Behind The Scenes With The Unsung Heroes Of SKYFALL

Posted 08.03.2013

The following production crew interviews (from such departments as sound, locations, hair and make-up and stunts) took place during the filming of SKYFALL and give us an insight into what it takes to make a major film. The crew members also explain how they made it into the film industry and explain how young people could follow in their footsteps.   

Name: Stuart Wilson

Occupation: Sound Mixer

Previous work: War Horse, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Describe your job.

I was the sound mixer on SKYFALL. I record the sounds happening in front of the camera; dialogue mostly, then cars, motorbikes, helicopters, footsteps etc. I have a team that works with me and I decide how we’ll cover a scene, what microphones to use and so on. A lot of the job is actually getting rid of the sounds we don’t want. In real life your brain focuses on what you want to hear, but that selective process doesn’t exist on a recording so we have to do it for you.

Is there a recognised career path in your industry?

People work as assistants or volunteers on shoots. I started knocking on the doors of production companies and got a job carrying boxes and making tea.  I did that for a while and eventually got onto a training scheme. It’s not essential to have audio engineering qualifications but it helps. I think working with as many people as possible is great and sometimes I wish I’d had the chance to work with more people as an assistant, as it’s really valuable to see how other people approach things. 

How much of the sound recorded on the day of filming was used? 

Most of the dialogue was used. Sometimes there are circumstances that make it impossible to get usable sound, but we were fortunate on SKYFALL to be able to get most of it. If the director cares about getting good sound on the day, as Sam does, then we’re half-way there. The actors and director work so hard to get the performances just right at the time of shooting that they don’t want to have to recreate it in a studio later.  

What sort of pre-production did you do for SKYFALL?

A key part is the costumes; finding ways to hide microphones without spoiling the iconic styling, trying to get fabrics that won’t rustle and spoil the sound. This is something that has to develop over weeks as costumes become ready. The script also meant that at different points in the story we had to rig communication between Bond and the various other characters: Eve in the field, Q in the new HQ and M and her staff at MI6. Sam wanted to have these links working live as much as possible, or at least with me playing back the selected performances of the off-screen actors for those on-screen to interact with. They would also need earpieces that looked cool! From reading the script and talking with the director, I knew we wanted the audience to feel in among the action, so we planed our equipment accordingly to be lightweight and portable for those sequences. 

Is there anything to do when the filming stops? 

We try to record every set and location when it’s empty. If the editor wants to prolong a moment between lines of dialogue you need some quiet background sound to fill that hole. We had a scene in the catacombs underneath London and we went down early and played what we call a ‘frequency sweep’ to capture how each frequency reflects off the space. That way, if you do have to record any additional dialogue, or even footsteps, you can apply that same reverberation to those sounds. 

What was the biggest challenge on SKYFALL?

It’s a delicate balance to be close enough to the action to capture it vividly without invading performance. In the Sound Department you need to be there but not there at the same time. You need to prepare all you can, then step back and let the cast take the stage feeling free to do whatever they want to in the scene, while we try and keep it all working at the recording end… and make it look effortless!

Any highlights from the shoot?

There are those great iconic lines that you know are going to be heard and quoted for years to come – that’s a thrill, to get to record these for posterity! 

Name: Nicola Berwick 

Occupation: Stunt Woman/Fight Choreographer

Previous work: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, DIE ANOTHER DAY, CASINO ROYALE, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Mummy Returns

How do you describe what you do?

I’m a stuntwoman. Most people say it’s unusual and that’s true, especially in England.  The register is not as big as it is throughout the rest of the world. We have a structure to get onto the register, which produces good, all-round stunt performers, whereas in other countries it isn’t so difficult to become a stunt person. I love performing. I was a martial artist travelling the world doing fitness shows and choreographing martial arts and weapons to music. I think movies were the next logical step.  

Is there a recognised career path in your industry?

You have to go through Equity and there is a stunt register. That means they give you a list of qualifications they accept and you have to get six of them. So, for example, horse riding, gymnastics, trampolining, mountain climbing, scuba diving and swimming. It’s quite time consuming and it could take a minimum of two or three years to get on the register because that’s how long it’s going to take to train for the qualifications. You also need to have had 60 days “in front of camera” so signing on with a reputable extras agency would be a good start.  

