CC046: Lakshmi Sarah // Storytelling in Virtual and Augmented Reality (live from CES 2020)

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Lakshmi Sarah 0:00
I think the great stories are about bringing you into something that you might not have experienced before. I think they’re also about shifting perspective, which is why VR is interesting for storytelling.

Jay Clouse 0:14
The startup investment landscape is changing. and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to upside. Hello, hello, hello and welcome back to the upside podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. Bookworm himself, Eric Hornung

Eric Hornung 0:53
2019 was a sad, sad excuse for a bookworm, Jay.

Jay Clouse 0:57
How many books did you read?

Eric Hornung 0:58

Jay Clouse 1:00
That’s…Trying to do the math on how many more books that is than I read. That’s 18 more books in I read 20.

Eric Hornung 1:07
But you have a goal in 2020 to read more books.

Jay Clouse 1:09
That’s true. That’s true. And actually, I probably read some books in 2019. I just didn’t have any type of record tracking. How do you even know that you read 18 books?

Eric Hornung 1:17
Well, I have this new app called BookShelf.Website that I really like. But what I’ve been doing for the last, I don’t know, five, six years is just keeping a notepad of all the books I’m reading, what I want to be reading, and what I’ve read on a yearly basis, so I added it all to there, but I keep it on Notepad.

Jay Clouse 1:36
Alright, so your bookshelf, what’s that URL? We’ll put in the show notes.

Eric Hornung 1:39

Jay Clouse 1:43
Okay, and that’s where you can join Eric’s full book club. But what are some of the books that stand out to you from 2019 that you read?

Eric Hornung 1:49
From 2019? Man, this would be a lot easier if we had internet. We’re here at CES recording this intro, and I forgot my dongle and the Wi Fi isn’t great. So what it boils down to is we don’t have internet, but I have to remember what I read in 2019. Oh, here I have one.

Jay Clouse 2:08
You’ve been telling me to read Alchemy, but I think you were that in 2020. So it doesn’t count.

Eric Hornung 2:11
Americana, a 400 year history of American capitalism. It was, it was pretty awesome, Jay. Like, I think this whole space of Big History, which is covering wide swaths of human history in one 300 to 1600 page book is one of my favorite types of book because it gives you the context for what was actually happening trend wise when you go back and read very specific stories and moments and biographies about people’s lives.

Jay Clouse 2:44
Did you just make up the phrase Big History?

Eric Hornung 2:47
I think I saw someone tweet that about Sapiens when Sapiens was very big, and I don’t know if it ever caught on, but I’ve been calling it Big History for a while now.

Jay Clouse 2:56
Well, speaking of storytelling, today we’re speaking with an author on the show, also a founder but haven’t talking to a ton of authors on the show. Today we’re speaking with Lakshmi Sarah, the co-founder of Tiny World Productions. Lakshmi is an educator and journalist with a focus on immigration and migration. She has produced content for newspapers, radio and magazines from Ahmedabad, India to Los Angeles, California, including AJ+. KQED, Die Zeit Online, and the New York Times with a passion for experimental innovative projects. She was an Oculus Launchpad grant recipient and member of YouTube’s VR Creators Lab in Los Angeles.

Eric Hornung 3:35
So much new stuffs happening in the world of media right now and kind of hitting the forefront. I mean, podcasts have been around since the RSS feed, but now they’re kind of getting bigger. Newsletters have been around for forever, and now they’re getting bigger. So we have all these new mediums and types of content that are dribbling out, and I’m really excited to see what VR brings to the world of storytelling and media.

Jay Clouse 3:59
Lakshmi’s book Book is ‘Crafting Stories for Virtual Reality,’ which made Gary Shapiro’s book list. Gary Shapiro is the president of CTA with the organization that puts on CES. So at the CES official displays where they show the books that they recommend, Lakshmi’s book is right there on the shelf crafting stories for virtual reality. And your partner, we we have all these mediums for storytelling, but does storytelling at its core change? I don’t know. We’re going to find out.

Eric Hornung 4:25
And listeners, if you have any thoughts on storytelling or narratives or the impact of VR, reach out to us @upsideFM on Twitter or any social, or send us something a little longer at Jay, if we were going to give out executive titles for upside, which one of us would get CEO?

Jay Clouse 4:48
I would.

Eric Hornung 4:48
That was so quick didn’t even like contemplate me being CEO.

Jay Clouse 4:52
It’s obvious.

