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Monthly Archives: March 2013

THE ART OF COSTUME DESIGN by Lindy Hemming

From a 2010 article in Network Nine News ©

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for 'Topsy Turvy'

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for ‘Topsy Turvy’

 

I was born in a remote country village in Wales in 1948, the eldest of 5 children. I was always bilingual, speaking Welsh at school and English at home. Both my parents were creative in a craft way and supplemented their rather overstretched income by making and selling things in our local town market at weekends. During the week my father worked at various kinds of sales jobs and at night he worked as a talented woodcarver. My mother was a teacher – she could draw, design and make clothes – mostly in my case, converting ‘hand me downs’ and sometimes, if we were really lucky, she used new fabric – although in rural Wales this usually meant something in design and fashion terms which looked about 10 years out of date, especially to my beady eye as, even from about 7 or 8 years old, I was very concerned with what people wore and how they looked (I was also very worried that the previous owners of the hand me downs would recognise them on me, in their newly converted state!)

So we spent lots of time hanging around in market places, seeing wild and wonderful people on their one day out off the mountains and later on, when I was about 8 years old, we moved into a village shop where we all took turns to serve and observe.

Anyhow, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in people – who they were, what they did, where they came from, what they thought and why did they dress like that … and what did it say about them – what are they saying with their clothes, hair, jewellery, shoes, creases, wrinkles, wear and tear –  so many clues to be gleaned but never knowing at the time that this weird obsession would one day form the basis of my work.

I didn’t ever attend art school as my father had convinced me that I must do a ‘worthwhile’ job. So I trained as an orthopaedic nurse which, though seemingly irrelevant to costume design, meant dealing closely with people and observing and listening to them, which I later found incredibly useful in my career.

The Oscar-winning 'Topsy Turvy'

The Oscar-winning ‘Topsy Turvy’

Eventually, encouraged by the example of friends, I attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and studied there for three years, encompassing Stage Management, Design and a notably bad attempt at acting an old woman in a Checkov play!  It was at RADA that I first encountered ‘Costume Design’ and loved it from the first moment, knowing that it encompassed everything I was interested in.    

It’s my strong opinion that before all else, a person who wants to be a costume designer needs to have an innate, inquisitive and abiding interest in human beings of every age, type and class (this justifies my nosiness!) and be strong enough to hold on to an idea and play a long game … have patience … because, in its simplest form, what designing costumes for film, television, theatre or commercials is all about, is clothing the human body in something which the designer believes will speak both to the actor – who wears the costume – and to the audience, thereby playing a part, however subtly, in creating the character ‘with’ the actor – thus providing more information to the audience and helping with their understanding and enjoyment of the play or film. This applies equally to both ‘period’ and ‘contemporary’ films.

The work is often so subtle that it is pretty subliminal. It is a good exercise to watch contemporary films and think about the garment choices that have been made and whether you think they are perfect. Often, uninitiated audiences think that in a contemporary film the actors are wearing  their own clothes.

A costume designer, like most kinds of ‘designers’ by definition is going to spend a huge portion of their life solving problems and being creative within prescribed parameters which arise, not  solely from practical and financial reasons – but from having to take into consideration and often incorporating the ideas and opinions of many other people during the design process; director, producer, studio executives, accountants, actors, et al (not to mention the egos which come with the territory!) It is agreed, I think, by most of us that contemporary costumes are much more difficult to execute, precisely because so many people feel they know what a character would/should wear – with period costume there is a barrier called ‘historical accuracy’ which quiets the suggestions of the … ‘wouldn’t it be good if ‘ … or worse …‘my wife loves shopping, maybe she could do your job’….

