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Ashley Cowan | CEO | East City Films

East City Films: Immersing Audiences in Important Stories

East City Films, the leaders in the production of purpose-driven, social-impact storytelling was founded by CEO, Ashley Cowan and CCO Darren Emerson. East City films is the foremost VR documentary producer in Europe, and is also one of the  best known virtual reality and augmented reality production studios in London. In an interview with Insights Success, Ashley has shared key details regarding its services and how it is disrupting the whole industry.

“East City Films are well-known for producing VR documentaries that aspire to drive change. This vein runs through their always brilliant, thought provoking work”

Below are the highlights of the interview;
What led to the inception of the company?
The company was originally set up as a video production company. Myself and Darren met at MTV and we decided to create a company of our own to produce music videos, live concert films and branded content. We had great early success while delivering content to MTV, Channel 4, the major record labels (and some smaller ones) and multiple brands and agencies. Then in 2014 I got a call from an old school friend at Pearson Education asking us to produce a VR experience. This opened us up to the land of VR and AR.
Describe your company and its cutting-edge AR/VR services which address all the needs of your customers.
We pride ourselves as a company that produces purposedriven storytelling in VR, AR and film. If your content need is in some way helping the world become a better place, then we’re all ears. We also produce a great deal of our own IP – which is perhaps what drove more into the world of social impact content-making – and our work has been recognised with incredible festival selections and global licensing deals. Our VR documentary Common Ground was recognised with the Outstanding VR Narrative accolade at this year’s World Press Photo and our multi-sensory VR documentary Some Inattention On The Left is a finalist in the VR Social Impact category at this year’s VR Awards.
Could you throw some light on your mission and vision statement?
It is pretty much tied into the statement above – East City Films produces purpose-drive storytelling in VR, AR & film. We believe that immersive technology particularly is at its most effective when putting a viewer deeper into an important story. This is where we want to be, and we are constantly exploring and pushing the tech to see how it can improve the impact of our storytelling.
How does your AR/VR services unique from the other companies’ offerings?
I think with us, story always comes first, and if that story is purpose-driven then East City Films is the place for you. Our background is TV and online content rather than VFX, gaming or panoramic photography, so our point of view tends to start through a moving camera lens. However, with AR becoming a much larger part of what we do that is changing, and we are enjoying thinking about how we can augment people’s lives rather than transport them.
Give a detailed description of your influence over the company and the industry.
I picked up the phone from Pearson Education in 2014 and from then on East City Films has been building a global reputation as VR and AR producers of note. We’ve worked with ITV as they stepped into 360 video with their coverage of horseracing and boxing; helped develop multi-sensory VR tours of whisky distilleries for Diageo and Beam Suntory; brought the Old Vic theatre to 360 video with PwC, collaborated with British Heart Foundation as they stepped into augmented reality and recently helped lobby parliament with a multi-sensory documentary about the lack of community rehabilitation in the UK. But every step of the way has been a team effort – from the day CCO Darren joined me in seeing its potential and created East City Films’ first VR documentary Witness 360: 7/7 to the present day where we are creating an educational AR app, we have been a complimentary duo. With Darren driving much of East City Films’ original documentary making (Common Ground, Indefinite, Waiting Room VR) and me keeping the servicing side of the business busy and looking for new avenues in AR, we are a formidable and forward-thinking team.
How is AR/VR technology disrupting the entertainment and gaming industry?
VR and AR are entirely new mediums and must never be mistaken for versions of TV or worse still, 3D. The experiences we create are simply not possible in any other medium and that is of crucial importance to us. Our VR documentary Common Ground for example is a combination of room scale, 6 degrees of freedom, interactive, stereoscopic 360 video and spatial sound and has been described as providing a “new dawn in documentary” by Sight & Sound magazine. Some Inattention On The Left is a multi-sensory VR documentary which creates an emotional experience in 6 minutes which we hope will change government mandate on community rehabilitation in the UK. Our VR experience Indefinite put viewers in the shoes of asylum seekers in the UK. For us VR and AR is best when purposedriven, and that is in the reason the medium is being used as well as the subject matter it is shining a light on. At its best, immersive technology can change how you feel and think, create a memory which will never fade and perhaps even inspire action. That is a powerful tool already disrupting an entertainment industry looking for more and more immersive experiences.
What technologies are you leveraging to make your services resourceful?
We have always been technology agnostic – choosing the best camera for a particular shot rather than a particular project, for example. More recently we have been developing photogrammetry and volumetric capture both of which are going to be a big part of what we do in the future, both in VR and AR. But as I said earlier, story comes first, tech second.
What are your company’s future aspirations?
What strategies are you undertaking to achieve those goals? We’re enjoying taking on selected larger projects rather than many small ones and are excited by a couple that are very big indeed. We want to continue producing immersive experiences which are purpose-driven and have social impact at their core.
Is this post COVID-19 world going to be a stimulus for AR & VR? We’re looking forward to finding out. Watch this space!