4 min read

Q&A: Bryn Mooser, Pioneering 360° Storytelling At RYOT

Bryn Mooser (left) at the RYOT office

Bryn Mooser is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and CEO of RYOT, a new media company specializing in immersive content. Recently acquired by AOL’s Huffington Post Division, RYOT is one of the most prolific virtual reality and 360° content studios. Bryn has overseen the production of more than 80 virtual reality films created by RYOT in collaboration with some of the most well-known brand partners in the world. As a documentary filmmaker, Bryn has co-directed and produced 10 award-winning documentaries from Liberia to the Arctic, including “Body Team 12,” which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category. Bryn was named one of Esquire Magazine’s “Americans of the Year” as well as a “Hollywood Maverick” by Details Magazine. Before starting RYOT, Bryn spent years as a humanitarian, serving in the Peace Corps in Africa and working in Haiti, where he helped build one of the country’s largest secondary schools in Port-au-Prince, which now educates 3,000 Haitian youth per year.

Storyhunter: When did you become interested in VR?

Bryn Mooser: We made our first VR film about a year and a half ago on solitary confinement. But it was about 2 Tribecas ago that I saw the first kind of VR camera made of GoPros, which was really exciting because it meant that we would have the ability to film in it. The barrier of entry was lowered, so we jumped at that and started to really figure out how we could crack this open. It was pretty obvious even in those early days that the way you consume video has changed. There is an opportunity then for storytelling to change. While we are very interested in VR as a tool to bring people in a story, the real driver is the opportunity to create a new type of storytelling.

SH: What do you see as RYOT’s role in the innovation of 360 video storytelling?

BM: We’ve been pioneering 360 storytelling for mobile. Our focus from beginning has been reaching as many people as possible. We’ve really been trying to pioneer that space. We turn 360 videos around in an hour sometimes. Speed and volume has been what we’ve really been pushing, as well as high-quality storytelling.

SH: Now that RYOT was acquired by the Huffington Post, what do you think is going to change for RYOT and its mission?

BM: Right off the bat, the most incredible thing is we get to add 360/VR capabilities to international divisions of the Huffington Post. Our reach has greatly increased because the Huffington Post has the largest audience of any online news publication. Our mission is in complete alignment with Huffington Post: to give people a platform for their voices to be heard.

SH: What will RYOT be doing for live coverage in 360 video?

BM: Our live coverage is going to launch in a couple weeks. I think that everybody here is very excited about it and we’re going to keep experimenting and pushing and see where it takes off. We’ve got some really great projects lined up, different cameras we’re going to be using, different partners for the platform. We’re excited to keep pioneering 360 into live as well.

SH: How is VR and 360 video changing the way creatives tell stories?

BM: VR and 360 can bring a lot from a news perspective. You have the opportunity to experience scale and scope for the first time — the realist sense of it outside of being there. This can be really important when covering a natural disaster, a humanitarian crisis, or a war zone. The opportunity to bring you right in that story and look around can be powerful. I think it’s been challenging to really show scale of devastation in a photograph — that’s why I think drones started to become really useful in disasters and wars. And VR gives you that same thing.

SH: What VR piece produced by RYOT are you most proud of?

BM: I’m really proud of the first news piece we did called the Nepal Quake Project. It was the first VR news piece shot in a disaster and I remember showing that film to people and they’d take off the headsets and they’d be crying. People would line up for a headset and that was an indicator that there was something really powerful in this technology.

SH: What is the trick to doing great 360 non-fiction stories?

BM: Experiment, experiment, experiment. And fail fast and have a thick skin. The rules haven’t yet been written and all of us making these films get a chance to be the architects of what this new medium means for filmmakers. We have to create a lot of work and some of it will hopefully be great and most of it not, but we have to continue to try and through that we have to figure out what the rules around it are. The more people are shooting in 360, the faster we can get to what a story will or can look like.

SH: Should all documentary filmmakers start producing for VR?

BM: No, I think people should shoot in the mediums that call to them. But I welcome everyone to experiment and play and, as artists, it’s always fun to get to experiment in a new medium. Just like color and sound was for films, virtual reality is a platform shift. VR and AR are as important as sound was to film.

SH: What’s your favorite piece of gear to shoot in 360?

BM: The busier we get the less time I can be out shooting, but I really love the new Samsung Gear 360 camera and the GoPro Odyssey Jump camera.

SH: VR workflows and storytelling is still in its infancy, as an early mover in this space, what have you learned already?

BM: I think we have to make sure that the stories we’re telling can be enhanced by being in 360 and VR and that there is a reason to be there. One reason is access, to give people a chance to go where they couldn’t, and another is scale, giving people an opportunity to more deeply understand a place.

SH: How do you think VR will grow in the next 5 to 10 years?

BM: I think VR is a step toward augmented reality. I think augmented reality is where the future of how people consume content will be. Once you look at the future, how we consume content, where we consume content, will change. We’ll have to figure out how filmmakers and artists will adapt to these new technologies. The canvas has gotten bigger.

Learn more about producing 360° video and VR in our latest guidebook, “Storytelling in a Virtual World.”