INTERVIEW: MILICA ZEC – New Reality Company

Milica Zec HeadshotMilica Zec is a New York City-based film and virtual reality director, editor, and screenwriter.Her directorial debut in the virtual reality medium was a short narrative piece called, “Giant,” which premiered at Sundance Film Festival New Frontier 2016. “Giant” is a virtual reality experience based on true events, that transports the viewer into the experience of a family struggling to survive in an active war zone. Since its premiere, “Giant” has been lauded as a seminal expression of the potential of virtual reality as a storytelling vehicle, and has been featured in numerous press outlets as one of the top VR experiences at Sundance 2016.


First​ ​of​ ​all,​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​how​ ​did​ ​you​ ​continue​ ​you​ ​career​ ​in​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​after​ ​graduating​ ​from​ ​the Faculty​ ​of​ ​Dramatic​ ​Arts​ ​in​ ​Belgrade?

After​ ​graduating​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Faculty​ ​of​ ​Dramatic​ ​Arts​ ​I​ ​moved​ ​to​ ​New​ ​York​ ​to​ ​pursue​ ​a​ ​career​ ​as​ ​a film​ ​editor.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​working​ ​on​ ​numerous​ ​feature​ ​narrative​ ​films​ ​and​ ​documentaries. I​ ​also​ ​worked​ ​for​ ​nine​ ​years​ ​with​ ​Marina​ ​Abramovic​ ​as​ ​an​ ​editor,​ ​director​ ​and​ ​producer.

Did​ ​political​ ​situation​ ​in​ ​Serbia​ ​and​ ​the​ ​wars​ ​in​ ​the​ ​former​ ​Yugoslavia​ ​pushed​ ​you​ ​into thinking​ ​more​ ​about​ ​the​ ​issues​ ​of​ ​conflict,​ ​identity,​ ​human​ ​struggle?

Yes​ ​definitely,​ ​because​ ​of​ ​that​ ​experience​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​create​ ​a​ ​VR​ ​project​ ​called​ ​Giant​ ​where​ ​I wanted​ ​to​ ​share​ ​my​ ​experience​ ​through​ ​a​ ​narrative​ ​fictional​ ​story.​ ​What​ ​mattered​ ​was​ ​to transfer​ ​the​ ​emotion​ ​and​ ​realism​ ​of​ ​what​ ​people​ ​are​ ​going​ ​through​ ​in​ ​conflict​ ​zones.​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to share​ ​that​ ​primarily​ ​with​ ​a​ ​Western​ ​audience​ ​who​ ​have​ ​never​ ​been​ ​in​ ​such​ ​situations,​ ​so​ ​that they​ ​can​ ​broaden​ ​their​ ​understanding​ ​through​ ​being​ ​immersed​ ​in​ ​the​ ​story.​ ​The​ ​family​ ​in​ ​Giant is​ ​Western,​ ​too,​ ​so​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​can​ ​relate​ ​more.


As​ ​a​ ​director,​ ​screenwriter​ ​and​ ​editor,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​worked​ ​with​ ​Marina​ ​Abramovich​ ​on many​ ​projects​ ​with.​ ​Where​ ​does​ ​the​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​VR​ ​come​ ​from?

The​ ​reason​ ​I​ ​came​ ​to​ ​VR​ ​was​ ​to​ ​communicate​ ​the​ ​message​ ​in​ ​a​ ​stronger​ ​way​ ​by​ ​placing​ ​the audience​ ​inside​ ​the​ ​screens,​ ​in​ ​a​ ​VR​ ​environment.

During​ ​our​ ​CGA​ ​Belgrade​ ​conference​ ​audience​ ​will​ ​have​ ​the​ ​opportunity​ ​to​ ​see​ ​your latest​ ​project​ ​called​ ​“Tree”.​ ​Can​ ​you​ ​tell​ ​us​ ​more​ ​about​ ​it​ ​and​ ​what​ ​can​ ​we​ ​expect?​ ​What was​ ​the​ ​inspiration​ ​for​ ​the​ ​VR​ ​Tree​ ​project​ ​and​ ​how​ ​do​ ​people​ ​react​ ​to​ ​it?

In​ ​the​ ​early​ ​stages​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​Giant,​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​that​ ​if​ ​we​ ​are​ ​developing​ ​a​ ​story​ ​based​ ​on​ ​how humans​ ​harm​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​we​ ​should​ ​also​ ​show​ ​how​ ​people​ ​harm​ ​nature.​ ​My​ ​creative​ ​partner Winslow​ ​Porter​ ​and​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​of​ ​how​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​this​ ​story​ ​about​ ​climate​ ​change,​ ​and​ ​decided​ ​to place​ ​the​ ​audience​ ​in​ ​the​ ​body​ ​of​ ​a​ ​tree,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​first-person​ ​perspective.​ ​The​ ​piece​ ​was​ ​inspired by​ ​a​ ​sound​ ​composition​ ​called​ ​Nightmare​ ​of​ ​a​ ​Tree​ ​made​ ​by​ ​my​ ​friend,​ ​composer​ ​Aleksandar Protic.​ ​We​ ​worked​ ​closely​ ​with​ ​Aleksandar​ ​to​ ​adapt​ ​his​ ​composition​ ​into​ ​this​ ​new​ ​VR​ ​piece called​ ​Tree.​ ​There​ ​are​ ​no​ ​words,​ ​just​ ​the​ ​sounds​ ​from​ ​nature​ ​and​ ​you​ ​get​ ​to​ ​grow​ ​from​ ​a​ ​seed, interact​ ​with​ ​animals,​ ​butterflies​ ​and​ ​birds,​ ​and​ ​fall​ ​in​ ​love​ ​with​ ​the​ ​rainforest.​ ​It’s​ ​all​ ​wonderful until​ ​humans​ ​come​ ​to​ ​the​ ​forest.​ ​You’ll​ ​have​ ​to​ ​take​ ​part​ ​in​ ​the​ ​experience​ ​to​ ​find​ ​out​ ​how​ ​it ends!

