Here at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, we decided to create a series of short digital pieces in response to having to close our doors for a third time at the start of 2021. Our grounds have remained open during this lockdown, but like many institutions we keenly felt the need to keep our collections alive in people’s minds while the galleries were closed.
We wanted to showcase our collections to our loyal visitors and a host of new visitors, in the hope of enticing them in when we could reopen the galleries again.
During the many iterations of restrictions in 2020, we flipped to a digital content offer. It made sense to work once more with Mike Tomlinson of Orlando Media, an experienced filmmaker, who was given the brief to film a series of shorter pieces about the collection and other aspects of Compton Verney’s diverse stories. The films needed to be no more than three minutes long, easily digestible and suitable for social media platforms.
Freely available on our website, they included subtitles as standard to maximise their accessibility. The project budget came from our Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Cultural Recovery Fund grant, which enabled us to produce 12 films for release on a weekly basis throughout the first quarter of 2021.
The curatorial and marketing teams worked closely together to develop a balanced programme that felt representative of our entire offer. We wanted to provide a sense of the unique qualities of a visit to Compton Verney, which, in addition to the 120 acre park and nature conservation projects, includes six diverse permanent collections, a changing programme of temporary exhibitions and creative events that animate the grounds.
The diversity of interest among our audiences needed to be reflected, along with promoting the links between the natural environment, art and heritage. Our audiences might begin by watching a film on birdlife in the grounds, but then be intrigued by the next film, on a rare, jewelled cabinet in the Naples collection.
The films also represent an opportunity to go beyond what visitors would usually encounter in the galleries, with a chance to peek behind the scenes – inside, around and underneath objects traditionally displayed in static cases, or at the lake-sourced heating system housed in the bowels of the mansion house, for example.
The title of the series – Love Compton Verney – was inspired by the passion that members of staff, volunteers and visitors have for Compton Verney. In each case, we sought to let the personal nature of the speaker’s enthusiasm shine through.
Tomlinson says: "My approach to making these films is first to have a chat with each contributor and hear them describe what they love about Compton Verney. We have lined up a range of different voices with different backgrounds and some are more used to talking about their subjects than others.
“The key is to pick a style and format that they are going to be comfortable with. My aim is to capture each contributor's passion, using professional filmmaking techniques that assist them in telling their story.
“It is also important that these films work visually, so coming up with a strong picture sequence that engages the audience is essential. Fortunately, the objects and locations at Compton Verney are stunningly photogenic, so this is quite easy.”
Filming takes place over a number of days, and working to relatively short lead times has enabled us to capture and share events as they happened – from aconites bursting into flower to hedge-planting to encourage a diverse ecology. These have been interspersed with less time-specific films on objects in the collection, some of which have been released to link with news items or national anniversaries.
Filming on site during the third lockdown has meant that additional precautions had to be taken.
Tomlinson says: "There are established film industry protocols that we adopt. These include filming outdoors when possible, using a one-person film crew, wearing masks, sanitising hands and equipment and using longer lenses than normal to maintain safe distancing. With a bit of ingenuity, keeping everyone safe has not greatly hindered us in the making of these films."
The films have been a key testing ground on our longer journey to improved digital engagement and developing our social media brand. It has been helpful to be guided in this by a professional filmmaker; we have learnt that making engaging digital content is not as simple as pointing a camera at a speaker.
The films have provided a vital link to the collections and grounds during the pandemic, but their usefulness will not end when we reopen our doors. Much of the footage can be repurposed for the collection pages of our website, providing richer, three-dimensional information on some of the objects in the collection. Posting the films on the blog section of our website means that engagement grows with each new release.
Comments suggest that the films have been “uplifting on dark days” and have taken viewers “on a journey to a different world and a different place” – surely one of the best outcomes we can hope for when digitising the gallery experience.
Amy Orrock is senior curator at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park