the particular audiences, like the royalty or the haves. But on the other hand, it would be a pity that some precious features disappear. There is no close-up, no montage, no language of lens at work, which are still important skills for telling a story or convey ideas. And if audiences are not well-trained, some subtle but meaningful details may be ignored.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 17.11.20

Another noteworthy feature is the ways of interactivity. There is a widespread inadvertent presumption that VR users should be able to fully engage in a movie. And in Broken Night, viewers use their gaze to choose which memories to follow, and “stereoscopic 360 video seamlessly and immediately adapts to these individualized choices”[4]. This arouses a sense of telepresence in viewers. It is not uncommon that by changing gaze users could make their choices. But in a performance-based story, the change of gaze is so well-designed that the viewers could have an illusion of on spot, watching a couple quarrel and witnessing a tragedy.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 16.26.36

What is interesting is that despite the audience’s choices, the story ends in the same way. At first glance, it seems that it is not open-ended, leaving less room for viewers to participate. However, by comparing with another early interactive work, Kinoautomat (1967), a different conclusion could be reached. Both Kinoautomat and Broken Night are designed as databased cinema, and it is viewer’s choice counts. But there exists a striking difference. In Kinoautomat, the film is disrupted by an off-screen guidance, remaindering the audiences that it is time to choose, whereby making the choice a gesture or a ritual, by clicking two buttons. But in Broken Night, the way of choosing is much more natural, which is attributable not only to the VR technology, but also to the idea of immersion. First, while this story of Broken Night unfolds within a realistic atmosphere, by adopting natural sound, Kinoautomat, on the contrary, employs artificial music, creating dramatic effect. Second, in addition to 360-degree view, there are periods of limited point of view, especially when the woman is questioned by the police detective. It is well designed for no suspect could look around freely. One more design is that viewers are given only about 2 seconds to choose. Having no time to think deeply, audiences are forced choose almost instinctively, in light of their own feelings and previous thoughts about the story. Thus, all the tricks ensure the sense of immersion is realized in Broken Night. Once being immersed, audiences would feel empathy for the characters, thinking as they were characters themselves. Indeed, almost every person may have quarreled with others, may feel the strange sound from upstairs, may suffer from treacherous memories when recounting, and thus, a sense of familiarity would be aroused.


[1] http://www.brokennightvr.com

[2] Söke Dinkla, The Art of Narrative – Towards the Floating Work of Art, P.28.

[3] Söke Dinkla, The Art of Narrative – Towards the Floating Work of Art, P.28.

[4] http://www.brokennightvr.com


· References:

  1. Söke Dinkla, The Art of Narrative – Towards the Floating Work of Art
  2. http://www.brokennightvr.com

· Pictures are from:

  1. http://www.brokennightvr.com
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vnI7DtqnSw