iatse891 | Jan 05, 2024 |

Last year, BC was home to one of the largest volume stages in the world, and the Union seized that opportunity to get members access to hands-on training with technology that could be reshaping the future of filmmaking.

“The technology we use is changing,” says Michael Billings, 891 Sergeant-At-Arms. “Members need to be aware of emerging technology and be prepared to work within it. Our Local aims to be progressive in the training it offers, and an interactive workshop utilizing volume stage technology is just the latest example.”

Volume stages are large sound stages surrounded by a towering LED screen that wraps around the stage. They create impressively real backdrops that can shift and change depending on what’s needed for a scene. They’ve been used for the creation of series such as Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery and The Mandalorian.

More and more big productions are using volume stages, and with that reality in mind, your Union is working hard to ensure members have opportunities to get familiar with this new technology.

“Volume stage training is very important because it's a new technology that we're going to see more of,” says Matt Williams, chair of the Grips Department, and one of the organizers and participants of two days of training facilitated by the Union in January 2023.

Standing on a volume stage for the first time can be a little disorienting, he says, especially if the background is moving.

“The more people we can have who've seen a volume stage before they have their first day working on it, the better.” 

Getting access to volume stages for training, however, can be a challenge. Time on the stage costs money and there are liability considerations and busy production schedules. By building close partnerships, the Union was able to facilitate a training workshop thanks to generous support and collaboration with G Creative, Canadian Motion Picture Park, Pixomondo, Netflix, and William F. Whites.

Over a weekend, 10 members from the Grips Department and 10 members from the Lighting Department took part in the volume stage training pilot project.

“This kind of training wouldn't happen any other way without the Union being involved. There isn't anywhere else to go and get this training. You can't sign up with a college or film school or something,” says Matt.

The initial pilot workshop was targeted, but the Union is working on ways to offer this sort of training to all departments. With the loss of the Canadian Motion Picture Park volume stage where the pilot was held, access to training on volume stages can be scarce and requires creative ways of working with current productions utilizing the large volume stages, but it’s not impossible.

Andrew Gordon, 891 member of the Lighting Department, doesn’t take giving up personal time on the weekend lightly. He says taking the two-day workshop was well worth it. Members of the Lighting Department and Grips department were able to team up with Directors of Photography to learn the technical side of working on a volume stage without the pressures of a real shoot.

“When I walked into the room for the workshop the first morning, I was really impressed by what I saw on the screen. I was amazed at the clarity. Then as I began to learn how the physical technology, like cameras and lighting, interacted with that screen, it was impressive to see how when the camera pans a certain direction, the screen responds to what the camera sees and allows us to be creative in a way that we haven't been before,” says Andrew.

“I'm extremely grateful to the Union for offering this technology training.”

As a gaffer, Andrew says he learned a lot from the training, including how the technology is going to inform lighting on set, considering lights will be interacting with the screens of the volume stage.

“It's important to get this kind of training on the volume stage simply because producers want to shoot that way, and creative decisions are being made about how we're going to go forward in this industry. It's up to us to educate ourselves and respond to the technology that they're asking us to use.”

He wasn’t just excited about the technical learning, but the opportunity to build new connections and be challenged creatively.

For Brian Kemp, another workshop participant from the Lighting Department, it was valuable to be able to have hands-on training in this particular environment without the pressure of a regular shoot day.

“I felt it was a great opportunity to explore a new technology in an environment outside of a normally frenetic and high-pressure shooting day, and as such I was able to personally get a lot out of the two days,” says Brian.

“The team from PXO were a wealth of information, and it seemed as though they were eager to share their knowledge. I definitely look forward to more training sessions and workshops in the future!”

The Union will continue exploring ways to support our members in gaining access to valuable training on volume stages and exposure to new technologies shaping the future of our industry. The Union’s priority is to ensure 891 members remain at the forefront of crafting the future of film and television in BC.