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Management I want to be a virtual-reality content producer … what will my salary be?

A group of participants try a virtual reality game during the B.C Tech Summit in downtown Vancouver on March 14, 2017.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

Job: Virtual-reality content producer

The role: Like other visual storytellers, the role of a VR-content producer is to create an experience that has an emotional resonance with audiences, only with the additional tools, challenges and opportunities that come with a new medium. As a result the role may similarly involve planning, scripting, location scouting, equipment preparation, talent booking, shooting and post-production.

Since content is captured from all 360 degrees surrounding the camera, however, cameras need to be modified, other equipment needs to be hidden, content often needs to be shot from a single stationary camera rather than from multiple angles and the post-production process is far more complex.

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"A lot of the traditional rules and tricks of photography and cinema don't apply in 360-degree video, because you don't have closeups, you don't have fast cutaways or these other cinematic tricks we've had for 100 years," explained Ryan Jackson, the founder, president and creative director of Edmonton-based VR-content production company, Full Circle Visuals.

Two of the biggest early adopters of the medium, according to Mr. Jackson, are the real estate industry and the education and training industry, followed by the news and entertainment industries.

Salary: As an industry largely comprising independent freelancers, there's technically no limit to how much those working in the field stand to earn, nor is there any guarantee of earning an income of any kind.

The industry is so new that many standards surrounding salary expectation are yet to be set. Instead, Mr. Jackson looks at VR-content producers as filmmakers and photographers with more specialized skills. As a result he believes salaries should be relatively consistent to what they earn, only with a slight premium.

"If I needed to hire a full-time shooter tomorrow, I would be expected to start them at $60,000 [per year]," he said. "That being said, the top-end talent is worth $100,000 a year."

Education: College and university film production programs across the country have begun incorporating virtual reality into their curriculums, but there is currently no formal specialty or degree in the field. As a result, the industry values on-the-job experience as well as past experience in other forms of storytelling and visual media.

"If you want to get into this business you can't just run out and buy a camera and hit record; you need to know the fundamentals," said Mr. Jackson. "Regular video production skills, storytelling, editing, audio production would all be key."

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Mr. Jackson adds that a high degree of technical competency is a valued trait in the field, as both hardware and software tools in the industry are always changing.

Job Prospects: Virtual-reality technology is yet to mature into a mass-market content platform, but its declining cost is making it more accessible by the day. As a result job prospects are currently more limited, but many believe the growing popularity of the technology could lead to significant demand for VR content producers in the future.

"There's so much potential for where it can go," said Mr. Jackson. "A kid born today, by the time they get into school, VR will be a part of their curriculum."

Challenges: The two biggest challenges for VR content producers are its cost and complexity. Freelancers in the field are typically responsible for purchasing and managing their own equipment.

"Everything gets accessible over time, but right now and for the foreseeable future you have to know and own a lot of tools on the front end and the back end," said Mr. Jackson.

Why they do it: VR content producers enjoy innovating in a relatively new field, helping to establish standards and conventions that could have a lasting impact as the technology matures. "One of the things that excites me is that it's new, and being a pioneer is exciting," added Mr. Jackson.

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Misconceptions: As an industry that is closely related to traditional filmmaking Mr. Jackson says some are under the misconception that shooting in 360-degrees is similar or even easier than shooting traditional video content.

"People think for some reason that VR video is actually easier [to shoot], but there's actually so much more that can go wrong, and so much more that can make the video bad," he said.

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