Friday, July 31, 2015

Phantassie Setting: Preston Mill and its Outlander Fame


Outlander’s Claire and Jamie. Photo source – the National Trust for Scotland

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot, which have been in the care of the NTS since 1950, have recently received an influx of new visitors and increased international attention due to their starring role in the hit TV drama series, Outlander, by author Diana Gabaldon. Lead characters Jamie, Jenny, and Claire can be seen in Episodes 112 and 113, playing out key scenes around the picturesque red-roofed buildings at the popular NTS location.

The critically acclaimed TV series, which was filmed entirely on location in Scotland, features the Category A listed Mill alongside several other iconic Scottish buildings selected to provide the backdrops for the popular fantasy time-travelling tale. In fact, the NTS has put together a handy ‘Discovering Outlander’ guide, which allows fans to travel in the footsteps of the show’s stars, Claire and Jamie. You can download this fantastic guide here.

NTS Property Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot in East Lothian.

Since hitting screens in 2014, Outlander has gathered a global fan base. So much so, that tour groups have flocked to the East Lothian region to visit the NTS Property, Preston Mill, for a chance to see – and have their picture taken – against the now famed backdrop featured in their favorite show! With its quaint red-tiled roofs and fast-running stream nearby, the Mill is instantly recognizable from its screen debut. Given the heightened publicity and audience reach, NTS staff members are simply delighted with the extremely positive impact and rejuvenation of foot traffic and general community buzz about Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot.

Given the 17th century Mill’s distinctive silhouette, it is unsurprising that it was chosen to star in some of Outlander’s most pivotal exterior scenes, including in the flash-forward 1940’s narrative. On screen, the mill becomes part of the Jamie’s family home – The Fraser Estate aka Lallybroch. A particularly memorable and tense moment occurs when an unclothed Jamie hides in the mill race (pond) from the Redcoats.

Having been approached by the local miller to help repair the broken Mill, while visiting his family home, Jamie is initially seen inside the Mill, attempting to fix the problem with a hammer, to no avail. His character resorts to jumping into the water, alongside the Mill wheel, to try and fix it from there! While chest-level deep in water, the mounted Redcoats appear in the distance, agitated and determined to find him. Luckily, characters Claire and Jenny spot the threat in advance and hastily arrange their long skirts to cover the pile of Jamie’s discarded clothes. Now alerted to the looming danger, Jamie takes a very deep breath and hides underwater, foiling the Redcoats.

Another exciting plot scene was filmed in the property’s Exhibition Room. Here the space was transformed to look like the ante room at the court; the location of the preliminary trial for Claire and Gellis Duncan following witchcraft allegations. Two nail-biting events!

NTS’s Preston Mill

The recent wave of publicity though the hit TV series, Outlander, is not the first time that Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot have received such admiration for their stunning aesthetic qualities. In fact, long before their presence hit silver screens across the world, the properties served as a muse in the late 19th to early 20th century for Scottish artists. Most notably, acclaimed artists Robert Miller and William Miller Frazer have both featured the Mill in their paintings. Today, artists still regularly set up their easels among the grounds to capture the property’s unique beauty and form.

Over the course of 10 days in June 2014, 150 cast and crew members from the hit TV show Outlander set up camp at the NTS Property Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, to film some of the first season’s most pivotal scenes.

In this special post, we give our readers an exclusive behind the scenes glimpse of what happened when Outlander met Preston Mill…

Before the cameras were rolling…

Several aspects of the Preston Mill property had to be altered to make it aesthetically suitable as the backdrop to fit author Diana Gabaldon’s plot. For example, in order to convincingly transform the Mill into part of the 18th-century Lallybroch estate, some structural site changes took place – namely, removing all signs of 21st -century life – including modern fencing, signage, and even gates! Several trees and bushes were then drafted on-site and tactically positioned around the Mill, in order to conceal the nearby urbanized road and houses.

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot site seen from above with neighboring village and infrastructure. Image via Google Maps

Conversely, some 18th -century implements were added to the set by the film crew, including the construction of an animal pen. During Preston Mill’s operational period, it has been said that its miller kept 3 pigs. The producers certainly did their research! To continue to boost authenticity and set the scene, burlap sacks were piled high, and a wooden cart was also added.

The crew then undertook a little horticultural work and kindly trimmed the nettles surrounding the mill pond so that the unclothed Jamie wouldn’t get stung on his way in and out of the water!

Some of the historic props drafted in to set the scene. Image via: Pinterest

As one of the well-placed final touches, set designers covered the interior of the Mill with flour to make it appear like just another day-in-the-life at an authentic working mill. In reality, Preston Mill stopped its commercial activity back in 1959.

Undoubtedly one of the most demanding physical changes on set involved artificially raising the water table on the mill race (pond) – from 12-18 inches to 5 feet – in order that it be deep enough for the heroic Jamie to plunge into. This task was skillfully achieved through a combination of man-made dams and controlled flooding. Luckily for actor Sam Heughan, the filming took place in June – however, as we Scots know all too well, it can’t have been easy to act out a whole scene in what would have still been close to freezing water!!

