The first edition of the StudioFest film festival was in Phoenicia, New York. The second was in Ojai, California. The third was planned for Austin, but due to COVID-19, will not be held… in virtual reality.
Festival founders opted to move the latest edition of the festival to VR because of COVID-19 lockdowns and travel complications. So people will still be able to mingle, network, and watch movies and script readings, thanks to VR headsets that will be mailed to their homes.
“We will all attend, in a VR cinema, all of the screenplay readings and film screenings. You’re actually able to sit in a virtual theater,” says Jacklin.
COVID-19 has canceled or dramatically altered most in-person film festivals in the past year, with many innovative organizers opting to hold screenings in drive-ins or online.
The Zoom experience can be fun — you and other viewers can keep up a running commentary on a film on one screen, while watching on another. But the virtual reality screening room is an innovative attempt to recreate the feeling of watching a movie with a crowd.
That may seem like a simple dream — in the past, VR experiences have imitated things like spaceflight or diving for lost treasure.
StudioFest will replicate an experience that for much of the country is just as unattainable: Sitting among strangers watching a movie you’ve never seen.
Fewer than 40 percent of U.S. theaters are open, and theaters in Los Angeles and New York have been closed for months. Box office revenue in 2020 was down to just over $2 billion, from 11.4 billion the year before.
StudioFest is a festival built around discovering new talent, so this isn’t designed for people who want to watch a blockbuster. It’s for filmmakers who have entered their own films into competition in the hopes that StudioFest will choose them to make a new film with a budget of $50,000.
This isn’t the first VR film festival. The Cyber Shorts VR Film Festival came into being in response to COVID-19. And other festivals have invited people to a given location where people could put on VR headsets to hunt through lost jungles and pirate ships.
But StudioFest does seem to be one of the first, if not the first, physical festival to switch to VR — and using VR headsets to immerse people in a re-creation of the theatrical experience.
Because it has only 10 finalists, the festival can afford to send all the finalists a headset.
This is just the latest pivot by StudioFest, as Jacklin and Beale explain in the video above. It’s the eighth episode of their Demystified series, which explains the process of making and selling a film.
While the festival initially set out to pair a writer and director who had never worked together before, Beale and Jacklin discovered after their Ojai festival that the winning filmmakers wouldn’t necessarily gel creatively. So they switched up their plan, in ways they explain in the video.
Want one of the headsets? You can apply to StudioFest now through FilmFreeway.