Virtual Reality is the new hot thing in the visual medium industry. If you’ve been to any film, media, or tech festival this year, chances are you’ve seen a VR booth of some sort. We got to chat with award-winning cinematographer Jomo Fray about his new short film, Haunt as well as the exciting evolution of virtual reality itself.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
S&A: The evolution of virtual reality in mainstream media is exciting. What are you most excited about in terms of reach?
JF: As a traditional cinematographer, I’d say that first learning about cinematography as a language and an art form was like learning to breathe for the first time. I could be seen and felt by an audience in ways that [traditional] language can’t [quite convey]. I believe there is such a communication wall for hot-button topics like racism and patriarchy and with images, I was able to convey that more clearly. What’s so exciting about VR as a cinematographer is that VR has such a presence about it. Even the perception of the audience, VR provides a space where we’re able to create new emotions and to build new visual language. I believe that it creates another level of empathy beyond 2-dimensional mediums.
S&A: So, let’s talk about your film, Haunt!
JF: The director of the film, Lilian [Mehrel] reached out to me and I had always loved her work and her eye as a director. I was excited to come onboard and play with the concept of coming up with new languages.
S&A: So, what sparked your interest in cinematography?
JF: In college, I wrote a lot of academic papers and my thesis was on freedom and power of critical theory. I found that the people I most wanted to connect with were the ones that found it most difficult to connect with my particular world in academia. With cinematography, I had been shooting movies my whole life, but I returned to it as a way to connect and communicate with people. What excited me most is that I could connect with people through images and emotion.
S&A: So, I’ve read up a bit on you and you’ve had film festival acclaim such as Cannes, Tribeca and Sundance! How was the film festival circuit been for you so far?
JF: It’s been amazing! Meeting people who care about storytelling and languages that they want to help build and meeting people in different levels in film, getting to meet my heroes and people who inspire me… it has been such an incredible and humbling process. Places like Cannes and Sundance, are places of curation where I can see so many different perspectives. It’s human. I know in film school we’re told to “show not tell,” but my personal goal is to create content that “feels, not show.”
S&A: “Feel, not show.” Now that’s a quotable! I do want to talk about your experience as a black filmmaker, especially in this niche market of VR; how as that been?
JF: I think that [being black] has made all the difference. It is everything to who I am, it is everything to how I see, everything to how I feel and how it all relates to my art. As someone who is Caribbean-American -- my mother was born in Bermuda and grew up in Grenada and her family later moved to Barbados; my father was Jamaican and moved to the U.S. -- I’ve always been a child of the diaspora. Being Caribbean, you operate in this grey space. If you think about Africans and how they went through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade -- put on a boat and placed into this alien world -- and people telling you, “You are a chair” and yet you can fall in love and you can dance. Those are people who can hold two very different ways of thinking in their body at the same time and that’s always been so inspiring. My parents were scientists so when I was feeling down it would be as likely for my mother to say “your dopamine levels are low” as it would be for her to say “the spirit of your grandfather isn’t with you and you need to reconvene with that.” That’s why, as a filmmaker it’s important to come from that type of background -- to hold two different things in my body and my camera that may not make sense, but it doesn’t ultimately make sense because people are complicated. Those dichotomies are so exciting in VR because it pushes people to think in more grey ways.
S&A: Thanks, Jomo! Please tell us where we can find Haunt and what’s the future look like for you!
JF: I’m so excited that Haunt will have a platform via Jaunt. I am really looking forward to seeing VR come into its own! As for me, I’ll be shooting a feature this November that I’m really excited about. Always shooting; always moving.
You can learn more about Jomo Fray at his website.