Greg Williams, the world renowned photographer whose candid on set pictures have formed the basis of photo-books to accompany the last three Bond movies, returns with his fourth, SKYFALL: BOND ON SET
How does your role differ from that of the Unit Photographer?
I’ve worked on over 100 feature films, and I shoot what’s called “the specials” where I go in for a few days and shoot coverage for the press, as opposed to the Unit Photographer who’s there all the time. The Unit Photographer also shoots stills from the scenes that actually go into the movie – my pictures are more behind-the-scenes.
What was it like working with Sam Mendes?
At the beginning I was scared of getting under his feet. The last thing anyone needs on a movie set is another photographer because you get in people’s eyeline and that can make some people uncomfortable but Sam was a jolly nice bloke, he obviously knows exactly what he wants and you can see why he’s at the very top of this game. There was such attention to detail. One day they were shooting a scene where a load of guns get fired into the roof of an office block but after they shot it Sam thought the way the plaster fell wasn’t quite right so they reshot it just so the plaster fell off the ceiling in a particular way. Other people might look at it and go, “That’s all right, move on’” but Sam wanted it to be perfect which is something I really admire. That’s an example of the meticulous attention to detail he brings to Bond.
When you’re taking pictures do you find yourself getting into some strange positions?
Oh definitely. It’s always funny to watch the movies back because when you’re watching a big action scene you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m behind that door”. In one scene there were helicopters coming in so low that at one point I suddenly had 100-knot winds hitting me and it felt like I could hover off the ground. It’s also funny when you’re on the phone doing a business call and suddenly a load of machine guns go off in the background. To anyone else that would seem like an odd thing but for me that’s perfectly normal.
How hard is it to edit the pictures down?
I find it very difficult and I’ve learnt over the years that I have to just let go otherwise you drive yourself a bit crazy. You can’t be too precious about these things. The first version of the book had 400 spreads so that’s 800 pages and it’s now 208 pages. I lay out the pictures that I think are worth looking at then the approval process starts and the pictures get cut down.
What was the hardest thing for you to photograph on this movie?
The scenes in the skyscraper in China were incredibly frustrating to photograph. It was so well lit and looked so amazing on camera but the lights were always moving, there were skyscrapers, which were fronted with enormous TV screens so the light constantly changed. It’s visually stunning but was incredibly difficult to get a still picture as it required a movie camera to capture it properly.
What was the most exciting day on set?
The day they did the London Underground crash was awe-inspiring. The craftsmanship in that stunt is incredible. They had this camera that could shoot the train coming towards it and then if it was going to keep going they had an emergency release that could yank the camera out of the way. I think the train stopped four inches before the concrete wall so to have this enormous thing and to get it to stop in the right spot was quite amazing. No one was allowed to be inside the tunnel so my cameras were on remotes for those shots. We were in the stairwell watching it on TV screens firing off the camera remotely. With my shots you see bricks flying towards the camera and I’m sure they were bouncing off of the camera too. I used my cheaper camera for that one.
Are you worried you will miss shots?
You miss them all of the time but my job is to try not to miss all of them. Also I don’t work with a blimp, which is a soundproof box that goes around the camera and allows you to photograph while they are filming. I always see my role as photographing the process of filmmaking, so I’m everything either side of “action” and “cut”. I like that the Unit Photographer and I have two different jobs.
There’s a great picture in the book of Daniel Craig taking a photograph of you taking a picture of him…
He loves photography, that camera he’s using is probably better than any camera I own. He’s a good photographer; I’m massively concerned he’s going to take my job. When you go away with Daniel the one thing he’s carrying onto the plane is his camera bag. We talk about lenses and kit a lot.
You started your career taking in photojournalism taking pictures in war zones like Chechnya and Sierra Leone has that helped when working on film sets?
I’ve seen a lot of disturbing things in my life so it doesn’t make me braver at all. I’m such a coward these days, but the one thing that it does teach you is that you are working in the entertainment industry and you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.
SKYFALL: BOND ON SET will be available from DK Books on October 1st, 2012 at £25.00