Hello, it’s Lucy here, but only briefly introduce my guest. This week we have a special post by TV producer Lauren Jacobs … hope you enjoy it!
‘Lucy has very kindly asked me to appear as a guest writer on her blog this week to share some insight into making history documentaries.
I have worked with Lucy on two of her recent BBC series (Harlots, Housewives and Heroines and the forthcoming Fit To Rule?). We have almost finished filming Fit To Rule?, which will air on BBC2 in late April/early May. In this series Lucy will be giving a new explanation for the enduring power of the British monarchy by looking at them as human beings. Over the course of the series Lucy will examine royal clothes, medical records and personal letters to gain insight into the intimate mental and physical worlds of the real men and women who lie behind the regal portraits and look at how the monarchy has survived and adapted in spite of their frailties.
I am the Assistant Producer on the series and I am tasked with making the director’s and Lucy’s vision a reality, helping shape storylines and set up the filming. Each production comes with its own obstacles, but here is my blueprint for how to make a Lucy Worsley production in five steps!
1. Dive into some royal biographies The first stage to any production is research, and this series saw us read pretty much all the biographies covering Henry VIII to Edward VIII. We divide up the research between me, the director and the researcher. Once we have got a good overview we will pin down specific details and events we think could make an interesting sequence, for example using computer analysis on George III’s letters for insight into his mental health during his ‘madness’.
left to right: director, sound recordist, cameraman, and Assistant Producer Lauren
2. Location, Location, Location! Once we have chosen a story, the next step is to find a place to film that will be relevant as well as visually impressive. This is one of my favourite parts of the job and it usually involves me and the director hitting the road armed with a sat nav and a camera in order to find the more obscure National Trust houses and long-forgotten archives. Once at a location, I am thinking about its relevance to the story as well as logistical arrangements –is there electricity? Will we have hot water for our cups of tea? (Got to get our priorities right!) One of my favourite locations for the series was the beautiful Apethorpe Hall near Peterbrough for our sequence on James I. The house is currently being restored and was empty of furniture so we had the run of it, which was fantastic.
3. Question time Once locations are found we will then be on the search for contributors we would like Lucy to talk to. Our aim is to find people who can match Lucy’s enthusiasm, yet who can explore topics succinctly and with authority. This involves me and the researcher emailing and phoning academics whose books we have read, to find out if they would be interested in appearing in the programme. This series features some fantastic experts, such as Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch on James I and Lord Roy Hattersley on Edward VII.
4. The final countdown The next battle we face is to match up contributor availabilities with the locations we want to film at – a lot more difficult than it sounds. Often locations will only be available before they open to the public, which suits us as it’s nice and quiet for our filming, but it also means our contributors sometimes have to leave their homes at 3 in the morning to get there!* Once I have engaged in numerous emails and phone calls juggling people’s availabilities, I can put together a schedule (the call sheet), which will tell us where we are filming and when. For this series we have eight filming days per episode, which may seem like a lot for a one-hour programme, but it is actually very tight on time! Just before we start filming, I will also oversee getting props sourced that we may use, such as getting Queen Victoria’s knickers brought to Kensington Palace!
Lauren enjoys a scrumptious pre-dawn breakfast at King’s Cross station
5. Lights, camera, action! The moment we have all been working towards, our filming period, begins. It is a whirlwind of setting alarms for 5.30am, sitting in traffic, sheltering from the elements, lugging equipment, oh and a bit of filming in between! Our filming can take us from London one day, to the Isle of Wight the next (where I got lucky with the hotel room – it came complete with Christmas tree). Then when it is all over, we start again for the next episode…
* NB no academics were actually harmed in the making of this production.