From chemsex parties to the street-punk tsunami orphans of Indonesia to Korea’s illegal tattooing scene, Vice and its associated channels have racked up a raft of powerful, hard-hitting and heartstring-tugging documentaries.
Now, the content behemoth is looking to share its filmmaking wisdom with the world, thanks to the new Vice Film School initiative, a partnership with Panasonic Lumix.
The site showcases editorial and video content drawing on the Vice team and collaborators’ experiences divided into eight ‘modules’, including Starting Out; The Gear Guide (naturally it’s Panasonic-heavy); Access and Prep (“how to handle egos and build trust”); and finally, So You’ve Made a Film. The site also features the Panasonic Lumix ‘Kit Room’ space, which teaches “the nuts and bolts of shooting a documentary” using the brand’s camera and lenses.
The platform was launched in partnership with LumixG by Panasonic and WonderVisions: The Alec Bracegirdle Memorial Film Fund, set up in memory of the young filmmaker who died tragically on a shoot in 2016 by his family, Vice employees and friends “to provide meaningful support to aspiring filmmakers worldwide”.
According to Vice, the Film School is launched “in the same spirit”, and aims to share the media company’s own “good ideas, bad ideas, glorious triumphs and catastrophic mistakes with people who don’t have stacks of cash for film school or a spare 15 years to kill doing it by trial and error”.
Vice UK creative director Adam Bracegirdle, who is also director of WonderVisions, says the idea for the film school has been in the pipeline for a couple of years: “We’d just launched the TV channel and our hard news programming had become quite regular, and at that point we were really redefining the landscape of documentary filmmaking,” he says. “We got a sense there were a lot of younger kids in the documentary space emulating our style.”
That realisation led to the creation of a new UK-wide talent programme launching this week, which will see one aspiring young filmmaker awarded a grant of up to £15,000 to produce their debut film with the help of mentors from Vice.
“We were trying to think about a way to bring kids from a more diverse background, i.e. not film school,” says Bracegirdle. “We wanted to bring in people from different walks of life – multi-ethnic, multi-gender – to the table, to bring a sense of diversity to our output. The film school was an idea we’d had for such a long time.”
The advice on the site largely focuses on what Bracegirdle terms the “mental”, more journalistic side of doc-making, rather than “practical” lessons that are easily found through the likes of YouTube tutorials.
The decision to partner with Panasonic Lumix is a shrewd and practical one: a good fit for the brand, and its aims to move into the ‘pro-sumer’ side of the market; and a boon for Vice, which wanted to provide actual equipment to those shortlisted in the competition rather than less tangible prizes, such as access to software.
“It was more altruistic rather than a commercial partnership, or something like native advertising,” says Bracegirdle. “We were really focused on trying to reach young, inner city diverse kids who can’t afford to go to film school. Panasonic brought physical equipment to give to kids and let them try stuff.”
The bursary is open to anyone over 18, and Bracegirdle says it’s aiming to “hit younger filmmakers” up to around 35 years-old. Submissions will be judged on how well they adhere to the “pretty broad” brief, and essentially “filmmakers who are saying something interesting”. The practicalities are, of course, just as important: “whether they can get access, that it’s not just some crazy idea. We’re looking for originality but we’re also looking for film-ability.”
Bracegirdle says: “If the story is something that’s pervasive in society, something that everyone’s already talking about, like Brexit, then it can be dry if you’re just telling it straight. You need to get someone with a unique and interesting point of view to talk about it.” Those submitting ideas need to be clear about the people they’d be telling their story through, and the level of access they have to them.
A couple of the Vice documentaries Bracegirdle says he’s most proud of are those that are “telling stories for the first time”: he cites the Beyond Beauty films that appeared on i-D, covering the South Korean obsession with plastic surgery, and its somewhat contradictory aversion to tattooing. Another he found especially fulfilling is the Vice film Bare Knuckle Boxing in the UK: “it’s great because of the access we could get. It’s illegal, so to get someone to talk on camera was very difficult.”
As such, a key tenet of the Vice film school is about access – “teaching kids how to reach out, to cold call”, and cover topics in a “really biting way”. Bracegirdle says: “The reason we created the school is to address those sort of aspects of filmmaking, and give people our perspectives.”
Once the five shortlisted entrants are selected, they’ll be brought into Vice HQ and each given a Panasonic camera (for keeps) and a masterclass on how to use it. Over the following classes, the entrants will be working up their ideas and synopses along with the Vice experts to reach the point where they’re “pilotable”. The winning entrant will then go on to receive longer masterclasses with pre-production staff and proceeders, then later down the line work with editors, colours graders, sound designers and so on.
The programme is open for applications now, with the deadline for entries May 15. Five finalists will be announced on May 30, with the overall winner announced w/c June 4; filmschool.vice.com