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film‘The World is not Enough’

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film
‘The World is not Enough’
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first work as a costume designer was at a fringe theatre on Tottenham Court Road called The Open Space Theatre. I was the general and often only costume person and so designed, made, shopped, washed and ironed. I was then fortunate to work at The Hampstead Theatre Club as a designer for several years, simultaneously looking after and supporting a young son and daughter. It was a fantastic opportunity to really find out how theatre costume design worked at a time when there still was political and experimental writing and producing happening. I worked in Fringe Theatre for about 10 years in all and gradually was asked by directors such as Michael Rudman, Mike Leigh, Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre, Howard Davies and Nancy Meckler to work on bigger and more mainstream shows, consequently working in the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the West End of London and Broadway in New York. The magic was, at one point, having  five shows running simultaneously in London!Anyone who has worked in theatre will know that, whilst it is the most satisfying design experience there isn’t, even at that level, a decent living to be earned for a costume designer. So, for that and other reasons, after about 15 years I began to hope that I might be fortunate enough to be asked to design the odd film or two! Good fortune, in the forms of Richard Eyre and Mike Leigh, smiled at me and for the ensuing twenty-six years I have almost exclusively designed for film.

How is this different … well, initially you feel it must be, as the method of production is so different – but all the costume design basics remain exactly the same …

Firstly, there is an interview/meeting situation where you are asked to read the script and then go to meet the Director and possibly the Producer. At this time you are expected to have had some ideas and make some observations and even, if you feel an idea or two forming, you can look out some reference/research to show them, which is a useful aid to your interview and gets them reacting, thus giving you an idea of what they might be thinking. Mainly though, they will be looking to see if you have ‘suitable form’ or a CV which interests them and whether they feel they will be able to work creatively with you. Often they are also thinking of how you would get on with the actors they have in mind – whether you will ‘gel’. IF they decide to engage you, you will have more meetings with the director to discuss his/her and your vision of the film and who the characters in the story are, what their background is and how do we feel their clothing reflects their personality. You will begin to draw your ideas, not necessarily fully-blown costume drawings but sketches and details that you think of, or see, in reference material.

This part of the process is really fantastically enjoyable – a time when you can do loads of research and learn about the world that the film is portraying, whether it be historical or contemporary – it is equally challenging and equally important to come to a conclusion and be clear about what you would aim to do with each character. It could mean spending time in libraries, art galleries, magazine shops, in a hospital or a factory, or just riding on public transport. Collecting things which reflect the colours or textures you want to use and swatching for fabrics either with the intention of using them to make the clothes, or to show alongside your drawings as an aid to understanding what you mean. Often on large films, there isn’t time for lots of drawing and I often use tear sheets and collage boards to get my point across – for contemporary work they are sometimes clearer.

It’s at this time that you consolidate the LOOK and collaborate with the actors. It is important to them during their creation of the character that they know what the person they are creating will look like.

Here is also the time for you to explain your ideas to the Hair & Makeup department who ideally are working towards the same goal as you. It is important in film to lead a creative ‘team’ of people and share information – failure to do this can have horrible results.

At this time it is very important to meet with the Production Designer, who will have probably been engaged months before you and will have a broad vision of what the whole film should look like and is responsible to the director for the overall look of everything. He/she can take part in the costume design process and can help you greatly with things like the overall colour palette of the film and what colour the sets are which – don’t forget – your costumes will be standing in front of !!

Also there will be the Director of Photography to liaise with. The DoP can be ones greatest ally or downfall. Faces and fabrics change radically in different lighting situations and obviously, so do colours – I’m sure that you know, different film stock will alter the whole look of the film.

Armed with all this information, now is the time to go and meet the actors starting, most sensibly, with the principal actor/actors or STAR …. you will probably be the next person after the Director and Producer that the actors will meet and so you become the representative of the Director’s vision of the film. This is not always a welcome position to be in, especially when the actor discovers that the director’s lifelong concept may include something radical for instance like …. ‘everyone wears a shade of blue’…. and the actor …. ‘Hates blue, every time I’ve ever worn blue the film was a flop’…. ‘under no circumstances’…. etc. Now you’ve got it! You are up and running, carrying the torch (concept) and trying to negotiate the minefield of everyone else’s ideas, without letting the torch going out!

