Magazine article American Cinematographer

Developing a Special "Bond" between Fall Guy and Camera

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Developing a Special "Bond" between Fall Guy and Camera

Article excerpt

Choreographing a freefall fight that included tumbling, flipping and spinning through the sky called for touchy teamwork, to say the least

With guarded optimism, Mike Wilson outlined the freefall sequence proposed for this latest James Bond classic. Their novel idea portrayed a conventional confrontation, but was set in freefall as a breathtaking medium. To portray this sequence as absolutely believable required precise synchronization between the freefall cameraman and the aerial stuntmen.

Rande Deluca, my partner, was responsible for assembling all the necessary camera equipment and then operating this system while flying to the proper position in the sky on his "airbubble" camera platform.

My attention was directed toward achieving the precise action required for this sequence, and then solving the unique technical and practical challenges encountered in coordinating this action with its documentation by freefall photography.

In the sequence, "James Bond" is pushed from an airplane sans parachute and proceeds to fight with the pilot who is already in freefall and who is wearing a parachute. "Bond" eventually removes the pilot's chute and, after donning it in freefall, evades the steel dentures of "Jaws" and saves himself.

The action had to fill the frame in most shots requiring a minimum distance to be maintained between photographer and subject. For continuity, each consecutive or duplicate shot had to have the same sun angle and background orientation. Also, the aerial stuntmen had to wear business suits, which limited their freefall maneuverability and increased their rate of descent. During the scenes with the pilot and "Bond" in freefall, apparently wearing only business suits, it was necessary to have an actual parachute system concealed within the suit and yet remain totally undetectable, even while tumbling and fighting in freefall.

The skydiving stuntmen not only had to be highly proficient in conventional freefall skills, but were also required to have a good understanding of film. They had to be continually aware of their body position relative to the camera, and remain properly oriented geographically to the ground and the sun. Due to the lack of helmets and the numerous close points of view in freefall, it was necessary for the skydivers to be close doubles for the actors; Roger Moore and Richard Kiel weren't up for joining our aerial set! This would also minimize the need for the often compromising "studio freefall" scenes.

The first important task was to select the skydivers best qualified for each skill needed. Luckily we were able to gather an extremely talented work force, averaging over 1500 jumps each. Zeke Zahar, the Canadian Parachute Team Captain and world champion, was a parachute equipment designer/manufacturer who agreed to construct some formal skydiving equipment for the project. Ron Luginbill, a 6'5" member of the United States Parachute Team, would be a perfect double for "Jaws." Jake Lombard, two-time world champion with a remarkable resemblance to Roger Moore, was obviously the best choice for "Bond's" double. I was awarded the pilot's role based on my recent experience as Captain of the United States Parachute Team, the current world champions.

Jake "Bond" immediately agreed to start making test jumps attacking me in freefall, while Rande Deluca tested his camera equipment and his freefall chasing skills. These test jumps were most educational. Skydiving motion looks normal on the screen when shot at 32 frames per second in most cases. …

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