By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, best known for his action and comedy roles in movies, is getting into the horror ring. Just in time for Halloween, the former WWE wrestler stars in a new horror-inspired, virtual reality production program created by YouTube Spaces worldwide, in partnership with Blumhouse Productions and renowned producer Jason Blum.
Welcome to Room 301, where fear awaits.
Johnson (“Ballers,” “San Andreas”) plays an unlikely hotel concierge who greets unsuspecting guests with surprises via an upcoming series of videos.
More than 100 top YouTube creators from around the world produced 360-degree virtual reality (VR) short-form videos shot on terrifying cinematic sets, a hotel room simply known as Room 301, inspired by the nail-biting Blumhouse film aesthetic at YouTube Spaces in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Toronto and New York. The creators, some of YouTube’s most popular makers of short-form horror stories, were given one directive: Show us your worst fear?
The so-called “mega-collab” video is directed by Jesse Wellens from PrankVsPrank and DownRangeGaming and utilizes some of YouTube’s top creators, including FuriousPete, Gabbie Hanna of The Gabbie Show and LaToya from LaToya Forever among other popular Internet stars. In each, unwitting victims receive a key from the Johnson to enter the mysterious hotel room—also known as YouTube Purgatory—that will inevitably lead them to experience their worst fears.
The 360 degree VR mega-collab video, “The Rock’s Haunted Hotel 360,” can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPG2sZ_jgX4. Viewers can also click on links to the individual Room 301 tales.
Blum(“Insidious,” “The Purge”), along with YouTube Space Worldwide’s Chris D’Angelo and Wellens spoke about their partnership and their goal for this first-ever Halloween collaboration at the YouTube Space in Los Angeles several weeks ago while the videos were in production. Though tightly budgeted, the stories use state-of-the-art 360-degree cameras that give viewers a more intimate you-are-there visceral feel. Unlike conventional movie sets, which generally have three walls, all four walls of the room are used with the 360 camera, presenting new challenges and opportunities for the filmmakers. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: This is the first year you guys are working together?
Blum: We’ve had an unofficial relationship with YouTube forever because YouTube is incredibly conducive to short form scary stuff. Scares really work in short form. We have a company called Crypt TV, which only does short form stuff online. So there already was a relationship between the companies. I was here right after this was built. I came down and looked all through it. Not only that way, but also our approach toward production is surprisingly similar. The not nice way is to call it cheap. But I like to say, which I actually believe, that if you have parameters around creative people they actually tend to be more creative or think better. That’s certainly true of our movies where our low budgets make people make decisions they wouldn’t ordinarily make and I believe those decisions more often than not lead to better movies.
The best scary stuff uses relatable things and things that seem real. A lot of what you see on YouTube is that. People are often shooting at their house, which is potentially the scariest place. It feels very relatable and couldn’t be more real. We share a lot of DNA with YouTube. This kind of made it official.
D’Angelo: Our mission is to try and bring together the most creative people in the world. We love horror; we love the scary content. It’s just a natural fit. Being able to do anything with Jason whenever we can—just have him come down and be in the place and be inspired by his team—is amazing.
Q: How did you up the ante?
D’Angelo: You bring in the guys from Blumhouse; you bring in the masters of horror that speak the same language as our creators. They mentor them and get that one-on-one interaction. They’re a scrappy company. We’re scrappy here. People like Jesse, who’s been doing this on YouTube forever.
Wellens: I usually do everything myself. This is the first time I actually had a team to work with, which is awesome.
D’Angelo: So you kick it up. You bring in the best from both sides and put them together with the best creators in the world and give them the best technology in entertainment today, which are the 360 cameras, the GoPro Odyssey cameras (which are designed to work with the Jump Assembler). That’s how you up the ante. You make sure you’re taking all the elements that make great content and put them all together in the same room, and they’ll do amazing stuff.
Wellens: Halloween is my favorite holiday and I’ve made so many viral scare videos for YouTube that I’ve done myself. Now that I’m getting the resources to step up my game, I really hope to make a great piece of content.