What was your big break?

I went to an open audition for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in 1997 and they gave me two minutes so I went out, threw some kicks and they gave me the job. I wasn’t in Equity so I was brought in as what’s called “a specialty” as there was no-one around who looked like the actress as well as I did. What they normally do in those kinds of situations is bring in a specialty act – for instance parachute jumping isn’t on the stunt register so you’d bring in a specialty for that. In the end I got an agent and they put a video together for me and got it out.  

Was it a specialist stunt agent?

Not really, but they were helping a few of my friends. They sent my video to the Mummy Returns team and the stunt co-ordinator saw it. I doubled for Rachel Weisz. We had two fights; one of them was with scythes. That was really good; getting to learn how to use a weapon I wouldn’t have learnt through my usual style. 

Do you learn a lot being on set?

Yes. Getting on the register doesn’t mean that you know all of the simple things like general stunt work: running, tumbling, falling over. They’re the things you learn on jobs and it’s the people around you who give you hints. Normally you call a co-ordinator  and say you’re looking to gain experience and you go in for observation days. They show you certain things and sometimes you get a chance to do some equipment training. It’s a good way to learn because it’s less pressure; you’re not on set in front of everyone.

How does the process of choreographing a fight for a film work?

Normally the stunt co-ordinator would get a core crew together and they would start preparing from the script. The core crew usually gets to read the whole script because you’re on the full run of the film so it’s good to know exactly what’s going on. You read it and start making mock-up fights from it. Then you’d show the director and he’ll come in with his ideas and that sparks new, fresh things. Then the drawings for the set appear and that brings new ideas, then props appear that you didn’t imagine so you start using them. It all just builds up. Preparing for one SKYFALL fight took months.  

How does SKYFALL differ from other Bonds you’ve worked on?

I did DIE ANOTHER DAY and all of Daniel Craig’s Bonds. You build up a relationship with the actor and as I was on the first one with Daniel you get to know him so you know the things he’s going to do, you know how he moves. There’s more humour in SKYFALL, which is really great. Also I was pregnant – so there was no fighting for me on this one! 

What’s been the most complicated scene for you?

The fight in the office tower block was tricky. The windows get blown out and they wanted them fighting right on the edge because they’d get silhouetted. It’s a one camera-tracking move so there are no cuts and we had to make sure we had a fight that worked from just one angle.  

Do you get into the psychology of why people fight in certain ways?

Definitely. And Daniel gives us input on how he wants it to play, and from the history of working on the last two you take all that in. Bond’s fighting style is very efficient, very real.  

Name: Quentin Davies

Occupation: Prop Storeman

Previous Work: Wrath Of The Titans, John Carter, The Boat That Rocked

How do you describe what you do?

I’m the Prop Storeman. It’s a heavy job with plenty of carrying and shifting, plus there’s a lot of quite skilled work. We pretty much build the walls and then we fill the space. 

Give us a working example

For the casino scene in SKYFALL we put the lights on the walls, put in the bar dressing, all the bottles, all the optics, the cash tills and the poker tables, which we sourced ourselves. My specific job is logistics. Ninety percent of the props are hired so it’s about getting them picked up and getting them to the right place at the right time. It’s my responsibility to make sure that everything goes back in the right condition. 

Is there a recognised career path in your industry?

It’s something we’re trying to sort out at the moment through a government scheme called Skillset. We’re trying to establish the skills you should have as a base platform to come into the prop world. You’re expected to be a trainee for probably two years, then you step up to being a junior prop man for a further two years. Then, when people feel that you’re comfortable with the step up, you get your stripes. Some people just have the natural ability to see a job that needs to be done. 

How did you come to work in props?

I took a slightly unusual route. I worked for the National Youth Theatre as a technician and loved it. I went to college and studied theatre but I just stayed in the workshop learning to weld and hone my carpentry skills, neither of which were actually on my course. I passed, but barely! I did a few films working for construction and then I got snaffled by the props department. No one’s rumbled me yet so I’m still here. 

