An army of filmmakers, led by director Lee Tamahori and director of photography David Tattersall, BSC, brings James Bond's 20th adventure to the screen.

Director of photography David Tattersall, BSC isn’t always able to attend the premieres of his own pictures, but when Die Another Day, the 20th James Bond adventure, bows in London this month, he is likely to be there. In honor of the franchise’s 40th anniversary, Queen Elizabeth II will attend the film’s premiere at the Royal Albert Hall – and therefore, so will Tattersall. "It’s going to be the London movie event of the year," says the cinematographer, whose recent feature credits include Star Wars: Episode II (see AC Sept. ’01), The Majestic and Vertical Limit (AC Feb. ’01). "It’s unlikely I’ll get the day off, but I’ll try to slip away early."

Die Another Day takes Agent 007 (Pierce Brosnan) – along with Bond Girl du jour Jinx (Halle Berry) – on a hunt for a secret doomsday weapon called Icarus. The globetrotting thriller hops from North Korea to Hong Kong to Cuba to Iceland, but Tattersall concedes that plot and location had little to do with his attraction to the show. "It didn’t matter what the script was," he says. "Almost everyone in the movie business wants to work on a Bond movie, particularly English people. I’m the same."

Director Lee Tamahori was another newcomer to the Bond series, and he maintains that it was the production’s international sheen that lured him across the Atlantic to Pinewood Studios, Bond’s production home since 1962’s Dr. No. As Tamahori and Tattersall were to discover, things are done a bit differently on a Bond film – especially the "location" work. "Even though they appear to have lots of exotic locales, the Bond movies are mostly shot on stages within the walls of Pinewood," Tattersall notes wryly.

Indeed, the thousand-man-strong Bond crew completely monopolized the English studio for nine months, with at least five separate units often shooting simultaneously on various stages. The action unit, led by director Vic Armstrong and cinematographer Jonathon Taylor, was in production almost as many days as Tattersall’s main unit, and it handled virtually all of Die Another Day’s location shooting. Everything else was recreated using miniatures or painted backdrops. Tamahori jokes, "David and I would run all over the world scouting these locations, only to end up faking them at Pinewood."

The numerous production units were another 007 idiosyncrasy to which Tattersall and Tamahori had to adapt. Tattersall attests that in terms of production time and logistics, the main unit was on almost equal footing with the units for action, insert, miniature, aerial, underwater and plate work. "It was just nuts," he remarks. "While we were on our stage, blowing up a Russian cargo plane with Pierce and Halle, the model unit was on another, blitzkrieging a 150-foot miniature of the North Korean DMZ; meanwhile, Vic was off with five or six cameras, flipping the Aston Martin over or ramming hovercrafts into each other."

Naturally, the multi-unit method created extra coordination concerns for the director and cinematographer. Asked how he supervised the filming of so many scenes at once – sometimes in different time zones – Tamahori concedes, "In a funny way, I didn’t. It’s not that you don’t direct the movie, obviously, but the Bond franchise is a well-oiled machine, and you work with a lot of people who’ve done this many times before." Extensive storyboard meetings between Tamahori, Tattersall and other key crew established a production blueprint, which each unit then followed with varying degrees of autonomy. "It really just involved a lot of trust – as well as the occasional reshoot," Tattersall says. "The production was as tight as it could be. When Vic was in Iceland, our communication was fairly limited, but when his unit was on the stage next door, I’d run back and forth. The basic rule for stage interiors, which is probably standard on most multi-unit productions, was that the main unit would always start the sequence to establish the look, and then the other units would follow."

Preproduction discussions also covered an issue all Bond filmmakers face: how to keep the "bulletproof genre" (as Tamahori describes it) contemporary while acknowledging decades of stylistic precedent. Tattersall decided that the best strategy would be to show off the series’ trappings – guns, gadgets and girls – rather than the filmmaking itself. "When you come aboard a Bond film, the initial urge is to push the envelope," he says. "There’s a cinematographic trend at the moment for desaturating color and adding grain, kind of dirtying up the image, but those sorts of treatments wouldn’t have been appropriate for Bond. We’re not talking cinéma vérité here – it’s full-on gloss, high-key and colorful."

Another 007 tradition is the anamorphic 2.40:1 format, which the filmmakers use to put an individual stamp on the picture’s mise en scène. The peculiarities of the format usually favor longer focal lengths and a correspondingly shallow depth of field. But Tamahori (who had been introduced to anamorphic by Don McAlpine, ASC, ACS on The Edge) insisted on wider angles for most of the coverage. "We’d do two-shots, even close-ups, on a 50mm," Tattersall says. "Some directors favor the 800mm end of a 3:1 zoom, but we rarely went above 135mm." Tamahori says he applies a "1.85 theology" to the widescreen format: "My pictures tend to have a certain degree of realism, and if you want that you have to get ‘in amongst things’ with wider lenses. The anamorphic format shouldn’t put you off."

Tattersall employed Panavision cameras and Primo lenses, calling on rental houses in both Hollywood and London to fill the huge production’s demand. "It’s a major project for the camera assistants to obtain this many anamorphic lenses and make sure they’re consistent," he notes. "All of these lenses are handmade, so they’re all slightly different. Fortunately, when we started gathering equipment, it was a quiet time on both sides of the Atlantic in terms of production, so we had the pick of the bunch. I bumped into [Panavision London assistant managing director] Hugh Whittaker in the studio car park one morning and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘I figured you were shooting something interesting when I noticed you had 26 cameras booked out!’"

Tattersall employed straightforward means in creating the film’s look and distinguishing the various locales from one another. For scenes set in tropical Cuba, where Bond meets his cohort, Jinx, Tattersall shot through coral or straw filters to highlight the warm ambience. When the plot moves on to Iceland, the cinematographer gelled his lamps with Rosco 65 Daylight Blue plus 34 CTB and filmed through an 82C filter. Of course, one of the most important concerns on any 007 film is photographing the Bond Girl with maximum glamour. While filming Berry, Tattersall used a 500-watt Obie Light, a portable, soft source that he mounted on the camera’s mattebox, and Tiffen Black Net diffusion filters on the lens. (For the record, he adds, "Halle didn’t need it.")

To help maintain visual continuity throughout the sprawling production, Tattersall decided to film the entire show on one stock, Kodak Vision 320T 5277. "It’s possible because the weather’s so lousy [in England]," he says. "You need a fast stock, even outside. I’ve grown to like it for studio interiors, so we used it for literally everything.

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© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.