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Oscar-Winning Director Kathryn Bigelow Discusses Her First VR Film ‘The Protectors’

Oscar-Winning Director Kathryn Bigelow Discusses Her First VR Film ‘The Protectors’

Attendees at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival will be the first to experience the debut 360-degree film from Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow titled, The Protectors: Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes. The 8-minute short film was created through a partnership with Here Be Dragons, National Geographic Channel, and Annapurna Pictures. Here Be Dragons creator Imraan Ismail served as co-director of the virtual reality production, which recently shot in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The film gives viewers a first-hand look into the lives of the park rangers who are the only defense for the African elephants who roam freely. Over 30,000 elephants are murdered for their ivory every year by poachers. We’ve seen other ways that immersive mediums are being used to champion conservation efforts as well.

Bigelow, the director of films like Last Days and The Hurt Locker, talks about her experience of telling an emotional story through 360-degree technology in this exclusive interview.


UploadVR: How did you get involved in generating awareness and helping to save the elephants?

Kathryn Bigelow: Working to save elephants is unavoidable once you hear of their plight. That we are in danger of losing such an incredible species from the face of the earth could not be ignored. When you dig deeper and realize that the groups involved in poaching are doing so to fund terrorism it truly becomes an issue that demands support from anyone and everyone, our national security depends on it.

UploadVR: Why did you decide to explore 360-degree filmmaking with this project?

Kathryn Bigelow: The 360 aspect really puts you in the space, the environment, being able to look behind you, above you. In the case of ‘The Protectors’ 360 lets you see the world from the point of these Rangers who are the last line of defense for the elephants. That sense of the world they inhabit, their courage in the face of incredible odds, coupled with the emotional impact of the stories they tell really inspires action.

UploadVR: Creatively, what has this medium opened up in telling the story of “The Protectors”?

Kathryn Bigelow: Again, the opportunity to experience the physical space with an emotional connection to the subject matter, the immediacy of that connection, really connects you to the stories told by the park rangers.

UploadVR: How has Here Be Dragons team’s experience in this medium helped you?

Kathryn Bigelow: Certainly they provided invaluable guidance to myself and Imraan throughout this process from prep to execution.


UploadVR: What are the challenges of giving the viewer freedom to explore, while also telling a story?

Kathryn Bigelow: It is not a challenge as much as accepting that you are relinquishing some control over how the end product is consumed in exchange for a deeper connection to the material for the viewer.

UploadVR: How has the importance of sound and audio evolved with 360-degree storytelling?

Kathryn Bigelow: Sound should never be taken lightly in any film experience, however the fact that much VR content will be consumed with headphones likely will lead to a more nuanced auditory experience.

UploadVR: What has been the most challenging aspect of this project thus far?

Kathryn Bigelow: The stakes are high; elephants could be extinct in our lifetime. It’s up to us to either fail them or save them.

UploadVR: What impact do you feel “being there” in the presence of these rangers in Garamba National Park will have on connecting emotionally with viewers?

Kathryn Bigelow: The emotional connection comes from the passion these rangers show, they risk their lives for very modest means because they believe that future generations need these elephants to still exist. Being dropped into the environment through technology heightens your awareness of the stakes and drives home the brutality of the poaching.

UploadVR: Is there anything from a technological leap perspective you can compare 360-degree filmmaking and virtual reality to when you look at the history of Hollywood?

Kathryn Bigelow: That remains to be seen, the important thing is that right now it has given us an opportunity to walk in the shoes of the rangers and that constitutes the thin line between the next generation seeing elephants in the wild or only in pictures.

UploadVR: What impact do you feel the continued release of new headsets from PlayStation VR to Google Daydream to the recent Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will have on enticing more people to create in 360-degrees?

Kathryn Bigelow: I am sure the market will rise to the demand.

Here Be Dragons creatives also recently created a VR music video for OneRepublic’s ‘Kids’.

UploadVR: What’s it been like not only capturing these elephants in 360, but also bringing people to their home environment in Africa?

Imraan Ismail, Co-Director: One of the goals of the film was that by bringing you up close and personal with these magnificent creatures, closer than you could possibly in real life, where you can hear their breath and see the beauty that it would inspire support for conservation efforts. We were able to achieve that in the film. Personally, as someone who was on the ground, who knows how hard it was to capture the footage we did and who even survived being charged at by an elephant as part of the effort, I’m incredibly proud of the team and our work, and am hopeful of it making a difference to everyone who sees it.

UploadVR: What impact do you feel the continued release of new headsets from PlayStation VR to Google Daydream to the recent Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will have on enticing more people to create in 360-degrees?

Patrick Milling-Smith, Producer/President of Here Be Dragons: Larger audiences, mainstream platforms. PlayStation is a household device with varied audiences who have diverse content preferences – gaming and otherwise. PlayStation VR as an extension is a very exciting platform for content creators to push VR as a creative medium into its first steps toward maturity. Daydream represents the initial maturation of cardboard and virtual reality within the Google Play ecosystem. Cardboard, for all its limitations, has brought VR to more people than any other device and Daydream’s added capabilities promise to bring that broad audience a much higher quality experience that content creators are eager to develop for.


UploadVR: What kind of call to action will be incorporated into this film or alongside the release of it?  What can people do now to help?

Patrick Milling-Smith: The call to action is hopefully magnified by the power of the film, the urgency of these brave Rangers and the resonating power of VR as a medium. The reason Kathryn chose 360 film making for this is to take you on a visceral journey where you feel a true sense of presence in the Rangers stories.  It is our hope that the power of being on the ground as the story unfolds, being a witness and essentially teleported to heart of the DRC, a place you would never experience any other way, will inspire an audience to spread awareness. Watch the film. Look the Rangers in the eye and It would take an unbelievable amount of apathy to not be spurred in to trying to help. This fight needs urgent help so stand up and take action. Go to for information on how best to stop this crisis from reaching a point of no return. There is a road map for activism and charitable organizations on the front lines who need all the help they can get. Merely getting the rangers adequate equipment is a start.  Help get boots for instance. Supporting organizations like African Parks for a start.

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