Amcham: Kindly tell our readers about the history of FreeLens TV and how it came to be?
Yann Figuet & Igor Jelinski-Gaillardin: FreeLens is a Luxembourg audiovisual production company specializing in Live and Storytelling. It was created in Luxembourg in 1998 by Yann Figuet. The company originated in the world of television. Over the years we have put our experience acquired with televisions all over the world, at the service of institutions and companies for their audiovisual communication. Our society has witnessed the great events that have marked the history and information of the past 20 years. From the funerals of the greats of this world such as Queen Elisabeth II, Nelson Mandela or Jacques Chirac, through the wars in Mali, Ukraine, or Iraq, to sporting events such as the Olympic Games, the Football World Cup and the Tour de France, our teams work on any field of operation to inform, produce and transmit.
Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers and explain the activities of FeeeLens TV?
We are two partners recently joined by a financial investor. If we were to schematize, Yann Figuet, journalist, cameraman and producer is responsible for audiovisual know-how. Igor Jelinski-Gaillardin having long managed companies for large groups and investment funds across Europe, Igor has the managerial experience. We are therefore complementary. Yann is more focused on operations and technical aspects and Igor on strategy and development.
Regardless of the angle chosen to ascertain the activity of FreeLens, it always rests on two supports, like two feet, in short on a solid base: TV and Corporate, Live and Storytelling, Exterior and Studio. Multi-camera productions, livestreams, creation of audiovisual content, broadcast solutions and broadband transmissions (satellite, 5G, IP), are thus part of the expertise offered to international TV channels, institutions and companies, including major international groups. Since 2022, FreeLens TV has extended its offer by deploying in the heart of Luxembourg, in Howald, a one-of-a-kind 120m2 studio, equipped with the latest virtual and augmented reality technologies in order to create videos and produce lives that do not have only one limit… the imagination of our customers!
You recently received the Luxembourg Marketing and Communication Awards for the best event of the year 2022. How did you manage to do so?
The concepts we create, are born out of close collaboration with our customers. Many discussions with the Luxembourg Space Agency team have made it possible to define together precise specifications for New Space Europe 2022. Starting from the expected result, we are thinking about an artistic concept. So in this very specific case, the various subjects discussed on the set had to be highlighted by a scenic set-up to match. Our artistic director, Thomas Lagache, imagined a graphic device to symbolize the bridge between space and earth. A horizontal and vertical LED projection area of more than 100 square meters made it possible to design a comprehensive space. The light staging created by a director of photography specialized in TV show scenography, made space travel ultra-realistic and immersive. The graphic content created for the occasion thus made it possible to clearly identify each theme addressed in the keynote or discussion sessions. It is essential, when we develop TV programs, that the experience is strong both for the public on set and for the viewer in front of his screen. The goal is to create a sense of inclusive togetherness for all. Internet users and spectators must be involved in the show. The capture device made up of 11 cameras, cranes and motorized heads enabled director Cédric Béringuier to offer a Livestream worthy of a TV show. The diversity of the cameras makes it possible to create a dynamism and an attractiveness of the content and the realization.
This collaboration and the close involvement between the client and the service providers, from the idea to the production, made it possible to design an innovative, attractive and engaging event for both the public and the connected audience.
What do you consider your biggest successes over these several years?
To tell the truth, there are several things of which we are proud.
First of all the team that we have built over the years, whether permanent or intermittent, we work with very great professionals. We have a loyal team of freelancers with whom our permanent teams work in total integration.
The loyalty of our customers and their prestige is another. We are demanding with ourselves and are always in search of excellence. Working for the biggest global brands, televisions around the world and government organizations, all of which recognize the quality of our work, is clearly a source of pride for us.
The construction of our virtual studio is also an achievement of which we are very proud. Initially, when the idea of transposing the virtual technologies used on TV or in the cinema to the Corporate world crossed our minds, we were not fully aware of what this would require in terms of commitment, investment and research and development.
We did not want to offer a loss leader but a real qualitative experience. Almost two years later, we are happy and proud to have succeeded in creating D’Studio.
All of which brings us to the final point, our continued development. For several years now, our business has grown steadily. We recorded an increase in our turnover of more than 20% from one year to the next. It is a daily job, a real commitment and a quality requirement on which we do not compromise.
What has been your most challenging mission?
If we refer to our outdoor productions, our TV activity with its missions on the ground of war or even natural disasters, which tests both men and equipment. In 2013, our teams were present during Operation Serval in Mali with the French army but also in Iraq and Ukraine during the eponymous wars, we were in Paris during the attacks of 2015 but also in Haiti just after the earthquakes of land or in Saint Martin following the passage of hurricane Irma. From a human point of view, these are very probably our most “challenging” missions where we must not only report on what happened or is happening live, but also keep in mind the safety of our teams while bringing tons of equipment to often dangerous areas.
