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Interview: ‘Independence Day’ director debuts exciting new livestreaming VR tech

VR Livestreaming App

Roland Emmerich, the German filmmaker and producer behind blockbusters like “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” and his friend and fellow Hollywood colleague Marco Weber have launched a virtual reality enterprise together.

But while it’s become something of a fad for filmmakers to pursue VR-related movie projects or to talk about how transformative the technology may be for the industry, the new company Roland and Marco have started — VRenetic, a play on the word “frenetic” — has nothing to do with moviemaking. Nor does the first product they’re releasing, called VResh.

They’re debuting it during the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York, roughly a year after first launching VRenetic. It’s basically a VR-based livestreaming app that has a social component — “kind of like Facetime,” says Weber, the company’s co-founder and CEO, “but in VR.”

“It’s an application where people can connect with each other and livestream in virtual reality without any latency and in pretty high quality,” says Weber, a German producer, director and writer whose credits include producing along with Emmerich 1997’s “The Thirteenth Floor” starring Vincent D’Onofrio.

“You also have the chance to upload video on demand. You can connect with friends, and you can follow friends, so it has a very unique social media component to it. We’re in the process right now of running our beta launch, which is happening in November. We’re also opening a store in Los Angeles on October 30, where people can come in, check out the application, check out how it works and play around with it.”

After the beta, which will take a few weeks, VResh will be available to the public sometime in early 2018, available everywhere and downloadable for free, with an advertisement-sponsorship monetization model. The company already has a presence set up in Los Angeles that includes marketing and other functions, and it’s set up an office in Kiev that includes a back-end team.

As far as why Weber and Emmerich got together to do this in the first place? Basically, they got excited about the technology and wanted to do something approachable, that didn’t necessitate something like a pricey headset in order to experience it.

“Roland and I, we both come from moviemaking, but we looked at virtual reality and said this is not really something we believe will work with just producing movies and asking people to, like, digest a short film with an Oculus Rift,” Weber said. “Interestingly enough, we don’t really tap into our movie-making backgrounds. We take a different approach.”

The different approach they take has to do with their assessment that young people haven’t really taken to VR en masse yet. They love using tech to interact with their friends — and, of course, VR headsets are still very much a niche technology.

Along those same lines, speaking with CNET, the co-founder at VR game maker Survios, James Iliff, said “It’s not happy sunshine and rainbows” at the moment, and that “We are very much in a trough of disillusionment.” The subhead on that CNET story pointed out that Mark Zuckerberg may have bought Oculus for $2 billion, but it currently has a problem: the company is struggling to convince people to buy its gear.

“Everybody talks about VR and everybody talks about, like, getting into making and producing content,” Weber said. “But at the end of the day, there’s only really small miniscule numbers of headsets that have been sold worldwide. So there’s not that many people who actually own goggles or a headset or are even able to generate and watch the content that people are producing for them. So our approach to this was we said it should be way more accessible. We felt it should be easier, it should be simpler, and it should come with a fun component, something you can do with your friends.

“We hope this will open up an audience that would not usually use virtual reality or 360 experiences. We have a very intensive publishing kit where you can use filters and animations to play with it in a Snapchat way, and so we hope people just discover it and have fun with it and it’s something that helps roll out virtual reality to a mass audience instead of just people who own a headset. That’s what I wish for the company.”

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Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.