Joe Hunting Discusses HBOs We Met in Virtual Reality and Misconceptions About Online Spaces in an Interview

Joe Hunting Discusses HBOs We Met in Virtual Reality and Misconceptions About Online Spaces in an In ...

We Met in Virtual Reality is a nine-minute documentary that explores how relationships and communities were formed in the virtual world during the COVID-19 lockdown. In this film, shot entirely inside the world of virtual reality, filmmaker Joe Hunting takes viewers into these spaces.

I hope that people leave We Met in Virtual Reality, firstly, feeling informed about a new reality they've likely never heard of before, and technology that can be fun and engaging, while also connecting with deeply personal stories, according to Hunting as he contemplates the film's message.

As the film progresses, viewers are introduced to a wide variety of avatars and their experiences with love, loss, and mental health, as well as computer-generated worlds. We talked about Hunting's world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, his opinions on virtual reality, his desire to film in an online setting, and more.

Before being released on HBO Max, Game Rant: We Met in Virtual Reality premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Talk to me about your film festival circuit.

Joe Hunting: We had performances at Sundance, Copenhagen, Baltimore, and the Sydney Film Festival. It was an absolute dream come true. The most rewarding part has been being able to celebrate with all the actors involved in the film.

GR: How did the production process begin? What inspired you to compose this film?

Hunting: My inspiration goes back to 2018 when I first discovered VRChat, the platform the documentary is shot in. I first became interested in how the platform was assisting people with their lives. I immediately jumped in and started talking to people about their experiences, and I became intrigued by the technology from a humanitarian perspective.

The epidemic was the inspiration for this feature film. I decided to give up everything and tell a longer story about the technology and its value. During that time, we all struggled with isolation, so I knew that audiences would appreciate it.

GR: That's incredible. I'm fascinated by how our relationship with the internet world has changed. I remember thinking the other day, When did it become so normal to have online friends?

Hunting: It's so true. Social media and VR are constantly expanding and forming new ways to connect.

What is the biggest misconception about VR in the general public?

Hunting: There are too many. The assumption that I come across a lot is that you will never leave VR, and the people who engage in the technology have no real life jobs, friends, or connections. But in reality, balance is key. People also think they need a lot of room to move around in VR.

I hope the documentary will educate people about what this world is and how it functions.

GR: I was surprised that the documentary was shot entirely in VR. What are some of your creative freedoms as a result of that decision?

Hunting: One of my greatest freedoms is that I'm probably one of the few documentary directors who got to film their film entirely in their pajamas, which I enjoy saying, but speaking more seriously, I was able to location scout and travel between 1000s of different locations in a heartbeat. I didn't have to travel to the United States, Canada, or London to tell these stories or interview these people. We could just connect in a virtual world.

GR: I'm not sure how your production team came together or how the financial situation has been shaped, but did you receive any support for your intention to film this entirely in VR?

Hunting: The documentary was entirely self-financed. I then launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to get it edited and released for the festival. Cinetic Media, Film Division, and XDR were all amazing film production companies and sales agencies when the film was approved. And now, I feel blessed to work with HBO.

GR: Were there instances where you self-imposed pressure?

Hunting: Good question. I have certainly received criticism, but not for We Met in Virtual Reality, because I was in a position where I was able to commit myself to it wholeheartedly. This was my first film out of film school. I gave myself permission to pursue that goal.

I received some resistance in my very first short film that was entirely shot inside of VR. I was so passionate about experimenting in this new reality that I wrote to my film tutor, who refused to approve the idea. He said, "I don't understand why this is a viable option." I ended my filmmaking with my own money.

GR: I've always thought of online spaces as something that started out as a refuge for outcasts. Can you describe how you represented marginalized communities in VR in the documentary?

Hunting: The internet was created by marginalized communities, by people who were escaping the real world to honor themselves and others who were not celebrated in the real world. It's a similar situation when we talk about VR and having the very first documentary about VR, it's important to me that those people speak their own words, rather than people speaking about it from an outside perspective. I hope that this documentary will remain in history forever.

We Met in Virtual Reality is currently streaming on HBO Max.