From a more entrepreneurial point of view and linked to the Corporate business unit, the design and then the construction of our virtual studio was a major event for the whole team. First of all, because we had a real idea in mind but it required months of R&D to be operational. There is no ready-to-use solution, so we had to define specifications that were as innovative as possible and that corresponded to the needs of companies, their budgets and our investment capacities. The goal is to be “disruptive” in a market caught between traditional communication solutions and a multitude of more or less sustainable technological options for so-called digital and hybrid events. These innovations combined with our experience of TV should make it possible to modernize and make unique the communication and the corporate events. To do this, D’Studio had to integrate a set of solutions, which around an easily and quickly accessible place equipped with virtual and augmented reality technology, 3D sets, robotic and tracked cameras, a control room with state-of-the-art technology, a system of simultaneous translation into several languages, teleportation of remote guests, priority connections, duplex without loss of image quality and secure servers located in France or Luxembourg, would become a complete and unique infrastructure in the Greater Region. Two years of work were necessary to design and carry out this project. Today, D’Studio is fully operational and is located near the business districts of Howald.
Could you explain us the difference between virtual reality VR and augmented reality AR and how in practice it could be integrated and support a corporate communication?
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are technologies that augment or replace a real environment with a simulated environment. Integrated into lives or videos, they stimulate viewer interest by modernizing communication.
Augmented reality coexists with the real environment. It adds digital elements to reality. It enriches the comments with additional information and data. It then becomes easy to explain the themes addressed by 3D representations that can also be manipulated as desired.
Virtual reality is a fully immersive experience that replaces a real environment with a fully virtual world where only the imagination is the limit. This virtual decor evolves in real time around the speakers by following their movements. They can circulate in this virtual setting as if it really existed. Thanks to these two technologies, D’Studio is transformed into a real showroom. It provides the means to present products in 3D when they are launched, to integrate diagrams and color graphics to present and explain numerical data or to visually explain a theme by inserting various representations of objects, real landscapes or abstract, etc. All of this is possible in an entirely modeled decor that incorporates the visual identity specific to each client. Thanks to “De Studio”, organizing productions, creating videos and performing lives has only one limit… the customer’s imagination!
Could you further explain D’Studio?
“D’Studio” is also a friendly space where innovation and comfort foster creativity. A meeting room, a private workplace, a lounge with a large screen, a restaurant area or even a make-up and dressing room are part of the offer, not to mention the parking spaces. D’Studio is a complete and unique audiovisual creation environment in the heart of Luxembourg.
Do you work in conjunction with any local companies?
If the question concerns our activities in Luxembourg, then yes, we work for and with local companies. We are above all an audiovisual production company with all the technical equipment necessary to produce lives and videos. With the arrival of our Artistic Director, we have added another arrow to our bow, that of creating graphic concepts and scenic environments for the events we produce, both in an outdoor context and in our studio with or without the use of virtual reality. On a face-to-face or even hybrid event, when we are the prime contractors, we call on several trades to materialize our ideas. For example, event technology companies to provide the necessary stage equipment, event agencies to enhance the logistics, then complete our organization.
We have our own conception of our profession, we are above all advisers for our clients. Coming from television, we know how to organize, produce and show an event. We also know how to write, tell and put stories into pictures. We apply this proven know-how to the Corporate world to create an audiovisual identity that sublimates, inspires and engages. If to achieve our mission, we need skills outside of FreeLens, we always choose the best local subcontractors to support us in our mission. On the other hand, during our travels we often collaborate with local partner companies, often to limit the impact of our travels. With 25 years of experience in international production, we are part of several international networks of production companies with which we collaborate for our reporting, documentary and news projects. These production agreements make it possible to produce content anywhere in the world while guaranteeing a level of quality and unique requirement without necessarily going to the other side of the world. As an active member of IMS Luxembourg, we are committed, on a daily basis, to reducing our carbon footprint. Our action involves, among other things, limiting our air travel in order to preserve the planet. This is why FreeLens offers an alternative that perfectly meets the requirements of limiting CO2 emissions. We adhere to international production standards following the standards defined by the European Broadcasting Union. Thanks to the Eurovision, Enex, Associated Press and AFP networks with which we work on a daily basis, we have been able to confirm an expertise and know-how that we share together. Our local contacts and the level of requirement of our network are the guarantee of a uniform and quality result regardless of the location and the network provider in charge of content production. For these reasons, FreeLens undertakes to send its teams to the field only if the possibility of local cooperation does not guarantee the expected quality. Our means of connection, developed in-house, make it possible to remain permanently connected with the local partner in order to follow the project, manage the interviews remotely and ensure the final quality.
As nowadays the time is of the essence in this rapidly changing times, on what technologies do you rely on, for relaying your reports and video material to your clients and how do you see the evolution of your work in conjunction with this technological on going revolution? Do you have all these technologies in-house, or do you work in conjunction with other companies?
The equipment evolves regularly and we remain on standby. Our work also consists of collaborating with producers to develop technical solutions adapted to our needs. This is what we have always done and will continue to do. This is all the more true with the realization of our studio which led us to work on solutions in-house. Something we have been used to doing since the creation of FreeLens. In the past, for example, we developed in-house the first powerful and ultra-portable satellite transmission systems. While market systems had to travel by cargo plane, we developed a transportable solution that could be checked in on any scheduled flight as checked baggage. Our speed of action has thus enabled us to be among the first at many key moments in the history of the world since the beginning of the 21st century.
