There’s trouble in the Adriatic. Trapped onboard a rapidly sinking Russian submarine are a well-known secret agent and a female nuclear weapons expert. Water’s gushing in at an incredible rate, the sub’s flipped over and, if that’s not bad enough, the reactor’s set to go critical at any moment. They struggle through the foam and rising water levels to a hatch, fighting against the ever-increasing flow to shut it behind them. A voice shouts: “Cut!” and the flood, the noise the danger... everything just stops, leaving the pair standing there, dripping wet.
The crew are on Stage D at Pinewood Studios, home to James Bond for the past 37 years. Michael Apted, director of Gorillas In The Mist and Nell, is piecing together the climax of Bond 19, aka The World Is Not Enough. Not prone to jovial outbursts at the best of times, he appears pensive and drawn today. After all, this is the first time he’s made a film on this scale. “Tell Pierce and Denise we’re doing it again,” he murmurs to his first assistant director.
Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards are soaked to the skin and locked inside a mock-up of a Russian sub. Created by Oscar-winning production designer Peter Lamont, it looks, from the outside, like a Portakabin on a hydraulic platform set over a huge water tank. Pumps raise the set 40 feet into the air, at which point it’s rolled through 90 degrees.
The next take starts with the set sinking into the tank, only this time extra jets have been positioned to heighten the high-pressure flood look. It certainly appears more dangerous, but Apted’s not happy. Watching the video playback from two remote-controlled cameras, he and cinematographer Adrian Biddle call for take after take. After five or six they’re happy, and the actors gladly climb out towards waiting towels and a dry change of clothes.
Cubby Broccoli, former overseer and father- figure of the Bond franchise, realised long ago that a happy crew was a productive crew, and had a heliport cut into a mountainside during You Only Live Twice, reducing travel time to a location. Since his death in 1996, daughter Barbara and son-in-law Michael Wilson have carried on this tradition, producing the movies and supplying a steady stream of food to all. And with a punishing schedule of work from 7am to 7pm, with only an hour’s break for lunch, this crew needs the energy.
It takes two hours to prepare the next set-ups using a gyroscopic camera mount which stays upright and steady even when the world around goes topsy-turvy. While this is going on, the make-up staff break out the water pistols, only to be outgunned and drenched by the art department, who’ve got compressors and high-pressure hoses.
For the day’s last sequence, Pierce and Denise are called back for a shot of them wading through the water. Richards is still a little apprehensive about the safety of the submarine set and while Apted convinces her that it’s fine, Brosnan’s worries lie elsewhere. It’s nearly finishing time and he repeats the words “A pint, a pint, a pint...” like a mantra. For him, like everyone else on the set, it’s been another typical working day. Tomorrow they’ll get up and do it all again, only then it will be much dryer for everyone. Particularly the make-up crew.