SYFY Created a 3-Part VR Series for George R.R. Martin’s ‘Nightflyers’

The experience brings viewers aboard the show’s spaceship

Author George R.R. Martin watches a virtual reality scene from "Nightflyers," a SYFY show based on his book. SYFY
Headshot of Marty Swant

SYFY is bringing fans of George R.R. Martin’s psychological thriller “Nightflyers” inside a TV version of the novella using virtual reality.

Ahead of the season premiere on Dec. 2, the network created a three-part VR series that brings viewers aboard the show’s spaceship, allowing them to view scenes from the set like they’re in the middle of the action as scientists trying to figure out how to survive among alien life.

Like many science fiction and fantasy shows, Nightflyers’ genre fits well with some of the prime examples for how VR can immerse viewers in places they can’t otherwise visit in real life. That includes an alien-infested spaceship, and such proximity to telepaths might cause the viewer to nervously stand in place moving around to make sure they’re safe from all 360 degrees.

The VR scenes—which are about five minutes each—are meant to be either additional scenes for fans or as standalone entertainment that complement the main series without giving anything away or requiring contextual knowledge.

Matthew Chiavelli, senior vice president of SYFY Digital, said getting buy-in was easy after the producers and the show’s main actors saw the script. He said the idea of creating VR for something that was “super moody” on a larger set in an enclosed area was appealing to make viewers feel totally immersed.

“I strongly believe that all VR content is interactive,” he said. “Whether or not it has interactivity within it. And there are moments where if you’re looking in one direction you’re going to have a different experience than if you’re looking at another direction.”

The scenes, shot over the course of a week on set in Limerick, Ireland, were produced with Here Be Dragons, a VR studio that also produced a VR scene for USA Network’s “Mr. Robot.”

Funding for Nightflyers VR came from both NBC Digital Enterprises—a subsidiary of SYFY’s parent company NBCUniversal—and Google, which recently integrated its YouTube VR platform beyond Google’s own Daydream headset and into Facebook’s Oculus platform. In fact, before each video, there’s even a pre-roll ad that appears like it would in a regular screen—except viewers might find it a little more difficult to ignore the ad by looking at their phone without taking off the headset.

Anyone can still watch the 360-degree version with their mobile phone or by scrolling around on a desktop computer. However, it’s tough to recreate the immersive feeling without an actual headset, and it essentially defeats the purpose of using VR in the first place.

Last week, Martin himself reviewed the VR version of “Nightflyers,” and in an interview with SYFY about it, he described the medium as potentially a “new art form” that won’t be matured for another 20 or 30 years. He said that filmmakers haven’t figured out yet how to tell stories in VR, but said it could replace TV or film by allowing fans to “live an adventure.” (This isn’t the first time a George R.R. Martin creation has manifested in VR. A few years ago, HBO created a VR experience for “Game of Thrones.”)

“And that’s [an] exciting possibility. But I think we may be like the theater before Shakespeare, you know?” Martin said in an interview with SYFY. “There were plays before Shakespeare, but it was the Elizabethan theater that really made the theater come alive. And of course, movies began with little, real things of trains arriving at the station and then eventually we got up to  Star Wars. So there’s a lot of maturation that has to go, but I think it is potentially a really exciting new art form for the future.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.