Today, as we have entered the virtual world, the evolutions and advances that characterize these technologies further underline our need to stay up to date with new technologies and innovations.
The proliferation of digital events has enabled us to develop hybrid technologies including virtual or augmented reality. In our studio, we now create real-time virtual content that we are already integrating into the TV programs or events of our corporate clients. The virtual takes an important place in our scenic creations. Our “real-time graphics” division develops virtual environments that limit the costs of creating real sets and thus limit the ecological impact by avoiding the use of real materials. The virtual also allows the teleportation of speakers, presenters, moderators, experts to enrich the editorial while minimizing the environmental impact.
This technological evolution will allow us to be ready in the next few years to organize events entirely in the Metaverse. In the meantime, the hybrid form including the virtual has a bright future ahead of it, with humans having a need for real encounters.
What made FreeLens TV set up in Luxembourg? Were the digitalization projects and efforts of the Luxembourg Government a big factor in your decision?
Work, love and travel. Yann came to Luxembourg after his studies to work at RTL as a cameraman for a few months. The demand was such that he created FreeLens to meet the needs of TV channels around the world who were looking for a competent and serious relay to produce and produce their reports. Years later, we met during our respective rounds of the world. A break in our professional lives. After years of serving shareholders, Igor wanted to take over a business of his own. Yann was looking for a new partner. The deal was done in a few months. In our case, it was our life paths that brought us to Luxembourg to found and then develop FreeLens.
We are craftsmen, entrepreneurs, our decisions are first of all guided by the love of our work and by a job well done. Then comes the market and its interest in our offer. This therefore differentiates us from investors who are looking for opportunities to set up mainly related to financial aspects. FreeLens was born in Luxembourg 25 years ago, the company has become part of the local environment and its audiovisual landscape, we are happy to be there and will remain so until the end.
In what ways has Luxembourg exceeded your expectations, and in what ways has it come up short?
The State’s support for its companies and the responsiveness with which we receive answers to our questions from the Luxembourg Administrations is exemplary. Our studio has received substantial aid as part of the investment aid from the Ministry of the Economy. Without it, this project would probably never have seen the light of day. The environment in Luxembourg is clearly in favor of entrepreneurship and enterprise. We will probably not be very original in answering that transport times are clearly a point to be improved in order to remain attractive. We measure this challenge every day with our employees.
With the rising prices to rent office space in Luxembourg and the costly building prices, is Luxembourg still an attractive place to start a company?
This is clearly a difficult issue. We spent more than six months looking for a suitable place to build our studio and move our offices. We visited several premises before finding the Grail. It is true that we had very precise and demanding specifications. The price of course, but also the geographical aspect close to the center of Luxembourg City and the business districts, easy to access and with a large parking lot, size and height of the studio were key elements for our choice. It is true that the price of real estate can appear as a challenge, however there are a large number of advantages that strongly counterbalance it.
Does the risk of either a Luxembourg or International recession influence the activities of FreeLens TV and how would you tackle this issue?
Our corporate activity is sensitive to periods of recession. Indeed, communication and marketing budgets are often the ones that company management slashes first when they need to make immediate and substantial savings. From the start, we wanted to cultivate revenue diversification at FreeLens so as never to be dependent on one client, one sector or even one geography.
Our clientele is very large, more than 600 active clients. She comes from various and independent sectors of activity, corporate, agencies, institutional, governments, television, professional associations, etc. Even if we are mainly linked to a Luxembourg clientele, our clients are located all over the world. Finally, our offer adapts to the needs of our customers. If we can ensure that a role of technical service provider, we also know how to design and produce an event, a TV show or an audiovisual service in its entirety. The prize for the Best Event of the Year 2022 in Luxembourg, awarded last December for the New Space Europe event, is proof of this. Added to this is our full range of expertise: Artistic Direction, Directing, Production, Post-production of Lives and Storytelling, Consulting, Support, Transmissions, Studio, Design and construction of studios for companies… FreeLens in the image of the possibilities offered by D’Studio is a real chameleon that modifies and adapts its skills according to the needs of the market to best serve its customers.
We remain very vigilant to the external signs and the economic difficulties that we could face but who better than us can prepare our company for potential bad weather. It is not a question of watching and complaining but of acting and responding to the many challenges. That’s what we do the best we can.
Do you enjoy living in Luxembourg and do you still find time for any pastimes (hobbies)?
It is a real pleasure to live and work in Luxembourg. In Luxembourg City, we combine the advantages of a city on a human scale with the offer of a capital. The cosmopolitan side of the business environment and the openness to the world of the Grand Duchy is also very pleasant. This creates exchanges rich in diverse experiences. We, who have a passion for travel, and it is moreover thanks to travel that we met, thus live a kind of perpetual journey. Luxembourg is a country that has a lot to offer both professionally and privately. It is a heaven in the heart of Europe.
Amcham would like to thank Yann & Igor for this superb interview!