Marcy Boyle: Director & CEO, Hot Bit VR

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Marcy Boyle is the CEO of Hot Bit VR, an upcoming platform for entertainment and commerce in virtual reality. She co-directed the feature film, NOBODY CAN COOL, a graphic novel influenced thriller, that was released in the US, Canada and UK. Marcy was chosen by Oculus for their Launch Pad Fellowship, and Hot Bit VR was selected for the AR/VR focused accelerator at the Green Screen Institute. Hot Bit VR has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fox News, and listed as one of the “30 Best Virtual Reality Companies to Change Your World Soon.” Her VR experiences have been featured on SamsungVR and festivals and events including Toronto’s FIVARS, London’s VRUK, and USC’s industry demo day. She is a frequent speaker about virtual reality, including appearances at London’s VRUK, Berlin’s RIOT, the US-China Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University, Augmented World Expo, and KAIST University in South Korea. Marcy graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University, and is on the Board of the Alliance of Women Directors.

What do I do best?

Come out of left field. I tend to have a different take on things. It might finally be working to my advantage. In virtual reality, so much is unprecedented anyway, and tech people are open to far out ideas if they follow a logical consequence, however fantastic.   

What makes me the best version of myself?

If I want something, I will play a long game to get it. A couple of years ago I decided to shift from film to virtual reality. I went all in. This meant that game engines and coding became the toolbox. I’m constantly learning. It’s so exciting to think that we are developing a new format based on active interaction that encourages agency.

What are my aspirations?

I want to find the language of interactions. I learned that the color blue was a relatively recent perception across cultures. Words for blue didn’t even exist. That really made me stop and go down a rabbit hole. Although we see blue everywhere, the sea, the sky, once upon a time it was the lightness or darkness of an object that was most noted, not color. It wasn’t until blue pigment was manufactured, synthesized, and objects were dyed blue, that blue as an idea began to spread. A demand for blue items was initiated, new trade routes established, and an economy developed around on a previously irrelevant concept. We were blind to blue and little value was assigned to color, now it’s a major descriptor for almost everything, and we recognize so many subtle distinctions.

There is something in our interactions that we don’t currently recognize. We have limited vocabulary to describe experiences. We might say we had a “good/bad/fine” time, but it is difficult in a few words to pinpoint the tonality. With color, we can match an identifiable swatch we all understand as the same. Music, too, we have a scale. We don’t have an agreement or scale for levels of sensations of love, hate, pleasure, discomfort, tension.

Interaction is key in VR, in a similar way that the frame is to film, or words are to books. I suspect that as we focus more on interactions, we can learn to better identify differences and be more conscious. Maybe we can expand our emotional scale, and become more sensitive to the nuances of each other. I think we are missing something that is as beautiful and obvious as blue.

On the business side, our mission is to build a world, an expandable ecosystem, in virtual reality. We believe the market is the heart of every village. Since ancient times, the marketplace has been where humans gathered, not only for commerce, but for socializing and storytelling. It’s hard to believe the iPhone was released 11 years ago, and it has changed society and the economy so much. Virtual, augmented and mixed reality, along with artificial intelligence, IoT (the internet of things), blockchain and robotics are going to create another radical shift in culture. People are ready for a digital change. With virtual reality, presence can build strong new connections.

My Biggest Success?

Last summer, I was invited to deliver a keynote lecture, “The Civilization of Virtual Reality” at the ICISTS Conference at KAIST University in South Korea. I looked up the conference before accepting and I was both excited and intimidated to find out that Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the cryptocurrency, Ethereum, gave a lecture there in 2015 about blockchain. So, being asked to talk about VR was unbelievable. It’s a really small conference. I got to play with the students’ robots, and meet experts on artificial intelligence, so it was basically the coolest thing ever. I don’t have a sense of success as such, does anyone? But, to be recognized internationally, by “the MIT of Korea”, was pretty good feeling that I could be on the right track.

My Most Challenging Moment?

