Forty-six years since James Bond first battled baddies in "Dr. No," Ian Fleming's martini drinking, Aston Martin-driving British superspy is back in his 22nd installment of the film franchise, the second with Daniel Craig as 007 following his $594 million worldwide box office debut in 2006's "Casino Royale."
Picking up where that movie left off, "Quantum of Solace" finds our hero mourning his dead lover Vesper Lynd and battling an international conspiracy, Quantum, bent on controlling the world's natural resources. In addition to Bond's boss M (Judi Dench), several "Casino" players are back: Giancarlo Giannini's Mathis, Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter, and Jesper Christensen's villainous Mr. White. They're joined by evil cohort Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and Olga Kurylenko as a woman with a score to settle.
Shot over six months in six countries, "Quantum of Solace" is the first big blockbuster directed by Marc Forster, acclaimed for "The Kite Runner," "Monsters Ball" and "Finding Neverland." Paul Haggis ("Crash," "Million Dollar Baby"), who did a polish on Neil Purvis and Robert Wade's script, declined to direct, and so did Forster until producers/franchise owners Barbara Broccoli and her brother Michael G. Wilson convinced him he'd have creative autonomy.
Nevertheless, daunted by the pressures and media scrutiny that come with the Bond series and the high bar set by "Casino Royale," Forster approached the undertaking the only way he knew how: six months of thorough, detailed preparation. "I'm very Swiss in that regard. I make my film in pre-production. Once I start shooting, it's just execution," he says. That planning helped keep the film on its 103-day schedule and within its reported $230 million budget despite lost time due to logistics and weather.
As you might expect with a stunt-heavy flick, "Quantum" was beset by several mishaps and injuries. A stuntman was hurt in a head-on crash during the opening road chase in Italy, an Aston Martin mechanic skidded off the road into a lake while driving one of the cars to a location and Craig suffered injuries to his finger, face (eight stitches under his right eye, from a stuntman's kick) and right shoulder, which required surgery and physiotherapy.
Craig did almost 90 percent of the stunts himself, according to stunt coordinator Gary Powell, and it showed. Sporting a sling during the movie's press tour, "I'll probably [be] fit by Christmas, but I won't be able to put any pressure on it like hanging from a train or anything stupid," predicted the actor.
In the following sections, members of the creative team describe how they came up with the action set pieces and stunts, visual effects and overall look of the movie.
Style & Location of "Quantum of Solace"
Director Forster, production designer Dennis Gassner and director of photography Roberto Schaefer, who has collaborated with Forster on every one of his movies, had a specific look in mind for "Quantum of Solace." "We didn't want it to look like 'Casino Royale,' but we didn't want it to stray completely from it because it's a sequel. We definitely didn't want it to look like the Bond films of the last 20 years. We were trying to hark back to the '60s -- retro-with-modern," says Schaefer.
Shooting on location in Chile (playing Bolivia and Haiti), Panama, Mexico, Italy and Austria in addition to soundstages at Pinewood outside London give the movie its international flavor but multiplied the logistical challenges. Moving a company of 300 plus equipment around involved a lot of juggling, especially in locations like the small apartment in Colon, Panama, where Bond fights and kills an enemy. In buildings such as that and the hotel where movable ceilings and walls weren't possible, "I had to have practical lighting that would work," says Schaefer.
For the scene set in Bregenz, Austria, at a production of the opera "Tosca," Schaefer worked with the play's lighting designer to change and augment existing settings on the dimmer board, adding and rebalancing lights so they would work on film. But in the opera house interior, "We had to change all of the fluorescent lights."
While second unit director Dan Bradley shot the aerial dogfight between a 1939 DC3 piloted by 007, an armed Marchetti and a Huey helicopter over 17 days in Baja, Mexico (augmented by cockpit interiors lensed on a blue screen stage at Pinewood), the parachute jump at the end of the sequence was done at a wind tunnel facility outside London called Bodyflight. Footage of Craig and Kurylenko in simulated freefall, captured by an array of 16 cameras, was combined with separately shot plates of the sky.