Eric Hornung 4:53
What would I get?

Jay Clouse 4:54
Not co-producer.

Eric Hornung 4:58
Not co-producer. I don’t think that’s in the executive category. So if I was hiring for an executive position, I probably wouldn’t look for co-producer in that bucket, huh?

Jay Clouse 5:08
How would you go about hiring for an executive position?

Eric Hornung 5:10
I mean, that’s easy. I go to our friends at Integrity Power Search. They’re the number one, full stack, high growth startup recruiting firm based between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disruptive companies. I mean, since 2012, they’ve successfully executed over 600 searches, they’re on track for 200 more just in 2019. Their clients have raised collectively over 2.5 billion in venture capital and counting.

Jay Clouse 5:39
You’re not trying to replace me as a CEO, are you?

Eric Hornung 5:41
I didn’t know you actually got the title. I thought this was just a hypothetical.

Jay Clouse 5:44
No, it sounds like we’ve made a decision we’ve come to a consensus. So if you guys are looking to talk to the CEO of upside, you can talk to me, and if you’re looking to hire your own executive help, you can go to Integrity Power Search to find out more about how they can help you.

Jay Clouse 6:05
Lakshmi, welcome to the show.

Lakshmi Sarah 6:07
Thanks, Jay.

Jay Clouse 6:08
It’s not often that we have an author on the President of CES’s his book club on the show.

Lakshmi Sarah 6:14

Jay Clouse 6:15
Awkward way of saying, the President of CES has has a book club, Lakshmi wrote a book, and it is in the book club and we feel honored to have you here.

Lakshmi Sarah 6:22
Great. I feel honored to be here.

Eric Hornung 6:23
So what we usually start off with on the upside is the background of the guest. So if you tell us quickly about the history of Lakshmi?

Lakshmi Sarah 6:31
Okay, like how, like in 30 seconds or…?

Eric Hornung 6:33
Wherever you want to go.

Lakshmi Sarah 6:34
Whoa, I mean, but we only have half an hour, okay. Yes, I guess I was born and raised in the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area. I grew up in the South Bay in Palo Alto before it was like Palo Alto. So yeah, that’s interesting context. My dad’s originally from India. Okay, yeah, let me jump to like the more interesting stuff. I went to a hippie school where you are barefoot and play with clay and art from kindergarten to eighth grade. My mom also taught there. And then I went to like, standard high school and then I went to college. And I think we need to…ask me another question.

Eric Hornung 7:13

Jay Clouse 7:14
What led you to writing a book? Like, why did you decide you want to write a book? Tell us about the book.

Lakshmi Sarah 7:19
Okay, okay. Yeah, yeah. Well, I’ve always loved books. I’ve always been interested in writing a book, but I never knew or thought that it would be about virtual reality storytelling. I focused on immersive storytelling and doing a 360 video project for my masters at UC Berkeley. And it was around the 2015 humanitarian refugee crisis. And we did a series on, myself and my co producer, co writer, Bosworth, did a series on asylum seekers in Germany. And we were attempting to use 360 video virtual reality as a way to bring people more inside the story to like, have a different perspective on what was happening. And out of that project, we basically spent a year or two, well, a big year and a half, like heads down working on the project. And then when we came out and finished our masters, we realized we actually had this skill that not many people were using very well. And we knew how to create a 360 video, direct people’s attention to a certain extent. But there was also so much more that we could do within that. And we were, we had been starting to talk to creators about what they were doing and how they were doing it. And it was really interesting and exciting. So one of our professors, actually, while we were finishing the project was like, you guys should write a book and we were like, haha, that’s funny, especially after coming out of like an edit suite, like, you know, all night six in the morning, and your professor’s like, you should write a book looks, like pretty funny. But then we realized, Oh, yeah, we should write a book, and it will be really fun to talk to all these amazing creators from like New York Times and The Guardian to like small production studios that, that do awesome stuff but not that many people know about it.

Jay Clouse 9:04
When you’re starting to think about doing 360 video as part of the story, were you trying to solve for the problem of how to get people to feel more empathy towards these asylum seekers or like what spawned that idea in the first place?

Lakshmi Sarah 9:16
Part of it was the draw of empathy, but it was also the idea of shifting perspective, because a lot of the stories and a fair amount of journalism talks surface level about, you know, a million refugees or X number of migrants, 800,000 DACA recipients, but what does that, or, you know, the number of homeless people in San Francisco, what does that actually mean? What does that look like? And what are, like, what are the voices of those people? And that’s what we wanted to kind of delve into.

