In Conversation with Ilya Rozhkov – Here Comes “Agent Emerson”, a VR Film

Ilya Rozhkov, Courtesy of Ilya Rozhkov
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We often look for an escape to get out of our own minds and release the stress of the dramatic situations in which we find ourselves. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to escape life’s dilemmas and enter into an imaginary world.  Most people find that escape through watching films, TV, or by perusing the internet. Today, I am speaking with a very talented visionary, creator,  and award-winning director who is making a name for himself in the entertainment industry. Read on to learn more about Ilya Rozhkov.

Hello IIya thank you for speaking with me. You are in the process of introducing a new form of film to the world tell me about your VR film  Agent Emerson ? 

Behind the scenes image of Ben Aycrigg (Emerson Stunts) filming sky fall scene on VR Film AGENT EMERSON. Photo credit: Billy Bennight

Hello David! Agent Emerson is the Virtual Reality film I directed. 

It’s an immersive 360-degree first-person POV VR film. It utilizes the breakthrough technology – Identity Capture Camera and other proprietary innovations to drop its viewer into a visceral, action-packed 3D cinematic experience usually seen in movie theaters, only this time THEY are the action hero.

We follow CIA Operative David Emerson who awakens to find himself a subject of an experimental program with his body under complete remote control of the imperious General. With the aid of a rogue operative Alexandra, David has to retake charge of own actions and fight his way through the top security facility inside the most complex live-action VR film ever made.

Agent Emerson stars Lyndsy Fonseca (Kickass franchise, How I Met Your Mother) and Tony Denison (Major Crimes, The Closer), and was shot in Louisiana and Los Angeles.

Behind the scenes image of crew preparing the lab fight scene on VR Film AGENT EMERSON. Photo credit: Billy Bennight

What inspired you to get into film? 

Ever since I started watching film for the first time I’ve been a non-stop movie-goer and was certain that it is what I want to be a director. Telling meaningful and impactful stories, reaching the hearts and minds of the audience through moving images. Film as a medium never ceases to amaze me- being one of the most impactful art forms and one of the most accessible.

Can you explain how you get your artistic vision when working on films, tv and internet projects across to talent and crew members?

Preparation is the key. As the great Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” 

Your vision must be precisely clear to yourself before you communicate – you must truly know it and own it. 

It’s also of great importance to keep in mind that you’re not a painter alone in a studio. You lead a team and it’s important to listen to your collaborators and work with them. While you want to be very specific and make sure that everybody is making the same film, you don’t want to kill the artists’ creativity, you want to nourish it! It’s the only way they will give their hearts to the film, and that is when the magic happens: the film becomes something much, much greater than a sum of its parts. Art of film is truly an art of collaboration.

Behind the scenes image of stuntman Ben Aycrigg filming the parachute scene on VR Film AGENT EMERSON. Photo credit: Billy Bennight

What would you say the film industry is lacking?

Adapting to the changing times, the new technology and the new ways to connect with the audiences can be a slow and complex process. Film industry is a giant in the landscape of entertainment. And anything that gigantic sometimes can lack mobility to a certain extent. And that lack of mobility could slow down the process of understanding the audience and knowing what they want before they do.  

But in the end of the day, if you look at the history of cinema, you’re looking at the constant evolution: sound, color, TV, digital, streaming services and more… all of those amazing inventions greatly impacted film. So, the film industry is far from new to the idea of taking advantage of the latest and greatest to reach the hearts of the audiences with the most impactful storytelling possible.

I read that you are the youngest director in the director’s guild in Russia. Do you find it to be a challenge to collaborate with older professionals in the industry that are set in their ways?

On the contrary! I love working with experienced professionals and in fact, I find it easier. They know who they are, they have a lot of incredible knowledge and wisdom to share, and in my experience they are not blindly set in their ways and are very open-minded. One remains relevant in the film industry for decades not by being firmly set in their ways, but by constantly adapting and taking part in shaping its future. 

Are there any actors you admire that you would like to work with?

Acting is such a challenging and demanding art form – I genuinely admire many performers: their talent, their passion, their unyielding commitment to perfecting their craft.

I would love to work with Andy Serkis – he is an incredible performer and has a great understanding of storytelling. I also find it very truly inspiring how he is expanding the landscape of acting in film with brilliant use of motion capture.

And of course, I greatly admire the amazingly talented Lyndsy Fonseca and Tony Denison with whom we worked on Agent Emerson. I can’t wait to work with them again.

Behind the scenes image of Lyndsy Fonseca (Alexandra) filming katana battle scene on VR Film AGENT EMERSON. Photo credit: Billy Bennight

What is your favorite film and why?

It’s hard to name just one favorite film, because there is clearly more than one. I find Cinema Paradiso by Guiseppe Tornatore absolutely incredible – it’s a great, emotional and personal story masterfully told.  And most importantly this story is universal: the film is very Italian but has such a strong impact on audiences all over the world. The story appeals to our core feelings as human beings and doesn’t get old. It is great filmmaking! What do you love about directing?There are so many aspects of film I adore: cinematography, sound, performances, music, technological innovation, the production of it all and more. And I love that as a director I get to work with the wonderful artists in all of those areas. Not just work, but unite them under the same banner – the banner of the story!

What would you say is the biggest surprise to an outsider about the process of filmmaking?

In modern cinema CGI is still one of the big surprises. Today audiences are used to it so much they might think that most of the on-screen spectacle is created using CGI, while in fact complicated sets are built, complex prosthetic make-up is created and out-of-this-world performances take place. Magic is happening in every department – everything for telling the story in the most authentic way possible. At the same time CGI use can be so unexpected (for example in a contemporary drama), subtle and realistic it might be barely distinguishable from real even by a trained eye.
It is the ultimate magic trick and there is a proper time and place to use it to tell the story. And even though CGI is a very computerized process, it is an incredibly human art form. In fact, most of the best CGI is driven by real performances and real locations.

Closeup image of IC-Cam mounted headset for filming in 360 first-person POV on VR Film AGENT EMERSON. Photo credit: Billy Bennight

What is your next project going to be about?

One of the things I’m truly excited about is a TV series which is in the works. A story of a naive idealist discovering how corrupt is the world she’s in. And it is set in an entirely new original universe.

My focus in storytelling is ‘Modern Cinema’ which incorporates traditional mediums like Film and TV, cutting edge technology like VR and beyond. Under my Serein banner we have several VR and TV titles in the works. I believe that the key to the future of cinematic entertainment is bringing impactful storytelling together with innovative technology.

Thank you for your time. Any last words of wisdom to all the readers?

I believe that inside of every one of us there is a child. And this child is the source of our genuine curiosity about the world and our urge to create, explore and self-express. Loving and protecting your inner child is the key to creativity.


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