TLG talks to James Bond location filming veteran Callum McDougall
Callum McDougall, veteran of many James Bond movies and Executive Producer on both Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, flatly refused to give me any heads up about locations for the new Bond 23.
But he did shine a light on the locations picked for the biggest franchise of all time, and promised that TLG will be the first to know when the decisions are made…
I was fortunate enough to grab ten minutes on the phone late one evening with Callum (pictured), currently in production with Clash of the Titans 2. He is best known for his long-running work with a low-profile import-exporter called James Bond, and although insanely busy, he was willing to talk locations and knowhow.
Callum knew as a boy that he was destined to work in film and he has spent nearly every waking moment working with celluloid. Thirty years on, he has one of the most enviable careers in the business:
I knew this was the job for me. I also realised I had to be single-minded about my chosen career.
“I started visiting film sets at 13 and from the very first moment I stepped onto my first set - which was The New Avengers at Pinewood - I knew this was the job for me. I also realised I had to be single-minded about my chosen career. I left school at 16 and became a production runner on Rising Damp: The Movie - a classic - and worked my way up through nine films as a PA, through being a 3rd Assistant Director, Key 2nd Assistant Director on 20 or so films and tv series and then Unit Manager. I was offered a job as Unit Manager on The Indiana Jones Chronicles for Lucasfilm and did loads of location work. I suppose I have never been able to believe I get paid for travelling around, seeing all these places I could never dream of!”
After many varied credits in TV and film, Callum is at the very top of his game and clearly every ounce of his experience and knowhow is necessary. I am reeling from a description of his average day on a Bond film, which sounds like a bewildering juggling act of film stars, Government liaisons, explosions and competing timezones.
We are always trying to break the barriers of travel and search for unusual, and spectacular locations that live up to the heritage of Bond sequences.
When up and running, a Bond shoot can have over 500 people on the payroll in six countries, all demanding advice, support, bookings, accommodation, feedback and encouragement:
“Yeh, it can be a little busy. For instance, on Quantum of Solace one week we had an aerial unit in Mexico, a prepping crew in Chile, (on location 2 hours from the nearest city) set- building at Pinewood on various stages and backlots, shooting in Panama in two major cities, a second unit doing a car chase in Italy and a production office gearing up in Austria for the opera sequence. Pinpoint organisation is key, always. With charter planes, 300 plus hotel rooms per night and catering, not to mention kit import-export, booking actors and location-wrangling, even being one day late for anything would be very expensive indeed.”
Generally locations will bend over backwards to say yes and you can see why. Consider the effect Lord of the Rings had on tourism in New Zealand.
Callum’s first Bond experience was on the Timothy Dalton-era The Living Daylights (1986) when he got the job of 2nd AD. Since then he has worked on License To Kill, Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day, as well as Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, all of which have taken him to some amazing places:
“But it’s not necessarily where you go, but what you get to see when you get there and how you manage the experience that is so rewarding on the Bond films. Anyone can go to London, but Bond lets you get access to the rooftops of the Houses of Parliament, or right on the Burmese border - places you could never dream you would go until you are suddenly there.”
The Bond franchise, Callum explains, used to reveal its glossy and glamorous locations to an audience that had not seen much of the world and the exotic appeal of Bond’s jet-setting missions lent a lot to the franchise. Nowadays, with foreign travel within the grasp of much of the audience, it is a real challenge to keep the locations fresh and surprising. Recently Quantum of Solace scored a big hit with it’s climactic scenes at the Paranal Obervatory in Chile (pictured above) and nearby salt flats:
“We are always trying to break the barriers of travel and search for unusual and spectacular locations that live up to the heritage of Bond sequences like the Eiffel tower, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or Buckingham Palace, or Rio, or the River Thames chase past the MI5 building. When we scouted Chile, we found this sublime observatory at an altitude of 9,500ft, which is actually the most advanced visible-light observatory in the world. But it was locked down! We thought that the chances of letting us turn up with a massive film crew to film action sequences were slim. And then when we showed them the script, which said in effect ‘the observatory blows up’, that we’d had it. But they said ‘yes’ and couldn’t have been more accommodating.”
The Bond franchise must open a few previously tightly shut doors then?
“Bond is a global name that everyone recognises and it is an amazing calling card. Has anyone said no? No! Well, once someone said no but I’m not telling you who. Generally locations will bend over backwards to say yes, and you can see why. Consider the effect Lord of the Rings had on tourism in New Zealand. Global exposure like that is very valuable.”
Callum is at pains to explain how important the less iconic locations used in Bond films are as well, particularly in Bond’s heartland, London:
“It’s the grubbier, less glamorous locations that surprise you, and what the Art Directors and Production Designers can do with them. I suppose if London is new to you then your fresh eyes can see real beauty and potential in things I might take for granted. For instance, we filmed on the Edgware Road last time in a not terribly attractive set of office blocks, and they looked astonishing in the movie. And again with the Barbican (pictured) which to my mind is not the most beautiful building. What the creative crew will convince you is utterly beguiling and they’ll squeeze new experiences out of it that are unimaginable. We are so lucky having these countless great locations under our noses in London.”
Callum goes on to explain that he found the exact opposite in Panama, which Quantum of Solace cheated for Haiti:
“I suppose if you live there it’s humdrum, but we got very excited when we saw Colon in Panama (pictured), which is a ghetto, and the recommendation was it was very dangerous and that’s we’d be mad to shoot there. But that wasn’t our experience at all. The people were amazing and incredibly gracious. It was probably the highlight of the shoot. You simply couldn’t recreate the textures and atmosphere of a place like that if you spent weeks dressing building and streets.”
Of course, for every location that makes it to the final cut, there are countless other places that are recced and filmed that aren’t seen by the Bond audience. I ask Callum which locations that didn’t make it impressed him:
“Well, we had a long look at Mozambique for Casino Royale, but sadly we did not shoot there because of script changes. However I was amazed by the utterly beautiful Portuguese-influenced architecture, much of it battered and rundown. It was quite phenomenal to be there and the people were amazing. One day I’ll go back to Mozambique because there is a beautiful film to be made there. It was truly spectacular and as yet undiscovered. Also, we spent some time looking at Peru. That’s an amazing place that hasn’t been filmed enough. You can point a camera literally anywhere in Peru and it’ll look beautiful. The light is stunning. ”
Sorry! It’s an absolute state secret where we're filming for the next one. The producers will be the first to know where we’re going, but I’ll tell you what: TLG will be the next to know, OK?
Perhaps Bond 23 will end up shooting in either of these locations, I query, hopefully, but the exclusive I’m hoping for crashes and burns. I have one more go at turning up the heat on him for some exclusive information about locations for the new Bond, the 23rd film in the franchise, allegedly shooting in 2012. Not surprisingly, Callum is unheated:
"Sorry! It’s an absolute state secret. The producers will be the first to know where we’re going, but I’ll tell you what: TLG will be the next to know, OK?"
So, an exclusive of sorts. You heard it here first readers. Reason enough to keep reading these dispatches.
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