Maggie Coombes talks about filming on location as a designer

TThe Sherlock Holmes thing with Jeremy Brett, which, I think, was through four series (Jeremy did four different Sherlock Holmes productions, each ran for between one and three series) and then they did some one-offs after that. I really enjoyed that. I mean, one of the great things if you were doing drama, and particularly historical drama, you got to do a lot of research about the period, so you could spent legitimately quite a lot of time researching that period. So that was a fantastic thing to work on too. I mean, something like that was really interesting because it was a mix of studio and location – and that was the other thing that change quite a lot in my time at Granada – to start with things were largely studio-based, and as time went on, we tended to do more and more location stuff.

That brought about its own problems with it – it was fun finding locations, because you would spend a lot of time driving around all sorts of weird and wonderful places with location managers, knocking on doors, and people would just welcome you in to the most astonishing places, but practically that could be difficult. But as I said it was all interesting.

Particularly when you were an assistant, you were expected – if you were in the studio – you would be on the studio floor and you would be kind of the eyes and ears of the designer, you would be up in the box, watching a monitor. And then if you were on location you stood by the camera, and if you were lucky, the cameraman – DOP – would let you look down the lens and see what you were shooting, and what was in the composition, so he could shift things around to make it look as the designer wanted. So you always had to be on set when they were shooting, as an assistant. I mean, that changed as time went by and we did more and more on location, particularly when I became production designer, because then you were always ahead of the filming. Because if you had… I don’t know, I’m just trying to think. Well, even something like Sherlock Holmes, and then later on Brideshead, they would be shooting on one location or set, and you would be dressing the next, so you were always ahead of the filming.

Leave a Reply