Q: How’s working with the 360 camera?
Wellens: It’s very interesting to think about. You’ve got to completely clear the room to direct. I’m up in the scaffolding yelling at them directions. I don’t like it. It’s harder but I feel if I learn it early, because that’s the future, I’m going to be killing it later.
Q: Did the creators pitch specific ideas for this or did you just pull them because of their popularity with their other videos?
D’Angelo: A little of both. They pitched us. There was a pitch process where everybody came in with their ideas and we looked at them as a team, based on the merit and how innovative they were looking at being, and were they going to make the most of this opportunity. We picked the ones that have the highest potential.
Blum: Ryan Turek, who works for us (as director of development at Blumhouse Productions), is our in-house scary litmus tester. Everything we run by him. He has horror in his veins. Ryan was outside for a while and wrote about our companies so I always go to him to say, “Does this feel authentic?” It helps shape a lot of the work that has been done here. He’s a great asset for us to have.
Q: There seems to be a trend toward suspense rather than out-and-out gore. What’s the balance in this?
D’Angelo: We pushed the creators to do what was personal and scary to them.
Blum: When I get scared of something, I write it down. The scariest stuff is what scares you the most, so we told the creators to think about what scares them the most.
Wellens: Almost like something that could happen in real life. Maybe a ghost interaction you thought you had and then you think, “Wow, this could be a good plot for a movie.”
D’Angelo: That works well because YouTube is a platform for creators that are all about authenticity. These guys have an authentic personal relationship with their audience. By saying, “D o something that scares you. Do something that’s personal to you,” really got them in that headspace, and when you started to see things take off.
Wellens: When an audience watches a YouTube video that feels like it was home shot, almost like a “Blair Witch” or something, it feels more authentic. It feels really creepy because it’s like a home video. When you tie those two things on YouTube, you can really scare an audience.
Q: Does the 360 camera allow you to do practical effects?
Wellens: I’m big on the practical stuff. With this shoot, it’s definitely challenging because of the 360 element and trying to use some non-practical stuff—like trying to turn everybody into ghosts, for example, and have them floating around. The mega-collab is more like a comedy but there are some darker parts to try and scare you in a 3D space so balancing them both is kind of hard right now because we have the Rock, but he’s not really dark. Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say that. That’s a big secret.
D’Angelo: What’s exciting is all the content we’re shooting for this is going to be Daydream to play. It’s 360. It’s 3D. And it’s also 360 (degrees) spatial audio. So I’m excited to see what the creators come up with in building the suspense and drawing your attention and scaring something behind you. It’s a much more immersive experience. So I’m very excited to see that.
Q: Was that your pitch to the YouTube creators?
D’Angelo: Yeah. The big sell was getting a chance to work with these guys. They’re the masters. You get to come in and learn from the best of the best. But also that you’re working with the next generation storytelling equipment, the kind of equipment that a lot of people in Hollywood don’t have access to. This is really about the next generation of storytelling. That’s what gets us going and that’s what gets the creators going.
Q: How long are the films?
Wellens: The mega-collab is 3-4 minutes where we have all the creators within the world of the mega-collab, you can actually click through to watch the individual creators films. There’s a scene where they’re all in a shot and you look around and see what’s up with this film and that will take you to a specific video, and each of those will be 4-7 minutes. There are 22 top creator videos and then additional ones.
Q: Was making it an international effort with creators from around the globe something you conceived from the beginning?
D’Angelo: Every year we try to do a global tentpole moments to bring together all of our spaces. We have nine spaces around the world. We try to get most of them connected at least sending creators to our bigger spaces. With a theme like horror—this is our third year doing horror—it’s such a global language and universally understood and it just makes it a real natural one for global engagement. There are not a lot of things that are real portable around the world.
Blum: Everyone likes to be scared.
Wellens: I’ll have tons of videos on top of this one for Halloween that are scaring people in public, scaring people, scaring friends.