How do you keep track of everything on set?

We’ve got a document we call The Bible; it’s a log of photographs of everything that’s been on set or been purchased. The trouble is that everyone wants to take a memento home, so once the stage is dressed we take responsibility for the locking and unlocking of it. The door on B stage wouldn’t shut the other night; we finished at three o’clock in the morning and someone had to stay until people arrived at seven. We never leave anything unattended because if there’s any loss or damage at the end of a job, people look at me. 

Is getting props through customs a challenge?

You have to be really clear about what you’re sending. Everything has to come back with the same box number on it and the same label so that it tallies to the list. We sent a load of Heineken to Turkey and we had to send them empty as it’s a Muslim country!

What’s the thrill of it for you?

I don’t ever really know what the next day is going to bring and it’s exciting. It’s James Bond! 

Name: Zoe Tahir

Occupation: Hair Designer

Previous work: Sliding Doors, Cowboys & Aliens, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Titanic, QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Describe your job

I take care of all of the hair on the movie, from the beginning to the end. We work with the director, the actors and the extras to help bring their characters to life.

What advice would you give to people starting out in your profession?

Be sure about your passion for hair. It took me eighteen years to get to where I am today, so love hair and get as much experience as you can.

How did you become a film Hair Designer?

It found me to be honest. I come from a family of salon hairdressers. I had my first Saturday job when I was 13 and was so small I had to stand on a box to shampoo clients. Then I did a Vidal Sassoon course and went to work at a salon. A client had a friend who was doing a film – Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet – and asked if I wanted to help. I went along, made the teas, swept the floors and by chance the hair designer had worked at the same salon as me, and that was my way in.

Do you need any qualifications to get started?

I would highly recommend getting your Hair Dressing NVQ Level 2, which is a good grounding in cutting, perming, colouring and styling. It gives you time to touch and play with hair and to shampoo properly. It’s invaluable to have those things, as well as time and experience. When I walked out of college I was technically qualified but it took another six or seven months before I stopped worrying whenever someone walked into the salon.   

What is your essential equipment list?

The most important thing is my eye. You need to look and never stop looking. And use your mirrors. It’s surprising how many people fail to look in their mirrors when they’re doing someone’s hair. On a practical level, you need a good basic kit and make sure to invest in a great pair of scissors.

At what stage of filming do you get involved?

When the actors and the directors first get together for a read through of the script, which can be a month before filming begins. As people start to get a better understanding of their characters, they start to think about how they want to look and the kind of hair and make-up they need. That’s where my experience comes into play; I can tell them what will or won’t work, or explore the various ways around individual problems.

Do you arrive bustling with your own ideas, or do you wait to hear what the actors want first?

You can’t help your mind working overtime; you get excited and start thinking through the various options. Over the years though I’ve learnt to stop myself, because you get to work, listen to other people’s ideas and all your plans go straight out the window.

Have modern wigs made any look possible, or do you have to say no to lots of ideas?

It depends. Javier (Bardem) wanted a particular look and came with strong ideas about his character. One of the things he wanted was to be blond, which was tricky because he has such a strong Hispanic look and Sam Mendes wanted his hair very light. In the end I pushed for him to have dark roots, because the all-blond look just wasn’t working, He has to look odd, but he obviously still has to look good, and we worked very hard to make sure the hair suited his face structure.

Once you are all agreed on a look, how long does it take to actually do the hair on set?

It’s split up over several days, because the actors are very busy. They are running from make-up to wardrobe to meetings with the director, so you might get somebody for ten minutes one day and three hours the next.

And finally, do the crew get free haircuts?

I do frequently get asked. The trouble is they get called away mid-haircut, and have to wear a hat to cover it up. Some people have had a hat on for three days. 

Name: Naomi Donne

Occupation: Make-up Designer 

Previous work: Chocolat, CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, The Dictator, LICENCE TO KILL, Zoolander

How do you describe what you do?

