The modern movie goer could be forgiven for thinking that everything they see on the big screen is fake. And many things are. But not the stunts in the new James Bond thriller No Time To Die.
“Everything that you saw was for real,” said the film’s action vehicle supervisor Neil Layton. “Everything from the motorcycle jump to the Land Rover jump. That was all done for real.”
Yes, the motorcycle jump, let’s start with that one. The huge leap done ostensibly by Bond riding a Triumph Scrambler as he escapes the pack of Jaguar XF-driving henchmen out to get him. The bike is barreling down a cobblestone street in the real-life stone village of Matera in Southern Italy. As he comes around a corner, Bond encounters a narrow street filled with parishioners exiting church, so he aims left, rockets up a long stone staircase and launches over the stone wall at the top. That was a real Triumph Scrambler and that was a real jump. Only it wasn’t Daniel Craig on the bike, of course. It was a real motorcyclist.
“His name is Paul Edmondson,” said Layton. “He’s five-time world enduro bike champion back in the day (1989-90, 1993-94, and 1996). He’s known to his friends as ‘Fast Eddie.’ That jump was done on his 50th birthday. So to do that jump obviously at 50, yeah, it was quite breathtaking.”
Edmundson not only did the jump, he sort of topped it off during rehearsals.
“In the run up and the rehearsals, because he was timing it to perfection, a couple of times he would just lay the back wheel on the top of the wall, and just set the bike there and then hop it off the wall onto the ground and then go. So it wasn’t a case that he was just launching the bike up and over the wall. It was done down to precision.”
The same precision also applied to all the Aston Martin DB5s used to make the movie. If you count them all up in the opening photo of the excellent new book, James Bond’s DB5 ($50, available from Hero Collector Books), you see 10 of them.
“Two are originals and we had eight replicas,” Layton said. “Of the replicas, two were parts cars, two were gadget cars and four were full-blown stunt cars.”
The full-blown stunt cars are tube-framed carbon fiber-bodied replicas with non-Aston powertrains.
“It was a straight six-cylinder engine that was housed in a spaceframe monocoque chassis that was dressed with carbon fiber overlay panels. So the car was very, very lightweight. It housed 380 brake horsepower, it had a limited-slip diff, and obviously, it had upgraded brakes. So that car was a lot of fun. Yeah, and it didn’t disappoint whenever we had to drive it.”
Layton got to drive it in some scenes, and then a lot of the driving was done by British rally champion Mark Higgins, who was working in his fourth Bond film.
The best car scene in the movie may be early on when Bond and his love interest are trapped in the DB5 in the town square as bad guys shoot at the car which—surprise!—is bulletproof. As you know if you’ve seen the trailer, Bond extricates himself from that particular tricky situation by firing gatling guns from the DB5’s headlights while doing donuts. Turns out that kind of thing clears a town square right out. But there was more to the scene than just the donuts and the firing.
“That’s a stunt car that had a hydraulic handbrake that can lock up the left front wheel,” Layton explained. “What you don’t appreciate in the scene is that the gradient on that ground was actually dropping away. So, if the car was put on a coaster rig, for example, it would rotate around 180 degrees and then just roll down to the lowest point in that courtyard. So to initially get the car to break traction and to start rotating, rather than pushing on it, we gave it the ability to lock that left front wheel, just so they didn’t keep pushing on down the road. We could keep it nailed on a sixpence. And then as soon as the car started to rotate and come around, we could release the handbrake. And then the car would rotate on its own.”
Could a real DB5 do donuts like that? Maybe, maybe not, so the stunt-DB5s had more modern powerplants. No one would acknowledge exactly which modern engine they were, but specs-deduction and a shot of a shifter knob suggest they might be BMW S54 M inline-sixes. They worked quite well, as did the left-front brake lock.
“We got to the point where we got the car and where it is (in the square) so precise that Daniel (Craig could have) actually jumped in the car and done the stunt himself if we hadn’t pulled it off.”
But, of course, they did pull it off and it looks pretty cool.
Then there’s a long stretch of:
Token really cute American!
Stereotypical-Bond-villain-lair yadda, yadda, yadda before we get another chase scene.
The other big chase scene takes place off-road through a forest, using Land Rover Defenders as the bad guy vehicles. Bond is driving a Toyota Land Cruiser and is chased by Land Rover Defenders and Range Rover Sports. He simply nerfs them at just the right spot and—fwoomp!—they launch into the air, one flying brilliantly over the Land Cruiser to crash in oblivion. Bond even takes out a Triumph rider using the crashed Rover’s front winch!
There was more technology used in the filming, too. Some of the scenes were shot using what Layton called “a fully remote stunt driving vehicle with Shiftec” that allows a stunt driver to pilot a vehicle remotely, up to a quarter mile away.
“In conjunction with Shiftec, we’ve developed a vehicle system called the Gemini that allows us to drive the vehicle up to a range of 500 meters remotely from the car, but it still allows us to drive the car dynamically as if we were in the car ourselves. So it opens up many avenues. We could even drive the car sitting in another vehicle that’s trailing the first car from behind. So if we ever wanted to do a dynamic, dramatic stunt, or a total loss where the car crosses a train track and it gets hit and written off, this gives us the ability to do it all in one take rather than cutting from scene to scene to scene.”
The technology sounds interesting. Will it ever replace stunt drivers?
“There doesn’t seem to be any substitution for the stunt people to do it themselves,” Layton said. “That’s why they’re stunt people, they take the risks and take the money. But in some aspects, it’s always a bonus if you can eliminate or reduce the percentage of the risks you’re faced with. You still need a precision driver to drive the car dynamically. It’s just that it opens up a lot more variables to the production team as to what they can and can’t actually achieve.”
To see what they’ve achieved in No Time To Die, get in line now for opening night on October 8. If you want to know how it ends, call me and I’ll tell you. But I can say after seeing the film, that the stunt driving is pretty impressive.
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