The latest James Bond adventure delivers all the action and stunts one would expect, but like the other recent films in the series starring Daniel Craig, there is also a much stronger dose of drama. This time around longtime series co-star Judi Dench has a much more expanded role. Language, violence, and some sensuality make the film of caution for parents of young children.
Production on Skyfall was based at historic Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire just outside London. Pinewood has become synonymous with the James Bond films over the years, as all but three – Moonraker, License To Kill and GoldenEye – have been filmed there. Thirty-one different sets were constructed on eight sound stages at Pinewood, including the interior of the MI6 underground bunker, the interior of the Golden Dragon Casino, where Bond first meets Severine, and the exterior of the Dead City, an abandoned island off the coast of Macao, where Silva resides.
The 007 Stage was home to the spectacular underground train crash that occurs when Bond is chasing Silva. For the crash, the crew built two full size train carriages, each weighing seven tons. It was too dangerous to allow people to stay on the sound stage, so ten remotely operated cameras were placed inside the 007 Stage to cover the crash from various angles.
The paddock tank doubled as the exterior of the Golden Dragon Casino. The set was lit by three-hundred floating lanterns and two thirty-foot high dragon heads. Twelve artisans were flown in from China create the authentic structures. They were made from wound steel cables, silk fabric and lit from within by 400 light bulbs.
Many exterior scenes for Skyfall were shot on location in central London. Mendes found shooting in London to be a great challenge. “It’s my home town,” he explains. “I focused on giving it a mythic scale – I tried to give it mood and atmosphere and a sense of a threat. You could say we’ve shot in some of the expected places, but I hope we’ve done it in unexpected ways.”
Nine different London locations were used around the city. The Old Vic Tunnels doubled as an MI6 training ground, an underground car park on Great Suffolk Street near Smithfield Market served as the entrance to the new MI6 headquarters and the entrance to Broadgate Tower, London’s forth tallest building, was dressed and lit to look like an office building in Shanghai, the location in which a fight ensues between Bond and Patrice (OLA RAPACE). The Virgin Active pool in Canary Wharf doubled as Bond’s Shanghai hotel pool.
The National Portrait Gallery was used as the setting for a covert meeting between Bond and Ben Whishaw’s character. The filming crew worked at night during the museum’s closing hours amongst a collection of the world’s finest paintings. At sunrise, the unit moved outside to shoot Bond entering from London’s landmark Trafalgar Square.
The opening of the teaser trailer shows Bond on the roof of DECC – Department for Energy & Climate Change. The locations department scouted various locations, but the view from the top of the DECC supplied the perfect backdrop for this important scene.
With the cooperation and assistance of the Mayor’s Office and Transportation For London, production was able to shut down both Vauxhall Bridge and Millbank for a scene where M witnesses an attack on MI6 headquarters. The explosion was represented by a few fireworks on the day, then an MI6 model was later rebuilt at a third scale on the back lot at Pinewood where Chris Corbould, the film’s special effects and miniature effects supervisor, used twenty-eight explosives to replicate the attack.
Over the course of four weekends, production filmed in the London Underground station of Charing Cross. The unit were given access to an out of service line to shoot a sections of the chase between Bond and Silva. The chase continued through Parliament Square up Whitehall, arriving in Trinity Square where the sequence comes to a climax.
Other locations in England that were featured in the film were the Old Royal Naval College and Hankley Common in Surrey.
In the penultimate James Bond novel, You Only Live Twice, Fleming gave Bond a sense of family background, writing that Bond’s father was from Glencoe, Scotland. Glencoe has one of the most iconic landscapes in Scotland – the mountains contain some of the oldest sedimentary and volcanic strata in the world. These mountains served as a beautiful backdrop for Bond and M’s drive through Glencoe’s scenic roads in the iconic Aston Martin DB5.
John Logan describes how Shanghai plays an important role in the storyline: “What we were looking for was opposition to London. We wanted exotic locations that seem so unlike the world that he grew up in, the world that he functions in, in a way trying to find places for Bond to be uncomfortable.”
