Danfung Dennis sits right at the intersection of film and technology. He is an Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker and the CEO of a tech startup called Condition ONE. Condition ONE is pioneering the way video is both captured and displayed. Their technology produces 360 degree immersive video for the iPad. It’s tough to describe the experience of watching a Condition ONE video, but anybody who hasn’t heard of the company should check it out immediately. Danfung’s cofounders are equally impressive – Peter Sung has started 5 companies and Takaaki Okada, the company’s designer, has an installation permanently on display in the MOMA. They have taken the technology onto the battlefield, and are currently working on bringing it to live sports. We got the chance to ask him about his film background, his time in Afghanistan, and his first entrepreneurial venture.
What is Condition ONE?
Condition ONE is a technology startup developing software to license to media companies to allow them to create a new type of video for their tablet and mobile audiences. These immersive experiences are videos that can be manipulated using an iPad and make users feel like they are actually there. Our team is made up of four co-founders and a couple of employees – we’ve been developing the software for almost 18 months.
What do you see as the most compelling applications for Condition ONE video?
Because of my background, we definitely see it being used for news, breaking news especially – events where you want to place the viewer right there and have them be able to see it first hand. We also see a tremendous interest from sports, especially extreme sports. You can sort of capture the intensity of these events unlike with traditional video and give the viewer the sense of being right on the sideline. Then also entertainment and brands are some key use cases that we haven’t really explored yet.
Can you talk about your background?
I’m from Ithaca New York, and studied applied economics at Cornell. I went to Afghanistan and started working as a photojournalist. I showed up with no contacts, on my own as a freelancer, and on the second day a large anti-america riot broke out triggered by an incident in which civilians were killed by American forces. While photographing this event, I was nearly killed in the process, and sent the images back to New York, where they were published by the New York Times, and I started working for them as a freelancer. I had always photographed, but really just as a hobby. My dad gave me a camera when I was thirteen and I’d always loved it – it was a way for me to communicate, express ideas, and capture things I loved. Then I saw this book by James Nachtwey titled Inferno, this tome of images from the past 30 years of conflict. The images shook me to the core and changed how I saw the world, and I saw for the first time what evil really looked like. I wanted to follow in that tradition, so I trained as best as I could for going to Afghanistan, and then took that leap, knowing I would go to war. So I did Afghanistan and then Iraq, 2007-2008, then back to Afghanistan in 2009. It was all still images, I had always been motivated by the idea that the image has the power to shake people from indifference, and it could drive people towards action.
How did you move into filmmaking?
After years of working as a photojournalist, I felt that society had become numb to these pictures, that they were losing their impact. So I wanted to move into a new medium to try and convey these stories. That’s where I started with video, and making a film. Even after making Hell and Back Again, and having it theatrically distributed and going through the whole process of the film festivals and the Oscars, I was still very frustrated with the extent of how much I could communicate through that existing medium and that distribution model. It’s really an archaic model of how content is distributed, at least at that feature-length film level. And so the ideas for Condition ONE were already emerging even in the midst of making that film. It’s a flat screen, it’s this passive experience, and theres still this emotional gap between the stories and the viewers. So Condition ONE was the next step of how we can bring people even closer to stories of what people experience. So Condition ONE is connected to what was changing in camera technology, but also what was changing in the distribution and consumption of content.
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