Being There Phd / Stipendiatprogrammet

A screenwriter’s exploration of Virtual Reality as a storytelling medium

In virtual reality (VR), the viewer can become part of the story. When writing for traditional film, the screenwriter primarily relies on the audience identifying with the characters on the screen, as if becoming them. VR opens up for viewer engagement through taking part and relating to the characters and the world to which they are transported, hence the title 'Being there'.

For screenwriters with a track record in traditional film and TV, this perspective changes the premises for how the story is told. Cecilie Levy poses the question of whether it also changes what kind of stories we can write and if a VR experience can even be called a story. How do the screenwriters shape and form a narrative when they don't know what the audience brings with them into the story space? What is the role of interaction, of mise-en-scene, and of spatial and environmental storytelling?

Parallel to studying VR content and technical developments, Levy reviews screenwriting and dramatic theory, including Barthes' structural analysis and narrative devices. Grounded in her own writing practice, Levy looks for ways to contribute to a new dramaturgy, a prospective storytelling grammar for VR. At the same time, she aims to expand her scope as a writer, thematically and philosophically.

Central to Levy's practice-based research is conceptualizing a VR experience - 'Finding Frida' - that revolves around art nouveau artist Frida Hansen (1855-1931). Her symbolic and often autobiographical works are in themselves examples of environmental storytelling. Adapted to a visually vivid VR dreamscape, the story embodies themes of presence and perspective across time.