Jay Clouse 9:49
It’s hard to fathom numbers like that on like a human scale.

Lakshmi Sarah 9:53

Jay Clouse 9:53
You know, it gets so big that it just sounds almost like a big number and not 800 individual human beings.

Lakshmi Sarah 10:00
Right, yeah.

Eric Hornung 10:01
Where else is this immersive storytelling useful? So one area is when you’re trying to humanize something, where are some other verticals, maybe?

Lakshmi Sarah 10:11
Yeah. Well, so, we talked about this in the book, which is fun. But so in terms of like perspective, perspective shifting, where you’re trying to, like, get inside a story or from a different perspective, or see something from multiple perspectives, there’s been some interesting stuff, things that, like, take a person for looking at the same thing from multiple different viewpoints. Another one that has been interesting is like data visualization, both for, like, basic things like the US Mexico border wall. The USA Today and Arizona Republic did an amazing series of stuff. It was everything from audio to video to, like, a headset experience. You put on the headset, and you’re actually standing at the border wall. And so you have a better sense of like, oh, what does this actually look like when you look up and left and right and even behind you? What does it sound like? They have a couple of different spots on the wall. So not just the physical wall. But there’s some areas where there’s not actually a wall. So like, here’s a big mountain and here’s the water behind you.

Eric Hornung 11:13
When you’re doing immersive storytelling, is it narration over like a visual experience? Or is it here’s a person talking to me and I can look and engage or look away?

Lakshmi Sarah 11:23
That’s really good question because it depends on the story, and it depends on the creator, and what you’re trying to get out of the story as well. The Eurownews does a lot of storytelling and all of theirs is hosted. It’s hosted, but you can also choose, like, whether or not you want to look at the host or you want to just like look off and see…

Jay Clouse 11:42
Host meaning there’s some person there that’s walking through the experience?

Lakshmi Sarah 11:45
Yeah, yeah, exactly. There’s, there’s a person there, and they’re being like, this is, we’re going to this…we profiled their piece on a Seed Vault, and like somebody there and they’re showing you what’s happening, but you can also look over here at the other part of it. So hosted experiences definitely are there. But then there’s also things that are just like…Well, so then in terms of shifting perspective, there’s stories where you are at the center where you’re kind of in control. And then there’s other stories where you’re like, on the shoulder of someone, so like seeing what it would look like from that person’s perspective, but that person is like kind of guiding you along. And the, the one that comes to mind with like the perspective, the one of the first ones that really got people into it was Clouds Over Sidra, which came out I think, at the end of 2015, 2016. And that was done by the United Nations and Chris Malik’s production company, I want to say. And we have an interview in the book about how they kind of develop that and, and it was using audio narration to bring you through the story, but then also like 360 video, like from the perspective of a young girl at a refugee camp, and Jordan.

Jay Clouse 12:53
At this stage of technology, who is is the best creator, not like individuals, but what type of person or organization has the tools or resources necessary to do immersive storytelling and putting that in the context of their audience? Like, do they need to have an Oculus, do they need to have some sort of headset to receive this? You know, like, it seems like the technology itself to be immersed in the story may be kind of inaccessible at a mass market level right now. But tell me if I’m wrong.

Lakshmi Sarah 13:30
Yeah, I think there’s definitely varying degrees of answers depending on who you’re talking to. In terms of, so first of all, like backing up just a minute, like how are we defining immersive? So is it, is it a 360 video, which is like, okay, you can look all around, but it’s like not, you can’t walk through it. It’s like three degrees of freedom, if you will, instead of six. So you can’t like walk within a space. So who has the capacity to create the, like, super high end would be one question, and who has the capacity to do just like the more basic ones. But then, so there’s the more virtual reality immersive, and then there’s the, like, augmented reality immersive, which could even be as simple as an audio, audio piece that goes with like sunglasses, like the Bose AR, things they’re doing a lot of experimentation with, storytelling using audio on your face.

Jay Clouse 14:29
So maybe a better way that I could have asked that is like, talk me through the spectrum of what is available and what immersive could mean.

