TALLINN - A bottle of vodka was all it took. Four film students, out to shoot a short documentary about a factory scheduled to be demolished, needed to inject their narrative with a few personal anecdotes. They wanted real-life stories from the old workers about the history of the factory, its colorful characters, its ups and downs."We went with a bottle of vodka, and they started talking," says Lasma Abramsone, a 20-year-old first-year student.
Bribing "would-be talent" with alcohol might not be standard training in most film schools, but Abramsone is a student at the Baltic Film and Media School, where youth are encouraged to be innovative, practical and hands-on.
The Baltic Film and Media School 's or BFM, as it's known 's opened its doors to its first intake of students in August.
It has now been more than four months since classes began, and students are busy preparing their end-of-semester projects. Eager for stories, scenes, actors and locations, the students have turned Tallinn into a giant film set.
Calls were sent out late last week by one student desperate for actors for her last-minute project. "I need a foreign boy to play a man sitting in a bar," the student explained hurriedly, the urgency of an overdue assignment audible in her voice. The expat community was scoured, and a suitable amateur actor was cast in the role.
With some 274 students now enrolled at BFM, such occurrences are set to become the norm. Tallinn, its residents and its surrounds will be documented like never before, especially at each semester's end, when assignment due-dates roll around.
Although this is its first semester in operation, the school was established in 2005 as part of a joint project between all three Baltic states.
Before BFM, universities in each country offered their own bachelor programs for undergraduate students in film and media, but there was no avenue for further studies.
The idea of a pan-Baltic film school appealed to the directors of the Nordic Baltic Film Fund, a Danish-based organization established a decade ago to help stimulate the northern European film industry.
"The fund was set up at a time when the film industry here was in dire straits. Now there is a feeling that there is no longer a necessity for this kind of assistance," explains Martin Aadamsoo, head of BFM development.
"They were looking for a final project that would work toward the goals the fund was set up for, and that was big enough to close the fund down. This film school seemed to accord well with their goals."
The massive injection of funds from the Nordic Baltic Film Fund was augmented by support from other organizations, including the Estonian Film Foundation, the Latvian National Film Center, Estonian Television, the Estonian Academy of Arts and the cultural ministries of all three Baltic nations.
All that was needed for BFM to exist was a home. Universities from across the Baltics were invited to bid for the hosting rights, which were eventually awarded to Tallinn University. It now occupies a floor in a building on the outskirts of Tallinn, where it has built a small television studio, editing suite, classrooms and an impressive IT room.
Aadamsoo agrees that the school, its students and their projects are some of the best examples of pan-Baltic cooperation.
"I'm fairly sure, even at this early stage, that the links established between Latvian and Estonian students in particular will stay longer and carry on after graduation. Estonia and Latvia are producing a lot of stuff together, and this will have an impact on the industry five years down the road," he says.
But students at the school aren't just from the Baltic states. There's Israeli, Russian, Finnish and Norwegian students learning side-by-side. The lecturers and professors represent an equally mixed background, with Canadian, German, Swedish, American, German, Danish and French professionals on staff.
Because of the diverse culture base, it was decided to make English the school's working language. In doing so, BFM became one of the only English-based film schools in Europe outside of Britain. Aadamsoo believes this is to the school's advantage.
"When you think about the film schools in Europe, most function in the language of their own country. Because we are an English language school, we are not limited to students from just one country. This is one of our potentials. Although it was set up for the Baltic countries, it was not done so exclusively. Most of our professors are actually from outside the Baltics. It will all blend into something very interesting."
Students are encouraged to voice their films in whatever language they prefer.
"The overall philosophy of the school is that you learn by doing things," Aadamsoo says. "Most of the things you do in film are not language related, except for scriptwriting. So we give students complete freedom of the language they use. It's not really an issue. It's not about what language you use but what you do, and being a practical school, this hasn't been a problem."
Liga Gaisa agrees that language isn't an issue. She is part of the school's first cohort of masters students, and has just finished producing a six-minute short film along with a multi-national team of students.
"We're not told to shoot in English, but we decided to because we were such a mix," Gaisa says.
Their film told the story of a father who saddles his teenage daughter with expectations, and obsesses over her long hair which resembles that of her deceased mother. At the film's climax, she cuts her hair in an act of defiance.
Gaisa and her team shot the film in a room in Tallinn's Taamsaare Museum using actors from Latvia and Estonia. For her future projects, Gaisa said she would consider returning to Latvia. "It's easier to find people and locations in your own country," she says.
Gaisa is studying to become a producer. In reality, the 33-year-old has had a lifetime of production. Before BFM, she helped organize song and dance festivals, Eurovision and other theatrical productions. She was even part of the team that submitted Latvia's bid to host the school.
"I can't help myself organizing," she admits. "I realized that I needed to specialize. Last year two people approached me to produce their films because they knew I could organize, which is what a producer does. I realized that I lacked knowledge. I think that the film industry seems to be going upwards, especially in Latvia, and there aren't many producers to make it happen."
She is now learning how to put together a film schedule, and most importantly, how to work in a team with a director and a scriptwriter.
"The producer is the one who tries to collaborate with those two very creative people. We are taught how to find the right people and the right crew, and also about conflict solutions between them. People think the producer is only a money pocket. But it's not that way at all."
Co-production is one buzzword BFM can't emphasize enough. Collaboration between nations for finance, resources and talent is the way of the future, Gaisa says.
"The school itself is a co-production, in a way."