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Lights! Camera! Action!
From Downton to The Repair Room, Gentleman Jack to Peaky Blinders, many AIM members host production teams for both the small and silver screen. But what does it entail, and can it be a reliable additional income stream?
For major tv and film productions rising Brexit costs, pandemic grounded flights and the insatiable demand for streaming content that recent lockdowns inspired have coalesced to increase demand for UK based locations. The unique settings that the heritage sector can provide are increasingly attractive, with many AIM members leveraging that interest into novel income streams.
Whilst its beautiful Grade I architectural features are still intact, uniquely, Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham in South Yorkshire is largely an empty building. But the lack of a collection is, paradoxically, a positive for a film crew.
Filming and Events Manager, Helen Flower explains; “Up until this point, we’ve been able to manage a film crew and remain open to the public because we’ve got the space. We’ve had a couple of big projects: the ballroom scenes for Downton, we’ve been Winston Churchill’s war rooms in The Darkest Hour and in Gentleman Jack series one and two, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was almost entirely filmed in Wentworth.”
But how do these locations get found? It’s remarkably ‘old school’ explains Helen.
“The industry relies on location scouts, essentially freelancers on the lookout for a hidden gem, a place that’s never been used before. I think, once you’ve done one production, word of mouth is the way forward – because it is such a small network if you give them a great experience the chances are that it will lead to another production. There are lots of location databases out there that you can register with too, and organisations like Screen Yorkshire are important.”
It is a view shared by Ilona Harris, Head of Commercial at Weald and Downland Living Museum, which has hosted TV hit The Repair Shop since it started.
“We made a concerted effort in the last 18 months to make sure we’re listed in the places that location managers tend to go. Creative England and Sussex Film Office were a good source of help with that – The Repair Shop came to us via the Sussex Film Office. It’s great for us in terms of visibility. There’s a real connection between the audience who watch the show and the people that enjoy coming to a museum like ours.”
Given this focus on word of mouth between location managers ‘Its very hard to ‘go out and get’ filming contracts’ so the more you do, even the little projects, the more your opportunities will grow to do more and more” says Chris Price, CEO of North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which has worked with Channel 5 on documentaries, as well as on blockbuster movies with stars such as Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise.
“It’s very difficult to grow a business initiative around filming contracts because they are sporadic. You have to play the contacts game, when those opportunities come out of the blue, take them!”
All the organisations we spoke to highlighted that balancing the profile and income raising opportunities of hosting a production crew with the potential impact on visitors is a key consideration.
Ilona and her team have established some broad rules to help; “We’re a visitor attraction and a conservation and education charity, not a venue. So, we’ve made rules for ourselves like we won’t close the museum to visitors, we set in place a rate card. It’s important to know your value, and to know when you need to turn something down.”
Black Country Living Museum has provided the location for several films and TV series in recent years, explains Carolyn Sankey co-Director of Development, including Sky Cinema’s The Colour Room – the story of English ceramicist Clarice Cliff, and the smash hit Peaky Blinders.
“Income from filming activity itself isn’t generally as lucrative as people might think, but the associated PR and other benefits can be. Peaky Blinders brought the Museum to new audiences – it’s broadcast in over 180 countries – and led to us becoming an official licence holder for the Peaky brand.
Like others, ensuring that the impact on visitors is minimised is fundamental to the approach at BCLM.
“Balancing filming requests with the visitor experience is paramount for us. Whilst sometimes filming onsite when we’re open can give an added ‘wow factor’ for visitors, where schedules allow, we ask productions if they are able to film on closed days in the autumn/winter”.
Carolyn also highlights the importance of considering the resource implications of bringing a crew on site. At BCLM, staff members support production companies with all manner of operational requests – and there can be many.
“Don’t underestimate the amount of staff time it will take to facilitate filming at your museum and factor this into any fee you will be negotiating. There’s a large amount of client management and planning required in terms of logistics, ranging from where technical or catering units can be located, whether they want to change any of the ‘set’, or use special effects.
Risk assessments and adequate insurance are vital, and we also have our own location agreement that we can issue. Plan as much as you can and ensure the wider museum team is briefed on the shoot and where their support is needed. Expect the unexpected! Above all, enjoy it, whether you get the chance to be on set or viewing the finished production.”
Pictured: Still shot from The Colour Room filmed at Black Country Living Museum (Sky & Caspian Films).