A scene from The MetaMovie Project’s Alien Rescue
Jason Moore, an assistant professor of television, radio, and emerging media, vividly remembers a scene from the first Star Wars movie. He was a kid. Luke Skywalker was in the Millennium Falcon starship, shooting away at TIE fighters, looking like he was having a blast.
“I remember at that moment thinking: I want to be right there next to him. I want to be in that ship,” says Moore, a writer, producer, and director who has worked extensively in the film and television production industry for some 25 years. “I’ve always chased that feeling that many directors and storytellers share, of wanting to put an audience inside the world of the movie.”
Childhood dreams do come true. When Moore discovered the wonders of virtual reality, he came up with The MetaMovie Project, what he calls an “ongoing series of experiments” that combines the medium with filmmaking into an immersive experience for viewers.
In his one-hour science fiction action/adventure thriller Alien Rescue, live but computer-generated actors interact with participants from the audience. Each actor and audience member “wears” an avatar, smaller ones for the audience. As the story unfolds, the audience responds and reacts to the actors, taking the plot in one of several directions. The audience members watch the movie as they fly around the virtual reality world.
“It’s a little bit of cinema, a little bit of live theater and role-playing, and a little bit of video gaming because you, as an audience member, are wearing your HMD (head-mounted display) and you’ve got your controllers,” says Moore. “You have agency, to be seen and heard and be able to affect the story, change the storyline.”
A few years ago, Moore ran a Kickstarter for his project with an early sketch. He was able to raise $10,000 to fund Alien Rescue. The organizers of the 2020 Venice International Film Festival caught wind of the project and invited Moore to participate. Moore and his coproducer, Avinash Changa of WeMakeVR, mounted 20 live performances all over the world. The film was released to the general market in March 2021, with Moore and his team running live performances twice a month.
Moore sees his project as being part of the history of movie-making. “Just the move from black-and-white film to color—that made the film more immersive. Then you had bigger and bigger film formats, like IMAX or 3D film. All of these uses of technology are being done by storytellers like me to make them brighter and more exciting.” Cinema 3.0, as some might call it.
“This is so emergent that it’s essentially new experiments every time we have a performance,” says Moore. “Every time we do this, we’re learning new methods and new techniques, what audiences want and to what they respond. It’s an ongoing project, but it’s exciting.”
Alien Rescue will be running live at the Raindance Immersive Festival until November 21.