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Locations & Productions
Your next location for film/video/photo and commercial productions!
Thank you for considering Mystic Seaport as a location. Mystic Seaport is a location including historic tall ships and buildings, a waterfront village, and a working shipyard. In addition, we're a resource for resident experts in maritime history, including a world-class research library with impressive collections of historic documents and visuals, and skilled craftsmen and shipbuilders.
What's more, additional materials and resources are available to meet your production needs. For an additional fee, we have 1870's focused costumes, boat rentals, and limited props. Our first priority is the visitor. We recommend a site visit prior to production in order to be sure all needs and expectations can be met. The Museum is open year-round and while projects may be possible in any season, the size and scope of the project will affect how and when we can accommodate your work.
If you are interested in using Mystic Seaport as a location, please review our Guidelines for Film/Video/Photo and Commercial Productions at Mystic Seaport and Application for Film/Video/Photography Productions at Mystic Seaport. Contact Sarah Spencer in our Locations & Productions Department if you have any questions.
Mail: Sarah Spencer, Locations & Productions, Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave.,
P.O. Box 6000, Mystic, CT 06355-0990.
Mystic Seaport Location Credits
(Partial List) Click here for printable version.
"Henry May Long," (Indie)
"Gangs of New York"
"Mystic Nights and Pirate Fights"
Federal Express Commercial
CBS Sunday Morning
Good Morning America
Connecticut Department of Tourism (Commercial)
Ric Burns, Steeplechase Film
The History Channel
National Park Service &
The History Channel
Connecticut Public Television
Coastal Living Magazine
Ladies Home Journal
Tiffany's - boat rental
Lights, Camera, Action!
How Hollywood Reels in Maritime History at Mystic Seaport
by Erin Richard
A momentary escape from reality. An entry into the past. A glimpse of a better future. Despite the rising cost of tickets in today's uncertain economy, we faithfully flock to movie theaters. Films allow us to briefly walk in someone else's shoes, providing a gateway into a moment that we would otherwise not be privy to. Well, films provide this... and so does Mystic Seaport.
The moment visitors step onto Museum grounds, they are transported to a re-created 19th-century seafaring village alive with the clip-clopping of hooves, the pounding of iron in the shipsmith's shop and the creaking of old ships. Each authentic detail found within Mystic Seaport helps bring a bygone era to life and create a picture of yesteryear -- and it is this exact picture that draws many of Hollywood's elite to the Museum.
From Steven Spielberg to Ric Burns, directors across the nation have chosen Mystic Seaport as their cinematic backdrop for decades, dating as far back as 1956, when John Huston used Museum grounds to film scenes for his maritime epic Moby Dick. The productions have since run the gamut: from Spielberg's large scale blockbuster Amistad to Burns' upcoming documentary Into the Deep: America, Whaling and the World to smaller, yet just as noteworthy credits, which include commercials and segments on network and cable television stations.
"No place in the country is as real as Mystic Seaport," said Burns. "The Museum is not a theme park facsimile of the past; the past is actually there. From scampering up the shrouds of a ship to demonstrating how to set a sail, the people who work at Mystic Seaport -- the interns, docents, staff -- they all help you to understand a bygone part of American history. There is a free masonry of living historians who make their home at Mystic Seaport, and I find it incredibly moving each time I walk onto the campus."
Burns admits he was driven to Mystic Seaport for "professional reasons," feeling confident that the living history museum could indeed provide the ideal setting for Into the Deep, a whaling documentary scheduled to premiere in the spring of 2010 on PBS's American Experience series. But as soon as filming began aboard the Charles W. Morgan in September of 2007, Burns found he had instantly become a "grateful patron."
Into the Deep details American whaling when it was at its peak, an era when whale oil was used to fuel the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, this fact has basically been forgotten by the general public, said Burns. Filming aboard the nation's last wooden whaleship helped the documentarian bring this history back to life.
"There were once 3,000- plus whaleships; they were the space shuttles of their day," said the documentarian. "They weren't around for their beauty or their speed, but for their durability. Now that only one remains -- the Charles W. Morgan -- that's a startling fact. I feel so grateful to Mystic Seaport as an institution for caring for this treasure, and grateful to the men and women who keep her and the Museum alive."
As respectful stewards of this National Historic Landmark vessel, Mystic Seaport shares the Morgan, her history and the Museum with film crews in hopes of sparking a new generation's interest in America's seafaring past. Along with sharing this history comes a vital responsibility to maintain the institution's historic integrity -- a responsibility that for the past 10 years has belonged to Sarah Spencer, Mystic Seaport's locations and productions manager.