My film work could be divided into pre-and post ‘Bond’. Before the fateful phone call asking me to come to Pinewood Studios for a meeting with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, I had been working consistently on smaller British films, often financed by Channel 4. My previous work with Mike Leigh on ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the theatre led him to ask me to work with him on ‘Meantime’ (one of my favourite films) then ‘High Hopes’, ‘Life is Sweet’, ‘Naked’ and ultimately ‘Topsy Turvy’ for which both Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud (Hair & Makeup) and I were awarded Oscars. That was, sadly, my last film with Mike Leigh and really I have not changed my way of working from that time – which came from his unique method of improvising everything. Mike Leigh is a National Treasure!!!

Amongst many other films, I have also worked with Steven Frears on ‘My Beautiful’ Launderette’, and (another favourite film) ‘Funnybones’ directed by Peter Chelsom – I also designed the very successful ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ for director Mike Newel.

Angelina Jolie in the title role of the 2003 film ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ Another distinctly original costume design

Angelina Jolie in 2003 as ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’

When I was told about the ‘Bond’ interview by my agent, it seemed as if someone was playing a prank so far was it outside my normal film experience. So legendary and so glam! Anyhow, it was and is, a fantastic relationship with the Broccoli family who are the dedicated and hands on custodians of their ‘Bond’ world.

What fun and what a privilege it is to travel the world and see it whilst working. Since designing the look of the two new  ‘Bonds’ and creating the look of Angelina Jolie as the ‘Tomb Raider’ (1&2), I have worked on mostly American studio films. During the past few years I was fortunate to be asked by Chris Nolan to design the new ‘Batman’ films. This has been a new departure for me involving learning lots more about different technologies of costume such as ‘Batsuit’ design and manufacture – and the new Joker was just a pure joy to create!

 

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ - 2008 The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality - twitchy, grubby, corrupt

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ – 2008. The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality – twitchy, grubby, corrupt

This past year is typical of my varied work experiences. Firstly America to work with Martin Campbell on ‘Edge of Darkness’, a dark Boston-set contemporary thriller, then quickly back to London to work with young director Louis Letterier on the new ‘Clash of the Titans’ – phewww.!!! Now a rest!

 

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ - 2010(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ – 2010
(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

I feel that I have had the most fantastic opportunities in the world of film and theatre to have worked with some really good producers, directors, actors, production designers and cinematographers – but most of all I have had the pleasure of being able to be surrounded by some of the absolute best technicians in the world in my own department. Supervisors Dan Grace and John Scott. Assistant designers Jaqueline Durran, Michael O’Connor, Guy Speranza, Andrea Cripps, Graham Churchyard, Maria Tortu and Gabriella Loria. Cutters Anne Maskerey, Jennie Alford and Alison O’Brien. Dyers/distressers Tim Shanahan, Vicky Hallam and Steve Gell – and so many makers, wardrobe men and women, sculptors, leather workers, embroiderers – all of whom are artists who are loyal and dedicated to producing the best in their own disciplines.  Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my work life and for the opportunity to write this article!   

Lindy Hemming’s film credits include: The Dark Knight Rises – 2012, Clash of the Titans – 2010, Edge of Darkness – 2010, The Dark Knight – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, Batman Begins – 2005, Tomb Raider 1 & 2 – 2001 & 2003, Die Another Day – 2002, Harry Potter – Chamber of Secrets – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Topsy Turvy – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, Blood and Wine – 1996, GoldenEye – 1995, Funny Bones – 1995, Four Weddings & a Funeral – 1994, High Hopes – 1988, Wetherby – 1985

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Costume Department

 

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THE EARLY DAYS OF NEWSREELS by Kenneth Gordon – from an 1950s lecture in London.

Kenneth Gordon 1890-1969

Kenneth Gordon 1890-1969

Ken Gordon 1890-1969 was employed on lighting duties in 1904 by Films Limited at their show at Hengler’s Circus in London and was soon working as a projectionist both there and at the Earls Court Exhibition.

Gordon wanted to become a civil engineer and studied electrical engineering whilst working as a stills photographer with Bolak’s Press Agency. He afterwards became a press photographer on the Daily Mirror and, in 1908, covered the stadium events at the London Olympic Games.