I say I’m a make-up artist, but I tend to design things. With actors I’m helping them design the character. I never thought I’d do film but I once worked with Timothy Dalton and in 1986 the phone rang and they said he’d requested me to do his make-up on Bond. That changed my entire career.

Is there a recognised career path in your industry? 

My advice would be to get as much training as you can. There are a lot of make-up schools in London that are pretty good and you can get a basic skill there. You have to grab experience where you can. You have to be very passionate and you have to be ready to have a few years of earning hardly anything. Trainees get a basic salary from the production company, doing bits and pieces, getting experience. I wanted to be a make-up artist since I was 16. I wanted to do Doctor Who, that was my ambition. I trained at the BBC, which you can’t do anymore, and the course was in such demand I had to do a three-year course at the London College of Fashion in hair and beauty just to get into the training school! After you did three years there you became an apprentice for two years and eventually they allowed you to make up a face. I finally got to do Doctor Who.  

How much are you involved in the look of each character?

On a film I’m designing the looks, the feeling of the project or trying to get some sort of concept in. I design the look of a character for an actor and work very closely with them to come up with something that they can relate to. 

How much do you prepare the look for each character?

The characters the actors create are vital and how they look is crucial to the actor getting to feel comfortable in the role. 

Describe the look you gave Severine in SKYFALL?

Severine is quite a complicated character. She’s had a very difficult past.  She’s used her beauty to get where she is, but she’s in a bad place. When you meet her she’s got a shield up – she’s got a lot of make-up on. She is very finished and very austere, almost unapproachable. Later you see her in the shower with a completely naked face and you see a very vulnerable woman. She had nothing on her face at all for that scene, not even pretend natural make-up, because she’s so beautiful. I love the concept of peeling layers off people and showing who they are. There’s a story to her make-up. 

Is there much of a gap between make-up and prosthetics these days?

I could do a certain amount of prosthetics but I wouldn’t take on a massive job. I always work with the same guy; he’s just the best. You choose your person, tell them what you want and then they come up with something better. Then everyone thinks you did it! 

Does Sam Mendes have a lot of input on the make-up?

Some directors do and some don’t but Sam has a huge input into how people look and what you can put on them, I love that collaboration.  Often he’ll say something that will send you off in another direction, which is good.  

How long is a typical day?

You come in very early to get the actors ready. Bérénice in her casino outfit took an hour in make-up, her hair is just over an hour and there’s 45 minutes to get her into her costume to be ready to shoot at nine o’clock, so you have to come in at five or six in the morning. We’re usually done half an hour after wrap.  

Is it worth it?

It is. When you’re on a movie you really have to think that you have no life, it’s very tough. But I love my job so much; it’s such a huge part of my life. I like it the more I do it because it always takes you to another place. 

Name: Phil Allchin

Occupation: Transport 

Previous Work: Mamma Mia!, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones, The Beach

Describe what you do?

I’m in charge of anything with wheels: trucks, facility vehicles, any cars, any bikes. We deal with the whole package. You probably average fifteen cars on a film including the unit vehicles that take all the different hard drives and disks to whoever needs them.

How did you get into the movie business? 

I was actually a milkman, so I had driving experience, although a little bit slower than usual. My next-door neighbour was a driver and he got me in: I used to do the pick-ups for wigs and different packages of make-up. The first movie I worked on was Mutiny On The Bounty with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. Technically I looked after Mel but I only saw him once in three days. He came and put his bag in the car, said hello and that was it. I sat there playing cards, drinking tea and twiddling my thumbs. I thought I was going to get sacked!

Is there a recognised career path in your industry?

Not really. You need a Public Carriage Office license if you’re working in the London area. You have to have an operator’s license and a driver’s license. Usually drivers who have been doing a similar kind of thing will ring me and I’ll get them to do one or two pick-ups. We get to see their personality, how they work, and that’s really the only way new blood comes in. 

Is there an unwritten etiquette when driving? 

Whatever talent is in the car has to know that what they say will never get repeated. I get in the car, say “Good morning, how are you, this is where we are going, do you want anything?”, and then I don’t say anything until they speak to me. But there should also never be an uneasy silence in the car. It’s not easy to judge it, but that’s the way it should go. 