We​ ​are​ ​witnessing​ ​terrible​ ​events​ ​around​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​Does​ ​art,​ ​thanks​ ​to​ ​new technologies,​ ​gain​ ​a​ ​greater​ ​power​ ​of​ ​influence​ ​on​ ​people,​ ​especially​ ​those​ ​who​ ​make decisions?

Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​two​ ​years,​ ​Winslow,​ ​my​ ​team​ ​and​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​traveling​ ​the​ ​world,​ ​witnessing​ ​the moments​ ​when​ ​people​ ​take​ ​off​ ​their​ ​headsets​ ​and​ ​we​ ​see​ ​the​ ​faces​ ​of​ ​people​ ​transformed.
Many​ ​leave​ ​the​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​tears.​ ​We​ ​get​ ​to​ ​spark​ ​conversations​ ​with​ ​people​ ​about​ ​what​ ​can be​ ​done​ ​to​ ​create​ ​change.​ ​I​ ​definitely​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​VR​ ​has​ ​the​ ​power​ ​to​ ​make​ ​an​ ​impact.

Giant​ ​and​ ​Tree​ ​are​ ​part​ ​of​ ​your​ ​trilogy​ ​and​ ​you’re​ ​currently​ ​working​ ​on​ ​the​ ​third​ ​part.​ ​Can you​ ​compare​ ​the​ ​challenges​ ​of​ ​working​ ​on​ ​your​ ​first​ ​VR​ ​project​ ​to​ ​those​ ​you​ ​have nowadays,​ ​with​ ​two​ ​successful​ ​projects​ ​already​ ​behind​ ​you?​​How​ ​much​ ​the​ ​environment has​ ​changed​ ​and​ ​what​ ​advice​ ​would​ ​you​ ​give​ ​to​ ​anyone​ ​who​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​dive​ ​into​ ​developing content​ ​for​ ​the​ ​VR?

The​ ​third​ ​part​ ​of​ ​trilogy​ ​is​ ​called​ ​Breathe​ ​and​ ​speaks​ ​about​ ​hope​ ​and​ ​interconnected​ ​human experience. For​ ​us,​ ​the​ ​challenges​ ​are​ ​constant,​ ​because​ ​we​ ​always​ ​use​ ​the​ ​latest​ ​tools​ ​and​ ​technology. We​ ​don’t​ ​make​ ​projects​ ​that​ ​have​ ​been​ ​made​ ​before.​ ​This​ ​means​ ​that​ ​for​ ​every​ ​project​ ​we​ ​have to​ ​build​ ​a​ ​new​ ​pipeline​ ​that​ ​has​ ​never​ ​been​ ​done​ ​before.​ ​With​ ​the​ ​new​ ​developments​ ​in technology​ ​and​ ​finding​ ​new​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​our​ ​stories,​ ​it​ ​gets​ ​more​ ​challenging.

Tree​ ​has​ ​been​ ​on​ ​many​ ​festivals​ ​-​ ​from​ ​Sundance​ ​and​ ​Tribeca​ ​to​ ​Cannes​ ​and​ ​IDFA.​ ​Is there​ ​a​ ​big​ ​difference​ ​between​ ​VR​ ​communities​ ​in​ ​the​ ​US​ ​and​ ​Europe?

Yes,​ ​it​ ​seems​ ​like​ ​the​ ​US​ ​adopted​ ​VR​ ​earlier,​ ​with​ ​an​ ​open​ ​mind.​ ​Europe​ ​is​ ​catching​ ​up​ ​now, but​ ​began​ ​with​ ​more​ ​skepticism​ ​and​ ​questions​ ​about​ ​whether​ ​it​ ​can​ ​work.​ ​The​ ​truth​ ​is,​ ​no​ ​one knows​ ​whether​ ​it​ ​will​ ​work,​ ​but​ ​it’s​ ​on​ ​the​ ​creators​ ​and​ ​the​ ​technology​ ​developers​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it work.

How​ ​did​ ​you​ ​choose​ ​associates​ ​for​ ​your​ ​project?​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​any​ ​favorite​ ​tools​ ​that​ ​you like​ ​to​ ​use?

We​ ​work​ ​with​ ​Unreal​ ​Engine,​ ​Maya,​ ​and​ ​Houdini​ ​as​ ​tools.​ ​We​ ​chose​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with​ ​both​ ​traditional film​ ​VFX​ ​companies​ ​and​ ​gaming​ ​companies,​ ​bridging​ ​the​ ​film​ ​and​ ​game​ ​worlds​ ​together​ ​to create​ ​cinematic​ ​VR​ ​experiences.

In​ ​your​ ​opinion,​ ​is​ ​VR​ ​the​ ​last​ ​step​ ​in​ ​the​ ​development​ ​of​ ​the​ ​entertainment​ ​industry?​ ​Do you​ ​think​ ​after​ ​that​ ​there​ ​will​ ​be​ ​no​ ​major​ ​discoveries​ ​in​ ​that​ ​area?​ ​(Is​ ​the​ ​next​ ​step maybe​ ​a​ ​hologram?)

No,​ ​this​ ​is​ ​just​ ​the​ ​current​ ​medium.​ ​Augmented​ ​Reality​ ​and​ ​Mixed​ ​Reality​ ​are​ ​coming​ ​as​ ​well. Who​ ​knows​ ​what​ ​else​ ​will​ ​come.​ ​Exciting​ ​times​ ​are​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​us!



Thank you Milica for your time. See you on your presentation on CGA conference in Belgrade.

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