At the end of September a film crew came to visit in the shape of a new documentary drama. At the moment details about this project are all very hush hush but keep your eyes peeled for Polesden Lacey standing in for some regal locations! In this post I aim to give you a glimpse behind the camera and into the challenges the house team faces when a cast and crew come a-knocking.
Like many experiences with my job here at Polesden Lacey, having cameras, props and actors arrive on the doorstep was a very new experience. The property was never closed for the film crew so visitors and volunteers were intrigued with all the events going on and as you can imagine answering questions about the goings on was a task in itself. Clear signage around the property was crucial to keeping everyone in the know and our volunteers were wonderful at answering the visitors questions.
What other challenges would you expect there to be during a shoot? Well the good old British weather likes to get involved and it certainly made its mark. As the props and equipment arrived the heavens opened, meaning that everything needing to go through to the main rooms had to be wiped ‘drip free’ to eliminate the risk of spreading water to objects in the collection. The weather also saw to it that the filming schedule was thrown out the window (not literally) as the cast and crew were forced to remain inside for the first two days. Keeping track of where the filming was moving to, and when, was a key role of the house team and volunteers, to ensure the impact on visitor was minimal and the property and collection was treated with care.
This is really the main element of supervising on a filming set; ensuring the safety of the collection and fabric of the building by having skilled and gloved hands nearby in order to move anything at short notice, and having extra pairs of eyes in the room to ask cast and crew to take care when the collection looked at being at risk.
Security falls within this bracket too. With so many extra people buzzing around the property, knowing who is who and where they are going is a constant challenge. Knowing what collection items are being moved and where to is also crucial to maintaining the safety of the collection when props are also being introduced and moved around by the production. This involves identifying a safe space for the objects to be temporarily stored, and also having equipment such as tables and tissue paper at the ready for packaging the smaller items. Protecting the fabric of the building is also important to allow the safe storage of technical equipment near the filming that might be needed at a moments notice.
As the property was never closed off for the filming, once a room was finished it was instantly reopened to the public and therefore furniture, photographs, and anything else you can imagine were returned to their place as if nothing had ever happened. While this was happening, the filming moved on to another room where other house team members needed to be to supervise that work. As you can tell, people are key to this operation and luckily here at Polesden Lacey we have wonderfully dedicated volunteers (some an old hand at working with film crews) we can rely on to step in and support the house team.
Filming days were often longer then the opening time of the house with the production team requiring the blinds to be lifted up and more light added to create realistic settings. This high quantity of light risks increasing the deterioration of the collection, and we also risk loosing our museum status if we do not stay within the recommended light limits for the year (which we carefully control through our opening hours, read an earlier post for more information: https://polesdenlaceyhouse.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/shedding-a-little-light-on-the-subject/). Productions such as this are given a ‘light budget’ in each room which is the maximum amount of light the collection can be exposed to; the light is monitored through the filming period and recorded to make sure this budget is not exceeded.
Due to the early morning starts and late finishes the normal housekeeping routine was also disrupted during the week the filming was going on. Inevitably more dust is produced from the increased numbers of people constantly in the house and so it is important to keep cleaning standards high. Dusting and the vacuuming cleaning was done once the filming had finished for the day so as not to disturb them with the noise but to ensure the property was ready for the public the following day.
There are so many other elements of supervising a film crew I could mention but I hope this has given you a taste of the considerations we take when looking after the property during such events. Look out for Polesden Lacey on screen soon!