How do you choose the right driver for the right job?

I’ve known most of the boys I work with for twenty or thirty years, so I know their weaknesses and their strengths. Maybe some get on well with women, some are better with the men, some know all the restaurants, some want to get home at night to their families. You’ve got to know who you’re working with.  

What’s a regular day for you?

We’ve got a crowd of 235 people for a scene at the moment so I’ve got coaches picking them up. They’ve got to be there for six o’clock and we’ve got three or four good pick-up areas in town where we can meet them and get them on the coach without being in the way. We bring them in, drop them off and at the end of the day take them back again. I insist the drivers all ring me when they’re on the move and when they arrive so in that sense I’m a bit of a control freak. This morning I was up at 3.30am, I have to know everything is taken care of. 

What’s the most important thing you need to do your job?

My little diary. Everything is in there. And you’ve got to try and remember everything as well. I can remember seventy or eighty people’s phone numbers, but I can’t remember my wife’s! 

Name: Marc Homes 

Occupation: Art Director 

Previous work: Prometheus, Kick-Ass, Game Of Thrones, X-Men: First Class

Describe your job.

I am an Art Director. We design and build the sets in which the action takes place, and which help tell the story.

What advice would you give to people starting out in your profession?

Never give up, keep on trying and remember that you are only as good as your last day’s work. I also think it’s really important to learn a foreign language – Spanish is good, or French. I’m always jealous of (non British) people who I work with who can speak English fluently. It’s an amazing tool to have.

How did you become an Art Director?

I did a graphic design degree at Camberwell School of Art, and while I was a student I took a job as a runner for a company that made TV commercials. I did everything – loaded lorries, made the tea, repaired scenery – and they suggested I returned when I finished my degree. After three years with them I went freelance and eventually moved from commercials into film.

How does the television industry differ to that of film?

It’s a hard jump to make because the disciplines are so different. Advertising involves a rapid response within short time frames, so you have to be good at everything, whereas in film they want you to be very good at one thing at a time. I took a 100% pay cut to become a junior concept artist on Thunderbirds, and since then have been carrying on working up the ladder to the sets of James Bond. 

 Is ‘running’ still an acceptable way into the industry?

It’s a test of your mettle. I’ve done it myself and you expect it in others. We don’t look for those who want a job because they think they deserve it, we look for those who are prepared to knuckle down and work incredibly hard for little or no reward. Those people have a much longer career arc. 

Are there any pitfalls the novice should avoid? 

I say this to everyone who joins an art department on a big movie: you mustn’t lose your own voice.  Art departments on big films are huge, and when you join you will be a tiny cog for a long time. So come and do this, but make sure you also go off and do your own thing on smaller projects; you’ll quickly accumulate a massive amount of knowledge. 

What is your essential equipment list?

You need a powerful computer – not a laptop, their processing power is not up to the job – with a fast graphics card, lots of RAM, big hard drive and a large monitor. And you still need a sketchbook.

Has technology changed the way you work?

Massively. You still have to be able to draw – that’s an essential skill – but I use a tablet that allows me to draw straight onto the screen. It’s hard to edit a hand drawing, but on a computer you can just press the ‘undo’ button and start another version. On a commercial I worked on recently I did 26 concepts in two days. It used to take two weeks to do three concepts – a couple of pencil drawings and one in colour.

How much detail do you provide in your concepts? 

I don’t like to over-detail. The drawing is 80% of how the finished job will look. I leave stuff out because when the set starts to get built it feeds new ideas. I elevate it to an eight out of ten, and then pass them the ball and they can run with it. 

You were Concept Artist on Game Of Thrones and Thunderbirds. How does that differ to Art Director?

The Concept Artist is obviously there at the idea conception, whilst the Art Director is concerned about implementation; the latter is a more logistical, practical role to do with money, time and labour. Concept is about freethinking; asking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this?’ and running out multiples of ideas.

You also worked on Prometheus as senior art director…

Yes, that was a childhood ambition of mine, to be able to say, ‘I’ve done a science fiction film with Ridley Scott.’

