Zach Villa is always embracing new challenges regardless of the medium as an actor. Over the past decade, the actor's been involved with various genres in comedies, drama, and horror from within film, television, and video games, including FOX's Bordertown, Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XV, FX's American Horror Story, Netflix's Archive 81, an indie horror thriller in XYZ's Hypochondriac. Villa spoke to Bleeding Cool about his latest project in BlackBoxTV Presents: Scream Park, a short-form virtual reality series for Meta. He plays Will, the boyfriend of Kelly, played by Grace Van Dien (Stranger Things), who's trapped at an abandoned theme park.
How Scream Park Became a Unique Opportunity
What appealed to you about Scream Park
This project came to me through a mutual friend in Tru [Collins] while working on a music video shoot for the artist Mod Sun. She was one of the producers for the project, and we go way back to Juilliard, my alma mater. We didn't realize that we had mutual contacts in New York. I'm based in Los Angeles. When she hit me up, she was like, "We're looking for this person to pick up the boyfriend character," which was how it was pitched to me. She explained how it was a VR immersive project. I knew the future was going that way, but I haven't had the opportunity to work on something that is in the VR headset. I figure it was a perfect opportunity. She brought me in and was like, "There are some cool people from an amazing show called 'Stranger Things' you might have heard of." I was like, "Yeah, you already had me a VR immersive project. This is meant to be."
Given how people played around with 3-D from theaters, virtual reality, and augmented reality, do you feel it will ever graduate beyond the niche market?
That's an interesting and challenging question. Every time a new media form comes out, there's always this process of adoption, and sometimes it takes longer than usual. I remember as a millennial when Sega Genesis was all the rage when they upgraded from 8 to 16-bit. Everybody like flocked to get this new improvement, and when you plug in the system, it was the same thing. You're like, "Why did I spend another $150 or whatever on the same system?" If more people experienced [VR] at home, it would be more widely accepted because you're blown away from the moment you put on a headset.
I've only had a handful of experiences, and some of them were in the installation or studio experiences you're referring to. Those things get so experimental that it's hard to access and what I love about this project is it's not like an interactive world. You still have like the experience of watching a movie, sitting back, and being in a linear timeline or experience. So many times people like to imagine [in VR] they have to like get up and walk around and interact with the space. There are elements of that, but what I love about this project is that it's something you can enjoy, just like putting on 'She-Hulk' or Netflix. It's more immersive, and you feel transported. That's what is going to take it mainstream. Technology intrinsically has the power to take you out of whatever you're feeling, your surroundings, and your environment. I'm so sensitive to that, whether it's people or my physical surroundings, and with VR, you're immediately transported. That doesn't seem to be obvious, but that element is appealing, and people just don't realize that they can do that easily. All they need is the device.
Do you think the VR experience lends itself better within certain genres like horror?
There's something inherent in that genre that does lend itself to VR because anything thrilling or catches you off guard is the most natural and logical choice to develop into this technology. I mentioned She-Hulk previously already, but I'm a fan of that show because it's funny. That show's unique since it breaks the fourth wall, right? Media and entertainment, in general, are trying to find new ways to engage their viewership and audience, and that's cool. It's challenging when you're in a 2D format, and you're departing from the strength of the writing, storyline, or plot. You have to find unique devices similar to 'She-Hulk' whereas what's interesting about something like [VR] is even though it's linear, you may not have those moments along the way to say, "Turn left," "turn right," "make this decision as a character," and "let me change the story." It's already intrinsically more engaging because you don't have to change the storyline. You can look behind you. I was viewing the first few episodes, and I remember going, "Oh, God! I'm going to have to watch this like four more times," because I don't want to miss anything, and it's the same reason we go to Disneyland.
You ride the same roller coaster five times like Thunder Mountain Railroad. You're supposed to look at one point during the ride, and it's like, "Look at the goose." Once you find this piece on the set, you're supposed to keep your eyes locked on that throughout the entire ride. It changes the whole experience [laughs]. I remember watching these episodes being like, "Oh, man, I'm going to have to look over my shoulder or look behind me the entire time or these boxes three more times, so I have that different experience even with like a "choose your adventure." Media like this is why it's so difficult to describe. It's like me trying to tell you about a vacation I took. We're going to need some time to discuss that. I can't tell you [quickly] what happened [laughs].
It's also the basis of a lot of misdirection magicians use as far as, like, focus on this, and then you won't know what's going on in the background. They already sold you on the illusion.
Circling back here in my question, is horror or, you know, a certain genre more apropos for this? What's the scariest thing in horror? It's the thing you can't see or the thing you're about to see. When you've been put in another world, and you have this technology that makes you go, "I can't see everything," That's a whole different thing. I can watch 'Stranger Things' and be like, "Okay, the jump scare is probably going to come because it's getting quiet and whatever." My mind knows that everything is contained on the screen in front of me. You're going to be scared, but you can anticipate something to a certain degree, whereas, in VR, you don't know where or when, or how it's going to happen, and you are vulnerable from all sides.