Lakshmi Sarah 14:35
Yeah, okay. It’s available…Okay. The things that are available are everything from consuming content on your phone to consuming within a headset. And I think then there’s like varying degrees of phones and headsets, but like, you know, the Oculus, we’ve got the Vive. So, some, some of that high end stuff is really great. But also, there’s not actually that much great stuff out there, which is one of those content versus–what’s the thing?–content problem. It’s like a problem of, of chicken and egg. Like, it would be great if there were so many cool experiences people could check out. But there’s not actually that many right now, I would say.

Jay Clouse 15:17
It’s kind of a marketplace problem.

Lakshmi Sarah 15:18
Yeah, marketplace problem. And then you have certain people…Well, I mean, and then you have like, what’s the one that was really famous? Oh, MagicLeap, that like, I just read an article about how they’re not doing so great. But, I don’t know.

Eric Hornung 15:30
They had a big whale, right? That was their thing.

Jay Clouse 15:33
There’s there’s the video of the gymnasium where, like, you can see this giant whale jump out of…

Lakshmi Sarah 15:37

Jay Clouse 15:38
…thin air, essentially, and then crashing to the floor as if they’re crashing into a wave.

Eric Hornung 15:43
When you’re taking a picture, we have a pretty good understanding of like, what makes a decent picture, right? So we can even me, who is not a photographer by any means I could take a picture on and put it on Instagram, it’s like, Oh, that’s a decent enough picture. If we’re building a film, we have an idea, maybe we’re not good enough at it personally at what makes a good film. Jay actually just made a film this summer.

Jay Clouse 16:09

Eric Hornung 16:09
Sure, I executive produced, which is the best job in the world.

Lakshmi Sarah 16:13
You just told him what to do.

Jay Clouse 16:14
He financed the thing.

Lakshmi Sarah 16:19
I look forward to checking out your film.

Eric Hornung 16:21
You know, like, kind of what goes into a film and like there’s theory around…

Lakshmi Sarah 16:25

Eric Hornung 16:26
…ere’s how shots should transition. Here’s how things should work and flow and frameworks. When you look at immersive–and I’m talking like fully immersive here–

Lakshmi Sarah 16:35

Eric Hornung 16:36
What are the differences between shooting a film and thinking about a 366 degrees of freedom, fully immersed experience?

Lakshmi Sarah 16:47
Well, I think one of the main things is that there isn’t a defined, filmic language for which to, like, create a lot of…Within 360 video there’s a little bit more of Okay, there’s certain rules.. But within like a fully immersive experience, even the, like what is happening on the controllers is not a standardized thing. So you might have somebody who’s using this point, a button to teleport, and you might have somebody else is using a different button like to do other things. And then, so it gets, it gets very confusing on the more granular level. But then also, if you back up a little bit, a lot of the people who are…I mean, I think the things that are cool and great are done by more collaborative people who are like coming from both gaming and film. But if you have a straight film background, and you’re just trying to put the film on to the 360, it’s not going to translate in the same way. You can see things that, I’ve seen things at conferences or South by Southwest where you can like, Okay, this person is coming from a film background because they’re just doing everything that they should in film, whereas like, there’s things that are happening all around you. So did I answer the question?

Eric Hornung 18:00
I think so. I think the takeaway there is that you can’t just take the things from film.

Lakshmi Sarah 18:04

Eric Hornung 18:05
But I guess maybe on a more granular note, like, what is specifically different?

Lakshmi Sarah 18:12
What is different?

Jay Clouse 18:12

Lakshmi Sarah 18:13
Well, so one of the things that’s different is that, well, there’s a variety of things. I guess I could talk a little bit about perspective shifting. So there’s one piece we profiled in the book that is taking the perspective of a female if you’re facing one direction, and the male if you’re facing the other direction. And this is like a commentary on tech, and it’s called U-Turn for obvious reasons. And it’s done by Nathalie Mathe, I hope I’m pronouncing her name correctly. So it’s, it’s a comment–and this one is a fictional experience. And so one of the things you can do with VR is you can shift the perspective. So if you’re looking one direction, you see things from the perspective of the woman, and then it’s also audio, like tracks, so you hear the audio from her. And then if you turn around, you hear the perspective of the man. And f you’re kind of in between, you can kind of hear by looking over your shoulder.

