Pairing cutting-edge video technology with the boundary-pushing improv teams at iO Comedy Network was a perfect match

Bottle Rocket Media recently had the privilege of teaming up with the world-famous talent at The iO Comedy Network to produce their very first 360 video improv experience. Shooting improv comedy in 360 video is a perfect pairing, allowing viewers to experience not only a hilarious onstage show, but also the magic that happens in the audience as the crowd and the performers feed off each other’s enthusiasm. We sat down with Brett Singer, Bottle Rocket’s creative director and the producer at the helm of this project, to get his take on this innovative fusion of live comedy and immersive video tech.

How was the project with The iO Comedy Network different than other 360 videos you’ve produced?

Capturing a live stage performance is a completely unique experience for us. With other 360 projects, we worked to tell a unique story for the 360 viewer using typical storytelling tools like editing, composition, and so on. For the iO Show, our paramount goal was to transport the viewer to the theater and make them feel as if they’re sitting in that audience—which is a long way of saying, we did our best to just let the amazing cast do their thing, and we were lucky enough to capture it.

Why did you choose 360 over traditional film?

In a theater environment, and especially in an improv theater space, the viewers make their own discoveries watching the performers across a wide stage. There’s so much competing for their attention: who should I watch? The 3 performers in the center of the stage, or the 4 waiting in the wings to jump in? I love seeing the actors’ wheels turn, so for me personally, I love catching those transition moments where new characters are introduced into a scene, and then watching closely as the other performers react. In 360 video we retain the viewer’s ability to make their own choices in what they want to watch. We’re not forcing them to focus on this performer only. They’re free to take in the whole theater experience.

How do you think using 360 enhanced the improv experience for viewers?

I think we captured something very special that night. These are world-class improvisers, and creating a 360 video experience where anyone—anywhere—can feel like they’re sitting in the audience is quite an accomplishment. It’s opening up the improv theater-going experience to not just the 150 people sitting in that crowd, but to anyone with a 360 headset. That’s a barrier that hasn’t been broken before now. So much of the improv experience is feeling the energy of the room, seeing the people around you, watching the whole stage and the performers. This 360 video gives you a front row seat.

Since the video consists of a continuous shot of the iO Theatre’s stage, was there any editing involved? Can you elaborate on the post-production process for this video?

We cut down the show a bit, just to tighten the length. The biggest post-production challenges were in the 360 degree spatial audio editing. We captured audio with individual lav mics for each performer, and then a 4-channel spatial audio mic for the room and audience. Blending all of those sources together into one smooth mix is what really tricks your brain into thinking you’re really in that room.

What was your favorite part of this project?

The show itself. Those iO performers (the group is called “The Late 90’s”) deserve all the credit (obviously!) for making this project such a success, and getting to enjoy their performances over and over again during the post process was my favorite part. We can’t wait for the next one!