How to experience life on a film set from your own home

The buzz of life on a working film set is being made accessible to the general public with a virtual reality (VR) experience delivered by headset which can be also viewed on YouTube as a 360-degree video. 

ScreenSkills, the skills body for the UK’s screen industries, commissioned the immersive experience to help demonstrate the excitement of working in the film and television industry and inspire the next generation of behind-the-camera professionals.  

Development of The First Day on Set experience was supported by the BFI awarding National Lottery funds as part its Future Film Skills strategy. It was shot before the Covid-19 crisis so shows a set before new measures for filming came into effect.  (New guidance recently announced will be used to ensure crew and cast safety during productions now and in future.)

It is part of a raft of resources designed to offer insight on careers behind the camera in the screen industries and inspire young people to consider working in the sector. The resources also include: 

  • Four new activities for young people to do at home – top tips for filming with a phone; how to get a good interview; making a stop-motion animation; and how to make a simple storyboard.  They can be viewed in the ScreenSkillscareers resources section here  
  • Lesson plans targeted at children aged nine to 13. An animation lessonplan includes a project to make an animation. A visual effects (VFX) lesson explains how to create the illusion of being in a different place using green screen technology. Film and TV drama lessons aim to explain the wide variety of roles in film and TV drama through making a film based on a story. An unscripted television lesson helps young people to make a documentary. A games lesson is designed to help pupils make a board game or a computer game. 
  • Summer of Animation - a two-month programmeof masterclasses, online camps and a competition for 13 to 18-year-olds across the UK to create their own animation. More information here Funders include the ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund and the BFI, awarding National Lottery funds 
  • Descriptions of nearly 200 different jobsacross film, television, VFX (visual effects), animation and games, with the most recent additions 57 jobs in unscripted television – such as game shows and documentaries. Each job profile describes the job and pathways to it including subjects to study, further and university courses and apprenticeships. We show how the jobs fit together with our  career maps. Many roles are freelance and our Freelance Toolkit gives additional information on how to work as a freelancer. 

Anyone who forms teams or works with others to use any of the resources should adhere to current government social distancing guidance.

The First Day on Set experience was developed by ScreenSkills, working with VR experts The Third Floor. ScreenSkills wanted to find a way to demonstrate the range of jobs involved as it is often impractical to welcome large groups of visitors onto real-life productions.  

The full immersive experience has been previously used at careers and outreach events and is now available for free download to users of either the Oculus Rift or Oculus Go VR headsets. The equipment is becoming increasingly widespread, including as an educational tool in schools, colleges and universities. A modified version will shortly go live on the ScreenSkills YouTube channel. 

The experience was filmed at Pinewood Studios at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. 

Gareth Ellis-Unwin, ScreenSkills head of film and animation, returned to his former role as a producer (The King’s Speech, Kajaki: The True Story, Steel Country) to lead the project. He said: “It is difficult for members of the public, including those hoping to work in the screen industries, to get real life on-set access. So we recreated the experience with a script based on the user arriving at a studio and getting to hear first-hand what those working in different departments do.” 

The project was inspired by Pathfinder, a headset-based VR experience already used for scouting locations for productions. Location scouts can recce even the most remote of locations with a 360-degree camera and the videos are sent back to other key creatives, such as the director, cinematographer, production designer and producer, to witness the location without having to be there physically. 

ScreenSkills and The Third Floor took the technology and adapted it, with extra support for the project from EON Productions, Pinewood Studios, movieTech and MBS who between them volunteered a stage and equipment for the shoot.  

Writer Tom Williams, who had previously worked with Gareth on the war film Kajaki: The True Story, and whose other credits include the Felicity Jones movie Chalet Girl, developed a script which combined the simulation of filming a period drama with a tour of the different departments of the film set where it was being made. The user is introduced to a number of entry-level film crew members. 

Directed by Jo Southwell, actors were hired both to perform in the drama and to “star” as people working the art department, camera department, hair and make-up, sound department and video village with dialogue explaining what the different departments do. 

The Third Floor used a stereoscopic 360 camera to record each scene. This uses multiple cameras to record everything around it, allowing the depth of a scene to be captured. When this recording is played back in a VR headset, the user feels as if they are really there. People and objects that are further away naturally appear so to the user. Additional illustrative visual effects (VFX) footage was inserted in the editing process. 

Each scene also has graphics overlaid to convey the names and locations of the departments, key people involved in the shoot and to provide the user a means of navigating their way through the experience. When prompted, the user can choose which department they wish to visit.  

The shoot provided a novel experience for the actual film crew as they were filming themselves filming scenes from the specially written period drama. 

Eric Carney, The Third Floor's chief technology officer said: "We’re very excited about the possibilities First Day: On Set opens up for students who are interested in working in the screen industries. We believe that this unique virtual reality experience will be a great tool in allowing students to explore an authentic on-set environment."  

Margaret Burgin, ScreenSkills head of careers, said: “The film industry workforce has grown by more than a third in the last 10 years and it remains an exciting potential career. Our careers team spend a lot of time explaining to people what the roles are, but there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself. The First Day on Set experience takes you into the middle of a set at Pinewood and shows you jobs such as make-up, costume, lighting and props which many people don’t think about.”  

 Although most film and television production was suspended when the country went into lockdown, the industry is now preparing to return to work. For those leaving education this summer and hoping to enter the screen industries, ScreenSkills has been running Career Basics sessions via Zoom to offer basic employability skills. 

Where to find ScreenSkills’ resources
ScreenSkills: First Day on Set is currently available for free download from the Oculus store: 

It can be viewed on ScreenSkills website.

How to activities and lesson plans can be found in ScreenSkills Careers resources 

Other useful links and resources: 

Details of the Summer of Animation masterclasses, online camps and competition can be found here  

Resources and activities from across the creative sector can be found on the Discover! Creative Careers website, developed by ScreenSkills with our partners, Creative and Cultural Skills and the Creative Industries Federation, as part of the DCMS-supported Creative Careers Programme. 

ScreenSkills has a new immersive film about life in a post-production house, learn more by visiting First Day: In post.

For more information and for images (including filming First Day: On Set at Pinewood and the immersive headset experience in action), please contact Elisabeth ten Cate, communications officer, on 020 7713 9 835 or  or Louise Jury, director of communications and marketing at ScreenSkills, on 020 7713 9883 or 07841496636 or 

Notes to editors: 

About ScreenSkills 
ScreenSkills is the industry-led skills body for the UK's screen industries - animation, film, games, television including children's TV, unscripted and high-end drama, VFX and immersive technology. We work across the whole of the country to ensure that UK screen has access now, and in the future, to the skills and talent needed for continued success.  

About the BFI 
The BFI is the lead organisation for film in the UK with the ambition to create a flourishing film environment in which innovation, opportunity and creativity can thrive by: 

  • Connecting audiences to the widest choice of UK and world cinema  
  • Preserving and restoring the most significant film collection in the world for today and future generations  
  • Championing emerging and world class filmmakers in the UK – investing in creative, distinctive and entertaining work  
  • Promoting UK film and talent to the world   
  • Growing the next generation of film makers and audiences 

The BFI is a Government arm’s-length body and distributor of Lottery funds for film. The BFI serves a public role which covers the cultural, creative and economic aspects of film in the UK. It delivers this role: 

  • As the UK-wide organisation for film, a charity core funded by Government 
  • By providing Lottery and Government funds for film across the UK 
  • By working with partners to advance the position of film in the UK 

Founded in 1933, the BFI is a registered charity governed by Royal Charter. The BFI Board of Governors is chaired by Josh Berger CBE. 


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