StoryFutures Academy: Industry Centre of Excellence in Immersive Narrative

Lead Research Organisation: National Film and Television School
Department Name: Grants Administration


StoryFutures Academy is a genuine HEI-Industry collaboration between trainers and producers to develop the storytelling techniques and languages that will shape the future of immersive narrative. Led by the National Film & Television School and Royal Holloway, our bid is founded on research and training knowledge that places storytelling at its heart. We will provide core screen sector talent with the tools, space, creative freedom and cross-sector work structures to unlock the creative and commercial potential of immersive production. Partnered by Sir Lenny Henry, Destiny Ekaragha, Alex Garland, Georgina Campbell and more we will lead a charge of UK creative talent into immersive that embeds diversity into the development of the medium across writing, directing, producing, performance, cinematography, editing, animation and VFX.

We will deliver training in action, providing opportunities for creatives to learn through taking part in immersive productions that tackle key creative and technical challenges. We link this to R&D in business model innovation and audience insight that combines electronic engineering, neuro- and cognitive psychology with long-sighted ethnography to provide a catalyst for growth of creative industries. We de-risk immersive production through 4 workstreams that provide £1.25m for collaborative projects with immediate impact:
1. Embedded Placements: Promoting talent development and commercial vitality by enabling placements of screen sector talent on immersive productions for cross sector innovation and work-based learning;
2. Collaborative Co-productions: Co-producing immersive experiences that tackle sector wide creative and technological barriers to growth, upskilling core screen sector workers via access to hands-on learning on live productions that build a cross-sector talent pool;
3. Experimental Labs: R&D-based productions that expose core screen sector talent partners to immersive and push technological and creative boundaries;
4. Developmental Training: Training a next generation of immersive storytellers and trainers that cascades knowledge to HEIs, FECs and industry across the country.
We are unique in our industry credibility and relationships. The NFTS was awarded the BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema in 2018, and it is the only institution in the UK where industry already invest over £1.5m annually in CPD level training courses, enabling us access and partnership with internationally renowned on- and off-screen talent. Our partners are world-leaders in how story and new technologies combine to produce compelling and novel immersive experiences, including immersive theatre (Punchdrunk), VR (Rewind), gaming (Sony IE), film (BFI), television (Sky VR), advertising (McCann) visual effects (The Third Floor, Double Negative), performance capture (Imaginarium). We bring them together with advanced Original Equipment Manufacturers (Microsoft, Plexus) and sector experts (Digital Catapult) to place story and technology in tandem to explore, research, train and develop cross sector storytelling talent and business models.

SFA will create over 60 ICE productions and generate nearly 1,000 direct beneficiaries. It will cascade benefits, insights and opportunities via collaborations with regional partners, including NFTS' base in Scotland alongside TRC Media and UK Games Fund as well as access to nationwide labs via Digital Catapult, and co-production bases in Manchester (McCann) and Yorkshire (BFI). It also gains significant advantage from the economies of scale and access to talent achievable from our Gateway Cluster base with its easy flows of talent and work in and out of London. StoryFutures Academy can make the UK a world-leader in immersive because it has unmatched access to mainstream creative screen sector talent, companies and technologies, allowing it to translate experimentation, training and R&D into tangible economic and creative ROI for the whole of UK Plc.

Planned Impact

StoryFutures Academy will upskill over 180 core screen talent spanning writers, directors, producers, animators, sound designers, marketers, distributors and performers from games, film, TV, theatre and advertising. We will provide new commercial opportunities and support for over 50 companies, creating over 30 commercial facing immersive productions and generating or saving 80+ jobs. In so doing, SFA will unlock a minimum of £1.6m in private finances via its match-funding commitments as well as its access to high end talent, which will attract investors to the immersive market. It will enable greater productivity by fostering cross-sector dialogue to generate the languages and story forms for immersive and provide means to test these with audiences, linking this with business R&D support to take new products to market.

SFA will launch or embed immersive into 49 courses within the partnership, drawing on annual sector skills reviews with our trade body partners. We will train over 450 students, including min. 200 CPD students who can make an immediate impact on the immersive and traditional screen industries. SFA will build a diverse and high-profile alumni base of nearly 800 beneficiaries whose skills both the ICE and industry can draw on in the years ahead for production and training purposes. We will ensure all our workstreams meet our diversity pledge of 50% female and 15-20% BAME to provide a diverse workforce.

Our partners inlcude some of the largest commercial organisations working in immersive totalling over 5,000 employees nationwide, including the largest driver of the UK VR consumer market - Sony IE (BSI, 2018: 9). We are uniquely able therefore to help drive the immersive economy's commercial growth and develop the relevant talent for the UK to become a world leader. Creative storytelling skills allied to an understanding of technology is seen by our partners as a crucial ingredient to ensuring this success, which aligns with Nesta-Arts Council's 2018 'horizon scan' that creative skills are the bedrock of future economic growth and new jobs (2018: 8). However, these are also skills in short supply, especially in immersive where production budgets remain comparatively small. By providing salaried placements, co-production funds and experimental lab opportunities for technologists and talent to work collaboratively, our training in action programme will de-risk immersive production to catalyse sector growth at the same time as developing talent.

Key beneficiares include:

Core Screen Sector Talent: Min. 180 beneficiaries provided skills and experience of immersive production from across sectors and disciplines, selected to ensure we reach our diversity targets in each discipline and a 25% commitment to regional beneficiaries via bursary support;
Creative Companies: Min. 50 companies working in immersive benefitting from cross sector innovation and talent development via placement scheme; provision of co-production funds that helps unlock further investment and access to new talent for on-site training; Min 10 companies working in immersive as a result of ICE activities. Min 25% regional reach of beneficiaries.

Policy makers, trade bodies and training councils: Annual sector review of skills and understanding of policy and training interventions that can foster the talent pipeline and provide opportunities for business growth;

Educational Institutions: Min. of 15 HEIs/FECs nationwide able to access ICE training and R&D opportunities for staff/student to develop production skills, research programmes and future courses at their home institutions.

Investors in creative content and technology: access to leading talent, pitches and demonstrators emerging out of Streams 2 and 3 for investment opportunities.

AoTF Collaborative Demonstrator Programme: Min. of 3 co-production opportunities and 2 placements to develop talent pipelines for mutual benefit.


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