Many other sequences were hybrids as well. Scenes of the famous Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, were shot on location the previous summer and blended with a foot chase that takes Bond through sewers and over rooftops. Much of it was done at Pinewood, where Craig practiced jumping from building to building so that he could repeat it on location in Italy. "They had to reinforce some of the rooftops and hang balconies on existing buildings," notes Schaefer. Craig was tethered to safety wires, which were removed later by Visual Effects.
Forster's desire to include all four elements -- earth, sky, fire, and water -- made for exciting visuals but multiplied the difficulty factor. The climactic battle set in the Bolivian desert was also shot partly at Pinewood (interiors and explosions) and partly at the Chilean observatory ESO Paranal, and the boat chase was done in Colon, Panama, over 10 days. "The weather changes constantly in the Caribbean so it was impossible to get anything to match," notes Schaefer. It was one of many instances where VFX had to do sky replacement on shots.
Visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug and his team -- roughly 15 in-house plus five British vendors---had worked with Forster before but never with the kind of scale or volume as on "Quantum," as he details in the following section.
While director Forster wanted to do as many scenes practically as possible, roughly 935 of the film's nearly 1,300 shots have a visual effects component. That took a lot of advance planning, including pre-viz (animated storyboards), crucial when you have a limited 12-week post-production window. "Visual effects is a plan-and-execute kind of thing; you find yourself far enough down the road and you can't turn around without massive consequences," comments Haug, whose four-time previous collaboration with Forster helped on that score.
"Practically everything has a visual effects component, but there may be only 10 that you could call pure visual effects shots," offering an example necessitated by angles and proximity: "There are half a dozen airplane shots that don't have any real airplane or background in them."
For Haug, executing the skydiving portion of the aerial sequence, blending the Bodyflight wind tunnel footage with plates of the sky was the biggest challenge on the film. "The problem with shooting in a wind tunnel is you can get close-ups out of it but the lighting is very difficult to control and you can't get medium or wide shots. We ended up with 16 cameras in an array, which gave us a virtual camera that's able to be any length and distance away, like we were shooting air to air. We call it Event Capture," he explains. CG also altered the lighting and augmented real fire footage in the explosions in that and other sequences.
Sky matching was the major issue in the Panama water chase. "Some days the weather changed every few hours. We made it look like it was all the same day," says Haug. Crane and safety wire removal were his biggest task in the Siena rooftop sequence, and in the "Tosca" scene, making 1,000 black tie-clad extras look like 7,000. "We shot them in small groups and populated the whole place with those people," in post-production. "The big crowd-cloning was in Siena," he notes. "We couldn't shoot when the race was actually going on, so we shot lots of plates and populated it with footage shot beforehand."
In the opening car chase sequence, "The main visual effects component is whenever you see Daniel he's on stage at Pinewood. He never went to those locations or drove those cars," Haug reveals. "When you can see inside the car, we replaced the stunt driver's head with Daniel's head. When you're inside the car with Daniel, the exterior is based on a plate we shot in Italy. The cars bashing into each other -- that was shot on a big blue screen set."
The incendiary final fight sequence was a blend of footage shot on several stages at Pinewood and exterior plates from the desert location in Chile, a two-hour daily trek from production's base camp on the coast. "It's a full-scale explosion on a full-scale set that was four stories tall but only about a hundred feet long," Haug describes. "We mostly used real fire elements and did a few things to enhance that, moving them around and multiplying them. When we got very close to the actors, we added a lot of heat distortion and steam, coming off clothes. They were always very close to the fire, but not enough to hurt them. We just brought the fire in that extra couple of feet."
A VFX team at MK12, which worked on "Quantum's" title sequence, created the Internet-enabled computer table and wall seen at British Intelligence's HQ. On set, "It was a white light table with fluorescent tubes in it. They had pieces of acetate with dots on them that they could slide on the table. And the wall had Xs on it for the actors to look at," Haug outlines. "It was all added later."
Fights, Flights & Chases
The movie's nonstop action meant more work for stunt coordinator Gary Powell, whose most challenging task was the fight set in an art gallery, where Bond and an adversary "crash through the dome and into the scaffolding and fight from the ropes. It was a small set, only about 40 feet high, and it was really challenging to make it believable," says Powell, who spent weeks choreographing his first version of the fight, then scrapped it. He worked with Chris Corbould's special effects team to ensure that the gallery windows were made of breakaway glass and the structures inside were devoid of sharp edges and constructed of soft aluminum, to lessen the impact when bodies hit them.
