The Atomic Tree

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Is there a particular video, film, campaign or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Too many to list


What motivated you to make your virtual reality project?

The piece is an adaptation of a chapter in the book “The Songs of Trees” by David Haskell. We were captivated by the book and compelled to create an immersive experience that explored the notion that trees hold memories in their rings.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Kandao Obsidian. A motorized dolly was used for the scene where the tree grows over generations.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your virtual reality video to help tell your story.

We incorporated CGI animation to create scenes where you go inside the tree’s memories.


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The story evolved during the course of production and post, but never veered too much from our original vision and script. The inclusion of CGI was a decision we made in post after feeling unable to create the right feeling and experience using only 360 footage we had captured.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this virtual reality video.

Being on location in the forests, temples and bonsai gardens and experiencing firsthand the magical places this tree lived.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

A good story carries its own power to inspire, focus on that and your film will have an impact.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

A good meal at the end of a great day of shooting when you’re tired, hungry and everything went better than expected.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

I wish we could whittle it down to one item. But if I were to forget camera, sound etc equipment then I would say a small notebook and pencil. You always have inspirations and ideas while on location that are worth noting down. Sometimes they are related to the project, but sometimes the creativity is flowing and valuable ideas or reflections emerge that can be useful for the general artistic and creative process.


What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?

We have such a limited understanding of the sentient nature of trees. To not be able to imagine that trees experience their surroundings, their interactions with the human and non-human world and store those memories in their being is arrogance. Trees just store memories and have experiences in a very different way than we do. Making this film taught me that.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this virtual reality video.

We filmed on location in Japan in all the places the tree had lived before meeting the tree in Washington D.C where it now lives. It was a powerful experience to first immerse ourselves in the depth of experience this tree holds before meeting it face to face. The forests and temples on the island of Miyajima were profoundly beautiful places. Having spent time there allowed us to connect to and experience the tree from a place of understanding that wouldn’t have been possible without visiting its past and understanding the worlds it has inhabited.


What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

The human and non-human worlds are much closer than we think. Kinship and connection between humans and trees is not only possible, it’s what’s needed if we are to change our relationship with the living world to one that is based on cooperation and reverence rather than competition and commodity.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

Go spend time in a forest and sit with a tree. Repeat, repeat, repeat.


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

The tree has added another ring to its trunk since we last met.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Trees are everywhere, and where there aren’t any plant some. Wherever they are, look at them not as firewood, a potential piece of paper or furniture, but the most important living beings in our ecosystems. Without them we cannot exist.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:



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