Jay Clouse 19:09
It’s just like a relational argument or…

Lakshmi Sarah 19:11
It’s about…Yeah, thank you, sorry. Um, it’s about a woman in tech. And it’s, but it’s done more of, not as a comedy but as like a commentary. But it’s an interesting perspective, because you might not see certain things, like, if you only look in one perspective. And there are certain things that are done within like a theatrical and placement way, so, and also to get you to see who you are, she has a like a Skype call at the beginning. So I think what’s different in VR also depends on, like, to what extent is the VR, like, you know, six degrees of freedom or like three degrees of freedom or just like super basic AR, like audio, of course. But what’s different in VR is that you can also, you can get the perspective and also shifting…I think, you can also get your like an internal audios, so there’s the Guardian did some interesting things about like autism and the perspective of like a baby. So like you hear an internal dialogue as well as an external dialogue, but you’re also seeing everything that’s happening around you.

Jay Clouse 19:40
What is three degrees of freedom versus six degrees of freedom?

Lakshmi Sarah 20:10
So one so you can imagine, like, a video on your head for 360 video, and you can look up and look down and look left and look right. Whereas for six degrees of freedom, you can actually move within the space. Yeah.

Jay Clouse 20:34
Let’s take the, the medium completely out of this. Your background in journalism.

Lakshmi Sarah 20:37

Jay Clouse 20:38
What makes good storytelling generally, regardless of the medium?

Lakshmi Sarah 20:42
That’s a great question. Well, I mean, Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message. But I think that great stories are about bringing you into something that you might not have experienced before. I think they’re also about shifting perspective, which is why VR is interesting for storytelling. I’m trying to think of my favorite stories. They also can kind of, they’re not always linear in the traditional sense. And they allow you to like, go different places.

Jay Clouse 21:15
Talk about an example of a story that you’ve told, tell us the medium of that. But also like as much as you can remember, what was your process of sayin, I think there’s a story here, here’s how I’m going to construct it, and why. if you have an example like that?

Lakshmi Sarah 21:30
I think there is a couple different series of stories that we’ve done with Tiny World Productions, which are taking that theme of like, we have these huge numbers and we want to understand what’s behind those numbers. So from the the asylum seekers in Germany, where we had nine different perspectives on asylum seekers, there’s one example. We did a piece on homelessness in San Francisco which was the perspective of two women and just kind of their stories. I think sometimes stories, like, you think it has to be a huge, complicated thing. But sometimes the most interesting stories are just like from the people standing or sitting right next to you that you pass every day. Another series, like, a shorter form series we did for Fusion Media was on DACA recipients, so Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And there’s a general feeling of that people know like, Oh, yeah, a DACA recipient does this and that. But when you really go into some of the stories, we profiled someone who was a teacher and someone who was an 18 year old, and just getting a little bit deeper into what they think, how they feel, and what their daily life is, like, those are the ones that I find interesting.

Eric Hornung 22:46
Does any of that translate to the world of…So I feel like this is all, it feels very documentary, everything we’ve been talking about. One of the, like, most common things that we see in our world are, like, business profiles and business stories. Can you tell immersive stories about businesses the same way you could tell immersive stories about humanity?

Lakshmi Sarah 23:07
Yeah, I would say yes. But it also depends on the business. Like, there’s, there’s a lot of process…Okay, I’m thinking about a story we did on women in the cannabis industry. And there’s a lot of process parts through within the cannabis industry that people don’t, like, know about and what happens, like, from seed to sale. And so that is, like, very much to me more directly business. Yeah.

Jay Clouse 23:32
Tell us about Tiny World Productions and the scope of what you guys do.

Lakshmi Sarah 23:36
So Tiny World Productions was founded to try to bridge the gap of people not really understanding immersive media or what could be done. So initially, we started doing sort of like one off stories for like, first we did for local media, then we did a piece a couple of pieces for the New York Times when they were experimenting with VR and 360 video. And then through that process, we ended up, like, writing a book. So this was sort of, like, a broader education for people. And we’ve also done smaller, like, workshops through the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute as well as like more independently. And then, more recently, we’ve been doing more like consulting on different modes and formats. So if you’re thinking about doing an AR project or a VR project, you’re wondering, like, could this work? Will it work? Like, then that would be something you could talk to us about. Or if you want to train up people to be able to do 360 video stuff, then we would do something like that.

Eric Hornung 24:37
So part of training is, here’s the times you can use immersive technology. Here’s the times you, here’s how to do that. But another part is, I think, saying, this is the times it’s not worth it. So you said the medium is the message. When is VR, AR, 360 interview not the right media for the message?

