Central London’s spectacular encounter with the ‘action’ segments of location filming for the latest 007 adventure finally came to a close on 21st June, when the River Thames sequences for SPECTRE were completed by the film’s Second Unit, and Bond said goodbye to Britain’s capital city.

One last night of ‘action’ shooting by the Second Unit took place over the course of the long summer evening of Sunday 21st June and into the early morning hours of Monday 22nd June, with some filming work carried out near the real-life MI6 HQ building at Vauxhall and also on the river between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges.

However, it was not quite a full goodbye by SPECTRE, as Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) was spotted on Sunday 28th June filming a short daytime sequence on the Millenium Bridge, a steel suspension bridge which takes pedestrians from the Tate Modern art gallery to the City of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral area on the other side of the Thames. Interestingly, this is not far from the Greater London Assembly’s City Hall building, which was previously used by Sam Mendes for some SPECTRE interiors filming earlier this year.

The JBIFC’s special operative on the ground in the area, who has been delivering exclusive reports on the London location shoots for the new James Bond movie over the last two months, has just submitted the following briefing to ‘M’ on the final ‘action’ filming. Warning: There may be one or two possible minor spoilers in the report.

Golden Bye: SPECTRE Thames shooting completed

Try Another Day: Bond was back for one final time on the River Thames ‘action’ filming on Sunday 21st June. Film-making on location can be an unpredictable process at the best of times; the original plan put together by location managers had been for the Second Unit to complete their SPECTRE action filming work on London’s central river over the weekend of the 13th-14th June – with the 21st June pencilled in only as a back-up shooting date if needed. However, due to a combination of factors (such as rain showers and also some problems with river cruise party boats on the Thames), the scheduled work was not fully completed on 13th-14th June, and so the Second Unit were back on the 21st to complete their filming.

The first half of the long evening saw particular attention being given by the film-makers to Lambeth Bridge, using a single helicopter with special camera-ball mounted on the front, while the second half of the shoot was devoted to more footage being taken of Bond’s military-style speedboat, mainly near Lambeth and Westminster Bridges. The helicopter was supplied by Flying Pictures Ltd, licenced helicopter operators who specialise in movie contract work. Interestingly, for its temporary landing and take-off base for the evening, the camera helicopter (which could only shoot until midnight that Sunday ,evening) used a patch of land further down the Thames near the 02 Arena in East London (the former Millenium Dome, seen in the pre-credits to The World Is Not Enough in 1999).

Meanwhile, back at the principal shooting site along the embankment and on the Thames between Vauxhall and Westminster, the Second Unit – as per previous weekends – used buildings at the back of the famous Tate Britain art gallery, together with an area in Atterbury Street (which is sandwiched between the University of the Arts and the Tate), as the main unit base.

During the course of the Sunday afternoon, numerous spotlights, dotted along both sides of the Thames embankment both at ground-level and on buildings, were checked and adjusted. A whole variety of these could be seen, together with some lights mounted high up on crane arms overlooking the river. In Victoria Tower Gardens (on the Millbank embankment side), for example, a large lorry crane with high spotlight had been stationed, together with smaller spotlights at intervals along the Tower Gardens wall adjacent to the river, watched over by vigilant unit staff. In fact, keen observers standing on any of the three main bridges – Westminster, Lambeth or Vauxhall – could see spotlights on both sides of the river positioned at regular intervals all along the stretch of the Thames in this area.

On the Millbank side of the river, right next to Vauxhall Bridge on the Millbank corner, and directly opposite the MI6 building, spotlights had even been set up on one of the upper floor balconies of Riverwalk, a brand new residential development. Riverwalk is right next to Riverside Walk Gardens, a patch of land which, on Sunday 7th June, had been the temporary landing site of the large G-LCPL helicopter, on a day which had seen the appearance of Christoph Waltz at the location (on this very spot) for the first time (see the JBIFC’s earlier report dated 17th June).

The preparations became noticeably more active in the early evening. Between 5.00-6.00pm, Parkhurst self-drive Hire vans, Panalux equipment lorries, cars and other unit vehicles began to arrive in more numbers in Atterbury Street, John Islip Street, and the adjacent roads near the Tate, and by 6.00pm there was quite a crowd of unit crew gathered at the unit catering van (which was positioned in Atterbury Street, next to the University of the Arts). Everybody seemed in jovial mood. Over the next hour, a small army of unit personnel also began to take their positions on the three main bridges and at key intervals along both sides of the embankment, distinguished by their yellow or red high-visibility jackets (yellow for unit security personnel, and red for unit location marshalls). And at around 8.00pm, the three-lane A3203 road across Lambeth Bridge was closed to traffic and pedestrians, with barricades going up at each end of the bridge and the placing of the now familiar (but still unusual!) ‘Low Flying Helicopter’ metal warning signs on pavements near the bridge.

At 8.50pm, a Pinewood Studios Fire Tender vehicle also arrived, ready to hose down the bridge road to give it a ‘wet’ look for the impending filming later that evening. Moreover, on the bridge itself, cars had also been parked at intervals in both lanes of the road across the bridge, with a crew member sitting in each one, who each began the long wait to receive their instructions about when filming would begin and a ‘take’ was underway.

The Living Nightlights

A little while earlier in the evening, further up the river at Vauxhall Bridge, just outside the MI6 building, some practice runs had been made in the Bond speedboat on the water by the stunt doubles for Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux (the same stunt pair seen on previous weekends), followed closely by a camera crew in another slightly larger boat. The impressive and nifty Bond speedboat carried out a number of small circular movements on the water, and this obviously persuaded a few onlookers watching from the nearby embankment that some real filming was taking place (it was just rehearsal work).

