EXPATRIATES are in no short supply in London, and it’s always fascinating to find out why they came here. When it comes to film, I’m even more curious about the comings and goings that make up and diversify the industry. Why would two French guys who work in film leave Paris, arguably the birthplace of cinema, and home of the most reverent film audiences I’ve ever witnessed, for London town? Alexis Wajsbrot and Damien Mace explained it to me.
Now L.A. trusts London, which means more and more work is getting sent to London, and, conversely, the visual effects artists who come out of London have more clout in Hollywood.
Back in 2005, Alexis was already working in visual effects in Paris, on commercials and music videos. Still, he yearned for something bigger. When you’re in charge of explosions, it’s only natural to want to create the largest and most interesting explosion you can. “It was a little dream for me to work on Harry Potter,” he says. And work on Harry Potter he did. He got a job with Moving Picture Company and moved to London. Damien’s story is similar. He was working as a matte painter at one of the biggest companies in France, but still, there were few opportunities to work on big productions in Paris, since it lacks a large film studio, something that London boasts a handful of. He’d always been into intricately designed films like Lord of the Rings, so he decided to take a chance and go to London. Two days later, he got the job. And that’s where he met Alexis.
The two were working on Sweeney Todd together, Alexis on FX and Damien on matte painting, when they started chatting to each other about their dreams of writing and directing. Their dreams came to fruition when they completed their first short film together, Red Balloon. In true independent style, they traded special effects work on other people’s films for work they needed on Red Balloon. In some cases, they just asked strangers whose contact information they’d found if they would work with them, and in the vast but obliging London film community, the answer was yes.
So what is it about London that brings this kind of success? For one thing, quantity. London has more film studios than anywhere else in Europe, as well as loads of production companies. As Alexis says, “If you’re in the film industry in Europe, London is the place to be.” Additionally, this fact is becoming more and more recognised worldwide. Says Alexis: “[…] now London has an expertise in visual effects. Now L.A. trusts London,” which means more and more work is getting sent to London, and, conversely, the visual effects artists who come out of London have more clout in Hollywood.
The duo have been on the festival circuit throughout the past year, collecting prizes and contacts, all the while hoping to score support to produce more films. Is London a stepping-stone to the U.S.? Not necessarily. At the moment, the majority of Alexis and Damien’s contacts are in L.A., but the manager they’ve signed with has such faith in their short film, and their new projects, that he is working with people to get them contacts in the UK to film commercials. As Damien confirms, London produces almost as many commercials as L.A. does. But because visual effects are a year-round job, it’s hard to find the time to work on other projects. If they can get work in commercials in the UK, much of their time will be freed up to work on their own films. After that, they’ll go wherever the best work is.
For now, however, London suits Alexis and Damien just fine. It’s close to Paris, which is where a lot of their friends and family reside. Its film industry is concentrated in Soho, which makes it easy to keep in touch with each other over lunchtime brainstorming sessions, as well as to meet and stay in contact with others passionate about film. And the two haven’t stopped working on exciting projects. Through his job at BlueBolt, Damien oversees the Environment team on the hit series Game of Thrones. At Framestore, Alexis is Lead FX on Alfonso Cuaron’s much-anticipated new film, Gravity. The pair proves that you don’t always have to Go Hollywood. London’s creative atmosphere and long cinematic history means more people like Damien and Alexis opt to carve out their niche in Soho rather than be swallowed up by a town devoted entirely to making movies. Not to mention with names like Harry Potter in the mix, London just may have the monopoly on explosions.
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