How does building sci-fi sets differ to real life scenarios? 

Real life is very difficult. It’s harder than you think, because people can quickly tell when something looks wrong, because they are used to seeing those objects all the time. If they are looking at a real room for example, and the doors are the wrong size, they’ll spot it immediately and think we have made a bad observation. With sci-fi you can make something, and when they ask why it’s like that, you can say, ‘Because it’s like that.’ 

And finally, what is the biggest misconception about your job?

That it is glamorous. These big films demand a lot of work, and we work incredibly long hours to do what needs to be done. 

Name: Jeannie Udall

Occupation: Unit Nurse

Previous work: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Hugo, Notting Hill, V For Vendetta

Describe your job.

I’m a qualified nurse working in the film industry.

How did you get started in the movie business?

It was through another Bond film, GOLDENEYE. They started filming at the end of our road, and my husband suggested I give them a call and ask if they needed any qualified nurses. So I did, they said yes, and I said, ‘I’ll see you in five minutes.’ I had an interview with the medical department and the studio manager, got the job and that was my first major film.

That sounds remarkably easy.

Well you need to be a qualified general nurse with relevant qualifications. I’ve just done a minor injuries course at St Thomas’s Hospital: it’s important that everything is up-to-date.

And for those nurses not lucky enough to have a Bond set at the end of their street?

The two big agencies that provide medical staff for film sets are On-Set Medical and Millstream Nursing. Or you can apply through the production office. 

What experience are they generally looking for?

Casualty experience is good, and district nursing gives you great experience of being out on your own, which is ideal because you constantly have to make on-the-spot decisions. You’re dealing with lots of different situations and you can’t get flustered; you need to know when someone is fine and when someone needs taking to hospital.  

Sounds exciting. Is that an average day’s work?

We’ve got excellent health and safety here, but obviously when lots of people are working and performing stunts in a closed environment you will have your share of bumps and knocks. But there’s lot’s of standing around. You can go a whole day and nothing happens. 

What are the challenges when working in remote locations?

There’s a lot of organisation. With QUANTUM OF SOLACE we were filming out in Panama, and you have to find good hospitals with doctors you can trust. It’s a matter of using all the resources available to you and making contingency plans in case of an emergency.

What is your essential equipment list? 

An emergency rucksack with oxygen, suction and diabetic kit. I also have a pulsometer, so if someone collapses I can see the level of oxygen in their blood – if they have a heart attack in the middle of the desert you’ve got to keep them alive until the ambulance comes. And then I have my nursey film set bag, which has vitamins and plasters. 

What’s the most common injury on a film set?

Splinters, cuts, burns and sprains and occasionally a virus will sweep through the set like the novo virus, flu or your common cold. And people are always asking me questions. We work long hours and it’s hard for the crew to get to the doctors and the dentists, so they come to me instead. I’m like everyone’s mum really. 

And finally, who looks after you when you are sick?

Ha, if I get sick I don’t go in, but I don’t get sick.

Name: James Grant

Occupation: Location Manager

Previous work: Kick-Ass, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, The Bourne Ultimatum 

Describe your job.

Probably the best way to describe it is that I am the interface between the real world and the make-believe world that we are trying to create.

What advice would you give people starting out in your profession? 

Well you can’t do a degree in location managing although you can do several film courses that touch on the job. Essentially it’s about having the gift of the gab and a good eye, plus the desire to get your hands dirty and get the job done. 

How did you become a Location Manager?

It’s notoriously difficult to break into; we all start off as runners and if you deliver the goods then one job will lead to the other. My early break was as an Art Department runner, and then I worked my way up onto a low budget feature film, and from there things led to larger scale films. I haven’t done many commercials; my reputation is built on location managing feature films, both in the UK and overseas.

What is your essential equipment list?

There are three or four items you absolutely need and the first is a full driving license, as having a car is pretty fundamental in the location department. You also have to have a mobile phone, a decent laptop and a good digital camera. That said, once you’ve acquired those bits of kit, they don’t really change throughout your career. The items may get updated, but my equipment list has never grown. 

Are you always on location, or is there some office work?

