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Interview: Skyfall stunt guru Gary Powell talks Bond tech

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by Stephanie Mlot, 10 Nov 2012Blog
Interview: Skyfall stunt guru Gary Powell talks Bond tech

Technology is as much a part of any James Bond film as an Aston Martin, scantily clad women, and 007 himself — shaken, not stirred, of course.

But the newest Daniel Craig-powered title, Skyfall, takes technology to a new level, while still keeping things classy.

Gadgets abound when Ben Whishaw's new, younger Q, sends Bond along his merry way with fresh field equipment, including a biometrically encoded Walther PPK, which is coded to Bond's palm prints and allows him, and only him, to fire the gun. There's also a radio transmitter to trace Bond's whereabouts. Indeed, Q boasts during his first meeting with Bond that he can "do more damage on my laptop in my pajamas" than the super secret agent can do in a year in the field.

That same principle is demonstrated by the film-makers, who worked with top-level cameras, computers, and stunt equipment to produce Skyfall, which hit UK cinemas 26 October, 2012.

The film's British stunt coordinator (and a stuntman himself), Gary Powell (see image, below), recently chatted with us about the technology used in front of and behind the cameras, how advancing technology has shaped the Bond universe, and what it's really like to work with classic icons of 007 history.

Could you talk a little bit about the technology that was used in the cars, and how that plays a big role in the film?

Gary Powell (GP): One of the biggest pieces of technology we use is this thing called the pod, which basically is a pod that sits on top of the car, and it allows the stunt guys to drive the car while the actors are inside it, acting. And it allows us to make the cars go a lot faster, put them more right on the line doing action. You have to [make sure] the actors inside are totally safe; they're concentrating on their acting. All the mechanics inside the car [are] connected, so if they pull the steering wheel the wrong way, it's not going to affect the car or anything like that. For us, that is a huge help, because we can put the camera in better places, we can put the actors in better action scenes, so it really helps us out.

There were a few scenes where the car technology, particularly the Aston Martin, was played up a bit. How important was it to have that in the film?

GP: It's a flashy piece of Bond history. The diehard fans love it when that car turns up, and the new ones — it's an introduction for them. We've got new technology now where we can still put that car there with the machine guns and all that sort of stuff, and it really just adds to the film. It's actually one of our favourite parts of the film is when that car turns up. It sort of becomes a James Bond film totally. It's great to have those sort of cars around.

Did you want to add machine guns to the cars from the beginning or was that something that came along as other technology did?

GP: It developed as we went along. There were sort of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that got put together. We've got the car there, and it's like, 'Right, what can we do with the car?' Ideas were thrown on the table. It sort of just made sense to put it there. Bond fans are going to love it. And also, we can get inside the car now, because the cameras are smaller now, whereas years ago the cameras were massive, so you could never have done this sort of dialogue interior car stuff that we can do nowadays. There's tracking vehicles where we can be outside the cars while dangling Judi Dench inside. Modern technology obviously really helps out in numerous ways when we're doing films now.

Are you a life-long Bond fan?

GP:  I have been, for a long time. The first one I've seen was Diamonds Are Forever (1971). I didn't really know what a Bond film was then, I can just remember it being sort of a really cool film. Bond's in that little space pod driving across the desert, getting chased by cars. I just thought it was brilliant. It wasn't until The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) came out, and then I understood what a Bond character was.

Watching the Bond films back then, did you ever imagine how high tech they might become in the future?

GP: It's just these illusions, really. Even back then, there was technology there. CGI's gotten better, so that helps us to do things; makes life easier. Cameras have got better. Every part of the equipment -stunt equipment has gotten better, cars have gotten better. When you watch the older stuff and you see some of the stuff they've done, you actually sort of think to yourself, 'Wow, how did they do that, without having the technology we've got nowadays?' In a way it's getting easier for us, but what makes it hard is the audience who are now getting clever, so you've got to try to be one step in front of them.

What's it like for you to be able to work on a film like this and work with cars, especially cars like that, that are just so classic?

GP: We've had the Aston Martins on the last couple of films. On Quantum of Solace, we had seven brand-spanking new DBSes, which we smashed to pieces. That's quite a nice thing. When you first turn up at the studios, and it's just covered, so it doesn't get dirty, you can't get near it. It's as big a character as James Bond. When they put those sort of things in it, it's quite a special sort of thing. It's not just any car, it's the DB5 from Goldfinger. There is a bit of sort of film history involved in that. It's a nice piece of machinery to have on the set.

Are there any particular pieces of technology that you use on a daily basis? Smartphones, tablets, anything like that?

GP: We use video cameras a lot now, because everything we do is video, in the rehearsals and all that because it helps. Everything I do I video and I show it to the director, and he can see what it roughly looks like on camera, and we can change it, make it better. When we're actually shooting it on the day, it limits what we have to shoot, so we're not wasting time and money. Modern-day cameras are real helpful, because the quality is so good. Years ago, it was a bit dodgy, it was a bit grainy. You get something like a Canon 5D now and it's like it's film quality, so it really does help out.

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