For Allie Sultan, assistant professor of video and film production at Middle Tennessee State University, empowering students to be VR pioneers is about more than just helping them find their voice. It’s about defining the media of the future.
Sultan and her colleague Stephanie Dean will present their perspectives on the intersection of technology adoption and diverse representation with their session “Don’t Ask for Permission: Feminist Implications of Emerging VR/360” at Craft Content Nashville 2018.
Sultan first got involved with the Nashville content conference scene in 2009, when she attended PodCamp Nashville. At the time, the panels were primarily focused on podcast production, which was gaining popularity in Nashville. The idea that a content creator could start an audio-only show on any subject and present it to an international audience sparked Sultan’s curiosity.
“I took a lot of the things that I learned at PodCamp and I created a web series class. At the time I was teaching at the Art Institute of Tennessee, and I worked with my students to say ‘Alright, we have YouTube. It’s a platform, and you can make anything on it, but let’s make something meaningful to you,’” she said.
Her web series production class – which she still teaches, now at MTSU – focused on creating a series, finding an audience, promoting and marketing work and “thinking about filmmaking as a sustainable career,” she said. Inspired by what podcast creators were doing with audio, she worked to translate those things into the realm of filmmaking.
“I think with technology, you don’t have to live in New York or LA to have a career in doing what you love. As a filmmaker, that’s really exciting for me.”
As virtual reality gains popularity today, Sultan notes the parallels with the first introduction of cinematic filmmaking in the late 1800s. At the time, filmmaking used relatively simple technology, did not follow much of a narrative framework, and was considered a novelty. It wasn’t until filmmakers started shooting narratives that modern cinema was born.
Now, 130 years later, Sultan points out how the film industry continues to mature in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
“A lot of the stories we see presented on-screen are written and directed by white males for an audience that is predominantly young, white and male,” she said. “There’s been a huge backlash against it, from my perspective. A lot of women and minorities, people of color, LGBT people and people with disabilities, they’re wondering where are their stories on the screen. And the reality is that there aren’t many opportunities to get their stories told in the highest level of the Hollywood system.”
This is where democratized platforms such as YouTube come in, she said. Anyone can create a show and post content. In her classes, she makes special note of Issa Rae, who created a low-budget web series called “Awkward Black Girl,” built a following and is now the executive producer of HBO’s “Insecure.”
“The not asking for permission thing is literal. We can’t wait for major funding to come through from a grant or, you know, raising money through a kickstarter campaign. Just go buy a camera – it’s $150 – and make stuff and upload it to YouTube. As long as you practice your storytelling and are developing your voice, if you’re saying something that resonates with people, you’ll build an audience,” Sultan said.
As a medium, virtual reality is still young, Sultan said, and the fact that people aren’t quite sure what to make with it yet means that this is a great time for educators to encourage people to experiment. Fancy equipment isn’t necessary. What matters is the storytelling.
“A lot of people at Craft Content are coming from non-filmmaker backgrounds. Maybe they’re web developers, maybe they’re more graphic designers or in marketing. Maybe they’re in their 40s and wanting some creative outlet. They have a job but they’re like ‘Is this it? What else can I do with my creative capacity?’”
For Sultan, Craft Content’s theme of Voice means “encouraging people who might not otherwise see a space for themselves in the new world of VR production.” The more diverse creators who get involved with VR early in its adoption, the easier it will be for the technology to cross storytelling borders, to be more inclusive and to build upon the lessons that other industries are learning today.
“Anything’s possible. It’s all about what stories you tell. I think that’s most important, is telling a story that talks about people as humans, in relationships with each other, and our common humanity. I think that what’s going to save us is that we’re coming into this big cultural awareness of realizing the inequality that’s existed in our society – racial inequality, socio-economic inequality, and the huge gender gap in representation in front of and behind the camera in terms of film and television, but also in gaming and technology,” Sultan said.
Craft Content Nashville will be held on April 21, 2018. Learn more about Nashville Content Week and register for events online.
This podcast is brought to you by Relationary Marketing, specializing in turn-key B2B podcast production. This episode was produced by Chuck Bryant and Clark Buckner, with editing support from Bobby Yeager and writing support from Riley Wallace.