Britain’s Coastal Railways With Dame Julie Walters

The whole LA Media team was utterly buzzing when we received a call from Alaska TV to come work with them on Channel Four’s new four-part documentary series, ‘Britain’s Coastal Railways with Julie Walters’. This documentary will see Julie take the train for a magical mystery tour around our shores, getting lost in dramatic landscapes, uncovering surprising historical secrets and discovering how life really can be a beach.

This project would require us to travel all over Scotland and the North of England with our drone dream team. The project seemed like a seriously exciting job and the fact we got to work with such a legendary actress like Julie was just the icing on the cake!

drone photography by LA Media

Drone Photography By LA Media  


Trainspotting: Drones, Trains, and Maths

Most of our flying involved the drone team being in the right place at the right time. We had to time it to ensure that our drone was in the perfect spot to capture a specific train as it passed by.

Believe it or not, Trainspotting is much harder than you’d think. Without amazing office support and live-updates on the train schedule, we’d never have managed it. So we’d like to take a moment to appreciate our fantastic office based support team.

The goal was to film Julie travelling on the train through a particular bit of stunning countryside. So, in short, we had to estimate when the train would be at a certain point in the track and get the drone ready to meet it. It was right back to math class for us!

drone photography of via duct train by LA Media for Britain's coastal railways

Drone Photography By LA Media ‘Drone image of Glenfinnan Viaduct’ 


Drones, Batteries and Other Hiccups

One minor hiccup we encountered on this shoot was when we tried to film The Jacobite steam train. You may know this train better from its break out role in the Harry Potter movies as the Hogwarts Express. Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84-mile round trip passes numerous impressive landmarks and jaw-dropping scenery.

We had to film the Jacobite using our drone as crossed the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Inverness-shire in Scotland. We had one chance to get this right or we’d have to face the production team without the goods in the can! We had a total Bart Simpson moment as we tried to calculate at what time the train would be in place.

illustration of Bart Simpson doing mental mathmatics

Actual image of LA Media trying to do the math


Once we established the best drone take-out time we gave ourselves a little extra time to be sure we were ready and waiting for the train. However, as with all best-laid plans – the train was not on time. It should have arrived by 10.01 but as late as 10.10 the train still hadn’t chugged its way round the bend.


A Calculated Risk

We kept the drone in the air, hovering all the while watching the flight battery power running down. Eventually, we had to make the decision about changing the Inspire flight battery to avoid the drone performing a low power battery descent of its own accord.

The risk was obvious in that if we landed – would we miss the train crossing the bridge?  This was a one chance shot so we decided to go for the change of battery and take the risk.

The risk was obvious in that if we landed – would we miss the train crossing the bridge?  As previously mentioned this was a one-shot opportunity, we could hardly ask the train to back up and do it again! We decided to go for the change of battery and take the risk.

drone photography of road with car by LA Media

Drone Photography By LA Media 


It was one of the fastest battery changes we’ve ever done. To change the battery we had to return, land, change the battery, take-off again and then get back into holding position to film the train as it went over the viaduct.

Like a well-oiled seasoned Formula One pit crew we got that drone back in the air in the nick of time! Just as we got the Inspire in position we spotted The Jacobite breaking from the tree line and approaching the viaduct.


An Extra Spanner in the Works

You might have thought the white plume of steam from the train would have been a good indicator as to where the train was – but not today.

The steam was minimal as the train was traveling slowly in order to cross the viaduct safely and it was blowing only a translucent grey smoke from its funnel, which was almost impossible to see on our monitors.

However, all is well that ends well, and we captured a great developing shot of the train as it crossed over the Viaduct.

drone photography of via duct railway by LA MediaDrone Photography By LA Media  


And Finally…

Everyone we worked with on this shoot was amazing and we had a great time with the crew from Alaska TV.

Now you know what they say about not meeting your heroes right? Well, that couldn’t be less true in this situation! Julie was honestly a lovely, down to earth, endearing actress to work with.

She was even kind enough to pose for a picture with our director Justin on his birthday during the shoot. She also made time for her fans to sign autographs – they were thrilled to see her out and about in Scotland. She had a great disposition no matter what the Scottish weather threw at us! We’d love to work with her again.


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