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Image of Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre

The River Thames in Spectre

Date posted: 01.10.2015

One of the year's most anticipated films, Spectre sees Sam Mendes once again at the helm of Bond, directing the 24th instalment of the franchise for Eon Productions. Daniel Craig also returns, and is supported by a stellar cast including Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes and Christoph Waltz.

A race across the globe

Picking up from Skyfall and the attack on MI6, Bond finds himself in a race to bring down a global crime syndicate, the sinister and elusive SPECTRE. The pursuit takes Bond across the globe, with London featured alongside other high profile locations including Mexico City, Rome and Austria.

No Bond film is complete without spectacular scenes involving all manner of vehicles and routes, and Spectre is no exception. A dramatic London river sequence was filmed at night, involving a high speed boat and helicopter chase along the Thames.

Illuminating the river

River Thames

The filming brief for the night shoot required the arches of various bridges along the river to be lit, as various iconic landmarks and buildings along the riverside. The bridges included Westminster, Lambeth and Vauxhall, with lighting required for 17 arches in total.

Emma Pill, Location Manager for Spectre, says "This involved weeks of preparation, and a temporary marine planning permit".

Control of the river was made possible through the support of various stakeholders including the Port of London Authority, London River Services, Livetts Launches and Transport for London (TfL).

Work was undertaken by electricians on a specialist boat for three weeks leading up to the shoot. Given the busy nature of the Thames, Pill and her team worked closely with mariners and TfL, while the Port of London Authority checked and advised on the lights used to ensure that they wouldn't be hazardous to marine traffic.

An additional challenge was the strict weight limit that applies to Westminster Bridge. Ed Livetts of Livetts Launches explains, "To overcome this issue, we provided two crane barges that carried two 90 tonne cranes and a lighting rig. We provided temporary moorings right next to Westminster Bridge and closed four out of the seven arches to navigation, as well as using some of Westminster Pier."

To illuminate the riverside, the production liaised with various locations along the river, also arranging street lighting and additional lighting on ten rooftops.

St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Fire Station and the Park Plaza were just some of the riverside locations taking part, with cherry pickers positioned along the route with permission from Lambeth Palace, Tate Britain and the Royal Parks. Pill also worked closely with the House of Commons, County Hall and The London Eye.

Giving some indication of the enormity of the shoot, Pill points out that it took "32 lighting generators for all the power required along the Thames", while Livetts says "All in all we used over 30 different vessels during this 15 month period to carry out various tasks, including camera boats, safety boats and catering boats."

Flying low

Sam Mendes Spectre

Additional permissions were sought to ensure the safety of flying a helicopter at a low level along the Thames and over the bridges, with the team working in conjunction with TfL, London Buses, Westminster City Council and Lambeth Council Film Office.

The six-night shoot required road closures over a large area, while authorities and all parties facilitating the shoot were given notice 12 weeks in advance. Letters were also sent to 11,000 homes and offices, and helicopter filming ceased at midnight to minimise disruption.

Pill notes that "The local communities and organisations were incredibly supportive" and it was no doubt an exciting prospect for all involved.

Working together

Daniel Craig and Ben Whishaw in Spectre

Given the vast scale of the shoot, clear communication was essential in facilitating the complex filming requirements. This ranged from logistical challenges, ensuring health and safety standards were met, working around other events taking place in London as well as coordinating a large team.

Pill states "[it] involved a location team of nearly 200 personal that included marshals, security, traffic management and police."  Livetts agrees that "it was a tribute to all the highly professional and experienced crew, without them it would not have been possible", adding that "working with Location Manager Emma Pill was a treat, as she without doubt had the most challenging job on the production but carried it out flawlessly."

All the hard work paid off, with a scene that is sure to captivate audiences on the big screen. Pill says "I don't think I will ever forget the first night shoot, being positioned on a support boat on the river, seeing the entire river lit for the first time, with the bridges locked down, the river held, the helicopters coming in to position 150ft above the river and action being called over the radio."

Spectre is due to be released nationwide on Monday 26 October.