A successful first year for the Frontier UK-CAD Immersive Exchange programme

Bridging gaps in the immersive storytelling space, 24 participants benefited from new tools, connections and markets.  

An immersive technology talent development and co-production exchange programme has wrapped the first stage of its inaugural year. 

The UK-Canada Immersive Exchange of 2020 saw a dozen participants from each side of the pond come together despite the unknowns and structural pivots brought on by the pandemic. 

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Helping to close a skills and experience gap in the world of immersive technologies, it allowed the commonwealth cohort to tackle all kinds of insights about the evolving industry: discoverability, partnerships and pitching for funding, production strategy, feasibility case studies, marketing, audience development and IP...

“We were looking for rulebreakers and leaders playing in various types of immersive storytelling,” explained Laura Mingail, a UK-Canada Immersive Exchange Program Co-Lead, who was “joined at the digital hip” with UK-based Rebecca Gregory-Clarke, Head of Immersive at the National Film and Television School and StoryFutures Academy

More than 500 applicants applied for the 24 spots in this first exchange. 

“We can see the appetite for [immersive storytelling] but we know how hard it is to put the puzzle together,” Rebecca explained. Intentionally curating a diverse group of participants with expertise and passions in AI, VR, live theatre, motion capture and photogrammetry (amongst other talents), the programme was all about “learning and sharing what works well with story as well as what works with technology.”

Adjusting for geography and a pandemic, the programme zoomed its way through meeting in different time zones and found creative ways to build-out relationships — even meeting up for a holiday party in VR. 

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Professional relationship building and ‘co-partnerships’ was a big part of it, with participants split into two categories: project leads and producers. 

Creator and educator Fred Deakin was a project lead. The musician (one half of the band Lemon Jelly) and professor runs FANDCO, a studio that specializes in interactive and educational projects. 

One of his projects (not part of the exchange programme), is called Transportalists and combines projection mapping, live theatre and augmented reality. He’s currently enjoying the transatlantic collaboration with like-minded Canadian creators.

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Fred Deakin - Photo credit: Michael Leckie

“Basically, we did a lot of speed dating between leads and producers,” Fred laughed, explaining that the difference between these roles is comparable to “a film producer and a film director. The buck stops in terms of vision with the director versus getting the damn thing made… someone has to hold the vision.” 

He said combining opportunities for networking across international boundaries felt empowering and was “a much more efficient and modern way of going to a mixed reality conference... this was like superpowered networking [and] collaboration.”

Canadian programme participant, Rachael Hosein, who is Co-Founder and Chief Creative officer of Flipside XR and based in Winnipeg, MB., agreed that without the programme facilitating the introductions, these kinds of connections and collaborations would have been almost impossible.

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Programme participant Rachael Hosein - Photo credit: Cory Aronec Photography

“One of the interesting things [about participating during a pandemic] is that it forced our hands in finding alternative digital ways to connect [and] we were ready for it,” she said. “The main thing that came out of it was being inspired and enlightened… [it] opened my eyes to all the little things that contribute to making a successful immersive experience.”

Finding others working in the immersive space is not always easy since it’s so new, she added, so having international partners come together in a unified way to try to build that community was deeply appreciated. 

“This is exactly what the immersive space needs [to] create amazing and impactful content.” 

And the connections are real: “The programme did a great job at facilitating relationships between people,” said Rachael. “I feel if I am ever hung up on a certain thing, I now know someone who can walk me through it and vice versa.”

A full calendar year was important to the programme for this exact reason. Any co-production needs a lot of time to find the right partners, making it. “kind of like a marriage,” said Rebecca, adding that these relationships can take time to build, but everyone now has new friends and doors open to them in a different country and market. 

“We’re delighted [to] have found like-minded partners in Canada [and help] people make connections they wouldn’t have otherwise and create opportunities for new projects,” she said.  

Looking ahead, the workshops and training events will culminate in a pitch for co-production financing, with a total fund of $510,000 CAD available between both countries, funding approximately six projects between up to a maximum of $170,000. 

Selected projects are set to be announced in the spring of 2021. 

THREE LEARNINGS FROM THE UK-CAD IMMERSIVE EXCHANGE PROGRAM: 

1. The technology not only “accelerates relationships but also creativity,” said Laura, allowing for different social rules. “People are more playful and willing to take risks [and go] back to their childlike roots.” 

2 . We’re in a very exciting time, “at the birth of a new format,” said Fred. “And when it comes it will be social, it will be the phone killer; it will take us beyond the slightly pacified and hypnotized state we are in [on our screens].” 

3. “The screen is the barrier,” agreed Rachael. “I can watch something and get invested in something if I am watching on a 2D screen, but it is a very different investment if I am in the space, have character, agency and can contribute to the outcome.” 


Laura Beeston
Laura Beeston
Laura Beeston is a writer, editor and content strategist from Winnipeg. In 10+ years of media making, she's worked on a variety of projects but was notably a breaking news reporter for The Winnipeg Free Press, The Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Star, and an arts reporter for The Globe and Mail. Since 2017, she's worked with C2 Montréal as a lead writer, editor, programmer and multimedia content producer. She is a media advisor and mentor at The Link.
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