Kate O'Hara in Film & TV


Interview: Jamie Stone, Cross Channel Film Lab Graduate

Supported by Creative England, Cross Channel Film Lab is a training programme aimed at helping filmmakers access and utilize the latest in cutting edge visual effects technology. 

With additional support coming from Creative Europe, the scheme will invite 24 experienced, emerging filmmaking talents to develop low to medium budget feature films that use VFX and Stereo 3D technologies to engage with new audiences. The programme is delivered via a combination of hands-on workshops, masterclasses and specialist consultancy and gives participants the chance to learn more about how screenwriting and visual technology work together. 

With 2015's programme currently accepting applications, we talked to 2014 graduate Jamie Stone about his work and how the support he received from Cross Channel Film Lab has helped his career and personal development. 

Your films all have a very distinct and engaging vision - what's the development process for the visual effects elements and has that changed since going through the Cross Channel Film Lab?

In my shorts I’ve always tried to create fantastical worlds that are somehow linked to what the characters are going through: a post-apocalyptic world of perpetual fog for two characters that are lost, a village stuck in low earth orbit for a character who feels trapped. 

The visual look of these worlds is a big part of the story and it’s vital to get right. Perhaps because the story worlds are so often rustic or dilapidated, I’ve always chosen to hand-make as many effects for real as possible. Maybe it’s just me but it feels like practical effects have a kind of innate warmth to them that I haven’t been able to get any other way. I’ve used miniatures, matte paintings, high-speed photography, forced perspective and good old fashioned fishing wire to make some of my effects, but the exciting thing about doing this now is that modern cameras and compositing software lets you take these old techniques that might look ropey on their own, and tweak them, meld them, and make them look better than they did in their heyday.

You've made some very successful short films - what are you finding to be the biggest challenges of making the transition from short to feature?

Finding or writing the perfect script has been the biggest challenge for me. I’ve always written my own shorts and most of them I wrote very quickly, often getting the first draft down in one sitting. You can’t do that with features so I’ve found the process of getting from idea to treatment to script harder. You get a few pages down, then start to doubt yourself and delete them again. Fortunately I’m working with some fantastic writers now which is brilliant as it’s allowing me to be away shooting TV drama while our feature projects continue to develop.

What was the most interesting thing that you explored in the Cross Channel Film Lab? How did the VFX exploration affect how you will approach the story going forward (i.e. tone, style, theme)?

Our story was based around the idea of a floating island escaping an encroaching city. It’s a fantastical premise, but actually seeing it visualised made us re-evaluate the rules on which the world would be built. It’s such a departure from reality, that for it to work as a live-action piece, it made us consider structuring the story around a narrator who is deliberately embellishing the truth - a little bit like Peter Faulk in 'The Princess Bride'.

What advice would you give a film-maker hoping to make a feature film with a distinct VFX vision on a low budget?

Start learning software as early as possible. It’s advice I haven’t really followed myself and I’m now playing catch up. I can get by enough on After Effects but I wish I was better. The more you can do yourself the better, and when you work on something sizeable where you have a VFX team, you’ll have a better idea of how to work with them and what and how to shoot what they need.

What are you working on right now?

I’m attached to a small number of feature projects which are at various stages of development with different writers. At the same time I’ve been focusing on TV drama a lot over the past year. It’s been a very refreshing experience working with larger budgets on scripts I haven’t written or been part of. I’m really enjoying it, and am currently working on a new comedy/drama for E4.

Cross Channel Film Lab 2015 is currently accepting applications. Head here to find out more about the programme and here to apply.

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