"It's important for film companies to understand Mystic Seaport's limitations, which is often a challenge for productions that have their own focus," said Spencer. "Many of these film crews are used to dealing with a sound stage -- not a museum that has parameters."
Along with carefully guarding the Museum's vessels, buildings and collections, Spencer must also take into consideration Mystic Seaport's dual role as an attraction, doing her best to remind film crews that their presence must not interfere with a visitor's experience.
"I try to steer production companies into filming at Mystic Seaport during the shoulder season -- late September through early April when the grounds are quieter and more manageable," said Spencer. This seasonal stipulation is a key factor in the Museum's two-page "Guidelines for Film/Video/Photo and Commercial Productions" document that all prospective film companies must abide by. The document also states that "preference is given to feature, documentary and news productions that depict Mystic Seaport in an educational, historical or tourism context," and that "commercial productions are evaluated based on the nature of the project, its subject, distribution method and the manner in which the Museum is represented."
"Though the Museum does give preferential consideration to documentaries and educational programs before commercial projects, the list of productions and photo shoots that have occurred on the grounds has varied tremendously," said Spencer.
Not all requests to use Mystic Seaport as a backdrop are permitted.
"We always get the call from some student who wants to shoot a music video on the Morgan or someone who owns their own pirate production group who decides, 'Hey, let's go film at Mystic Seaport,' " said Spencer. "A lot of people think that we're a public park and they don't understand that the Museum is privately owned. Once this is explained to them, people realize the different limitations that we have and they're okay with that."
Spencer acknowledges that the main component in the smoothness of film shoots at Mystic Seaport is due to the Museum's employees.
"Mystic Seaport's staff is well indoctrinated on filming procedures," noted Spencer. "Filming on grounds can require a lot of internal juggling -- from the Facilities Department emptying the trash much earlier than normal in the morning to coordinating around the many educational programs that are held on the Conrad -- staff members understand these issues can become a challenge
and they are always flexible and accommodating. They are the best people I've ever worked with."
Whether it's adjusting their daily schedule or stepping in at a moment's notice, Museum employees help out when needed.
"The shipyard staff has always been phenomenally helpful in shoots," praised Spencer. "If there's a certain sound issue because the shipyard is running a planer while a production company is filming, I'll call Dean Seder [shipyard supervisor] and ask if the machines can run at another time, and the noise will stop almost immediately."
And though Mystic Seaport's village and waterfront are seemingly perfect, there are still those moments when a director's vision requires just a little bit more, a task that calls upon the diverse talent and skills of the Museum's staff.
"When we need to populate the river, I give Doug Butler a call and he'll sail the Breck Marshall back and forth for however long is necessary," said Spencer.
Other staff members step in to sail boats or climb rigging if required for a specific scene, a tricky feat that actors are not allowed to perform. On several occasions, female employees have doubled as male actors, demonstrating their ability to transform into 19th-century sailors at a moment's notice.
Though the essence of Mystic Seaport is woven throughout all of the productions filmed on grounds, the cinematic regions, characters and themes highly vary. In December of 2005, the Museum's waterfront was transformed for a Federal Express
commercial, requiring four hundred pounds of lobsters and two days of filming during single-digit temperatures. The finished product? A 30-second telecast depicting Maine lobstermen unloading their morning catch on a bright, cold morning.
Undoubtedly, the most well-known Mystic Seaport transformation to date occurred during the filming of Amistad, Spielberg's depiction of the historic 1839 mutiny aboard the ill-fated Baltimore Clipper and the legal battle that soon followed The Academy Award-winning film director discovered the Museum while scouting locations for Amistad in New Haven, CT, and quickly decided that Mystic Seaport was the exact locale he needed for his film.
"The difference in the appearance of Mystic Seaport was phenomenal," said Spencer. "The Museum came alive."
Spielberg, his crew and the Museum staff worked together to create the director's vision of an 1839 seafaring village, making it as authentic as possible -- down to the last drop.
"Spielberg brought in bourbon barrels to be used in some of the scenes," recalled Spencer. "When his crew left, they left behind the barrels, which we discovered had actual bourbon in them. For the longest time, I had a peanut butter jar at home filled with bourbon."
When reinventing a faraway time and place, the entertainment industry spares no expense. It would undeniably be cheaper and easier for film crews to shoot on a sound stage in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, but would it be authentic? Would a team of knowledgeable artisans be on hand to answer questions and step in when needed? Probably not. Hollywood recognizes that in order to paint the perfect picture, it must be genuine. And being genuine is what Mystic Seaport is all about.