How to create engaging 360-degree videos

Award-winning Creative Director and Executive Producer Jessica Lauretti shares her thoughts on storytelling in VR

Anna Savina




In recent years, a lot of online publications have started experimenting with video because many social platforms—such as Facebook and Instagram—promote this content format more than others. Plus, it’s now possible to do some really cool things with video, like produce 360-degree videos that can be viewed in VR.

There are a lot of people specializing in video production, but VR specialists are still quite rare. Accent talked to one of them—Jessica Lauretti, the Head of video production studio and creative agency RYOT. RYOT was founded in 2012 by Bryn Mooser, David Darg and Martha Roger and now produces content for the likes of AOL, Yahoo, HuffPost and 50+ other publisher brands. They have created VR content and 360-degree videos documenting the Syrian war, the Nepal earthquake and many other events around the world. In 2015, the studio produced “Body Team 12,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. In November 2017, the company unveiled RYOT Studio, a global content marketing studio that “brings brands’ stories to life.”

Read on to learn some of Lauretti’s best practices for amazing VR and 360-degree storytelling.

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presence: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, the UK and the U.S

Audience: 1,124,117 followers on Facebook

clients: Sports Illustrated, Hulu, Jeep, Clorox and many others

Start with something simple

If you have never done this before, I would recommend starting with the easiest task. Use one of the more prosumer 360-degree cameras that are fairly easy to use, like Samsung Gear, go to a location or environment that is interesting or nearby, and do a couple of different shoots to experiment with what you’ve got.

By starting small, you’ll learn very quickly. You’ll understand what camera height you need, what does and doesn’t work, etc. Plus, some simple concepts can be really compelling and evocative.

When we started building the 360-degree video lab at HuffPost, we were producing stories that we called “little moments of zen.” We created moving postcards from different countries and places around the world. One of the highest performing pieces was just a simple video of a beautiful beach in Hawaii. People could just look around and enjoy the view. Another example is a relatively simple piece we did about about solitary confinement.

Don’t rely on your previous filmmaking knowledge

You have to forget everything you know about filmmaking to be successful. I used to produce documentaries, and the first thing I realized at RYOT was that my background isn’t similar to what we are doing here.

When you are working in VR, many things happen before the production begins. You don’t have the same kind of traditional cinematic tools that you do in filmmaking. When you are producing a traditional video, you can edit it and use things like pacing to create emotion and move the story forward. You don’t have those things in a 360-degree video because all the actions are happening around the camera—it’s not moving. So you have to take a completely opposite approach. VR is more like immersive theatre.

You can’t do thousands of scenes and add lots of graphics in 360-degrees right now because it’s just too overwhelming. You have to give people time to see and learn in the virtual environments. They should be able to take a look at the space around them. You should decide how you are going to give them the information and how they will consume it. So, if you are interviewing someone in VR, make sure the viewers are listening to them. Or if it’s in a different language, make sure they have time to read subtitles.

When you are working in VR, many things happen before the production begins

Borrow strategies from UX design

UX design is really the only other creative practice where we are thinking about the experience. In VR, you have to decide how the person is going to experience your video and navigate them through it so they understand the information.

We’re trying to experiment with different ways of interacting with viewers in VR. We’re almost like the Lumiere brothers in how we have the opportunity to create something that doesn’t exist yet and watch it continue to evolve. For example, we tested out putting interactive buttons at the end of a piece we did with Clorox to get users to donate. Last year, we tried to create a video where the viewer can look to the left and hear a Bernie Sanders supporter and then look to the right and hear a Hillary Clinton supporter, but it didn’t come out the way we intended to, so we never published it.

Of course, I think all this only it works if the storytelling compels viewers. That’s still a very important factor.

You have to think about what is going to happen in front of the camera, but also about how people will explore the place


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Think differently about traditional genres

I remember my first week at HuffPost the team was producing an interview. And I wondered why I was watching two people sitting on a couch in a 360-degree video. That’s not interesting! At the very least, we needed to ask the character to move around the camera or interact with it in some way.

I think storyboards can be very helpful for this. But instead of camera movement, you should outline your character’s movement. So, you’re thinking about what is going to happen in front of the camera, but also about how people will explore the place. Remember that nobody wants to have to search for the story. It’s all about developing a narrative that will unfold in front of the camera. For example, maybe the viewer hears someone saying, “There’s something special behind you,” which encourages them to go to where the action is happening.

I don’t necessarily think that we’ve found the best format for a traditional profile. VR is a completely different genre. Let yourself to forget all the rules and just develop something new because it’s an experiential thing.

Don’t forget the emotional connection

To create a successful VR story, you have to put the audience in the middle of it, and it’s really up to them to experience it in whatever way they want. One of the best videos we did was a breaking news story from the Orlando night club shooting. We really wanted to differentiate our video from what other media outlets would do. The initial idea was to go to the silent memorial, but the Facebook team was covering it so we wouldn’t be adding any value.

We brainstormed a little more and noticed that the sheer number of victims really struck us on an emotional level. So we decided to visualize the number of people that were lost in some way. People from our LA team are activists, and they were ready to help. They gathered 49 people and put them in a circle around the camera. We weren’t sure of it was going to work, but when we got the footage back, I watched the video and the hair on my arms stood up.

It was beautiful, touching and emotional because you got to look around and realize, “Wow, that’s a lot of people.” And these people are moms and dads and brothers and partners. You can see hopes and fears and failures and all of the things that make up a life.