TLG speaks to Harvey Edgington, Senior Filming Locations Manager at the National Trust
The National Trust is Europe’s largest conservation charity and cares for historic properties and countryside across the UK. Its properties have appeared in adaptations of each of Jane Austen’s six main novels, provided the real-life location of Winston Churchill’s home in The Darkest Hour, and key locations in long-running series such as Poldark and Downton Abbey.
We speak to Harvey Edgington, Senior Filming Locations Manager at the National Trust about his role in managing all filming that takes place across the Trust’s 250 historic properties and 500,000 acres of countryside, how his team are supporting on location productions during Covid-19 and some of his favourite sites.
What does your job as Senior Filming Locations Manager at the National Trust involve?
We handle all incoming commercial photography and filming, everything from Country File up to Batman and Bridgerton. On average we have three crews a day on our land, a lot of which is factual, but we probably average two to three big drama and film shoots a month. All the money from filming goes back to the host property, including exterior filming. Most of the money the film industry gives us goes straight back into conservation and preservation which is what the National Trust is all about.
I coordinate the team and deal with all the film enquiries from Location Managers who need three or four alternatives for every location mentioned in the script. We try and provide as many alternatives as we can from our property portfolio that fits within the parameters of area, period etc and then sort out all the minutiae that will go into the contracts.
What has your career path looked like?
I was the first full time film officer in London. I started in the marketing department at the London Borough of Greenwich. I became involved with filming when The Krays had some issue with local residents. The Location Manager had to bounce around each council departments to sort it out. It occurred to me that the council should really have one person who deals with all the different departments, and is the contact for the Location Manager.
It was during the height of Thatcherism so we had lots of empty buildings which I put together in a brochure and sent to the BBC and film crews. I hadn't realised that no other borough was offering this service and the phone went off the hook. Soon all I was doing was dealing with film crews. I then became involved with the British Film Commission when Film London was set up.
When I was at Film London The National Trust asked for some advice on how to improve their reputation in the film industry. At the time it was very bureaucratic, expensive and inconsistent: there were too many ways in and location managers don't know what to do, or where to go. I wrote a report on how they should change the process, and that’s when I started working for the Trust.
What has changed about filming at National Trust properties in the sixteen years you have been working here?
The major shift has been a total change in attitude towards film crews - we've gone from filming under sufferance to proactively looking for filming crews.
We have learnt more about film crews and how to protect yourself, the buildings and countryside from filming and we have tightened up the procedures. It probably means we are slightly more bureaucratic than people expect but we get the job done and crews are happy.
We've been through two crises that posed big challenges. The first one was Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 in and the second one is the current COVID crisis.
What has the impact of Covid-19 been on filming at National Trust?
Filming abruptly stopped, we finished off a one day shoot on a Friday and everything booked for the next three months went out the window on the Monday. At the beginning of June we were starting to get enquiries as the industry was sorting itself out. Since then we had one or two big shoots that we've managed to get over the line.
The biggest difference has been the time things take. A technical recce with 50-60 people all mingling in one room can't happen anymore. Each department has to have its own cohort, so one day of recces is often spread out over two or three days. We have also had a couple of shoots stop midway, because one of the cast has been COVID positive. In that case we just have to literally stop and then come back later.
On the plus side filming in some of our buildings has actually been slightly easier. We have been pretty much shuttered since March 2020 so we don't have to worry about closing or dealing with the public.
Has there been a change in the use of your properties?
You can tell that stuff is being rewritten and productions are trying to think whether they can shoot more out of each location.
We have also had some productions who clearly normally would be shooting abroad. Suddenly we have been asked to find bits of Spain or France. We do have a few buildings that with some blue screen can achieve this although sadly, I can’t control the weather.
How do you work to ensure incoming crews don’t damage the historic properties?
We have a conservator in house who's been trained in film techniques who advises us on things like which floor covering we should need, which paintings might need to come down and who needs to move them. A lot of our land is what they call a site of special scientific interest (SSS&I) and we have to treat it the same we would a stately home in terms of outside FX. We are quite experienced now and over the years we have done everything including snow and haze.
We work closely with the location managers and art department to sort out the really minute details. The Art Department will give us their wish list and what they need to achieve. This might include candles, a fight sequence where a painting gets slashed, throwing bottles of wine or having dogs etc. We would look at the room and say all our paintings will need to be taken down, maybe input a false wall, name the number and type of candles and how far away from the walls, what type of food that can be used, and if carpets should be removed or flooring put down. We might put foam on the doors to protect them from being slammed multiple times.
Cigarettes and candles are covered by a hot works permit which determines how far away the candles need to be from the wall, having fire retardant costumes and a fire warden close by. Our floors are very old so if they are using Dolly Cameras we make sure Correx flooring is down – but it usually is anyway because it makes it smoother. If there is cabling through the house or windows we would put foam on to avoid scratches.
We sort out all the conservation, risk assessments and method statements and we never sign anyone else’s contracts.
Are there any particularly popular properties & grounds? What factors make them so popular?
There's only three really that I can pretty much predict we'll get at least one shoot a year and they are Osterley Park (The Dark Knight Rises, The Secret Garden, Vanity Fair), pictured above, and Ham House (Anna Karenina, Spice World, The Young Victoria) simply because they're both in London. We also have an estate called Ashridge, (Les Misérables, Maleficent, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) pictured above, which is a massive area of woodland in Hertfordshire which can double for France, Germany, any magical kingdoms and it's very close to the studios. It will get used at least once if not four or five times. After that its much of a lottery.
It can be quite strange how these things go. One example was a Netflix shoot for Enola Holmes at Benthal Hall in Shropshire who had never had a film crew and to be honest, may not get another in the next ten years. Both the Location Manager and the Production Designer liked the look of it, it was close to another location and, bang, we were in.
Do you have a property in the portfolio that you think deserves to make it to screen?
I have a couple that are both in the Midlands. The first is Baddesley Clinton which has been used, although not as much as I think it should be. It is not particularly big, and there is a fantastic moat around the house.
The second property is Sunnycroft which is a classic Edwardian middle class townhouse in Shropshire. I always say that if I could move Sunnycroft into London we would make a fortune because it's just perfect for filming. All you need to do is put the costumes on and you are there but it’s just not quite in the right place for all the studios ins Manchester of Cardiff to make it worthwhile.
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