Michelle Rodriguez and Norman Reedus star in the shortform feature, which will debut this summer on Surreal, the VR app from STXsurreal.

In 2003, Robert Rodriguez pioneered the use of 3D technology on his Spy Kids 3: Game Over. With Sin City in 2005 he was among the first to make full use of the digital backlot and shoot an entire film in front of a green screen.

So it sort of makes sense that Rodriguez’s latest action film, The Limit, is pushing the envelope on the next big thing in cinema tech, virtual reality.

Rodriquez gave international television execs a preview of The Limit in a first-ever sneak peek at Mip TV on Tuesday. The live-action short stars Michelle Rodriguez as a genetically enhanced weapon of mass destruction hellbent on destroying the covert agency that created her. The clip shown at Mip also featured a cameo from Walking Dead star Norman Reedus.

The film is a first-person action adventure, with the viewer accompanying Rodriguez’s character as they leap out airplanes, tear off on a high-speed road chase and blast through a army of bad guys.
“POV (point of view) is really, really good in VR, it’s like you’re really inside and action movie,” Rodriguez told The Hollywood Reporter, explaining how The Limit differs from most attempts to do fiction in VR. “We’re a bit less than 360 degrees, we’ve got a 220-degree field of view. So we still have a frame. The viewer can look around, but we’re still directing their attention, they can’t turn around and walk away,” he said. Most VR, Rodriguez argued, fails to engage the audience. “I always think I’m missing something behind me, so I turn around to look, I’m not paying attention to the action,” he said. “The VR actually makes the experience less engaging for viewers. I wanted to use VR to make them more engaged with the characters and the story.”

The Limit is the first of a pipeline of high-end VR productions, featuring top Hollywood talent, currently being produced by STX Entertainment’s VR and immersive content division STXsurreal. The 20-minute film will debut on the company’s premium VR app this summer.

STXsurreal has announced several other shortform projects for the new app, including a spinoff of STX’s Mile 22 film franchise from director Peter Berg, a sci-fi thriller from John Wick writer Derek Kolstad, a comedy series from The Office star Ed Helms, an untitled Dave Bautista action comedy and a Jay and Silent Bob project from director Kevin Smith that will be shot from the point of view of Silent Bob.

In order for VR to go mainstream, explained STX Surreal’s co-founders Rick Rey and Andy Vick, it needs content with big-name stars and top-end production values.

“Up till now, you put on a VR headset and watch something, you don’t recognize anyone in it,” said Vick. “But with The Limit, people will say: ‘It’s Michelle Rodriguez, she was in Fast and the Furious! I’m going to check this out.”

Many have compared the current hype surrounding VR to the (ultimately disappointed) expectations that accompanied the start of 3D cinema. But Rodriguez, who was at the forefront of 3D, says it’s different this time.

“Back then I went around with James Cameron, doing the dog-and-pony show, to convince theaters to upgrade to digital 3D,” he said. “3D was exhibition driven. VR is about creating a new experience, about putting the viewing inside the movie.”

The cult director said he was pulled into the world of VR by his son Racer Max, a fan of VR video games, who co-wrote the script to The Limit. The younger Rodriguez told THR while he is still a huge VR gaming fan, he thinks there’s a demand among his generation of millennials for the “lean-back” experience of a VR film.

“It can’t all be games,” he said. “You need something for people who don’t want to interact, who just want to sit on their sofa and enjoy.”

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