TFF Interview: VR production studio ‘Telexist’ founders Sam Gezari & Erik Donley talk about ‘Dinner Party’ & the rise of VR

Erik Donley & Sam Gezari, founders of Telexist

Founders Sam Gezari and Erik Donley started Telexist as a need to service their own work. Erik Donley: “We knew we’d have to pay someone a lot of money to do what we needed, so we thought we might as well pay ourselves.” That drive and spirit are also shared by Sam Gezari who said they realized that “every frame of a VR film is VFX.”

The two have built a production studio where they “start from a post perspective and reverse engineer it” as Sam says. It’s working for them as they have several high profile clients, including NASA, SkyBound Entertainment and RYOT. They now have a team of over 20 technical artists and engineers.

I spoke with Sam and Erik at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. We had a very interesting conversation talking about how they got started, where they are and where they are going. They currently have “Dinner Party” available to view in the Virtual Arcade. Get your tickets now!


Sam Gezari: “People are going to theaters less and less. Home experiences, Netflix, amazon, those kinds of things. Often people have better sound systems and TVs in their living room. We’re also moving further and further away from community experiences and going to these isolated screen-based personal experiences. In some way, VR fits perfectly in this culture shift that’s happening very slowly. People will look back on this time and it will be really evident that it’s happening. I think that a lot of people don’t even think about it or are aware of how much time we spend on our phones.”

Erik Donley: There’s an isolated element, but we’re still more connected than we’ve ever been. We’re traded eye to eye contact for 1,000 friends on Facebook.”


Sam Gezari: “VR [virtual reality] is one way of creating content and telling stories, but AR [augmented reality], mixed reality and VFX actually have lots of potential. There is no limit.”

Erik Donley: “Today it’s on a headset, but in a few years, it might be holographically projected.”

One of my favorite VR movies is Strange Days where Ralph Fiennes is a dealer in a technology that let you experience another’s emotions. Sam Gezari: “Bio-feedback is a real thing that we’re using and it’s amazing.” The future will be here soon!


Erik Donley: “Content creation is pushing technology, it’s all growing together.”

Sam Gezari: “As a viewer, you can become part of the storytelling process. There is something magical about it. It’s not like other mediums. It’s the connection of the viewer and what they are watching.”

“We are interested in every aspect of this medium and not just the entertainment or advertising. It’s more about the human elements.”


Sam Gezari: “Until the technology and the hardware becomes both effective enough and easy enough to wear, it’s going to be difficult to get people to embrace it. We also need good content. If the content isn’t there, then there’s no point to watch anything whether it’s cinematic, interactive or gaming. We’re just so early in this medium right now. It’s going to take a few years to build up the quality of work.”

“There’s good and bad showing people VR, as they either like it or don’t like it. We find that most people really like it. They take off the headset and have a big smile while thinking of endless possibilities and it’s inspiring.”

“VR is in the right place at the right time. I love the environment we’re in.”

Erik Donley: “We’re in phase 1. We need people to buy headsets and create content.”

VR is the new wild west. There are no rules. It can be whatever you want; the only limit is your imagination.

Sam Gezari: “I won’t stop watching traditional film. I won’t stop reading books or going to museums. This isn’t the only storytelling medium, but I”m a real believer in what VR can do.”


Erik Donley: “Everything. Phones, resolution, you name it. It’s all changing rapidly.”

One of the negatives about VR installations is that as soon as you leave, you have no access to the content. I don’t see this as a bad thing. When movies were first introduced in theaters, if you didn’t see in the theater, you didn’t see it. It was special. VR is bringing the special back. This is not a gimmick, this is another medium.

Dinner Party tells the incredible story of Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple who made the first report of a UFO abduction in America in 1961. Having sought online hypnotherapy courses to recover memories of their inexplicable experience, the Hills decide to listen to the recording of their session during a dinner party—and what they hear could change their lives forever.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to

About Melissa Hanson

Melissa Hanson aka Dial M For Melissa - Managing Editor / Podcast Producer - Growing up, Melissa’s favorite destination was always the video store and would agonize over whether to watch something new or to rewatch a favorite. Things have not changed. Follow on Twitter @DialMForMelissa

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