Kevin Kunze: Award-Winning 360 VR Filmmaker
Kevin Kunze is an award-winning director with over a decade of experience in feature and commercial filmmaking. In 2014, Kunze’s first documentary “Mobilize” permired at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco winning the Best Documentary Feature award at the California Independent Film Festival. Kunze served as Director of Photography for the 2015 Singularity University “GSP Project Videos” which were featured on TechCrunch. Additionally, Kunze served as an assistant editor on “Take Me to The River”, which won the SXSW 24 Beats audience award. Currently, he teaches 360 VR filmmaking to graduate and undergraduate students at Academy of Arts University in downtown San Francisco.
We’ve been given this incredible opportunity to speak with Kevin Kunze. Through this interview, we asked about his past, current, and future with VR as VR content creator.
Q: When did you start producing 360/VR content and what opportunity lead you to enter this field?
Kevin: I first got into 360 when I saw a 360 video on YouTube. I still remember I was moving my phone around while watching it. One day, my friend showed me used camera on Amazon (Theta M-15), which I bought immediately and started making a daily 360 video on my channel. I wanted to learn as much as possible. By doing a daily video, I was able to receive audience’s feedback and I quickly started to pick up what works with this new medium. Slowly I learned what types of shots my viewers enjoy watching in 360, and also necessary resolution and frame rate to make the video smooth in a HMD.
Q: What inspires and defines your creative style? What in your opinion differentiates your work from other VR content creators?
Kevin: I always start my videos with an intro and outro. That helps me to bookend my ‘story’ of the day. By doing a daily 360 video, I get to experiment a lot more than a major studio. Even if it doesn’t work out, there is no pressure to be worried because there’s always tomorrow. I often like to test out new camera angles and editing styles to see if viewers will react differently. New cameras that can shoot slow motion and depth are also pushing the creativity and interactivity of the medium. Time lapse is one of my favourites but it’s going to get a lot cooler when you take walk in the space and see things moving through you and around you.
Q: As someone who studied film and media in college, how has your education shaped your career? What advice do you have for young and aspiring 360/VR filmmakers?
Kevin: As a college teacher of 360 VR filmmaking at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, I feel very passion about education. Ultimately, college or an opportunity for that matter is what you make out of it. I remember when I first got into my alma matter USF, I began working in the camera rental department for my student job before I even took my first class. By the time I was a junior, I was the senior monitor for the rental department and also a resident advisor for the international dorm. Having a strong work ethic is important. Even as I write this, it’s 11:40pm on Friday and I still have a ton of works to do. But at the end of the day if you love what you do, it doesn’t really consider to be work. Push your limits on daily bases, be open to learn something new everyday, and you’ll excel. People who I see having difficulty with film jobs right now are folks who never wanted to learn how to fly a drone or pick up a 360 camera. Go where the puck is going to be, not where it is right now.
Q: Of all the VR projects you've run at Kunze Productions, which one do you consider to be the most significant and why?
Kevin: I think the work we’ve done with animal adoption centers (both dog and cat) was one of the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had making videos. In terms of views, our Cat Town Café video has almost a million views on YouTube. This was also the first client job that I shot using the Kodak PixPro (one of my favourite cameras), and it formed a long-term relationship with them which they fly me out to promote their new 360 cameras at CES each year.
Additionally, the 360 films that I’m working on right now with Evo Heyning at Light Lodges is very inspiring for helping out the misplaced or homeless. Documenting cities and organizations that have found positive solutions for this epidemic of disparity. This past holiday, we filmed a formerly homeless woman who puts on an event every year that feeds the urban refugees of Oakland. It had a profound impact on my worldview about what’s possible.
Q: As an entrepreneur in the 360/VR space, what are some advice you'd give to those who are thinking about starting their own production companies?
Kevin: The future is interactive, so have a plan for that. Always move where the puck is going not where it currently is.
What are some challenges you've faced while teaching 360/VR filmmaking at Academy of Arts University? What interesting projects are your students working out?
Kevin: The biggest challenges are the fast rate improvement of technology. Technology changes and advances at such a fast rate that most universities can’t keep up with it. Cameras, software, and HMDs, everything rapidly updates every 6 months or less.
My students have some of the most fascinating projects and stories. I often find that when people first pick up the camera as a newbie, they often shoot the most inspiring things because no one has put up the walls and told them the rules yet. One student took off the head of her Ken doll and screwed the camera into it (you can see the photo on my Instagram). She then attached that on to the grill of her car and took it on the highway.
Another student did a piece all about lucid dreaming that used stop motion editing tricks. It was brilliant and fascinating. And it was his 2nd film ever – not just in 360 but film in general.
What's next for Kunze Productions and what visions do you have for the future of VR?
Kevin: We have numerous projects on the horizon including stories that have more interactive elements. We’re always looking for funders and new projects so if you’re passionate about 360 VR movies or have a video you’d like us to film, please reach out to me at www.kevinkunze.com
I always tell people to follow my daily videos. Because that’s how you can stay up to date on what I am up to, and the VR industry. Thanks so much to VeeR for inviting me to do this interview and sending me Google cardboards. Every time I give them out at conferences and see people smile I think about VeeR!