Top tips for filming historic sites

By Joel Fennec

Tennis Balls?!

This is probably not the word that comes to mind when you think of filmmaking, but when it comes to filming at historic sites, the humble tennis ball is a film maker’s best friend, especially when you’re filming on-site surrounded by valuable collections and fragile artefacts.

For over the past 10 years, we’ve been lucky enough to have travelled all throughout the UK to film some of Britain’s most precious historical sites. So here are some of our top tips when it comes to filming on these historically important sites.

Woven films drone shots of historic sites

Tip #1

Everything starts with pre-production

Like most films, pre-production is key to making a good film but thorough planning is essential in making a great film! Before you show up on-site, it’s useful to ask about a few things:

What are the fragile and no-go areas?

Make sure to ask where is safe, where is delicate, and where is totally off limits.

Who owns the land?

This might seem like an arbitrary question but it’s always good to know where you can and cannot point that camera. Last thing you want is an angry farmer yelling at you as your drone flies over their field.

Is there visible building works or restoration happening?

You’ve got up at dawn and have planned the most incredible sequence only to find the West Wing of the castle covered in scaffolding. It might be time to look for another date.

What are the opening times?

The last thing any filmmaker wants is to set up a scene where the lighting is looking nice, the site is finally quiet, and the actors are ready to go and right before you hit the record button – a group of tourists walk through the scene. Sometimes it’s better to get up early or stay out late to get those shots you need.

Top tips for filming historic sites

Tip #2 – We have a responsibility to protect everything

Filmmaking usually involves heavy kit and lots of it, so it’s our responsibility to ensure measures are in place to protect the walls, floors and collection from bangs and scraps.

Everything goes on floor matts:

A simple floor mat can be used to make sure your bags and other belongings don’t damage any sensitive floors or surfaces on site. These can often reduce the noise of footsteps too, which helps keep the sound team happy.

Your new favourite technique:

Another simple yet effective technique to protect those fragile surfaces would be to place tennis balls on the foot of your stands. Make a small slit in a tennis ball and pop them at the end of the stands, sorted.

Making that tennis ball go further:

A bonus tip is to add them to the top of stands or grip equipment too. Not only do they add a protective layer for any low ceilings or doorways, the bright yellow is a great high-vis eye-catcher and no one walks into anything they shouldn’t.

Top tips with Tennis balls on stands

Tip #3 – Keeping the lights low

Powerful lights can generate excess heat or UV rays which can damage fragile collections. We always use low-wattage LED lights. These energy-efficient alternatives emit less heat and UV rays, reducing the risk of damage.

Tip #4 – Know your collections

Many historic properties boast impressive collections of paintings and artefacts. Before filming, it’s important to determine whether a collection can actually be featured and who owns the IP or copyright.

Filming historic artifacts

Tip #5 – Visitor experience is king

As frustrating as it can be when a visitor walks into your incredible shot, you have to remember that these visitors are the reason why you’re here. They’re the patrons who help fund these amazing sites and collections, and are there to enjoy the property unimpeded, so it’s important to minimise the impact of filming. How? Simply by setting the alarm for an early one and film before opening, if that’s not possible, these locations can often be quieter in the afternoon.

Tip #6 – Leave No Trace

One of our main mantras when it comes to filmmaking is the rule of “Leave No Trace”. This simply means that we clean up after ourselves, remove all equipment and dispose of any waste responsibly. The goal is to ensure the historic property is returned to its original state. By having a high level of respect for the site and its surroundings, we do our little bit to contribute to its ongoing preservation efforts.

Filming at Romans Baths

And there it is, hopefully you use these tips and tricks on your next shoot and smash it out of the court.

Watch more of our history inspired work here

For help on your next historic properties shoot, reach out, we’d love to talk to you.

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