Lakshmi Sarah 24:58
Yeah, good question. So for example, if we were to have a 360 camera right here, it wouldn’t be that interesting because there’s not a lot going on. Well, actually, there’s kind of a lot going on around us. But it wouldn’t be that interesting because, like, the focus is on the audio and the focus is on, like, us. Like, it could be kind of interesting, because nobody is sitting across from me over here. So if we had a 360 camera, but like, what, that’s not telling the story, it’s not, like, adding anything to the story. So that would be a bad example. But I think, I think it really depends on what you’re trying to communicate. I mean, we talked a little bit about this in the book, there is a sense that if, if everything is going to immersive media, then it’s not so much, like, this is the older question of like about the internet, like, do we put it on the internet. Like, okay, everything’s on the internet, so it’s not about do you put it on? It’s like, everything’s there. So if we’re, if we’re like, going towards like, everything is immersive, then like, everything will be immersive, but like, there is a point in time now where it doesn’t matter. Everything needs to be, like, created as, like, immersive content, partially because not everybody’s using the devices or like not consuming in as immersive.

Jay Clouse 26:10
Do you see a world where I log into Netflix and all of the things that I can watch are immersive?

Lakshmi Sarah 26:16
Um, I’m kind of more skeptical when it comes to, like, future of immersive stuff, because I think there’s a couple of different factors that need to happen for that to be a scenario that would be cool. And partially that is because I think that if the means of creation are not democratized, and so I mean, like if there’s not if there’s not a diversity of people who are able to create for these mediums, I don’t think that they’re going to be able to take, take off.

Eric Hornung 26:48
What are those factors that need to happen for this, for that reality to hit?

Lakshmi Sarah 26:53
Well, somebody needs to create something that, like, is not super ugly on your face when you put it on, like normal glasses would be making a lot of sense. And somebody, I think we interviewed somebody from the New York Times who said a similar thing. Like nobody wants to put the thing on their head. There was a great New Yorker piece that called it a hamster casket. Like, that is wow.

Jay Clouse 27:14
Like the box you want on the front.

Lakshmi Sarah 27:16
Yeah yeah. So like, nobody really wants to put on Okay, maybe there are some people who like are really excited about putting VR headset goggles things on. But I think, for a lot of people, they just are not that interested in putting something on their face or head, which is one of the reasons why augmented reality where you, like, still can be in your space and, like, look at some stuff and, like, look away and look at stuff or you have your glasses on and you can just, like, do whatever is interesting.

Jay Clouse 27:43
Yeah. I think a lot about video games that are narrative driven being like a really exciting space for immersive VR, but it seems so, like I said earlier, it just seems kind of far off from just the accessibility of people generally, one, the accessibility of creators to be able to make narratives themselves. Like, it would be really hard to get some of those perspective shifting and perspective diversity without making that true. And you know, you wouldn’t want to just play 50 narrative Call of Duty’s or…

Eric Hornung 28:14
and I would be exhausted. It’s a lot of running to play those games.

Jay Clouse 28:19
That’s a good point. How much, how many of you the experiences have you, um…

Lakshmi Sarah 28:22
How many experiences have I…?

Jay Clouse 28:23
Have you experienced? That you actually have to…

Eric Hornung 28:26
That’s, that’s why we win awards for this podcast right there.

Jay Clouse 28:29
…that you actually had to physically move around your real life space versus you’re clicking and kind of moving forward with a remote or some sort of handle.

Lakshmi Sarah 28:39
I went to VR World in New York City to try a bunch of all their crazy things. So I’ve, like, done a fair amount of the you know, what’s the one where you slice fruit? That’s really entertaining.

Jay Clouse 28:54
Fruit Ninja.

Lakshmi Sarah 28:54
Fruit, Yeah, okay, obviously. Fruit Ninja. And like some of the boxing ones, those are intense. So yeah, I guess I’ve done a few of them.

Jay Clouse 29:06
Do you just…

Lakshmi Sarah 29:07
I’m not like a super…

Jay Clouse 29:08
Do you think that having space that you physically move your body around is a constraint for the future of these immersive storytelling?

Lakshmi Sarah 29:16
I think it’s both. Yeah, yes. Yeah. I mean, I think that th,e even the idea of having a certain amount of space that you have to have to like set up your whole thing, like with the, the Oculus, you got to set the–what are those things called?

Eric Hornung 29:31
The corner of the room, the…

Lakshmi Sarah 29:31
Yeah, yeah the boxing sensors, thank you. You have to set the boxes at the corner room. That’s totally limiting. It’s kind of interesting to see how, like, libraries were like starting to set up some things because it’s completely limiting if you think that, like, people have dedicated VR rooms. I mean, I guess some people do, but…

Jay Clouse 29:52
I didn’t think about that. I was thinking yeah, I’m just moving around.

