The last week of June and first few days of July have seen the SPECTRE main cast and crew shooting on location in Morocco, in north Africa, with director Sam Mendes overseeing the last leg of principal photography for the new 007 adventure.
Key members of the cast, including Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz, have been involved in the main shooting in the country, which also saw approximately four months of careful preparations and set construction beforehand.
In the following, the JBIFC provides a brief summary of some of the Moroccan stages of SPECTRE, filming which has formed an important final leg of the long seven-month general shoot on the latest 007 movie. Warning: There may be one or two possible minor spoilers.
Bonding in Morocco
For the last leg of SPECTRE, Britain’s premier MI6 agent found himself facing heat, sun, and a fair amount of desert dust, when some key sequences were shot on location in Morocco. The Second Unit had already obtained some Moroccan desert footage for the movie in 2014, and the First Unit started work on what is the last major location shoot for the film on June 20th, in the port town of Tangier, which is in the north of the country. Tangier can be roughly divided into three fairly distinct sections: the old Medina, the Kasbah, and the new city, and the First Unit filming (perhaps unsurprisingly) has concentrated on locations in the first two of these sections, areas which retain much of their old historical appeal, with local traders, markets and a maze of various back alleyways, together with a unique combination of Arab and old European colonial architecture.
A First Unit clapperboard image from the first day of principal photography in Tangier was shared on twitter, and showed a (repainted) Moroccan villa located in the sloping cobbled street area just beyond the Bab el Assa, a famous stone gateway to the Kasbah. This particular villa is well-known in the district, as it housed the famous Cafe Dahlia, a popular haunt of generations of artists and writers for many years.
Interestingly, this very spot is also famous for appearing in a painting by the French artist Henri Matisse, who spent seven months in Morocco, from 1912 to 1913. There had also clearly been some careful set decoration by SPECTRE unit support personnel on some other buildings in the locality before the main filming was undertaken, with a local pharmacy converted into a cafe with a ‘vintage’ look, and plenty of electrical cables in evidence in some of the narrow alleyways. Shooting also took place in a nearby local weavers’ market.
Tangier, which over the course of the 20th century developed something of a romantic reputation as an international haven for European spies and secret intrigue, has also regularly drawn tourists from around the globe because of its artistic and literary past, with artists, writers and musicians taking up residence at various times over the years.
Cast and crew for SPECTRE stayed in several hotels in the area, with Craig at a 4-star hotel. Interestingly, Waltz stayed at the famous El Minzah Hotel, which just happens to be a hotel where James Bond author Ian Fleming once stayed while conducting research for his non-fiction book The Diamond Smugglers (1957). Fleming, who had also visited Tangier during the War, flew into Tangier in April, 1957, and stayed in room 52 of the hotel, a lovely old Arab-style hotel which has a tiled forecourt and arched windows. The hotel’s cool hanging gardens are also the perfect place to be after the punishing heat of the day. At one point on the first Saturday of filming, Waltz also posed for a rare photo with members of staff at the popular restaurant l’Ocean Tanger.
The Living Highlights
As well as the work conducted in Tangier, the Moroccan location shooting for SPECTRE has involved some filming for a train sequence in and near the city of Oujda, which is surrounded by desert in the east of the country, and also some additional sequences in the desert areas near the south-eastern city of Erfoud. For the Oujda filming, which involved Craig and Lea Seydoux, SPECTRE tapped into a long-standing Bond tradition by using a night-time express train as part of the plotline: in this case, the distinctive red-coloured carriages of the Oriental Desert Express train.
For the Erfoud scenes, the filming has made use of a large compound in the desert, which forms another key element in the storyline and relates to the villain played by Waltz. We shall say no more! All this footage will be matched with interiors work already shot at Pinewood Studios in England.
As with the Austrian, Italian, Mexican and London location filming, the last leg of location filming for SPECTRE has presented numerous logistical and planning challenges for the hard-working production and location managers. For the latest Moroccan shooting, the SPECTRE unit managers have made use of the production services and extensive local knowledge of Moroccan company Zak Productions, a firm which, in recent years, has also provided the same kind of expertise to films such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Inception (2010) and Salmon Fishing in Yemen (2011), movies which all shot sequences on location in the country. Led by Line Producer Zakaria Alaoui, the company helped plan out and put in place the complex location arrangements for SPECTRE in conjunction with Charlie Hayes, the unit’s location manager in Morocco, who started work on the Moroccan leg of the film in April, after serving as unit location manager in Austria.
At one stage early in the production, director Sam Mendes said he wanted a big contrast of ‘cold’ and ‘hot’ as key poles in the movie, and the latest location shooting has certainly helped him realise this vision. It is also good to see 007 back in some familiar territory. In many ways, Morocco has had a long and illustrious history as a general filming location, having seen major productions such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Gladiator (2000), and The Mummy Returns (2001) all making use of the wide-ranging desert areas, dramatic mountains and other beguiling terrain on offer in the country. And, of course, in 1987, Timothy Dalton’s first 007 movie The Living Daylights also made use of locations in the country, including an area in Tangier that has also now been utilised again for SPECTRE.
The current Moroccan government is very keen to encourage further movie production, and the country has invested considerably in the training of film technicians, carpenters and other related trades in recent years. New studio facilities have also become available. The recent presence of a 007 movie will also help boost the growing reputation of the country’s movie facilities and industry.
The JBIFC understands that the main filming on SPECTRE is due to wrap on July 5th. It has been a long shoot, but the results will be undoubtedly be spectacular. Bond is well and truly back, and we can’t wait!
Did You Know?
In The Living Daylights (1987), Ouarzazate in Morocco stood in for Afghanistan, and the Russian airstrip in the movie was the real-life Ouarzazate Airfield. A C130 transport plane loaned to the Bond crew by the Moroccan Air Force to help ferry their filming equipment was also utilised by director John Glen as a prop in the movie.
In Tangier, the villa of devious arms dealer Brad Whitaker was the real-life Forbes Museum, located in the rue Shakespeare, Tangier. The Forbes Museum, which was founded by the late publisher Malcolm Forbes, housed a large toy soldier collection (115,000 lead soldiers), many of them arranged in display cabinets showing key battles in history. This helped to give Timothy Dalton’s debut 007 movie a key plot element for Bond’s final confrontation with Whitaker. The villa is now owned by the Moroccan government, which uses it to accommodate visiting dignitaries to the country.