After a number of provincial jobs returned to London in 1911 to work in the laboratories at Gaumont, making the transition from press photography to newsreel work. He was the replacement for Brooks-Carrington and his first major assignment as cameraman was at the Coronation of King George V in June 1911.

In 1944 Gordon also covered the liberation of Paris and was instrumental in organising the Association of Cine Technicians (ACT), in conjunction with George Elvin. In September 1944 the ACT reached an agreement with the Newsreel Association over staff wages and the employment of ‘learners’, for which Elvin and Gordon received the credit.

German surrender on Luneberg Heath 1945

German surrender on Luneberg Heath 1945

In May 1945 Gordon filmed the German surrender on Luneberg Heath and the first demobilization of British troops in Belgium. After the war he spent six months in Germany, filming both the occupation and the war crimes trials – including the Belsen trial in September 1945, where he worked alongside Ian Struthers of Paramount. He also provided film for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. Gordon officially retired in 1955, but was still filming for Pathé News in 1965.

Now read on……

Gordon 2

Queen Victoria in Dublin – 1898

The filming by Robert W Paul of the Derby in 1896 may be described as the first newsreel. This was followed the next year by the record of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The story of the late René Bull, the great war artist, building a rostrum of bamboo poles in order to film the charge of the Dervishes in the Battle of Omdurman – and the London Times’ report of filming the action in Crete in 1897 by the war correspondent, F Villiers, constitute the first coverage of war news.

The First Newsreel – The first regular news coverage was by the Biograph Company, an American firm which established laboratories in Great Windmill Street in London. Each subject was only 160ft in length and a single frame measured 2¾ins by 2ins – this will give some idea how short the subjects were.

In 1898 A J West inaugurated his combination of news and interest films of the Royal Navy which, for so many years ran in the West End of London under the title of ‘Our Navy’. Shortly afterwards came the era of Charles Urban, Will Barker and W Jeapes. Their firms – the Warwick Trading Company and later the Charles Urban Trading Company – dealt mainly in one-reel news events such as the Grand National, the Derby and the Boat Race.

A number of new firms were started to cover the great news events. Cecil Hepworth, whose pioneering work did so much for British film production, came into the picture. WS Barker founded the Autoscope Company and WC McDowell and A Bloomfield, two members of the Biograph Company, started British & Colonial Films. Each of these firms covered news as well as story pictures.

The Biograph cameramen, WKL Dickson and J Rosenthal, covered the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War. During the Boer War the two photographers carried their very heavy camera – which perforated the stock at the same time as the film was exposed – in a bullock cart!

Newsreel Equipment – Later came the newsreels as we know them today. Pathé Gazette was at first filmed here and then processed in Paris. It has been stated that the Gaumont Graphic followed only a few days later. Shortly after came the Warwick Chronicle (founded in 1903 by Charles Urban), Topical Budget (founded by Jeapes and W Wrench, the projector engineer), the Williamson News and the Éclair Journal. All produced two issues weekly at 2½d per ft (much less than a current 1p!)

The cameras used were hand-cranked – Pathé used their French model with outside boxes, Gaumont use the Prestwich (an English model) also with outside boxes. Moys, Williamsons and Éclairs were also used. Later, Topical Budget used Debries, and Warwick started using the first automatic Proszinski Aeroscope. This was run by compressed air and the first models were fitted with a gyroscope to keep them steady when hand-held.

The Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, whose cinemas were amongst the first to be built as such in England, had darkrooms in their main theatres. Local films were taken, processed in the local cinema and shown the same night.