My job can be broken down into three phases: scouting, production and actual filming. The scouting begins early. I started on SKYFALL in July 2011 and my job was to go and visit each of the different possible locations that could be used in the film. That process can go on for several months, and during that time you visit the locations with the director and hopefully he agrees with your decisions and decides where they will film the various scenes. At that point you enter the production process, and it’s my job to go and seal the deal; agree with the owners the amount of time you need to be there, how much it’s going to cost and then get the contracts in place and have them signed.

And the third phase?

The third phase is the filming itself. You hand the set to the first Art Director and hopefully, if the Location Manager has done his job properly, then the actual filming day, whilst busy, should be fairly smooth running.

How do you avoid property being damaged?

Bond has a very good reputation worldwide and it’s one that we wish to keep, so we go to enormous lengths and care to preserve property. With very valuable items that can’t be moved, such as tiles, we even go so far as to make full size plaster-casts of the objects and place them over the real ones so they don’t get damaged.   

What was the trickiest location shoot for you on SKYFALL?

Vauxhall Bridge in London. It is the major red route going north to south, and we shut almost all of it and positioned cameras across it while the traffic continued to flow. It was a very long and stressful day for me.

Can you still enjoy a good movie now you know where everything is filmed?

Oh yes, I do enjoy a good movie I’m pleased to say. I do recognise a lot of places but even I can switch of and enjoy it for what it is.

And finally, when they film at Pinewood Studios, do you get the day off? 

Oh, if only. 

Name: Peter James

Occupation: Standby Art Director

Previous work: QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Kick-Ass, Saving Private Ryan, Clash Of The Titans

How do you describe what you do?

A Standby Art Director is next to the camera the whole time, the eyes of the designer on set. We’re the first line of defence for the Art Department. If you’re looking at a wall on a set that’s all beautifully pristine and there’s chairs and tables in front of it and you want to shoot a reverse, we’ll pull the wall out and then quite often it goes back in and it’s got to look exactly the same. I use the stand by construction crew, carpenter, painter, stagehand, rigger, and plasterer. I usually have five at my side, working very closely together.  A good Standby crew is important for a Standby Art Director to have. On the floor you’ve got to know everything that’s going on, you’ve got to be one step ahead.

Is there a recognised career path in your industry?

I went to art school then got qualifications and experience in carpentry and stonemasonry. After finishing a course in architectural masonry and carving I had a call to work on my first film which was Michael Winterbottom’s Jude The Obscure as a technical advisor for stonemasonry. This was where the flame was lit for me. Generally the hierarchy of filmmaking is that you’re a runner, then a Junior Draughtsman or Art Department Assistant, Draughtsman, Assistant Art Director, then a Standby Art Director, Art Director, Senior Art Director, Supervising Art Director and then Designer. But not everyone wants to be a Designer. Supervising Art Director is the hire-and-fire position, they do all the budgets, organise which Art Directors do which sets; it’s a very tough job. 

What does your job entail on SKYFALL?

I’m looking whichever way the camera looks. I need to look at every shot to make sure it’s looking as the designer wants it to. So if the set is lit from outside, I need to ensure there’s no leak light coming through the set. It’s usually the clutter of the crew, like bins and cables that accidentally get left behind which can cause a problem. If I wasn’t here it could get left to someone who’s focus is not how the set should look.

What has been the biggest challenge on this movie so far?

Every day is challenging and equally rewarding. It’s just one big challenge I suppose.

How much pre-production do you do?

My work is very much pre the actual take. When we were doing close-ups in a little boudoir there were lots of incense burners with three incense sticks, for effect, in the background. And of course they need a lot of burnt down sticks in there as well so we’d make sure they’re there. Then they wanted some beaded curtains so we had to nick them from somewhere at the eleventh hour. It’s about the finer details, giving the set life. Every set is so different and complex, but on SKYFALL they’re really great sets.

What equipment is essential to do your job?

A good pair of boots!

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into film?

Gain as much experience as you can and use it to focus on what you really want to do.  It doesn’t have to be doing exactly what you want to do eventually, but it will certainly get you on the right road.