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Creating a visual effects community across Europe

TVBEurope catches up with ACCESS:VFX's founder Simon Devereux and new European chapter lead Chris Kiser to talk about the need for a European-wide organisation aiming to promote diversity and mentoring within the visual effects industry

In late 2022, non-profit visual effects coalition ACCESS:VFX announced plans to launch a new European chapter that will build on its mission to promote diversity within the VFX industry.

The new chapter is led by Glassworks’ chief operating officer, Chris Kiser, with the support of ACCESS:VFX founder and director, Simon Devereux,

TVBEurope caught up with them both to talk about their plans for the European chapter, the need for mentoring in the visual effects industry, and how Netflix came on board to sponsor the new chapter.

Access:VFX originally launched in 2017. How has it been going?

Simon Deveraux: I always say we started by accident. It was never the plan to launch a global movement. It started as an event in London off the back of the work that I’d done at The Mill, London, where we did a National Inclusion Week 2016, and we created this conversation that had never happened before about inclusion. After we delivered that event, the following year in 2017, UK Screen did a diversity survey, and we got into this whole conversation around inclusion and diversity. I just said, look, we could do this as an industry, let’s do an industry inclusion week and that’s what we did. We got a small group of studios together, planned an event and long story short we delivered the event.

Since then, we’ve been running loads of events. Not long after we launched Access:VFX UK, New York got interested, and then the West Coast came along and Chicago got involved. Now we have chapters in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Chris and I have been talking about Europe for a long time. It’s taken a while for it to get off the ground. It just felt like a natural move to do some good in Europe. 

Chris, you were obviously already aware of Access:VFX, and now you’re getting very much involved in launching it into Europe. Why do you think Access:VFX needs a European chapter?

Chris Kiser: It was a logical next step in many ways. I suppose you can’t go without acknowledging a Brexit factor in terms of suddenly the UK having more of a separation from mainland Europe as it relates to organisations and some of the logistics around what happens with what Access:VFX does in terms of activities and outreach and support. Glassworks joined as a member company as our headquarters is based in the UK, but since we have offices both in Amsterdam and Barcelona I started speaking to Simon pretty early on about what else we could do and what would we need to do to make it official and to plant the Access:VFX flag on the European side of things.

We kind of understood that there were legal requirements particular to the mentorship platform that meant we needed to spend some resources on laying the groundwork to make the platform available in what we identified as eight specific countries: the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. With those eight countries, we can officially accept mentees from 18 and up and the platform can support them and do the identity verification and things required for this mentor-and-mentee relationship to begin. There’s an amazing community of VFX artists and creators in Europe that branches across various countries, and so we want to make both studios and individuals that are in the industry aware of Access:VFX as a group and organisation looking to support and grow diversity in the next generation of people entering the industry.

What are your aims for Access:VFX Europe, and how might they differ from the other chapters that we’ve already talked about?

Simon: Chris touched on community earlier. I’ve worked for a number of creative sectors over the years. I’m always so taken by the community that exists within visual effects, animation and games. I would challenge any other industry to set up an organisation like Access:VFX. Try and do it in advertising and it just wouldn’t happen because it’s so adversarial. Look at any big TV show, or a piece of episodic content, and there’s always so many different studios working on the same show on different shots. So that’s the nature of the beast, we’re all working towards the same goal. 

With Access:VFX Europe, the mentees won’t just get connected to European mentors from European studios. They can get connected to anybody from any of the chapters, because it’s e-mentoring. So the way we designed the programme back in the day was you don’t necessarily have to actually speak to your mentor. You share your work and you respond to it in your own time and whatever time zone you’re in. I don’t think the aims differ globally. It’s just another addition to what is a really rich, creative community.

Chris: I agree. The only additional thing that I think is sort of unique now and differs from existing chapters is the language barrier and removing that and giving people who may not speak English or have limited abilities to speak English access to industry veterans that speak their native tongue. That is such a unique situation that I’m really excited about. There could be a mentor or a mentee out there somewhere that has been waiting to have that level of connection with someone and suddenly this creates that opportunity.

“There’s an amazing community of VFX artists and creators in Europe that branches across various countries” Chris Kiser

Are you looking for people working in the visual effects or animation who would be interested in getting involved as a mentor?

Simon: We’re putting the word out to anybody who wants to support someone else’s development, whether it’s folks already in industry, building their career paths, or those aspiring or interested. You could mentor somebody on their showreel or on interviews and how to build their confidence. It really is an open door. We work with a third party called Prospela who do all the legals and all the safeguarding and administer the programme and have done since 2017. We do a lot of training, and they ensure that everybody’s connected. We use a platform where all the mentors are connected together. 

How important is it to have Netflix onboard as the sponsor of the European chapter?

Simon: Netflix sponsored us to do the legal work. They gave us the support to make the mentoring happen in Europe. You can’t have an active VFX chapter without a mentor programme in place in that territory. It just doesn’t work. The reason Aceess:VFX does work is because we get stuff done. Even if we just turn up to a panel and talk about roles, we can always have a call to action because we always have the mentoring programme. Nobody can ever accuse us of not doing stuff.

Netflix has come on board to support our safeguarding work in Europe. In terms of ongoing sponsorship, Foundry will still continue to enable the mentoring programme to continue rolling year on year. Netflix is a one-off supportive injection of cash to enable us to mentor folks across eight European countries, which is incredible. We’re amazingly grateful for that sponsorship.

Chris: We’re all here because of Simon and his seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm for this topic. It is a community that we work in, and particularly the way that people move between locations and companies, you build connections and that’s your network. That is in many ways what we end up relying on for people to contribute to this, it’s connections. It truly is inspiring and amazing when you look at this web of people around the world, it’s the six degrees of VFX. We keep those relationships for life. And that’s to me another kind of call to action, reaching out to people that I’ve worked with through the years and saying, I need people to come and join in. I want their energy and I know that there’s people that want to give back and leave the industry in a better place because we’ve done the work to diversify and find new and different talent than just the people that are already aware of it.

More details are available on ACCESS:VFX’s website.