Lakshmi Sarah 29:56
Oh, move like moving around. Oh, yeah.

Jay Clouse 29:59
But that’s a good point.

Lakshmi Sarah 30:00
Yeah, even like, what’s kind of interesting is that the fact that you have to be able to move around in some things adds an element, but it also takes another element away because you can’t, like, yeah.

Jay Clouse 30:11
Like these these simulations, I have six degrees of separation.

Lakshmi Sarah 30:14

Jay Clouse 30:15
Are you moving your legs and walking, or are you tabbing through on a remote?

Lakshmi Sarah 30:20
So some of them are, like, clicking to jump. What’s that, there’s another word…

Jay Clouse 30:26

Lakshmi Sarah 30:27
Thank you. We’re really on it. Some of them you’re clicking to teleport, and then other ones, you’re like moving, you’re walking and there’s the other some like sciency interesting things about how you can actually, with your headset on, you can actually walk a certain…they have things you can stand on that you can walk and it feels like you’re going for longer or not actually straight because you’re actually curving slightly. That’s interesting. But some of them you’re, you’re like walking or in some of the your teleporting.

Eric Hornung 30:55
What aren’t we asking that we should be asking?

Lakshmi Sarah 30:57
I think some of the stuff around like, what…There’s some interesting things that are coming out with VR training with Stryver, who’s the company that Jeremy Bailenson and another guy started from Stanford. And they are doing a lot of training for things like Walmart and football players, two very different things. So VR is being used in more like specific industry things. But then also within that, what are we not, like, questioning about? And some of that is I think there’s some concerns when it comes to privacy when it comes to like access, who has access to all of the like, metadata surrounding, you know, VR training programs and like, who is being trained and how are they being trained, and how can you make sure they’re being trained accurately or like correctly? Some interesting stuff.

Jay Clouse 31:45
Have you ever been to Sleep No More in New York?

Lakshmi Sarah 31:47
I haven’t, but I can

Jay Clouse 31:49
Oh man. Talk about an immersive experience. You done it?

Eric Hornung 31:51
Yeah, I did before you.

Jay Clouse 31:53
Love it. I’ve done it twice.

Eric Hornung 31:54

Jay Clouse 31:54
Once with my mom, who was an English teacher, loves Shakespeare. She Loved it.

Lakshmi Sarah 32:00
I’ve heard great things about it. So I need to check it out.

Jay Clouse 32:03

Lakshmi Sarah 32:03

Jay Clouse 32:03
Talk about immersive. Awesome. Well, Lakshmi, it’s been great to talk with you. We’re a little bit over time. If people want to learn more about you or the book, where should they go?

Lakshmi Sarah 32:11
Tiny World Productions. T-N-Y-W-R-L-D with no vowels on Twitter. Most things are there. Of course, read the book. It’s called Crafting Stories for Virtual Reality. You can find out more about the book at And I have an immersive newsletter, a text newsletter that I will tweet about and you can find out more info there.

Jay Clouse 32:39
Awesome. Hey listener, have you ever wanted to get a message in front of the upside audience but weren’t sure how to sponsor the show or weren’t able to do a long term sponsorship? Well, now you can just go to and let our audience know anything that’s going on in your world, whether it’s an event, an application, a special coupon or deal, or just letting them know who you are, what your company does. All you have to do is go to, slash classifieds and you can place an ad on this show. That’s

Eric Hornung 33:22
All right, Jay, we just spoke with Lakshmi. What were your hot takes?

Jay Clouse 33:28
Hot takes are sometimes when things are new, people really want to scramble that thing and do the traditional execution in the new medium. And something that really came out of this interview for me that links and tracks to a lot of things that I see happening in other arenas is, the old way does not necessarily always make sense in the new medium. And also, using a new medium isn’t always what you need to do to get your point across, you know?

Eric Hornung 33:55
Yeah, I think there’s going to be some development here. In terms of what you can actually do, what you can’t actually do, and some really, really, really creative stuff that comes out of this new medium for storytelling. I love the idea of humanizing very large numbers as a construct. I don’t love the idea of this 360 degree video. Every time, when we were talking through this interview, Jay, my first experience with 360 degree interview was, I think it was Coldplay or Nickelback or..

