A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to sit down for an interview with Thomas Duke, who runs the Instagram account @steppingthroughfilm, which you may have seen floating around the film portion of the internet. The account spotlights filming locations of many beloved movies and series, including Sex Education and Hot Fuzz, providing in depth exploration of the integration of our world into on-screen ones. We spoke about his process, his cinematic inspirations, and of course the most important question – which Hogwarts house is he in.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Firstly, this account is massive to say the least – I’d like to know what spurred its creation, because I read that you studied film at university, so were filming locations something that always stood out to you in particular, amongst the many aspects that make up a film?
“Yes! I studied film at university and I guess that allowed me a lot of time to kind of visit some locations and explore more of that aspect of it. I visited London a lot so that was where it kind of stems from ’cause I was able to travel into London and obviously there’s so many locations in the city – kind of a scene around every corner – and so that allowed me to start small in the city and then I slowly expanded through there. It’s just amazing to see the reality of a film isn’t it, it’s fun to see how it went from the screen and how it was born from just a street to a cinema, and I just find that really interesting.”
As much as you’re willing to divulge, what’s the creative process like for your posts and Instagram stories – especially for your Instagram stories they tend to be quite detailed and almost commentary-like? Particularly, how do you find locations if they aren’t readily identified online?[Regarding the first question] “I sometimes think I say too much, but stories are such a fun feature because you’re able to add a lot more to a post and videos, and write stuff to expand on their location. My process is to research the film I’m doing for that day and then have a massive Word document with facts and quotes and all of that and then merge that into stories. It’s fun to research, and I like to share a bit more instead of just the post and location.” [Regarding the second question] “Sometimes that’s quite hard – obviously cities and places with landmarks in it are quite easy, but some smaller streets might just have a sign or something right at the back and you just have to keep pausing the video and pausing the screen to pinpoint the sign. If it’s set in London but filmed in America, there might be an American lamppost or something, and then from there you start researching American-based things and…it gets a bit confusing but it’s just about finding the little details in the scene to pinpoint a harder one really. It’s quite tedious sometimes, but when you find out where it is, that’s it – you got that whole scene to go and visit.”
What has been the wildest or most exciting opportunity that has come about as a result of running the account?
“I suppose just being able to connect with lots of other cinema lovers and film lovers is amazing, and shows just how wonderful the world of film is. Also being able to collaborate with places like BAFTA, directors, and different companies is kind of a dream come true really. This started as a hobby, and it’s still a hobby but it’s also a bit of a job here and there which is quite nice.”
On the flipside, what have been some challenges that you’ve faced in the process (apart from finding the locations)?
“The weather is sometimes painful – if it’s raining then I can’t really do anything unless it’s inside. I guess access is another thing, and permission in certain places. I always try to get in contact ahead of time because of course sometimes I can’t just photograph any place. Sometimes it has taken months and months to get access to a location, with lots of planning and contact to carry out the photos, but then it’s all worth it in the end when you finally get to enter that building or go into that school.”
So for certain ones, at least, you do have to plan quite far in advance at times?
“With some locations, yeah. Luckily, with London streets you can just kind of pop over if you need to get [a photo] but sometimes it’s just the case of thinking ahead and seeing what you might need to plan really.”
You’ve been to many places, both within the UK and outside. If you had to choose just one, which location in the UK has been the most memorable or outstanding to you and why?
“Well there’s so many. I think Durham Cathedral, up in Durham. That’s been really stuck in my mind, maybe because it’s just magnificent. But also because it’s Hogwarts, and was used in Avengers: Endgame. It’s all been in one building, which is quite magnificent to see it standing in for something like Hogwarts and Asgard – an alien world and a magical world, so that’s quite a location with lots of history. Also Hogsmeade station is not too far from there either [laughs].”
On that note, is there an international location – or locations – that you’d like to visit once Covid restrictions ease further?
“Yeah definitely, there’s so much out there. I think Iceland is one I’d love to go to so much. It looks amazing and so many films were filmed there like Interstellar, Batman, and Thor, so that’s definitely one. New Zealand I suppose as well.”
I was reading your piece with MyLondon, talking about how Covid restrictions both limited you but also made you go out even more in the UK and see even more places than usual.
“Yeah, [lockdown and restrictions] made me appreciate what’s around me more. Especially in the UK, it’s incredible how much we have here in terms of filming locations and the film industry, so we’re really lucky with the scope of what we have. So it kind of was restricted, but it allowed me to celebrate the UK.”
Earlier this year, you got the chance to interview director of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Destin Daniel Cretton and star Fala Chen. How was that experience for you? I saw in a post that you did your dissertation on the MCU, so you must be a fan of Marvel.
“I mean I love the MCU and it’s been around for so long, and I kind of grew up with it, and so to be able to get to interview anybody from it was really fun. Quite nerve wracking, but it was a really fun thing to do and getting the chance to just talk about the locations and [other things] so that was a really nice experience.”
Moving on to more light-hearted questions – next year marks 5 years since you started the account. Any plans to celebrate yet?
“That probably would have been like October I think… I don’t know I’ll probably just forget and then just carry on as normal, but thank you for asking! [laughs]”
Living near London, you have access to so many things concentrated around Film & TV – especially with the range of cinemas. Do you have a particular cinema you love to go to, and perhaps recommend others to check out?
“My favourite cinema is actually the Picturehouse Central. I don’t know if you’ve been there before, but it’s in Piccadilly Circus and it’s part of the Picturehouse cinema chain and it’s just lovely. It’s a bit of a smaller cinema and they have a few dotted around London…just Picturehouse in general. I love the feel of it – it’s not a huge chain and feels quite intimate and nice, and the seats are lovely as well and yeah so that’s a lovely one. I love that.”
Who are some of your favourite directors?
“Oh hard question, I love so many. I’ve got to think of some interesting ones…I mean I love Edgar Wright – he’s always my go to ’cause I love what he’s created with the Cornetto trilogy and especially location-wise, how he created these fun little worlds just around a village or town in Hertfordshire, or a little town in Bristol and Wells with Hot Fuzz. It’s fun seeing what he’s done and how he’s slowly created Baby Driver and then Last Night In Soho, so it’s fun watching a director grow and create such fun movies really.
Of course with Dune – Denis Villeneuve. I love him, I love his work. I think Arrival is one of my favourite films. I love everything he does with visuals and storytelling and everything like that so he’s definitely up there. I can’t think of any others…I love so many. [I go on to assure him he’s picked two brilliant directors].”
As the year comes to a close, what has been your favourite film of 2021 so far and perhaps maybe your favourite TV show at the moment?
“I should’ve googled some quickly because there’ve been so many this year, and there were some that really stuck out to me. Oh yes, A Quiet Place: Part 2 I adored, because I love Emily Blunt and the first film. I felt like it was really ramped up and I loved the technicalities of it and how it made quite a simple story interesting so effectively. And the sound design and the journey through a really dystopian setting…I love that film. So probably that one if I can’t think of another one, yeah.
At the moment I’m actually rewatching How I Met Your Mother ’cause I watched it like, I think it must have been years ago. I got through Friends again, but now How I Met Your Mother so I’m kind of slowly going through that. It’s a fun one and just easy to watch.”
Lastly, seeing that you are a fan of Harry Potter, and as is mandatory to ask any Harry Potter fan, which house are you in?
“I’m a Hufflepuff. I think after Fantastic Beasts and Newt Scamander, I really loved the character of Newt and then I found out I was a Hufflepuff. So, yeah Hufflepuff.”