The Prince of Wales Carnarvon 1911

The Prince of Wales
Carnarvon 1911

Speed of Production – About this time Charles Urban introduced the Kinemacolor and William Friese-Green was experimenting with a process known as Biocolor. King Edward’s funeral and the Coronation of King George V gave a great incentive to the newsreel producers. Many production records were broken with the laboratories working day and night. One of these speed records was made by Gaumont Graphic – they filmed the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon. On the pilot engine of the Royal Train were coupled a pair of large milk vans – these were turned into travelling darkrooms. The negative was developed, dried and rough cut – and a print was made on the way to London. As we sped along, every time we crossed any points the developer, hypo and washing water would splash over and cover us. The developer was so low when we developed the print that it did not cover the frame – but the movement of the train saved the day – and the resulting film, nearly 1,000ft in length, was shown the same night at the Electric Theatre in Marble Arch. The negative was re-washed before further prints were made.

News in Colour – It was the colour version of this film, made by Charles Urban, that put newsreels in the big money class. Kinemacolor was made on a black and white print, using rotating filters both in the camera and in the projector, therefore it was able to be processed in the same manner as black and white. The colour film ran for a long while at the Scala Theatre and many other key theatres throughout the world.

Charles Urban and Biocolor had some difficulties with patents. The costs of the resulting law suits rendered them both bankrupt. Gaumont brought out Chronochrome which stopped during the First World War.

About this time I had my first assignment in Turkey. This was during the Balkan War. My apparatus was an inside-box Prestwich camera fitted with 3in and 6in lenses.

The First World War – During the First World War the newsreel firms banded together and formed the War Office Film Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir William Jury. This enabled cameramen to work to a common purpose. One of them, JB McDowell, won the MC and the OBE for his work on the battlefield.

The Government bought up Topical Budget and ran it as an Official War News. I joined them after the war and went to Russia as a war cameraman. Jeapes re-purchased Topical from the Government and attracted the attention of many newspaper owners.

After this I went to Ireland to get some shots of the internal strife prevailing. The resulting films attracted bottles of ink when shown in the cinemas – some people even used my films of the Black and Tans for target practice with revolvers!

Still from WWII footage

Still from WWII footage

Newsreel War – In England at this time a newsreel war was developing. The main cause of trouble was the granting of exclusive rights of the various sporting events –  the Grand National was an example of this. This was the end of the ‘closed season’ for unemployed cameramen – all who could stand were certain of work, either as a ‘pirate’ with all expenses paid, or in the official party. One stranger, a ‘pirate’, was looking around for a position – I carried his gear, installed him and left him quite contented – but ignorant of the fact that I had left a ‘minder’ with him to see that no film was taken!

At the last Cup Final at Stamford Bridge, the flats at one end of the pitch was the position of one Pathé camera. This had been spotted by Topical Budget, who had exclusive rights to this match, as was intended. Topical planned to fly a balloon in front of the camera with a banner hanging from it in an attempt to stop us ‘pirates’. They did as they had planned but we had another camera already in place which was put to good use, much to the consternation of Topical. This was the time the Debrie ‘Sept’ automatic camera was introduced – it would run only 15ft of film. I managed to get shots of the King inspecting the teams, a fair coverage of the game and, by good fortune, the only goal – which was a penalty. Every roll was taken back to the office by messenger as soon as it was ready.

Exclusive Rights – Then Gaumont entered the war, buying up all the rights they could, some of which they shared with Movietone. Pathé lost the rights to the Grand National by being outbid and we had to become ‘pirates’ at this fixture. Pathé used scaffold towers and fights took place around these, although they were outside the racecourse. The towers were built at the last minute – on our stand were Jock Gemmell, with his range of long focus lenses and myself, with the slow-motion camera. Then the fight was on! Our opponents got hold of the rope which we used to lift our gear and started to pull the tower over. Just as this 60ft tower was about to topple over someone cut the rope and we just managed to get our cameras lined up – the race had started – then we were attacked for a second time. Fireworks were fired in front of the cameras, which frightened the horses causing the favourite, Golden Miller, to fall in front of our slow-motion camera.

That season’s cricket test matches brought out balloons, heavy netting and many other tricks to stop filming. The balloons were punctured by airgun fire and the pictures stolen!

Later the Newsreel Association was formed and agreement reached on the conditions of exclusive rights. By competitive bidding the price demanded for the exclusive film rights had risen out of all proportion to the earning capacity of newsreels.