In college, I was lucky to find a rent stabilized apartment in Greenwich Village. It was big, cheap, and my home for years. Then, the boiler exploded below my place. Heat, water damage and toxic mold destroyed all my stuff. Everything I had went to a dump in Queens. I was very sick from mold exposure, and a I looked like a skeleton. I took the landlord to court to have the place cleaned properly, but three doctors all said it would be dangerous to return. No amount of remediation would be effective for what had happened. My business partner, Rachel Holzman, and her family, took me in. They helped me find doctors, and get well. They became my family.

I decided to move to LA. Starting over again, not really knowing anyone, was challenging. I didn’t really drive, because I lived in Manhattan since I was seventeen. But, I’m so grateful to have family and friends. You can start over anytime. People are what matters. Your health is important. Stuff comes and goes. Those are big lessons.

My Motto?

Door number 3. Rachel and I have written several screenplays together, directed a film together, and now have a VR company. We’ve known each other forever, and work well together. I joke that we’re like those twin sisters who speak their own language, except we’re not twins, and we don’t have a secret language.

But, of course we disagree sometimes. After arguing about how we think something should go, if each still finds the other’s solution problematic, or just “meh”, we throw both ideas away, and focus on finding a completely different solution. It has always turned out for the best. If we look hard enough, there’s always a door number 3.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My mom went back to school for computer science when I was little, and growing up with a programmer makes tech less intimidating by osmosis. I wish I had started much sooner! She’s very encouraging, very “one step at a time, just keep going.”  

Jennifer Warren, the President of the Alliance of Women Directors, is someone I admire very much. For over twenty years, she’s been fighting gender inequality in the hiring practices of film and TV. Recently, she was invited to address the UN to speak about the representation of women and girls in media. People are listening now, and it’s very exciting.

In the late 1980s a group of women directors took out a full-page ad in the LA Times, and their headline was something like, “Visibility is credibility.” It’s true. The images we see affect our decisions. Under representation of women and marginalized groups in both production and casting has led to a lack of belief in the abilities of otherwise talented, vital people. This carries over into non-showbiz decisions, too. Confirmation bias is going to be automated with more and more decisions being made through artificial intelligence. Diversity is an asset that we need to prioritize.  

Jacki Morie, a VR pioneer who has worked with DARPA and NASA, is such a generous and interesting person. She makes her work easily available online, and hosts a salon to discuss philosophical and ethical issues about virtual reality. Every time I’ve been to one of her salons, I’ve come away with a mind-blowing concept. One time, she was just talking about how we think about stories, versus how events unfold in our lives. I think she gave the analogy that you go to a basketball game, and you don’t think of it necessarily as a story, but you do come away with a “story in retrospect”. That was a really important takeaway for me. It’s probably going to be a major concept that entertainment VR has to grapple with. How can we create environments and situations that allow you to come away with a story of your own, exercising your own agency?

All of these women kept going while the culture was hostile to their ideas and abilities. I hope to have that grit.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I was in Berlin in June last year. The vibe of the city is so free. It must have been a perfect time of year to go because it was light out until ten o’clock, and the temperature was bath water. It’s easy to eat really well, drink good beer, and just walk and go exploring through the different neighborhoods. There was too much to see in a week, of course. I didn’t get to rent a go-kart and tour around that way because it started to rain, so I’ll have to go back and do that. It looked like so much fun.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets are my favorite tools. One of the reasons I love VR is it encourages movement. I did ballet as a kid, then I trained in Muay Thai with a welterweight champ in New York. I’ve done yoga for a long time. I have ants in my pants in general, and I really like the physical element that VR adds to entertainment. I just wish I had a rubber room!

EdX is a great online tool for learning. They provide free access to classes from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley and other great universities. The computer sciences classes are amazing, and you can go at your own pace. Free and priceless.

My Current Passions?

VR games! I was never good with video games because my hands are kind of mangled, but VR controllers are ergonomic and instinctive to use. At the end of a Robo Recall game this winter, I popped up as #6 on the global leaderboard. It was pretty shocking. I jumped up and down and did a touchdown dance. Luckily, there no one was there to record me and upload it to Youtube!