Second Unit Director Alexander Witt and the second unit traveled to Shanghai to shoot establishing shots and driving sequences. The crew worked nights in the busy week leading up to the Chinese New Year to capture the exhilarating, ever-changing metropolis that is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. An aerial unit piloted by Marc Wolff was granted rare access to the skies above the city to shoot from a helicopter on loan from the Chinese government. Dennis Gasser and the art department worked to create the rest of the Chinese environment at Pinewood Studios.
The highly anticipated pre-title sequence for Skyfall was shot in Istanbul and Adana. When Bond realizes that vital information has been stolen from an injured MI6 agent he chases the assailant Patrice with the help of Eve through the crowded and vibrant streets of central Istanbul. Bond races through Eminonu Square, one of Istanbul’s oldest and most magnificent squares, which is surrounded by the ancient Spice Bazaar and the fabulous Yeni mosque. The art and props department created an enormous market area within Eminonu Square housing over two hundred and fifty dressed market stalls that Bond passes through on motorcycle.
The high-speed pursuit continued on the rooftops and then inside Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over three thousand shops attracting up to 400,000 visitors daily. Due to the hazardous nature of the sequence, access to the location for the film unit could only to be granted on Sunday, when the bazaar is closed.
Through a combination of efforts from the locations department, set decoration, art and props teams, the bazaar was dressed overnight on preceding Saturday nights to look like the hive of activity that the one would expect from the location. 500 Turkish extras and stunt background were brought into the Grand Bazaar to provide the location with its usual crowded and buzzing atmosphere. The rooftops of the Bazaar served as a spectacular platform to view Istanbul’s ancient and dynamic skyline. The production went to great lengths to protect and preserve the Grand Bazaar’s historic architecture, which included floating reinforced steel roof panels over the existing tiles to protect the original structure.
The chase required a fleet of twelve Land Rover Defenders and sixteen Audi A5’s, all modified and reinforced in different ways to the requirements of the stunt and camera departments. Two of the Defenders had driving ‘Pods’ fitted to the roof of Eve’s car, allowing Naomie Harris to concentrate on delivering dialogue while being driven by former ‘Stig’ Ben Collins at 50 mph through the packed streets of town.
Skyfall marks the third Bond film to be shot in Istanbul. The first was From Russia With Love (1963) where Ian Fleming himself accompanied Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and the shooting crew on location, and the second a brief visit on The World Is Not Enough (1999).
From Istanbul production moved to Adana to continue shooting the chase where Bond follows Patrice onto a speeding Turkish passenger train.
Adana is a modern city in the agricultural heartland of Turkey, close to the Eastern border. This was to be the setting for a major beat in the chase sequence featuring one hundred speeding cars and vans, a high-speed lorry crash, a show stopping motorcycle stunt performed by motorcycle aficionados Lee Morrison and Robbie Maddison, and of course the train sequence.
The chase on the train presented a number of challenges for the production. Working on a moving train was one of the most complicated and technically demanding parts of the opening sequence.
The climax of the stunt sequence took place at the breathtaking Varda Bridge, an hour outside of Adana. Varda Bridge was built in 1912 and is five hundred and seventy feet long and three hundred feet high. The fight comes to an end when Eve accidentally shoots Bond instead of Patrice, sending Bond flying off the train into a river below. Bond stunt double Andy Lister preformed the stunt. Riggers set up a crane on a train carriage to hold a safety line. Andy reacts to the shot by limply diving backwards off the three hundred foot drop.
Fethiye, a coastal town in the south of Turkey, was used as an off the beaten path seaside setting where Bond finds himself at his lowest ebb.
Associate producer Gregg Wilson accompanied production designer Dennis Gassner on extensive location recces to find a beach with the correct geographical assets that director Sam Mendes envisioned. The decided location was Calis Beach, a remote beach that was a great challenge for the locations department to secure. They had to negotiate with the six hundred and thirteen part owners of the beach to allow filming to take place on this beautiful Turkish coastline.