PM’s Digital Hollywood sits down with director Marc Forster to find out how the director tackled the latest Bond flick’s hardcore action scenes. Forget green screen and fans – Forster took Daniel Craig to a wind tunnel.
Nefarious villains, beautiful women and action, action, action: these are all key components of a James Bond film. But could a director who has more indie cred than smash-and-awe experience tackle ? “I had that same curiosity,” laughs director Marc Forster, who recently spoke to PM about all things Bond. “When I met with the producers, I thought, I’m not an action director. It’s not my genre, and I’m not interested.” But Forster – whose previous credits include and – ultimately took the film and found himself in a literal crash course on action sequences. “Yeah, I was freaked out at the beginning,” Forster admits. “I thought, how am I going to do this? And then I realised, it’s choreography. If I block a dramatic scene with the beats, it’s very similar with an action sequence.”
The 22nd film in the Bond franchise picks up where left off, following Bond as he tracks a mysterious organisation called QUANTUM that seeks to control the world’s most precious resource: water. Let the car chases begin. Forster had very clear ideas about the Bond film he wanted to make – one that eschewed sound stages, green screen and CGI stunts in favour of the real thing – and had action sequences in every element. “I said, let’s make this a ’70s action film,” he recalls. “It should feel like a bullet – it starts, and you’re just on the edge of your seat until the end.”
Going on location meant dodging shipping vessels in the Panama Canal, where Forster filmed the boat action sequence that establishes the relationship between Bond (Daniel Craig) and Bolivian agent Camille (Olga Kurylenko). Bond uses his boat like a bumper car, running into other vessels, executing hairpin turns and even going off a jump.
The sequence was initially a much smaller set piece that was expanded late in the game – meaning there was little time for rehearsal. It was challenging not only because of the canal’s choppy waters but because of the cargo vessels travelling in and out and rapidly changing waters. It required a lot of underwater mechanics, including a cable that pulled the front of a boat down into the water, causing it to flip over. Fraught with gunfire, explosions and chaos, the scene, says Forster, was really difficult to shoot: “We were exposed to the water and the air, and the weather changed rapidly. And it was just really dangerous with the actors on the boats.”
Likewise, car-crushing opening chase meant eight weeks of shooting in three different Italian locations: a tunnel in Lake Garda, a marble quarry in Carrara and the historic centre of Siena.
Though the shoot might have been hard on the crew – who, says Forster, had difficulty transferring equipment down the 2000-year-old quarry’s dirt road – it was arguably harder on Bond’s car of choice, the Aston Martin DBS. To handle the road surfaces and loose gravel of the quarry, the suspensions of the cars were stiffened and their wheels pushed out at an angle. The traction controls were removed and the cars were also equipped with hydraulic hand brakes between the driver and the door so the stunt driver could spin the car around corners. In the sequence, the cars have doors wrenched off, scrape against tunnel walls and take hundreds of rounds of gunfire. “I think [we wrecked] between half a dozen and a dozen Aston Martins,” says Forster. “But,” he adds, “some of them were shells.”
Bond eventually makes his way to Siena, Italy, for another action sequence that was all Forster’s imagining: a rooftop foot chase. “In the script, it was written that they came in through the bottom of the cathedral and climbed up some scaffolding,” says Forster. But when he saw the city’s labyrinth of underground tunnels, he knew the chase had to begin there and work its way up to the top of the city before Bond and a QUANTUM agent crash through the top of a glass dome into an art gallery under construction.
The chase required production designers to remove tiles from the houses and reinforce the roofs so the actors didn’t fall through as they leapt from building to building; Craig performed most of the 1.5-metre jumps between houses himself. The glass dome was built on the 007 stage at Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom. “When they crashed through that dome,” says Forster, “the Bond stunt guy slipped, and fell off, and just held himself there with one hand. That was an accident, but I just loved that moment so much that we kept shooting it that way.”
Forster took his penchant for realism to the next level when shooting the air sequence, which depicts Bond and Camille freefalling from a disintegrating vintage DC3 airplane. Green screen and wirework just weren’t going to cut it. But Forster wasn’t about to hurl his actor from a plane either. “I feel like the facial expressions are never the same, even when you put the strong wind on them,” Forster says. So he took Craig and Kurylenko to Bodyflight, a skydiving windtunnel in Bedford, England. The facility – 5-metre-wide and 8-metre-tall tunnel – simulates what it’s like to fall 3 000 m at 270 km/h. Forster spent a day shooting Craig and Kurylenko with 16 cameras simultaneously. “They had to put in these big [contact] lenses to cover their eyes because of the pressure in there,” says Forster. “Usually you wear goggles. I think it was really, really tough for them.” But he couldn’t have been more pleased with the results: “The facial expression becomes realistic because it’s an exact simulation of the real pressure that they would be facing. It was a good thing to do.”
The heart-pounding finale of is set in a remote hotel powered by hydrogen fuel cells – which, of course, explode, engulfing the hotel in flames as both Bond and Camille race to get the information they need and, eventually, escape.
James Bond can’t die, but Daniel Craig can. The carefully timed explosions meant the actors had to hit their marks, every time, or risk being engulfed in a fireball. “All the sequences were difficult to shoot,” says Forster, “but the end sequence, for me, was the scariest. The actors were in the real fire, and the smoke and the heat was on the edge of my seat.”