Jay Clouse 34:28
Gross. What?

Eric Hornung 34:29
Somebody did a 360 degree music video in the desert. And if you looked at it, you would see them playing in the desert as a 360 degree video, but then you turn left, and it was like why did you do a 360 degree video? The rest of it was just the desert?

Jay Clouse 34:50
This photograph, don’t need to look to your left. Just some desert over there.

Eric Hornung 34:59
Yeah. So that’s how, as I’m thinking about immersive experiences, like was I immersed? Yes. Could I look behind me? Yes. Was there anything to see behind me? No.

Jay Clouse 35:07
That’s exactly the point. You know, sometimes just because you can do it in this new way, if you don’t actually exploit the benefits of that new medium, it doesn’t make sense. You know, we’re, we’re talking on microphones right now. And we’re actually in a location that’s kind of interesting, but most of the time as podcasters it also doesn’t make sense to have even video going because, you know, we have post production for a reason. We’re not perfect. A video version of our podcast where we’re flipping through the intro three times, because I forget our spiel, not that interesting.

Eric Hornung 35:36
Yeah, we’ve been doing this a hundred and fiifty times and you still flub the spiel one out of every two times.

Jay Clouse 35:41
Well, you’ve done twice as many intros as I have. We did the math on this. We did do the math on this. We have 65 standard episodes and 36 coffee chats or so, so it’s about two to one. I get rusty sometimes, but I’m excited to see how this medium evolves. I think there is an awesome potential here for streaming services like Netflix that are doing movies, even video games, going to concerts from your living room. Like, there’s all kinds of excitement here. Storytelling is an aspect of virtual reality and augmented reality that I haven’t really thought about. I love this perspective shifting idea. I think that could bring a lot of empathy to people’s lives, but to Lakshmi’s point, if we can’t democratize or make more accessible the tools for making stories to give new perspectives, the same perspectives that are being marginalized now will continue to be marginalized even more so, potentially, if the tools to create can’t get into their hands. So hopefully, there’s a company that maybe we can find on the podcast that makes that easier. Any other hot takes from you, Eric?

Eric Hornung 36:44
I think it would be so cool if Serial would have been an immersive audio visual experience.

Jay Clouse 36:51
I like that. I mean, I think any story can be enhanced by further deeper forms of the medium, meaning Serial, obviously an audio show, hell yes, you can make that better with a video aspect to it. And even more, greater if you can walk through it, or maybe a S Town is even better example, if you’re walking through John’s shop, you know, imagine actually walking through John’s shop. That can be really powerful. So we’ll be tracking this as it progresses.

Eric Hornung 37:20
And I hope that one thing of progress is to is virtual worlds, which is an area that I have a specific interest in. So if you guys know anybody who’s working in the virtual worlds space, so think Second Life or things like that, definitely reach out and connect us at And if there is anything you want to do to share this episode or connect with us otherwise, you can reach out to us on Twitter @upsideFM. And we’ll talk to you next week.

Interview starts: 6:05
Debrief starts:m 33:22

Lakshmi Sarah is the co-founder of Tiny World Productions. An educator and journalist, Lakshmi covers the intersection between VR/AR and storytelling, and she recently co-wrote a book titled ‘Crafting Stories for Virtual Reality.’ Much of Lakshmi’s work includes stories on refugees or immigrants, with the intention of creating empathy and shifting prospective for individuals through this medium.

Tiny World Productions create their own 360-view experiences as well as help and workshop others’ work in immersive technology. Some of their work includes ‘Homelessness in San Francisco’ and ‘The Wait: Inside the Lives of Asylum-Seekers in Germany.’

We discuss:

  • AD: Finding experienced employees for your new business with Integrity Power Search (4:43)
  • Why write a book? (7:14)
  • When is immersive storytelling useful? (10:01)
  • Tools and resources for VR/AR storytelling (12:53)
  • Differences in film vs. immersion experiences (16:36)
  • The key to storytelling (20:38)
  • Tiny World Productions (23:36)
  • The future of immersion (26:16, 30:55)
  • Current VR/AR experiences (28:19)

Learn more about Tiny World Productions:
Follow Lakshmi on Twitter:
Follow upside on Twitter:
Advertise with an upside classified:

This episode is sponsored by Integrity Power Search, the #1 full stack high growth startup recruiting firm between the coasts. They partner with venture capitalists, private equity groups and CEOs to build amazing teams for the world’s most disrupting companies.

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