The Day the Textile Conservation Studio turned into an archaeology lab

A guest blog by Conservator Jenny Barsby

In April 2015 we were approached by a location finder from ITV about using the Textile Conservation Studio at PHM as a set for the new drama Midwinter of the Spirit, a three-part series for ITV aired in autumn 2015. Although we were initially apprehensive about the disruption this may cause to our work we were also excited about the prospect of our studio being on TV! A team of 22 crew members came to look at the space and proceeded to take photos and measurements to produce plans for filming. Once these plans were confirmed we were better informed of how they wanted the space to look we could plan for moving the objects out of harm’s way and clearing the lower half of the studio in preparation. On the day of filming, a team of people came in early to dress the set, this involved covering the available tables, hiding some of the equipment which didn’t fit with the look they wanted and creating a smaller window aperture to film through from the gallery (fig1).

Fig 1 False window

Fig 1 False window

The set was also dressed with props including fake skeletons laid out on the tables and lots of equipment designed for cleaning and assessing human remains (fig 2).

Fig 2 Props

Fig 2 Props

After the dressing crew had left we had some time to do our own work before the film crew arrived in early evening. The museum was open as normal during the day and although the viewing window from the gallery was partially covered with the set build, visitors could still see into the studio, we thought they might be a bit confused by the scene which confronted them so we made a sign to explain why there were no textiles on view that day (fig 3).

Fig 3 Sign

Fig 3 Sign

In the evening the second crew of about 30 people came in with lots of equipment to set up and start filming. The scenes were shot from inside the studio and through the viewing window from the gallery. The footage probably only equates to a few minutes but the crew were with us for five hours including set up, rehearsals and filming. Each scene was filmed several times from different angles with changes to the lighting, sound or in one case when the microphone boom was in shot! Two monitors were set up, one in the studio for the director and one in the gallery where the rest of the crew could see it (fig 4).Fig 4 The Film crew With each type of shot there seemed to be different types of equipment used from floor tracking with the large camera for smooth moving shots, to a smaller camera attached to a harness worn by one of the cameramen, which seemed to be used in the more confined space in a corridor scene. Our extractor trunking was used to dramatically light the skeleton at one point with all the other studio lights off. The separate lab area was turned into a corridor with some of our equipment hidden behind foam board covers. The actors came walking along the ‘corridor’ and entering the lab through the door, it will be interesting to see how this works on screen as it is normally a dead end (fig 5).

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

Fig 5 Rehersal for a scene

The two lead actors Anna Maxwell-Martin, David Threlfall were involved in these scenes we won’t reveal the plot; you have to watch it to find out (although our photos might give some clues).

During the process we were very mindful of protecting the objects on display and in the studio, the crew also had three people who were responsible for keeping an eye on proceedings and were very keen to make sure we were informed throughout the process. We had a little drama of our own at one point when the automatic air conditioning system turned on in the studio, it is quite loud and threatened to interfere with the sound recording, luckily we were able to get it turned off just in time for the next take. By around 10pm the filming was finished and the crew started packing away all their equipment. The next day we spent some time having a tidy up and putting everything back in its place and now the studio is back to normal again. It was a good experience overall, and interesting to see how a TV series like this is filmed but a long, tiring day for us (fig 6).

Fig 6 Skeletons

Fig 6 Skeletons

Museums are often used as locations for historical dramas but I wonder how many conservation studios can say they have had skeletons and exorcists in their midst!

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