Skyfall’s Callum McDougall takes James Bond on location to Turkey
London plays a major role in Skyfall but the project also filmed internationally. In the best traditions of the franchise, exotic locales in Turkey coloured the on-screen drama. Bond veteran Callum McDougall was Executive Producer on Skyfall and spoke to TLG.
Daniel Craig’s third Bond outing was meant to start on the streets of India but logistical and financial issues meant that Turkey became something of a last-minute replacement. Bond had been there before but McDougall credits Chris Brock, the production’s Location and Production Manager, for recommending the country to the producers for Skyfall:
“Chris felt that Istanbul had the exotic mix of colours, vibrancy and stunning locations - including the famous Grand Bazaar - and felt we would be able to find all our locations originally due to be shot in India within Turkey. Istanbul proved to be a great choice for the opening sequence.”
Brock worked with local servicing company Anka Film and a full three months were needed to set up the Istanbul shoot. McDougall and the team were shooting major stunt sequences in a bustling modern metropolis of nearly 14 million people: “We were right in the centre of the city. Then a bike chase across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar.
“Our team spent a long time negotiating and getting all the eventual permissions which allowed us to pull off one of the most spectacular opening sequences in the 50-year history of the Bond films. So many different people and authorities to deal with, and we compromised on very few locations.”
We were right in the centre of the city. Then a bike chase across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar.
Callum McDougall, Executive Producer
Given Istanbul’s historic maze of alleyways it wasn’t possible to shut locations down in the same way as in many European or American cities and the team was constantly surrounded by crowds of curious onlookers. Still, McDougall is satisfied that they were able to fully realise Sam Mendes’ vision, despite the operation being “a big ask for the city”.
Turkey’s spectacular Varda Viaduct (above) also played a starring role in Skyfall’s opening sequence. This distinctive, German-designed piece of architectural history dates back more than a century and is near Adana in southern Turkey. Adana is in fact a 90-minute flight from Istanbul, but for the purposes of the film it was ‘placed’ just around the corner as Bond’s opening chase lands him on a Turkish railway.
McDougall admits the team was “so lucky” to find the railway line as it met all the script’s needs, winding through cityscapes, countryside and tunnels before reaching the viaduct. So what are the practical realities of filming a modern James Bond thriller on a Turkish railway? McDougall paints a vivid picture of a train covered with complex camera rigs and bodywork damaged in places to reflect the story’s drama. The fact that the whole set-up had to double as a crew and equipment transport only added to the logistical challenge:
“We had to have a large team of location marshals to purely make sure that the line was clear before we could ever pull off and start shooting.
"Doing an action sequence is one thing but actually being on a moving train with a digger swinging, cars coming off and people fighting on train rooftops took a lot of co-ordination and safety planning!”
While the railway line itself started in Adana, the Varda Viaduct was a 90-minute road-trip so unit bases were set up at available sidings along the railway to make production support more accessible. Negotiations with the railway company could only get them so much freedom; sometimes the whole operation had to be shifted temporarily to make way for passenger and freight trains that couldn’t be diverted on the single-track line.
Being on a moving train with a digger swinging, cars coming off and people fighting on train rooftops took a lot of co-ordination and safety planning!
Callum McDougall, Executive Producer
While the second unit took charge of the complex stunts on the railway, additional filming took place at Osmaniye – also near Adana – and Fethiye on Turkey’s south-west coast, generally standing in as suburbs of Istanbul too. McDougall credits the Turkish authorities for the support they were given on the ground: “All in all we could not have shot in Istanbul without the support of the Turkish Government and local Governments.
“The assistance that we got from the Turkish railway authorities was also essential to enable us to work safely and efficiently on their railways.”
For more about Callum McDougall's Bond career click here.
To find out about Skyfall filming London click here.
(Bond images: United Artists/Columbia Pictures. Varda Viaduct: Mustafa Tor)
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