Castle Ashby film

Capability Brown invites you to step into his magnificent landscape at Castle Ashby …

Making the film

It’s a wrap!

Financed by Heritage Lottery funding as part of the Capability Brown Festival 2016, this film was inspired by Alan Titchmarsh in the television series entitled Titchmarsh on Capability Brown (Channel 4 2015) where he celebrates the 300th anniversary of his horticultural hero by helping to create one of Brown’s lost masterpieces at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire. The final programme of three showed him standing at Belvoir Castle accompanied by the Duchess of Rutland with a lap top in hand viewing drone footage of the landscape.

We never lost sight of our ambitious reach for our Audience Development project and this was a “light bulb” moment when it became clear that millions could enjoy something previously unseen from the comfort of their armchairs. Not all can easily physically access such a landscape but many have access to the internet and a film to download on YouTube would provide the opportunity for an almost infinite number to appreciate the beauty of a Capability Brown landscape. Northamptonshire Gardens Trust was passionate in wanting to reveal the wonderful landscape of Castle Ashby, nestled in the heart of Northamptonshire. As locals, we are proud of Castle Ashby’s beautiful landscape and gardens, it is part of our heritage, and we wanted to share it with the world! Taking advantage of lottery funding to realise this aim by making our own film using a drone was, as they say, a no-brainer.

Hiring a drone

An internet search indicated that we could potentially hire a drone from as little as £500; thoughts of script and voiceover were not considered at this stage. Permission should not be difficult since Castle Ashby were as keen as we were to show off the stunning landscape to its best advantage. The daughter of one of the joint coordinators had experience of making films for commercial purposes and provided a contact who could make the film for a very reasonable fee as a favour. The film maker, Gareth, thankfully guided the uninitiated; informing us to begin with a script. A totally different way of writing to that we were used to, the script has to take second place to the visual images but guides and complements the direction the film takes; a commentary to support a journey. The script contained three main chapters:

  • the first outlined Castle Ashby and its setting
  • the second Capability Brown’s work with a focus on the sustainability and biodiversity of the landscape he created there
  • and finally, his legacy – a concept we were keen to promote for future generations to experience and enjoy.

We were always mindful of our aim to develop new audiences to the site, particularly hard to reach audiences and therefore the language used had to be clearly understood and appealing to a wide audience e.g. it was considered that the term Superhero would be related to positively.

Arial shots of the landscape with clear views of the lakes and carriage ways would be better seen in a winter landscape with deciduous trees stripped of the canopy that might obscure vistas. Hence early March was chosen as the prime time and although the day started with thick fog, melting to mist throughout the morning, by noon the sun broke through and we ended up filming on the best afternoon of the year so far. Booking film makers and drone operators and getting special permissions is no easy task and we would only have one shot at it on a very limited budget, so luck was a vital ingredient to the film’s success. The drone’s first ascent took in the sweeping vista up to the resplendent ancestral home of the Marquis of Northampton, followed by a beautiful shot of the medieval church. It flew across the length of the lakes towards Knucklebone Arbour, a hidden treasure not accessible to the public, to provide a view from the sky never previously captured. It hovered over Brown’s Menagerie set amongst stately cedars offering yet more views of his landscape never before seen.

The images on the laptop were amazing and the whole afternoon of filming was a truly exhilarating experience. It is incredible to be standing surrounded by the beautiful Brownian landscape at Castle Ashby but to instantaneously be able to share a bird’s eye view alongside this was breathtaking.

Once “in the can”, Gareth recommended someone for the voiceover but we felt his voice to be too harsh to portray the seamless natural elegance of the Brownian landscape. Again, through contacts, we sourced Kate, a female “jobbing actress” who fitted the bill. Our director skills – by this time, well honed – came to the fore once more in the sound studio. The exhilaration returned as we directed Kate, interpreting Brown’s landscape to the modern world. Kate’s eloquence echoed the curves of the landscape, the sweeping shots of the lake and, importantly, the legacy that “Capability” Brown created all those years ago for future generations to enjoy.

Our aim was to share these precious images with as wide an audience as possible. Where better than the World Wide Web and YouTube accessible globally on a mobile phone.

The launch

The film was first launched at Castle Ashby on 11 May 2016 to Northamptonshire Gardens Trust members and representatives of the Capability Brown Festival including Gilly Drummond, the Chair.

This was followed by the first public viewing at the Chichele Garden Fair on the 28 May where it accompanied the exhibition entitled Lancelot “Capability” Brown: the Man and his Work in Northamptonshire.

From then it was shown throughout the month of June at Podington Wyevale Garden Centre, again accompanying the exhibition and being shown on a loop for 7 days a week.

However, our ambition was not quite complete – in July we finally managed to protect the film for copyright purposes and it was downloaded onto YouTube thereby fulfilling our intention to share the beauty of Brown’s landscape at Castle Ashby on a global scale.

Job done!

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