Filming a huge Netflix series like The Witcher is a monumental enterprise in any circumstances. Add in coronavirus restrictions, unseasonably wet weather, and a World Heritage Site as a major location, and it becomes even more complicated.
In October and November of 2020 around 250 cast and crew moved into a vast unit base in the overflow car park of Fountains Abbey to prepare for a packed couple of weeks of filming.
With a mixture of medieval atmospheric ruins and Georgian gardens filled with crashing cascades and eerie statues, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal made for the perfect backdrop for season 2 of the fantasy drama.
Cast, crew and National Trust staff and conservators filmed scenes over different parts of the estate, with elaborate sets constructed in Studley Royal and the abbey nave.
The teams worked around the clock, with shooting taking place throughout the night in freezing conditions as well as in the daytime.
The main challenge of filming at an important historical site is ensuring that there is no impact on the buildings or landscape. To do this, specialist filming conservators were enlisted to look at plans and be onsite to consistently monitor the wonderful special effects being used to create the dramatic scenes in the upcoming series. Everything from monitoring the heat of the controlled fires to the types of greenery used had to be carefully considered to allow the filming to take place.
Justin Scully, General Manager of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal says:
It was great to see such an exciting amount of activity happening onsite last year. Filming for The Witcher was by far the largest scale filming we’ve ever had here at Fountains. Our visitors really enjoyed seeing such a big production happening around the property and had fun guessing what was being filmed, which we had to keep confidential at the time.
There was a huge amount of work that went on behind the scenes to make it all happen. We worked for months with the production team from Netflix as well as specialist filming conservators so that we could ensure the safety of visitors, staff and of course the abbey and water garden.
We know that being a location for Film and TV productions helps us reach large, and often new audiences because we get so many questions from people inspired to visit after they see us on screen.
We always consider what we at the National Trust call ‘spirit of place’ before we agree to any filming here, and we’ve turned down opportunities in the past which don’t feel quite right for Fountains.
The location fees we received will be reinvested to help carry out essential work and keep Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal special for generations to come. It’s wonderful to see these opportunities raise the profile of this special place and contribute to looking after it too.
Although under 2020 coronavirus regulations, the filming was able to take place in line with guidance from The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Covid-secure filming was able to continue in England and the cast, crew and NT team who worked in the closed set were covid tested before regularly filming and the areas used closed off to visitors.
Fountains Abbey has often been used as a location for filming. In recent years parts of the iconic World Heritage site have been transformed into Greenwich Palace (Anne Boleyn, Channel 5, 2021) the explosive depths of the houses of parliament (Gunpowder, BBC1, 2017) and a famously Secret Garden (Sky Cinema 2020). Filming fees from these projects have contributed to repairs to the historic fabric of the river walls and landscaping work that helped towards restoring Studley Royal to its eighteenth-century heyday.
The Witcher, season 2 will premiere on Netflix on Friday 17 December. Season 1 is streaming now.