Chaise-Louise Newman is a second year undergraduate at Birmingham School of Acting, part of Birmingham City University. Studying Applied Performance, she appears in new road safety video ‘Every Choice Counts’, the UK’s first virtual reality film which features ‘branching’ technology. Made by West Midlands Fire Service and produced with FirstCar Media, the education package allows participants to make decision with varying consequences at various points of a car journey.

In this guest blog post, Chaise-Louise describes her experience of making the film.

I first found out about the ‘Every Choice Counts’ back in October 2016 whilst also working as part of my University course at Safeside at Eastside, an experiential learning centre run by West Midlands Fire Service that provide innovative, interactive and enjoyable learning environments, inspiring visitors to think and act safely.

Later that month, I went to the Fire Service Headquarters to read for the role of Becca, alongside a few of my classmates, alongside actors from Walsall College. Shortly after, I got a call back and went back in the room to read for the role again.

On the 10th November, filming began. The film crew and employees from West Midlands Fire Service had set up the location at Woodgate Valley Fire Station and we soon headed out on nearby roads to film the opening scenes in a rented car. The videographers – FirstCar Media – had kitted out the car with a 360° camera and microphones.

What was particularly interesting about the way it was filmed is that the camera wasn’t a fly-on-the-wall to the action. The camera had actually been made into a character, called Sean. This means that the participants wearing virtual reality headsets are part of the action.

This is a great idea that the videographers have come up with, because it shifts the responsibility of what happens to these characters on to that of the audience experiencing the film. During the video the audience must select different choices for the driver to make and this ultimately affects the end outcome of the characters.

We did intend for this to be filmed in one day, however, we ended up battling with the elements due to bad weather and the time of year meant that daylight hours were limited. This meant we were unable to finish the filming of all the dangerous driving stunts, because it would cause a lot of continuity errors and cause a lot of difficulty filming without the light.

We arranged to meet again on the 14th November to continue the filming. On this day we managed to complete the rest of the car stunts for the alternate endings. We then regrouped on the 19th January as there had been some problems with the footage from the end party scene. As a group, we improvised a script to end the piece should the audience make sensible and safe decisions.

The filming process was rather interesting for me due to 360° cameras being a relatively new concept that I have never acted in front of before. I was advised that the most important thing to consider about acting for 360° is to make sure you give the audience a reason to turn to you when the attention is on you, but don’t distract them too much when you want their focus to be elsewhere, as the audience may miss important moments.

This video is a great applied performance piece as it is commonly said that young, inexperienced drivers (between the ages of 16 and 24) are at the highest risk of having road accidents. This video will persuade young drivers to think about the decisions they make when out on the road.

From being involved with this project it has informed my own coursework at Birmingham School of Acting. For the ‘Facilitation in Context’ module, I am required to write a workshop plan based upon the work my course mates and I have done at Safeside at Eastside. This video project has inspired me to create my own workshop on road safety when driving, as I am more conscious about the issues involved, having researched heavily for my part, as well as being a young driver myself.

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