Inside 'Get Smart'


Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway
Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway
Photo courtesy Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. Pictures

In 1965, as the Cold War raged and spy-obsessed audiences flocked to see Sean Connery as James Bond in "Goldfinger" and turned "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" into a TV hit, "Get Smart" mined the fear of the "Red Menace" for hilariously memorable comedy.

Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the series starred Don Adams as a bumbling CONTROL agent named Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as his more competent partner Agent 99, battling the evil forces of KAOS. After running for five seasons, the "Get Smart" cast reunited in 1980 for the movie "The Nude Bomb" -- which bombed -- and once more in1989 in the made-for-TV movie "Get Smart, Again."

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This summer, the franchise gets another theatrical revival, with Steve Carell as Max, Anne Hathaway as 99, and all the signature fun gadgets, memorable catchphrases, and goofy comedy of the original, plus the spectacular action set pieces of a big budget blockbuster.

For director Peter Segal, it was "incredibly important" to stay true to the series and its familiar elements. "We had to weave that stuff in, because that's what the fans would be looking for, but we got to embellish and create and put in more action."

Segal, a "Get Smart" fan since he was eight, knew he couldn't leave out the series of doors leading to CONTROL's secret headquarters or Max's famous shoe phone. But an invention that was innovative in 1965 is less so in the cellular era. "We thought, 'How do we keep this relevant?'" he says.

Steve Carell and Peter Segal review a scene.
Steve Carell and Peter Segal review a scene.
Photo courtesy Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. Pictures

Without spoiling some great sight gags, we can tell you that Segal and his team not only did that, they introduced some nifty new gadgets to maximum comic effect. In the following sections, we'll reveal the secrets behind the movie's best props, and explore the logistical challenges the production faced in shooting on location against the clock.

Spyware

Steve Carell with Masi Oka and Nate Torrence looking over one of the gadgets used in the film.
Steve Carell with Masi Oka and Nate Torrence looking over one of the gadgets used in the film.
Photo courtesy Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. Pictures

The "Get Smart" filmmakers had two valuable research references in devising props for the movie: a DVD set of episodes from the original series and the Internet.

"If you go online and type in 'Get Smart' collectors, everything comes up," says Tim Wiles, the property master on the movie. "We located some actual props from the series."

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The original shoe phone is in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. A defunct prop house used by the series sold off many props, but Internet searches helped Wiles locate items like "a double barreled gun that shot in two different directions."

The series' inevitably malfunctioning Cone of Silence reappears -- enhanced with CG effects -- but as outlandish as it is, director Segal claims that it really existed.

"They had one in the American Embassy in Moscow. The cones went over you and they played a disc of music to block out the noise. But just like in our movie, it didn't work very well."

Max's supped-up Swiss Army knife fit the bill. A brainchild of supervising art director James Hegedus and production designer Wynn Thomas, the gizmo fires flames, darts, a harpoon and a grappling hook.

The darts come into play in a scene in an airplane bathroom, where Max becomes his own target. "Some of the darts had little wire pieces sticking out that we put through and taped to the interior of Steve's clothes, and we glued them to his face," Wiles reveals.

Another prop, 99's dental floss detonator, was also made in multiple. "We had quite a few, including one you could actually pull floss out of," relates Wiles.

Wiles' trickiest challenges involved a bead curtain and a powder compact. "Steve moves the beads and they all fall down-it looks like such a simple gag," he begins. "But we had the beads running through little screw eyes on the floor, and they didn't release properly. We had to do that one four times." After that, of course, "The beads were everywhere."

While particular scenes proved difficult to shoot, where they were being shot was equally difficult. Read on to find out about each location shoot.

Filming "Get Smart"

Steve Carell flies in one of the classic sports cars driven in the movie.
Steve Carell flies in one of the classic sports cars driven in the movie.
Photo courtesy Tracy Bennett/Warner Bros. Pictures

Filming of "Get Smart" took place in Los Angeles, Montreal, Moscow's Red Square and several locations around Washington D.C. -- all in a single day. "Washington DC is the hardest place to shoot, even harder than Red Square," says Segal.

"Even though we had permits the Department of Parks and Recreation has jurisdiction over the Washington Mall. We have a shot of Steve walking along the Mall, and suddenly, they wanted us out in eight minutes. Our producer smooth-talked them into giving us an extra four and a half minutes." The clock was also ticking at the Smithsonian, which originally declined the request but ultimately granted Segal 10 minutes to get a shot of Carell crossing through the rotunda.

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Moscow presented a different problem. "I'd been told it's a tricky place to shoot and just because it costs X on paper, doesn't mean that's what you'll be spending," explains Segal. "We flew there to scout, and it was closed for a military rally. We weren't allowed in so we had to shake hands, with a little cash."

The climactic chase involving cars, a train and an airplane runs about five minutes in the movie but it took six weeks to film in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles. "The weather changes constantly, from fog to sun, and you have to make it look like one scene. It's very difficult," Segal points out. "But it was a blast to shoot."

In other scenes, fans of the original "Get Smart" will recognize several sports cars identical to the ones driven in the series: a blue Karmann Ghia, a gold Opel GT and a red Sunbeam Tiger.

And to make things even more complicated, there's a parallel story they filmed that will be rele­ased this summer. Find out more about Bruce and Lloyd's story in the next section.

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Parallel Plot: "Bruce & Lloyd" DVD

Masi Oka and Nate Torrence as Bruce and Lloyd
Masi Oka and Nate Torrence as Bruce and Lloyd
Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

In the world of cinematic spy ware, gizmo master Q is to James Bond what Bruce and Lloyd are to Maxwell Smart, but as you might expect, their espionage inventions don't always work as intended. The pair, played by Masi Oka of "Heroes" and Nate Torrence, are supporting characters in "Get Smart," but they're front and center in a spin-off called "Bruce & Lloyd: Out of CONTROL," which will be released direct to DVD and BluRay July 1.

In a separate but parallel story, the gadget guys have developed something called OCT-Optical Camouflage Technology -- but it's stolen and they have to get it back before it falls into the hands of KAOS.

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Oka enjoyed working with the gadgets in both films, with the exception of the OCT device -- a sort of blanket. "It was very smelly -- it smelled like fish sticks," he recalls. "It was various materials put together, and I guess the chemical combination of the fabrics smells like fish. We were breathing that in every day and it was awful!"

Other items in the "Bruce & Lloyd" gizmo arsenal include a tickle taser, "an anti-follicular device, which makes people's hair fall out, and a sound compression ball," outlines Oka. "You shoot a pea-sized bullet at someone and it creates a big sound wave, and the sound is Kiss' greatest hits. All of our gadgets are non-lethal. It's not about killing people."

Perhaps fittingly for a "Get Smart" movie, the props occasionally malfunctioned. With the Swiss Army knife, "The flamethrower attachment came off and we had to glue it together for the last few takes," Oka remembers. "I had to make sure I didn't break anything."

As for the "Get Smart" feature DVD, director Segal promises that it "will be packed with stuff that is hilarious because we couldn't fit it all in." Thanks to different scripted takes and ad libbing by Carell and other actors, "For almost every joke there were 10 alternate versions. There were several that worked; we just chose our favorite. So it will be fun to see all the different versions that didn't make it."

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­For more information about "Get Smart," spy gadgets and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Tim Wiles interviewed May 19, 2008
  • Peter Segal and Masi Oka interviewed May 30, 2008