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On Monday, July 20th, the Montpelier Archaeology Department appeared on the National Geographic Channel’s Diggers television program. This program has been an issue of contention for archaeologists and metal detectorists alike, but efforts by SHA and other archaeological organizations to work with National Geographic and the National Geographic Channel have led to a show that melds archaeology and metal detecting together. As participants in these conversations, and as advocates for the collaboration of archaeology and metal detecting Montpelier decided to put ourselves forward as one of a handful of archaeological sites willing to have a show filmed at our site. In this blog, wanted to provide some tips and strategies we used to ensure the filming was successful (you can watch the entire episode below).
First and foremost, we found that the production team, from the exective producer down to the film crew, wanted to cooperate with the goals we had for filming. In terms of the actors, Ringy and KG are both very intelligent folks who are skilled metal detectorists with an earnest interest in material culture, sites, and bringing the joy of discovery to the public, all elements we have in common. And finally, the newly hired archaeologist, Dr. Marc Henshaw, is a fantastic guy with great experience who serves as an excellent liaison between the film team and the project. With this said, we found the following guidelines as essential for a successful production.
Establish with the field film crew the ground rules. We had three areas we wanted to reinforce:
With these parameters clearly established, the film crew and the actors knew exactly what to expect—and this guided what the field producer looked for in terms of entertainment and improv from the guys–and in the end built methdology and teamwork into the shows storyline.
For preparation for the shoot, pick a site where you know you can get results in a short amount of time–that way you control the content of the project and the show. This is the reason we chose the stable–we knew we would recover artifacts related to tack material (horse shoes, nails, buckles, etc) and had a high chance of finding enough material culture to establish patterns. While the survey was real and the info we gained was new, we chose an area we had very high confidence in, and had poked around before.
Make sure that you can process the finds to the point to show the importance of provenience: in the field, we made sure we were able to complete an entire 60′ x 60′ survey block and had time to shoot the points in with the transit, data enter the field catalogue of items, and plot these on maps by the end of the week. This was of critical importance since the assessment needs to happen while the film crew is still on site, in our case, this happened the Saturday morning following the final day (Friday) in the field. Having a plot map with the patterns already established meant the assessment was more than just a glorified artifact display, but presented the data behind all the work carried out to record location.
The Digger’s production crew clearly wanted to capture the elements we discussed—they just needed to get the results while they were in the field. Also, what is shot in the field has to well thought out enough to make sense to the editors in the office—these are two different teams, and the only communication that occurs between the field and office is the executive producer—so capturing quality shots, quotes, and messages in the field that flow together into a larger story is absolutely essential. In the end, know that getting results from about 3–4 days in the field that are suitable for a prime-time reality TV show entails a lot of work and preparation. Once the film crew arrives you have to be on top of your game with very little margin for error. For the production shoot we held at Montpelier, the staging of the work and results would have been impossible without having a trained and dedicated archaeological staff to assist through the process.
The final item to realize is that while the production team is allowing review of content during production, there it is almost impossible to shoot new material once the film crew is done with the shoot. As such, make sure your message is caught on film—both in anecdotal clips in the field and definitely in the assessment. Review this message with your staff, and make sure it is said over and over again, whenever anyone is on camera. We talked with our staff and Expedition members about what we wanted to message, so that they were prepared when the camera was in their face. In the case of the final assessment, it occurred to me during in the middle of shooting how to play Ringy and KG off one another to make the point regarding negative data. What this required was complete immersion in the final product—both in terms of us (as archaeologists) and the production team.
This is critical. We could not have done all the work we did without having a sizeable staff that is well trained in metal detector survey, in addition to a full expedition program that included 9 additional metal detectorists and 6 visiting archaeologists. We have been working with metal detectorists for years through our public programs, and even employ two metal detector technicians on our staff. We had no concerns about using metal detecting as a survey tool, the efficacy of our methods, our ability to work with KG and Ringy once they arrived on site, or with how to excavate, record, bag, flag, tag, and catalogue objects: our methodology is tried and tested, and our staff executes it regularly. The only thing that was new to us were the TV cameras. We made sure to prepare our staff and expedition members for appropriate messaging, language, and other elements so that they were all ready to be on camera.
If you haven’t built relationships or worked with metal detectorists before, then the television program could be a lot of learning for you and your staff all at once. We’d strongly encourage you to attend one of our upcoming Metal Detector Expeditions to learn our methodology and also how to work with members of the metal detecting community, particularly if you are interested in doing the Diggers Program. We have designed these programs to provide a space for archaeologists and metal detector hobbiests to collaborate, and, more importantly, to learn how to collaborate. Having confidence in the methods and understanding the community you are working with will ensure that you can focus on getting your message through.
Working with the Diggers program was an incredibly rewarding experience, as have all our Expedition Programs. In truth, it has made our Expedition Programs better. For example, having results at the end of the week is not ever something we have done before: we believe the entire Expedition learned more about context by seeing the results of the survey at the end of the week then by us explaining what we would be using the data for in the future. From a larger perspective, it is our hope that participating in the Diggers show has allowed the public to also learn about what archaeology is, and what the collaboration between metal detectorists and archaeologists can look like when done through empathy, collaboration, and hard work.