Story First at the Cross Channel Film Lab

visual effects

Bait’s Creative Producer Pete Rogers travelled to Brittany this month to take part in Cross Channel Film Lab 2016 as a VFX Consultant. We caught up with Pete to find out more about the course and how it went.


First of all, can you tell us more about what Cross Channel Film Lab is, and what it aims to achieve?


Cross Channel Film Lab is a pan-European workshop for writers and filmmakers – this year we had participants from the UK, France, Italy, Sweden and Poland, as well as consultants from the UK, France and Finland. The aim is to look at technology earlier in the filmmaking process, so rather than considering visual effects and stereoscopic 3D as something to look at later, the idea is to actually look at it in tandem when you’re bringing your ideas together – it’s a workshop that is the antithesis of fixing it in post. Our role as VFX consultants was to work with the story consultants in helping the participants shape their story, but at the same time work out what visual approaches would work best to tell their stories.


How did Bait initially get involved with Cross Channel Film Lab?


This is the second year that we’ve worked on the Cross Channel Film Lab. Last year Christian Lett, our VFX Supervisor, did a presentation at the BFX Festival in Bournemouth about how we’ve approached working on low-budget feature films, and then off the back of that, last year we were involved in the Falmouth and Brittany workshops – it runs over two weeks, one in each country. This year we’ve been involved again, and we also helped shape the course slightly differently this year based on how things went last year and feedback from the participants.


How was your experience this year, and what did you get up to?


It was a very good experience this year. Much like last year, what tends to happen is in the first week in Falmouth, most of the filmmakers have not used visual effects before, so they really are coming into it completely new and with quite a small understanding, and their story ideas tend to be in the relatively early stages. What happened last year and even more so this year is on the second week, in Brittany, they’ve started to incorporate visual thinking into their process, and more conceptual ideas are coming through. It’s more intense as well.


On the first day of the second week, every participant had done a video pitch, which is basically a mini synopsis of their story. On the second day, it goes to small groups, so they’re working with people they’ve worked with already in Falmouth, and also with a story and VFX consultant to work through any issues with their story, and trying out solutions. On the third day they have individual time, so each participant has an hour or so with the story consultant and the VFX consultant to really put their story through its paces. And then on the final day, the fourth day they did a new, shorter, more concise video pitch which was basically the thread of the story, where the story is set, who the protagonist is and the journey of the story, but also how they would use visual effects and the reason they wanted to tell the story.


It was quite amazing to see how much progress you can make from a Monday morning to a Thursday morning just by working solely on your story for three solid days. It was really eye opening – I think we were all quite taken aback by the amount of progress each project had made.


How else did this year’s experience compare to last year? Was there anything you were surprised at or glad to see?


I think the difference between this year and last year is that the VFX consultants and the story consultants worked even more closely together this time. Last year, although we were working in tandem – because that’s the idea of the course – we still had to play a bit of catch up to try and find out where the story was going before we could do our next session, which I think slowed things down a little, and we only had three days then too. This year, the fourth day definitely helped, but we were also in all the story sessions, so by the end of the week we were as close to the project as the story consultants. We might have story suggestions that maybe come from a slightly different angle, and then the story consultant might have visual references that came from a different angle, so I think it fitted in with the ethos of working with other people and using them as a sounding board.


What’s planned for the future of Cross Channel Film Lab?


Unfortunately there won’t be a Cross Channel Film Lab next year, but hopefully it will return in the future, and we are very keen to be involved again. Le Groupe Ouest, who were one of the main partners, are taking their philosophy forward in a new programme called Less is More which is all about using the constraints of a low budget as a creative trigger rather than as something that inhibits you and actually looking at that as a way, at script stage, to be writing something that works for the budget you’ve got.


We’ve really enjoyed being part of the Cross Channel Film Lab for the last two years, and it really ties in with our ‘Story First’ philosophy. We always want to get to work with people early in the process, usually meaning at the script stage rather than in post, but actually with this programme we get to work with them at idea stage, which for most of the filmmakers is before they’ve even typed one scene. The great thing is that each of the participants will now be able to go to a VFX provider and have some shared understanding. We certainly couldn’t answer every question across the week and we couldn’t budget every shot, but what we could do is give them just enough information so that they were able to start making visual decisions for themselves.

We’ve really enjoyed being part of the Cross Channel Film Lab for the last two years, and it really ties in with our ‘Story First’ philosophy.