Footnote – An unnamed radio & television presenter, in his thanks to the lecturer said ‘….there is still a tremendous vigour and enthusiasm in the newsreel business and, wherever and however the film industry develops, the newsreel men will be right out there in front. Newsreels were there to see the twentieth century in and will still be in the picture when we see the century out….’ 

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Cinematography, How It All Began

 

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The Stuntman’s World by Jim Dowdall

Fom the perspective of one who has been ‘at it’ for rather a long time and should know better by now!

Jim Dowdall

Jim Dowdall

When I came into the industry in the 1960’s as an armourer with Bapty’s, my first film was ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – and what a picture that was to cut your teeth on!

Surrounded by the legendary luminaries of both the acting and technical departments, I began to realise that, despite my mother’s exhortations that I would be destitute for life without the obligatory 5 ‘O’ levels and 2 ‘A’ levels, it might be possible to make a living in an industry that neither required nor asked for bits of paper – and that my single English ‘O’ level was not required on the voyage!

A prior spell working with big cats as a beastman for Bertram Mills Circus, with a bit of trapeze thrown in and a number of other odd jobs, had infected me with the ‘adventure bug’ and, having left the armoury business some time after finishing on ‘Where Eagles Dare’, I joined the Parachute Regiment, got the Champion Recruit’s Cup and thought that the army was going to be my career – but a parachuting accident left me unfit and I was invalided out 18 months later.

It was now the early 1970’s and the film business was booming, so I enrolled with the ‘Ugly’ agency and a couple of others to get some walk-on work and thus acquire the very desirable (and hard to come by in those days) Equity card.

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ - 1989

Being catapulted through an explosion for the boat chase on ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ – 1989

 

The Stunt Register was just being formed as a professional stunt body within the remit of Equity and I squeezed in with a few of the stunt contracts I had acquired working for an agency called ‘Havoc…Specialists in Hazards’.Since then, life seems to have been a fantastic whirl of various films, TV shows, commercials and occasionally, live shows (which are always unnerving for their very real inability to ‘go again’)

The normal course of events runs like most productions with a script being offered, various meetings to ‘get the job’ and then the business of breaking down the ‘gag’ to work out the best way of translating the director’s wishes into the camera – and always within the limitations of the producers depth of pocket. Of course, just occasionally, one gets the chance to work on various productions (like the earlier Bonds) where you just said what bits of kit and personnel were required and it was so.

 

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

This was in Iceland doubling Pierce Brosnan in the Aston Martin on the ice chase for ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002. Remarkable likeness (I don’t think!!)

The early days of Bond were a real eye opener for me as everything (as on all productions in those days) was shot in-camera and we would sometimes have weeks of rehearsals either on location or in the Band Room at Pinewood Studios – which would be fully kitted out with mats, trampolines and all the other bits of equipment which might be required, usually for the ‘end sequence’ in the villains lair, which then had to be blown up over a number of days. When we did the submarine sequence for ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (for which the famous Pinewood 007 stage was constructed) filming began shortly after Christmas in a very cold January on a vast stage with a requirement for a number of us to do ‘falls’ into the water. Although we would be paid a stunt ‘adjustment’ for these falls, there was a certain ‘hanging back’ as we knew that it would be unlikely that we would have time to change into a dry costume before take two – and few of us owned such a sophisticated piece of kit as a wet suit!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

As the astronaut on ‘Superman 2’ in 1980 being thrown by Terence Stamp. This is the wire job where I have to be revived with oxygen!

Wire work on pictures like ‘Superman’ 1 & 2 was pushing the envelope at the time and Geoffrey Unsworth’s capacity to ‘light out’ the wires was masterful – in those days it was without the benefit of ‘Paintbox’ or such sophisticated bits of kit which would come on stream in the 80s. I remember being on wires wearing a space suit with the helmet sealed on which gave me a limited amount of oxygen before I began to get a bit woozy. I would then see Geoffrey up and down a tall ladder spraying the wires with a black paint aerosol just before we shot. I had to be revived twice with a whiff of oxygen after a couple of …‘sorry, just need a second on the wire spraying’… occasions.

