Experience life on set from 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 commissioned the immersive experience, supported by the BFI awarding National Lottery funds, to help demonstrate the excitement of working in the film and television industry and inspire the next generation of behind-the-camera professionals.  

We 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. It 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 360-degree version is now also available on the ScreenSkills YouTube channel.  

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. 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 which took place at Pinewood Studios, Bucks.  

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.  

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.”  

First Day: On Set 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.) 

ScreenSkills: First Day on Set is currently available for free download from the Oculus store:  

More details including other resources designed to offer insight on careers behind the camera in the screen industries and inspire young people to consider working in the sector can be found here.


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