Gavin de Becker on suicide, trauma and healing.

When you’re in a headset watching a 360 video your attention is focused 100% on what you’re seeing. You are completely removed from where you are and become transported to a new place.

How we use that power to “dis-embody” the viewer and then “re-embody” them in a new place is up to us, and if we do it correctly we give the viewer an opportunity to completely step outside themselves into a new world.  

 This video, which is an intimate sit-down with one of the world’s greatest experts on violence prevention, will make you re-evaluate how 360° video can affect your emotions and connect you with someone you’ve never physically met.  In it, Gavin tells a story about how his mother committed suicide when he was 16 and how that trauma lived with him in a certain way until many decades later when it was healed halfway across the world by an adopted family in Fiji.

This is a short 7 minute experience that’s 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 it locally to view it without having to deal with the resolution artifacts inherent with streaming. (The few extra minutes it’ll take to download the file is more than worth it, and you can delete it after watching to free up space.) If you don’t have a headset you can order one here for only $200. Until then, you can watch on your phone in “magic window” mode or in your browser by clicking on the thumbnail above.

If you’re not familiar with who Gavin is, you’ve probably never read his book “The Gift of Fear’ which was a US #1 bestseller on the New York Times Bestseller List.  He’s shared his philosophies about the prevention of violence in appearances on the Oprah Winfrey show (multiple episodes), 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, 20/20 and the Waking up podcast with Sam Harris.  He’s also been profiled in Time Magazine, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journey, the New York Times and others.  In 2008, Oprah Winfrey dedicated a show to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the publication of the book and in the last year of her show she dedicated two hour-long shows to Gavin’s work in domestic violence.  (if you’re interested do a google video search on the phrase “oprah de becker”)


A portrait I made of Gavin for his company website…  Gavin de Becker & Associations.

A portrait I made of Gavin for his company website… Gavin de Becker & Associations.

Gavin’s work in the prevention and prediction of violence has earned him three Presidential appointments and he’s an incredibly giving human being who I’m grateful to call a close friend. He first contacted me in 2014 after seeing my filmmaking work and asked me and my family to spend 2 months at his estate in Fiji as an artist in residence.  His charter to me was open-ended… I had 2 months to do whatever I wanted, and I chose to make a series of films about how music was woven into every aspect of life there.  That project turned into the Fiji Sings website but even larger than that, it changed my life by giving me perspective on how there are still communities in this world that are about love, family and mutual support.  Communities in which everyone works together for a common good instead of each individual’s personal gain.  

While I was there, Gavin asked me to film a family of brothers singing a certain song call Au Sausubai (pronounced Sausuvai).  I wasn’t sure why but it was a beautiful song and was happy to do it.

Cut to 4 years later and I’m at Gavin’s house (on an undisclosed island in the Pacific) and we’re talking about my 360 filmmaking work.  I ask him if he’s got a story to share on camera and immediately he’s into it.  I happen to have the V1 with me and in 10 minutes we’re done!  I won’t give anything away but the title says it all… this is an intense subject and proves that even as a non-interactive art form, if the subject in a 360 video is sharing in an authentic way from the heart the viewer is connected and embodied in a way that’s palpable. I’ve shown this piece to people who’ve ended up in tears by the end of it.

The big bonus with this shoot was that his story just happened to include a reference to the song that I’d shot in Fiji 3 years earlier… and having that b-roll to include in the piece allows you the viewer to go deeper and deeper.

I don't need to say anymore… you just have to experience this in the headset to feel what comes up for you when you watch it.

Lessons learned:

1) In this case I was super lucky to shoot this at his studio that’s open on one side to view his home below and the tropical island beyond. Since the studio’s porch was screened, the tremendous 13-stop exposure difference between the dark studio and the super bright outdoors would’ve been impossible to capture with a small-sensor 360 camera, but in this case the screen acted as a 3-stop net which brought the scene down to a manageable 10 stops. I still had to compromise by underexposing the interior by a stop and overexposing the exterior, but in the headset this all looks and feels fine.

2) Gavin perfectly understood how the experience depended primarily upon his ability to connect with the virtual viewer “inhabiting” the space of the camera. To help him do this I drew a pair of eyes on a post-it note and stuck it to the camera and that did the trick.

3) Optical flow doesn’t like big areas of geometric patterns and the tightly-woven tatami mats were no exception. There’s a little bit of OF confusion on the seam of the mats in front of Gavin, and in that regard this was another successful experiment to see where the corner cases of OF are.

4) Compositing the 2D video into the scene in FCPX was simple in theory, but I wanted to split the 16:9 frame into two parts and then feather each of those parts separately. To handle this I literally rendered the original piece into two half-sized cropped videos and then used FCPX’s mask tool with its feathering options (applied multiple times for all four sides of each half). Took a little fiddling but I ended up getting exactly what I wanted.

5) Direction: I filled a cup of water and asked Gavin to find a spot in the story to get up and take a drink from it… I felt that it would add to the immersiveness of the scene and it does. If you listen carefully you’ll noticed that the spatial audio track is correctly mixed so that you can hear him move away and to camera left. I love spatial audio! And finally I asked Gavin to spend some time just “hanging out” with the virtual viewer after telling the story and that ended being the key to making the ending work. It was his idea to walk out the door at the end, which was perfect. I did use FCPX’s time remapping tools to fit his “hanging” time into the music version precisely. Since he wasn’t moving much that worked perfectly.


gblog, BlogGary YostComment