The director whose 1992 cult film The Lawnmower Man helped bring virtual reality to the cinematic mainstream is working on a new project that he hopes will spark a new wave of VR storytelling.
Brett Leonard’s latest endeavor, Hollywood Rooftop, is a scripted project that’s being shot simultaneously as a 10-episode virtual reality FragFilm and as a traditional 2D feature film. It combines aspects of movie-making — a character- and dialogue-driven narrative — with the 360-degree spatial language of VR.
“What John Cassavetes did when the handheld camera came out, I believe we can have with VR,” Leonard said in an interview with Deadline.
Hollywood Rooftop chronicles a group of talented young up-and-coming actors. They share their challenges, loves, failures and successes as they all try to “make it” in Hollywood.
Written by Mona Lisa Moru, who also will join the ensemble of young up-and-comers, the film features a cast of mostly European actors, including Börje Lundberg from the Oscar-nominated A Man Called Ove.
Hollywood Rooftop began production this week in the Brewery Art Complex in downtown Los Angeles. It’s shot within an immersive dome, with a 360-degree camera that draws the audience into the space in a way that mimics the intimacy of theater.
Leonard records the same scene with a 2D camera for a film, which he hopes to release in theaters.
“I’m a director who has a foot firmly in the cinema, and, because I made The Lawnmower Man, I have a foot firmly in VR,” Leonard said. “It’s not the same language, but it’s the same cinematic expertise that we have to bring to this format: engagement. The things that make cinema wonderful as a medium have to be brought to the immersive cinema medium.”
The film’s executive producer, Mary Spio, provides the project’s technological expertise. Her company, Ceek VR, has enabled artists such as Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani and Ringo Star to create VR experiences for their fans and audiences.
Ceek positions itself as the Netflix of premium VR content, financing creative development and handling distribution through its subscription service. In the case of Hollywood Rooftop, it provided funding and furnished the 360-degree camera and plans to distribute the VR series.
“Both Brett and I have the same vision — making the technology an afterthought,” said Spio. “The entertainment should be in the forefront.”
Mark Rickard also is a producer on the project.