Director Sam Mendes says that Spectre recalls classic Bond films in terms of the cars, the tone, the lighting, the cut of 007’s suit – and the globe-trotting. “I wanted to get back to some of that old-school glamour that you get from those fantastic, otherworldly locations,” he says. “I wanted to push it to extremes.”
Cue a spectacular opening scene that sees Bond caught up in Mexico City’s annual Day of the Dead festival, a snowy car chase and plane crash in the Austrian Alps, more high-octane automobile drama in Rome, steamy scenes and a vast explosion in Morocco and a speedboat adventure on the River Thames.
“These five locations give you a clue as to why the movie was technically so hard to achieve,” says Mendes, “and why it was so exhausting, why it took so long to shoot, and why it has taken no prisoners. But what we have is really special, I think.”
The filmmakers wanted to immerse Bond in a magnificent festival in a Latin American city. “And it doesn’t get any bigger than Mexico City and the Day of the Dead,” says Mendes.
The parade included ten decorative skeleton maquettes and floats, the tallest of which towered 11 metres high. The carnival centrepiece was the ‘La Calavera Catrina’ skeleton, inspired by an etching from Mexican illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada, which wore a hat that was 10 metres wide.
The Day of the Dead scenes in Mexico City employed 1,520 extras, dressed and made up by 107 different make-up artists, 98 of whom were local. On each working day it took three and a half hours to get the crowd prepared.
The Mexico City scenes required five months of preparation. The filmmakers shot in three different locations in the city — The Gran Hotel, Plaza Tolsá and the Zócalo, which is the main square in the centre of town. The stunt team replicated a massive explosion involving the hotel at Pinewood Studios in England, although the Zócalo itself played host to a huge sequence involving an out-of-control helicopter piloted by the world-famous Red Bull aerobatic pilot Chuck Aaron.
The Red Bull helicopter is built especially for barrel-rolling and free-diving. Due to the altitude in Mexico City, Aaron was limited in the aerobatics he could preform. However, he still pushed the boundaries, flying just 30 feet above the extras with two stuntmen re-enacting the fight while hanging out the helicopter.
Did you know? Bond also found himself in Mexico City in Licence To Kill.
In Austria, filming took place in Lake Altaussee, Obertilliach and Sölden, the latter being home to the ICE-Q restaurant and the cable cars that feature in a tense sequence with Q.
The car chase required the use of 18 cars – 11 Defenders and 7 Range Rovers, which had to be towed up the mountain by snowmobiles and heavily modified.
According to special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, the main action sequence in Austria proved very complicated, technically. “We had planes hanging on high wires coming down the valley approaching one of our villains and his men who are in Range Rovers,” he explains.
“Then the plane wings hit a tree before it lands. It’s going down the hill using its engines to propel itself but it’s on the ground. Hence, we built planes that had skidoos inside so they are actually being driven.”
Corbould and his team used eight different planes. Two of the planes could actually fly, while another two were fitted to the wire rig. Another four planes were carcasses fitted with hidden skidoos, which the stunt team could use to drive the plane down the mountainside, ensuring total control.
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The biggest challenge in Austria, however, was the unseasonal weather: initially, there was no snow or ice. The filmmakers had to make 400 tonnes of man-made snow to cover the hillside, which would normally be blanketed in white.
Did you know? Spectre is Bond’s eighth snowbound adventure, following on from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.
Mendes says they chose Rome because of “the history and an atmosphere of darkness and foreboding — particularly if you’re dealing with 1920s and 1930s Fascist architecture. There is something dark and intimidating [about it].”
In Rome, the film-makers shot for four days at the Museo della Civiltà Romana, which doubled for a cemetery where Bond first sees the widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci). The night-time car chase sequence, where Bond in his Aston Martin DB10 and Spectre agent Hinx (Dave Bautista) in a Jaguar C-X75 race through the city streets, took 18 nights.
The filmmakers were able to shut down key portions of the city, including a section alongside the Tiber, looking towards St. Peter’s Square and the Coliseum. Though the audience will only ever see two cars on screen, eight Aston Martins and seven Jaguars were used to shoot the chase.
“The stunt drivers were driving around Rome at 100mph, so absolutely everything had to be perfect as far as their performance was concerned,” says Corbould.
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“We didn’t want the drivers to get injured and also we didn’t want them damaging buildings that are thousands of years old. The stakes were pretty high. We spent a lot of time testing the cars, making sure they could cope with the punishing regime that the guys put them through.”
Did you know? In total, the car chases in Austria, Rome and London required the use of more than 1000 tires. Over 400 tires were used when preparing for the Rome scenes – but only 12 had to be replaced during filming.
Bond’s most intimate relationship blossoms in North Africa, in Tangier and the Sahara desert. “If you want this incredible immense landscape, this emptiness, then where better than the Sahara?” asks Mendes. “So with all these locations you have these tones that are quite different, and quite extreme.”
They filmed in Tangier, the city of Oujda in the northeast of the country and the Sahara desert outside the oasis town of Erfoud, which has long been a favourite with filmmakers.
When out in the desert, the filmmakers had to make sure that villagers and nomad tribes within a 20-mile radius knew to expect loud explosions. Local nomads were hired as guides and security.
The temperature in Erfoud was an average of 45 degrees celsius and reached 50 on the hottest day. On the first day, a huge sand storm blew in and the crew had to take cover in their vehicles as winds reached 50mph.
Did you know? The special effects team brought in over 2,100 gallons of kerosene to fuel the explosion in Morocco – possibly the biggest ever movie blast.
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No Bond movie would be complete without London. “The challenge was to try and find a way of shooting London that felt fresh and new and yet which was also a continuation of Skyfall,” says Mendes. “We tried to find a way to look at familiar locations and familiar places within London from a different perspective and I think we found some great ways to do that.”
Key locations included City Hall, the home of the Mayor and London Assembly — which appears as the Centre for National Security — as well as a number of bridges along the River Thames. Westminster Bridge, in particular, plays a pivotal role in the climax and a section of this was built at Pinewood.
The biggest challenge was a night-time river sequence involving a high-speed boat and a low-flying helicopter chase. For each of the six night-shoots the filmmakers had to seek the support of the Port of London Authority. “The scheduling was very complicated,” says supervising locations manager Emma Pill, “due to the events taking place in London at the time, including the General Election, the State Opening of Parliament and three weekends of Trooping the Colour.”
In order to complete the scenes with low-flying helicopters, 11,000 letters had to be sent out to residents and businesses that fell within the fly zone. “The biggest challenge, however, was to light the river at night,” says Pill. “We lit under each arch of Vauxhall, Lambeth and Westminster Bridge, 17 arches in total.
“These lights then remained in position for five weeks. We also lit the river from 10 rooftops along the bank of the Thames from Vauxhall Bridge to Hungerford Bridge, working with Lambeth Palace, Tate Britain, and the Royal Parks to gain permission. We also worked very closely with the House of Commons, County Hall and The London Eye to keep various lights on/off, or to change the colour of their lights for each night-shoot.”
Did you know? Bond, who’s traditionally lived in Chelsea, gets a new pad in Spectre: a sparsely decorated apartment, furnished only with a leather chair and giant telly.
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