For ‘Flash Gordon’ doubling for Timothy Dalton, we spent weeks rehearsing the fight on the disc floating in space with knives coming up out of the floor. We also all had to learn how to use a bullwhip from one of the stunt boys, Reg Harding, who had been a ‘jackaroo’ in Australia and was a master with that very dangerous (mostly to the user) bit of kit

Hours spent in the chair having prosthetics put on to double the monster on wires

With Michael Caine  on 'The Eagle has Landed' in 1976
With Michael Caine on ‘The Eagle has Landed’ in 1976

 

for Michael Mann’s ‘The Keep’ meant a 6am start and sometimes a 10pm finish 6 days a week with all the penalty payments and overtime one could imagine – luckily all before Christmas – and the car park at Shepperton Studios, stuffed with a variety of our newly acquired BMWs and Range Rovers after the holidays, became known as the ‘thank you Michael Mann’ car park!

As the 1980s progressed and the sophistication in filmmaking began galloping forward, commercials became a great laboratory for new devices and gimmicks as the repetition on TV, combined with bulky production budgets, meant that the directors wanted to use every new device that was either coming on stream or was just nudging its way through a crack in the door.

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

In the water with Sean Connery and Katherine Zeta Jones on the set of ‘Entrapment’ in 1979

For me, this was an opportunity to be introduced to the cutting edge of every new gizmo whether it was the ‘Hothead’ or ‘Paintbox’ – and I was fortunate enough to be involved in some of the early experimental work on Libra with Nick Phillips and Harvey Harrison by driving various vehicles either on racetracks or bolted to the side of Land Rovers going over really rough territory.

‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘Bond’, ‘Indy’, ‘Private Ryan’, ‘English Patient’, ‘Enemy at the Gates’, ‘Corelli’, ‘The Pianist’ etc etc, all have their interesting facets and learning curves which require a certain thought process and how we can make it look good safely (within reason….) and the challenge continues!

The main differences between then and now is that we all have mobiles and email and GPS and CGI … but when it comes down to it, the business still requires a good script, good direction, good actors and good action where required. We are just a part of the jigsaw puzzle, the big difference is that the successful ones can put the linament on the bruises with a £50 note!

Stunt people have, by definition, to be jacks of all trades and sometimes master of one or two – tomorrow might be a stair fall on fire, Tuesday falling off a horse, Wednesday turning a car over, Thursday a high fall and Friday a fight sequence.

I did have a week like that a couple of times. Exciting it is, boring it ain’t!

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins ‘inspecting the meat’

On the set of ‘The Long Good Friday’ in 1980 with Bob Hoskins
‘inspecting the meat’

Jim Dowdall’s film credits include: Skyfall – 2012, Safe House – 2012, Blitz 2011, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – 2010, The Descent 1&2 – 2009 & 2005, RocknRolla – 2008, Death Defying Acts – 2007, The Flood – 2007, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005,  Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 2005, Sahara – 2005, Finding Neverland – 2004, The Bourne Supremacy – 2004, Die Another Day – 2002, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – 2001, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Entrapment – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Saving Private Ryan – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, The English Patient – 1996, Batman – 1989, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – 1989, Whoops Apocalypse – 1986, Brazil – 1985, Octopussy – 1983, For Your Eyes Only – 1981, Star Wars V – 1980, Force 10 from Navarone – 1978, The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977, A Bridge Too Far – 1977, Star Wars IV – 1977, The Eagle Has Landed – 1976, Where Eagles Dare – 1968, The Dirty Dozen – 1967.

Television credits include: Eastenders 2012, Call the Midwife – 2012, Richard hammond’s Invisible Worlds – 2010, Rock & Chips – 2010, The Bill – 2004 to 2009, Top Gear – 2008, Dalziel & Pascoe – 2006 to 2007, The Gathering Storm – 2002, Prime Suspect – 1995, Minder – 1991, The Professionals – 1982, Doctor Who – 1975.

 

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