If I were 30 years younger I’d want to work for Google. I have no idea what I would do, but that would be my first choice of work place. A 24-hour gym, allotments, free food, lemon and mint water. What’s not to like?
When The Turning Forest, which I created and wrote as one of three experimental audio pieces for BBC R&D, had visuals created for it by the incredible Oscar Raby, and became a VR short premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, I was delighted and overwhelmed. Eloise Whitmore designed the most stunning sound, Jon Nicholls delicious music, Chris Pike and the BBC R&D team worked tirelessly on every single aspect to get it right and kept working to make it more, make it better, doing technical things I have no idea about. Zillah Watson moved it along to its current place, working all the hours possible to reach deadlines. This was truly, a collaborative experience.
From Tribeca the film was requested at various other film festivals, in London at Raindance and in Paris, Edinburgh and other festivals around the world. It went from strength to strength, and each time I was more overwhelmed and more delighted, mostly because I never expected it. So with each new surprise and festival and tweet about someone’s experience, whether that someone was a young person or older, I was happy that I had said yes to a project I had found challenging and written to a specific, technical spec.
I couldn’t justify the fare to Tribeca and missed the VR experience at Raindance in London, but I had experienced it in an early form at the BBC R&D offices. Much had changed since then. When I heard several weeks ago that Google had asked to use The Turning Forest for the launch of their sparkly new Pixel phone, which when teamed with Google’s Daydream headset allows users to experience VR and my short film, I couldn’t quite believe it. Google. The place I wanted to work. More work was done on visuals and sound to make the VR experience even better. Oscar’s work is exceptional; I cannot begin to understand how those visuals were created, but I can watch it over and over, despite knowing what happens, because there is always something else to experience, a new surprise.
I love technology, given the budget I would own a lot more of it, but I hadn’t yet experienced the final cut. Google Pixel phones are shiny and lovely but I couldn’t justify buying one to experience my short. Hearing that over 5000 people had downloaded the film I decided to contact Google. After a series of phone calls, I managed to find the right person, Emily Clarke, Communications Manager, and sent her an email, explaining who I was, that I hadn’t yet experienced my own VR short and, more importantly, I wanted to let my 88 year old mum experience VR for the first and probably last time, and some friends and their kids too – most of whom had never experience VR. Had my dad been alive, my dad who loved gadgets and anything new, he would have been so proud. I pressed send and didn’t for one moment imagine that Google would respond, let alone deliver a phone and headset to me the next day. Overwhelmed again, delighted, grateful, lucky.
I set up the phone, tried it in my office at home, laughed, smiled, couldn’t quite believe it. I let my wife experience it, and listened as she laughed, smiled, whooped. I admit seeing my name roll on the credits was a brilliant feeling. I took the gear to my mum and explained what VR was, how it worked, that it’s not so much watching as experiencing, being in the film, of the film, going on a journey rather than watching someone else take that journey. Oh yeah, and it’s interactive. My mum is quite deaf, blind in one eye and doesn’t have great sight in the other. She is smart and remarkable and didn’t hesitate to give it a go, but I wasn’t sure she would understand how it all worked or how to use the handset, or be able to see well enough to know how to start everything off, to direct the handset and press and wave it around for the interactive bits. We managed, somehow, after a few hiccups, trying two different sets of headphones, securing the headset over her glasses, we managed to set everything off. I couldn’t stop smiling, watching her, handset in palm, head moving up and down, left and right, “it’s looking at me,” she said and I smiled, because I knew it was difficult because she can’t see well and she can’t hear well, but she commented on things she saw and I had to stop myself crying, because I never imagined that I would write something that became something else that was being used to launch a Google Pixel phone and which my 88 year old mum could experience. I never imagined my mum experiencing VR anywhere let alone in her own home.
The next best thing to working for Google is having my work used by them to launch a product. Thanks Google, you’ve made one writer very happy. Now can I come and work for you?