Carnaval San Francisco 2018 — Creating a 5-episode immersive series about the 40th anniversary of one of my home city’s most beloved events.

These five short experiences are best viewed on a headset in the SamsungVR app, which is available for the Samsung GearVR and Oculus Go headsets. In the SamsungVR app please search on my last name “Yost” to find my channel (remember to click on the channel button) and before you watch this in the app, PLEASE download the file locally to view without having to deal with the latency and resolution artifacts inherent with streaming (unless of course you have Gigabit wi-fi at your home). The few extra minutes it’ll take to download the file are more than worth it, and you can free up the space after watching. If you don’t have a headset you can order one here for only $200. Until then, you can watch it in your browser by clicking on the thumbnails above and watching directly on your screen on Youtube. Alternately, if you have YoutubeVR you can save these links to a playlist and watch it on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Google Daydream or Samsung GearVR.

Nine months ago in early March I’d been given one of only two prototypes of Z CAM’s new V1 stereoscopic 360 camera (the other being held by Z CAM for testing).  I had never used a 3D 360 camera before and wanted to create immersive experiences that would take my current 2D filmmaking approach to the next level.

My ethos as a filmmaker is to find stories in my community that need to be told… stories about people and places that are unique, timely and contribute to the tapestry of who we are as citizens of San Francisco and the Bay Area. 

For the previous 6 years I’d been focusing on nature as my storytelling palette, mostly Mt. Tamalpais and the restoration of the abandoned air force station there.  But now, with this new medium, I want to bring people front and center into the mix.  Immersive media is much more interesting when we’re introduced to characters who are passionate about what they’re doing, and who want to share that passion with us.

While meditating on where to focus my 10 lenses with this new camera it came to me that there was a community of people who were so vibrant, so alive with energy and creativity, that there was tons of rich material to mine for my next project. I’d been to the Carnaval/SF dance festival in the past and had an inkling that the artists who make it happen would provide the kind of richness that makes great immersive content.  My friend Joanna Haigood (who I worked with on the Acrobatic Conundrum experience in August) introduced me to the folks who run the Carnaval festival and they invited me to a pre-production meeting in early March where I made a presentation about my idea, which was to create a series of five short immersive videos about aspects of the festival.  I told them that my goal was to focus on the culture of the festival and provide enough different perspectives to give viewers a deep understanding of the motivations behind all the hard work (from thousands of people over the course of a year) that goes into making Carnaval happen. 

And I confess that I had another motive… the political climate in America right now is making it hard for people of diverse cultures to feel accepted and find their place here. In particular the Hispanic community has been dealing with very difficult issues of xenophobism and in San Francisco gentrification has been putting extreme economic pressure on many people.  One of my agendas was to show the world how San Francisco is enriched by cultures that are woven so intrinsically into our city and how lucky we all are for that.

The Carnaval organizers (Roberto Hernandez and Rodrigo Duran) gave me the green light at that meeting and introduced me to the woman who’d become my creative inspiration for the piece… Tiombe Valone, the reigning Queen of Carnaval.

Click here to see a video of Tiombe’s winning performance in 2018 . Use the hyperlink in the description to jump to her dance routine at 49:56.

Click here to see a video of Tiombe’s winning performance in 2018. Use the hyperlink in the description to jump to her dance routine at 49:56.

Tiombe and I hit it off immediately. I was particularly enthusiastic about her being the mother of two young daughters, also interested in dance.  We brainstormed about how to conceptualize a series of Carnaval vignettes that would include two primary elements:

  • Characters that bring different points of view to the story.

  • Great locations (and we wanted to showcase some of the beautiful murals in the Bay Area) with lots of energy.

We came up with a plan to showcase three of the >90 comparsas (that’s the Spanish name for music & dance groups) who represent the Bay Area’s cultural values in a broad way, and we chose Fogo na Roupa (the first of these, going way back to the original Carnaval in 1988), Samba Funk (based in Oakland and an offspring of Fogo) and Loco Bloco (who focuses on teaching youth cultural values through these skills).  These three groups provide the macro picture of how communities participate in the Festival but we also wanted to profile a single family’s participation.  Of course Tiombe and her two daughters were perfect for this!  We ended the series with highlights from the Grand Parade on Mission Street during Memorial Day weekend and then I brought Rodrigo over to the SF Women’s Building on 18th Street to film bumpers of him introducing and wrapping each episode to give the series continuity and cohesiveness.

I captured hours of footage with the V1, and in mid-May when I had to send the prototype back to China I finished the project with a loaner V1 Pro that Kinson Loo arranged for me with the help of Nick Bicanic.  Given that my camera was pre-production I wasn’t able to use all the stitching tools I have currently, particularly Scene Based Optimization (which is how I stitch everything with the V1 now because it provides such great physically-correct results).  Ergo this project was stitched with a combination of Wonderstitch and MistikaVR (thanks to Roman Dudeck for the help setting up a profile for the prototype) and it was the project that I cut my teeth on, learning a lot in the process.  All audio was captured with lav mics on talent and the Zoom H2n for spatial background ambience. Editing was completed in Final Cut Pro X and spatial audio mixing was done in Logic with the AmbiPan/AmbiHead tools.

The prototype V1 at the Mission Cultural Center with Fogo na Roupa (upper left) and at Dance Mission Theater (at Tania Santiago’s class, upper right). Below left is David Lawrence running location sound at the Grand Parade on Mission Street and the Fogo na Roupa company in the lenses of the V1 Pro. Go Fogo!

Although I stitched everything in June, the project lay fairly dormant from July-September while I worked on other (mostly commercial) work to pay the bills. When I finally had time in mid-September to get back to it, that interim experience with other 360 projects helped me understand how to craft edits from this voluminous (and intimidating!) set of material to better tell the story I intended. Sometimes taking an extended break from a project is the best possible way to “get it done” and in this case that paid off in a big way.  I’m happy that each of the five episodes is nice and tight, with only one of them going longer than 7 minutes (Fogo na Roupa includes a 3 minute dance sequence that will blow your mind… there’s no way I was going to cut that down, so that piece is 9 minutes long.)  

Lessons Learned:

Focus on what the characters bring to the story. Make sure that each character has a “mission” to present a unique point of view. For example in episode 1, King Theo zeroes in on how Samba Funk provides the community with a means of healing the five most prevalent illnesses affecting communities of color. Each episode focusses on a different aspect of how that group enriches the lives of the people. I did short pre-interviews with each person to come up with just one or two themes to emphasize during the interview. This is extremely important!

Immersiveness and sense of place. Each episode features a different place that provides context to the story. The camera is situated in spots that provide a sense of perspective that gives the viewer the sense that they are there. The ultimate example of this is in Episode 3 (Fogo) during the crazy amazing 3+ minute dance sequence that begins at 3:30. It just doesn’t get more immersive than that.

It’s about the cultures — provide lots of different perspectives. Everyone has a different take on what Carnaval means to them and in order to give the viewer a taste of that, I had to present at least a half dozen people on-camera speaking to their experience of this. Plus during the Parade video you’ll hear the voices of parade-goers who represent what the wider community feels about the festival.

Pay attention to what you want the viewer to feel. When all’s said and done I’d like you to come away from watching this series inspired to dance and to engage with your community on a more-creative level. That’s certainly what happened to me this year. Espero que te guste… Enjoy!


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