Outlander’s Jamie striding past Preston Mill. Image via: Blogspot
Lights, camera, action!

After a few labor intensive days of set dressing, the Mill was ready for its close-up…but not without an inevitable hitch seconds before the cameras started rolling…

The Redcoats approach on horseback. Image via: Outlander Online

Once Jamie had jumped into the water, the director gave the command for the English Army to gallop onto the set for the episode’s critical ambush scene. However, this turned out to pose a somewhat unforeseen problem – many of the actors had never even ridden a horse before! Needless to say, the filming was halted; a period of intensive riding lessons ensued for the Redcoats to get up to standard before filming could resume! Eventually, after much practice, a few of the Redcoats managed to approach the mill at a respectable ‘trot’! Through the magic of film, canny directing, and unbeknownst to the viewers at home, the horses’ grooms were positioned just out of sight, ready to rush in and help many of actors halt their horses when the camera wasn’t looking!

Jamie in the freezing mill pond – rather him than us! Image via Outlander Online

They say “beauty is pain”…and well, for the sake of art and capturing this next shot, it would appear that all notions of health and safety were cast aside to shoot the brave young Jamie inside the workings of the Mill, attempting to repair the damage using a hammer. For this shot, the cameraman was wedged into a tight space between the fanner and the gears, with his head just a few inches away from the moving parts of machinery! The situation could have potentially become disastrous, but thankfully the experienced crew member held steady and emerged without a scratch, while the director was able to shout, “that’s a wrap”!
That’s a wrap!

During the filming period, the property was closed to the general public, but with the production complete, Preston Mill’s dedicated conservation team set about restoring the site back to its original appearance. Wheel blades were replaced, the flooded mill pond was drained, and all gates, signs, and fences were carefully put back in place in preparation for everyday visitors and NTS members to once more enjoy Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot!

Jamie and Claire visit Preston Mill whilst at Lallybroch. Image via: Blogspot

During the re-setting of the property, the NTS conservation team decided that the flour, which had been tactfully dusted around the interior of the Mill, provided a nice addition to the authenticity of the room’s original purpose. As such, they decided to leave the set designer’s work alone, in the hope that its presence would help visitors to envisage the now unused mill back in its working days. Although a great visual addition to the story, before long the flour turned black and mouldy, attracting some very unwelcome visitors – not Redcoats this time, but rats! The flour swiftly becoming cement-like in its consistency; luckily, the conservation team at the property were able to expertly remove all traces of the flour without damaging any of the Mill’s original 17th-century materials.

Character’s Claire and Jenny saved the day – crisis averted! Image via: Pinterest
Fame, fortune, and funding

In April 2015, the scenes filmed at Preston Mill appeared on screens across the world, and visitor numbers subsequently soared! Fans from around the world began flocking to the NTS property to see where the famous mill pond scene was filmed. This special NTS property is still experiencing a surge in visitor numbers and enjoying the international attention that the TV show has propelled.

Behind-the scenes-Outlander shots: Preston Mill’s close up!

Here at NTSUSA, we have managed to get our hands on some exclusive never before seen photos taken over the course of the 10 day filming period at Preston Mill!

We’ve already told you all of the filming secrets and tales, so, as our last blog post on the subject, we thought it would only be fair to share a few special photographs with the dedicated Outlander fans who have enjoyed our two previous posts!

Becoming Lallybroch: Preston Mill’s Outlander makeover
A Phantassie setting: Preston Mill and its Outlander fame
Step back in time with us, to June 2014 and beyond, to the fictitious happenings of 270 years ago…

As seen in the above photos, the NTS property was completely taken over by the production! We have it on good authority that the already small parking lot became even more of a squeeze than usual with all of Outlander’s trailers, rental vehicles and equipment!

The set designers get to work transforming the surroundings of the Mill! Here they can be seen hard at work, erasing any evidence of 21st century life, by covering up tell-tale signs with tactically placed trees and props!

Even fences and posts were temporarily removed! On the right, the crew receive directions on how to take Preston Mill back in time.

The mill’s wheels were no exception; flour is dusted on the interior wheel, while the set designers get the outer wheel ready for its close up! It appears that one member of the crew even lost his head during the process (above right)!

Lights, camera, action! A meeting of old and new: extra lights are added to the roof of the mill.

The novice Redcoat riders receive a lesson or two on horseback before the filming begins…

Actor Sam Heughan discussing his next shot – perhap he is expressing his apprehension at having to jump in the freezing water?!

Stars Caitriona Balfe and Laura Donnelly (Claire and Jenny) prepare for their next scene.

The inner exhibition room appears as an ante-room for the preliminary witchcraft hearing – the second scene filmed at Preston Mill.

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