As the daylight of the evening gradually turned to dusk and then to full darkness (which took quite a while, given it was the longest day of British summertime!), and the lights began to slowly come on all along the sides of the Thames, the unit’s camera helicopter arrived at 9.35pm, and began to conduct a few high circular sweeps over Vauxhall Bridge and then downriver towards Lambeth and Westminster Bridges.

These manoeuvres by the helicopter were carried out a few times, again raising expectations among the waiting onlookers on the Millbank side of the embankment (especially those standing patiently near Riverside Walk Gardens) that filming was about to take place. Clearly, however, the film-makers were waiting for the onset of full darkness before they were satisfied that conditions were just right. A few local residents from apartments behind the Millbank area also began to arrive, having become aware of the impending filming due to the noise of the helicopter. One or two of them were evidently convinced that Daniel Craig would be involved again (this was not the case). It was very tempting to disabuse these locals of this impression, but why overturn a good rumour? Anyway, quite a few of the local residents drifted away, having quickly lost patience waiting for ‘something to happen’.

Finally, at about 10.20pm, the camera helicopter started full filming, carrying out the first of a number of rapid camera sweeps over the river, starting at Vauxhall Bridge and, flying at a height of about 150ft above the water, travelling speedily downstream towards Lambeth Bridge, where the waiting cars and their drivers on the bridge were instructed to start up their engines and switch on their vehicle headlights as the helicopter approached and quickly flew over. Firm instructions were also shouted out by the security personnel and location marshalls at both Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges to the watching onlookers on the embankment: ‘During filming, you can film but do not use flash, please, as it can interfere with the filming. Thanks!’

Just before each camera sweep of Lambeth Bridge, the Fire Tender crew took their emergency red vehicle slowly across the bridge, spraying the road with water to give it the ‘just rained’ wet look. This was very effective. At one point, at around 11.00pm, shortly after it had been flown over by the helicopter for another take, the pedestrian pathway was opened very briefly by the location marshalls, to allow any local residents or onlookers to cross from the Millbank side over to the other side (Albert embankment). A few people took up this opportunity, including this author, and, as they walked across the bridge, were able to get a very good close-up view of the waiting vehicles parked at intervals on the bridge, their headlights still blazing. Quite a few of the unit drivers on the bridge also grabbed this opportunity take a quick comfort break or get a cup of tea.

Just as quickly as it was opened, however, the location martials closed access to the bridge again, and the Fire Tender slowly carried out another soaking of the road on the bridge, setting up the scene for the next take.

Live and Let Dry

Ironically, by this point in the evening, a light rain had begun to fall, causing some of the crew security personnel and the few onlookers who were still around at that time of night to put on their wet weather gear to protect them from the drizzle. Despite this, the brightly-lit bridge – with its distinctive pairs of tall obelisks at each end and its nearby ornamental surroundings – still looked very eye-catching and quite beautiful in the very late evening darkness, and will clearly be an excellent part of the visual backdrop to the general night-time climax to SPECTRE on the Thames.

Although these scenes will undoubtedly only last seconds in terms of screen-time in the final movie, one can only but admire how British film-makers and their highly-skilled technical crews put an incredible amount of time and effort into getting all the fine details just right. Although the Second Unit were clearly under considerable pressure (especially given the fact that the helicopter could only be used until midnight on the Sunday evening), everything seemed to go according to well-rehearsed plan. As far as this author could ascertain, the main footage taken by the camera helicopter appeared to be completed successfully and on schedule.

After the helicopter had finished its duties, the second main half of the night-time shooting then switched to some water-born filming by the Second Unit with the Bond speedboat and its two stunt doubles (this time dressed fully in character as James Bond and Madeleine Swann). Much of this shooting involved using an accompanying camera crew in their own separate boat. This took the filming well into the early hours of Monday morning.

In one sense, the famously unpredictable British weather was not being kind by this stage. Earlier, by about 12.30am, it had become obvious that the earlier light drizzle was here to stay and, indeed, it had turned heavier. The main challenge for the very few onlookers who were still around was to try and stay relatively dry. You also had to feel a bit sorry for the security personnel and location marshalls, who stood dutifully at their allotted points along the embankment while the rain came down. Who said film-making is all glitz?!

Given that key sequences in the later parts of SPECTRE will see rain-soaked London streets, one could be forgiven for thinking that the film-makers would have welcomed the rain. In reality, the opposite is true: film-makers like to have full control over their working environment, and uncontrollable rain can be a problem.  However, the rain did ease off at times, and the ‘show had to go on’ (so to speak); various sequences involving the stunt doubles in their speedboat were shot on the river, including – once again – near Westminster Bridge. The sight of the Bond speedboat cutting its way through the water like a hot knife through butter will remain with this author for a very long time. And here’s a safe prediction: there will be a lot of interest in this boat once cinemagoers have seen it in action on the big screen.

Last Thoughts: Nobody Does It Better

All good things come to an end. Having spent long periods of time witnessing a previous Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, being made on the River Thames back in 1999, it has been truly fascinating for this author to see the latest 007 adventure also making use of some of the very same stretches of London’s busy main river and, in many ways, facing some of the very same challenges.

Both TWINE and SPECTRE covered the same sections of the Thames, starting at the  MI6 building at Vauxhall and going downstream to Westminster, and taking in many of the iconic sights of London in the process (its famous bridges, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and so on). The sheer logistical challenges and detailed planning that must have gone into the production of both movies must have been immense. The River Thames is one of the busiest rivers in Britain and, it goes without saying, London itself remains one of the busiest capital cities in the world.

But, once again, with SPECTRE, the Bond film-makers and their dedicated unit crews have handled all this with the professionalism and pride in movie production that have kept James Bond in business for over fifty years. In this author’s view, nobody does it better!

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