The Visitor Appears On Transport
“Be prepared for the unbearable and masterful tension that the filmmakers create” – Scenester.TV
This week, Transport premieres The Visitor, an atmospheric live action experience generating a serious buzz at film festivals. A collaboration between directors James Kaelan and Blessing Yen with cinematographer Eve M Cohen, this unique immersive narrative merges philosophical dialogue with a remarkable desert location to create a highly original work of metaphysical suspense.
The team behind The Visitor have been helping traditional filmmakers realize their visions since 2012 as part of the crowdfunding and distribution platform Seed & Spark. In 2014, wevr co-founder and EVP Anthony Batt (an advisor to Seed & Spark) invited Kaelan, Cohen, along with Seed & Spark founder Emily Best, to the Wevr office in Venice California so they could experience a variety of VR including now iconic TheBlu: Whale Encounter.
“We realized it wasn’t as much an evolution of filmmaking as a totally new medium,” Kaelen says. “One in which filmmakers could do some really fascinating work, but only if they went through a paradigm shift and could think about it as a totally new medium. It blew our mind and we knew two things very quickly, that we wanted to try our hands at the process and see what we could learn from getting our hands dirty, and we also wanted to figure out a way to open up the medium to other filmmakers.”
Directly after attending Sundance 2015, Seed & Spark initiated a grant program (funded by Wevr) to help attract underserved voices into the VR space. While an assortment of talented filmmakers responded, the proposal which stood out to them the most was from a filmmaker named Janicza Bravo. It was this concept that would eventually result in the acclaimed experience Hard World For Small Things.
The Visitor is the first foray into immersive storytelling for Kaelan, creative partner (and Seed& Spark CCO) Yen and cinematographer Cohen. They say they wanted to investigate how to transpose their experience as filmmakers into creating an immersive experience, which meant experimenting with the live action narrative format.
As Kaelan explains, “So much of what was happening in VR up until then was essentially an exhibition of the technology. Even now, the pieces are incredible but there’s very little live action narrative being made. People are afraid to bring actors into it. And as filmmakers that is what we are interested in. How do you tell new kinds of stories that are related to the kind of stories we tell in two dimensions.”
They say the biggest revelation while making The Visitor was how important location is when creating a live action immersive experience. Upon finding their remarkable setting, a delightfully unusual house in the Joshua Tree desert called Acido Dorado, they ran a camera test and were astonished by the images they saw. As a result, the very structure of their story was altered to more utilize the environment.
“The lesson we learned from that house was how opening a space up is everything,” Kaelan explains. “The space has to tell a story along with the actors or you are wasting the most important aspect of the medium. The location is a character in of itself.”
The Visitor was made as a pure exploration of the immersive medium and little more. There was little thought about distribution or festivals. That all changed when the folks behind the Slamdance Film Festival glimpsed an early version and invited them to premiere the experience there. The subsequent reaction was a game changer, with one Slamdance review writing, “be prepared for the unbearable and masterful tension that the filmmakers create” and another proclaiming, “it proves without a shadow of a doubt that a fantastic setting is worth the time spent.” The result was more invitations, and The Visitor, with it’s artful exploration suspense, has become a sensation on the festival circuit. To date, The Visitor has appeared at seven festivals including Slamdance, The San Francisco International Film Festival and The Gässli Film Festival in Switzerland.
“We are thrilled by it all,” Kaelan says. “You get to see first hand people’s skepticism turn to enthusiasm. It’s really interesting to watch them have a paradigm shifting experience about what the medium is. It’s really the same one we had when we walked into Wevr back in 2014.“