The Panama boat chase was complex for different reasons. "You can't predict what the water is going to be like, and with hundreds of boats going through the canal a lot of the time we did have quite a swell," notes Powell. "Daniel had to drive the boat and act and keep his eye out for the other boats. He did most of it, but you've got boats smashing through things and material flying all over the place and it's super dangerous."
Similarly, Craig did as many of the scenes involving fire as it was safe to do. Of course, "The costumes had to be flame-guarded. We had to make sure he didn't go up like a match," remarks Powell. But as experienced and eager as Craig is about stunt work, his co-stars were less so.
Mathieu Amalric, the villainous Dominic Greene, "does not come from an action background, and rather than try to make him something he wasn't, we used his natural gangly-ness, which made the fight work out really well," says Powell, who also marvels at action novice Olga Kurylenko's transformation into an action babe, thanks to intensive training that began months before shooting started and continued after.
"She was constantly training, really put the hours in," praises Powell, figuring that at the wind tunnel alone, she and Craig "probably did the equivalent of 400 to 500 parachute jumps."
For Kurylenko, "not a big fan of heights," the skydiving simulation was difficult to master. "It's hard to learn because it's so precise. And your whole body hurts afterward. But it's so addictive," she discovered. "They couldn't get me out of there!"
While Powell's stuntwoman girlfriend doubled Kurylenko, the actress, like Craig, did as many of her own physical scenes as she could do safely, but she also suffered her share of minor injuries. In the final fight, "I got bruises and cuts. I fall on the carpet and I'm wearing a tank top so I didn't have protection. The carpet just burned my skin off," she recalls.
For "Quantum's" opening car chase sequence, Aston Martin supplied seven DBS model vehicles, which had their suspensions and tires modified for different surfaces, with a hand brake added so that the stunt driver could drive around corners more easily.
As expected, "Not one of them went back in one piece," notes Powell. "Because you sometimes hit a wall when you're not supposed to, we had to have several on standby. Also, while a couple of cars are on set, another is being prepped for use later on. Sometimes we're filming inside the car and other times outside the car." A camera vehicle equipped with an Ultimate Arm mount captured the action.
It's pretty much guaranteed that there will be a 23rd James Bond movie, but where it will take 007 is still very much open to question. Marc Forster excised a scene from the end of the film that would have made it more of a cliffhanger. "If I had kept the scene, the producers wouldn't have had a choice but to make it a trilogy. Now they can start new," says the director, who believes "the movie felt complete with Bond finding his quantum of solace." Nevertheless, the producers say they might bring back Quantum as Bond's nemesis. (The deleted scene will be on the DVD.)
Forster was offered the directing job on No. 23, but would prefer to switch genres for his next effort. "When you're doing these movies you don't have a life. You're working a year, 24/7, around the clock. I don't necessarily want to do that again. I'm always looking for a love story, but I haven't found one yet," he says.
Roberto Schafer, now wrapping work on a low-budget dark comedy called "Leaves of Grass," would love to do another 007 flick, and so would Gary Powell, currently in Boston shooting
"Edge of Darkness," a Mel Gibson vehicle directed by Martin Campbell, "Casino Royale's" director.
"There's something special about a James Bond film. It's fantasy; girls want to meet James Bond and guys want to be him. It's two hours of escape, and especially now when the economy is not so good, people want to forget about that," he says.
Daniel Craig, who is contracted for two more turns as Bond, is enjoying stepping into the role originated so iconically by Sean Connery. "It's a thrill. I pinch myself, genuinely," he says. "It's a really good job." He'll be seen next as a Jewish partisan in the World War II drama "Defiance," opening Dec. 31 in New York and Los Angeles and nationwide Jan. 16. Co-star Kurylenko recently wrapped a role in the Israeli drama "Kirot." "There are some action moments involved," she says, adding with some relief, "But it's not an action film."
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More Great Links
- Gary Powell interviewed October 22, 2008
- Marc Forster, Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko interviewed October 20, 2008
- Roberto Schaefer and Kevin Tod Haug interviewed October 21, 2008