Lights, Camera, Action at Abingdon Museum

Recently Abingdon Museum was the venue for a film production, with two of its objects in a starring role.

Filmmaker Felix Melia contacted the museum to ask about the possibility of shooting footage of a couple of Anglo-Saxon mounts.

These mounts are small metal ornaments, looking a bit like a snake curved in a figure of 8. They were possibly ornaments on a shield. They were discovered during archaeological digging at Barton Court.

Felix explained that he was making a film about a friend of his, who was involved in the dig, and who was present for the discovery of one of the mounts (they were not found at the same time). Therefore he wanted to include them in his film. The museum was happy for the mounts to feature, and I would be present at the filming to take the mounts out of the case and put them back afterwards.

Felix came with a camera operator and a sophisticated professional film camera, and the two of them set up in the Sessions Gallery. Apart from the camera they had brought different kinds of lights, and a background cloth for the objects to rest on.

The filmmakers setting up their gear

It turned out that the work to be done was not nearly as simple as putting the objects down, pointing the camera at them and shooting a bit of footage. First of all the lighting had to be just right. Different configurations of the lights were tested out and many adjustments were made, with a battery standing in for the mounts while the set-up was finalized. Not only was the direction from which the light was to come important, but the quality of the light as well. This was adjusted to give right effect by putting translucent paper over some of the lights.

Testing the lighting with a battery standing in for the object

Finally everything was ready, and I took the mounts out of the case and put them down in front of the camera. The two filmmakers shot them singly and together, panning across and zooming in and out to create some movement. The lighting really brought out the beauty of the mounts, the sheen on the central part and the gold.

The Anglo-Saxon mounts taking centre stage

The filmmakers then had more ideas how to include some proper “action” in their film. Their original plan had been to get a few shots of the museum environment and the display case, but now they asked if they could film me opening the display case and taking the objects out. I readily consented, and proceeded to open the case and take the mounts out multiple times, as they shot the action from several angles, with a handful of takes each time.

For the last step the mounts were put back onto the background cloth, and the camera was fitted with a very long, thin lens, making it look like it had a very long nose. This lens was for taking very close close-ups, and again the lighting had to be adjusted very carefully. Eventually the shots were taken with one light being held above the table and the cloth held up at the back, forming a backdrop. I took a look through the lens myself and was amazed at the detail you could see. The mounts have never looked so good!

Making further adjustments to the lighting

Finally they declared themselves satisfied with the footage they had obtained, and I returned the mounts to the display case while they packed up their gear.

I now look forward to seeing the results – our Anglo-Saxon ornaments taking centre stage, and of course myself in the role of “curator taking object out of case”.

Elin Bornemann, Collections Officer

Featured image: the Anglo-Saxon mounts, with the number 9, on display at the museum, together with other Anglo-Saxon objects.

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