Spectre: Locations and Stunts

Every location in SPECTRE features spectacular stunts and set pieces, starting with the Day of the Dead scenes in Mexico City.

This scene employed 1,520 extras, dressed and made up by 107 different make-up artists, 98 of whom were local.

On each working day it took three and a half hours to get the crowd prepared.

The filmmakers shot in three different locations in the city — The Gran Hotel, Plaza Tolsá and the Zócalo, which is the main square in the centre of town. The stunt team replicated a massive explosion involving the hotel at Pinewood Studios in England, although the Zócalo itself played host to a huge sequence involving an out-of-control helicopter piloted by the world-famous Red Bull aerobatic pilot Chuck Aaron.

Red Bull Helicopter

The Red Bull helicopter is built especially for barrel-rolling and free-diving. Due to the altitude in Mexico City, Aaron was limited in the aerobatics he could preform. However, he still pushed the boundaries, flying just 30 feet above the extras with two stuntmen re-enacting the fight while hanging out the helicopter.

The stunt co-ordinator, Gary Powell, says, “The world of stunts has changed a lot and we’re very story-orientated with all our action scenes, which is great because a lot of films forget the story and just do ‘crash, bang, wallop!’”

The Mexico helicopter scene, he notes, is integral to the story. “We don’t just blow stuff up because it looks good,” he says. “With all the action in a James Bond film, we tell a story while we’re doing it.”

As much action as possible was shot in-camera, as is the case with every Bond film. “We try and do as much as we can for real,” says special effects and miniature effects supervisor Chris Corbould, “and then the visual effects guys come along and make what we’ve done look better, tweaking it, painting things out, adding things in.

“But everything is based in reality. In Mexico City, you can see thousands of people in the Zócalo responding to this amazing helicopter sequence unfolding in the sky above them.”


There is more airborne action unfolding in Austria, where the filmmakers worked in Lake Altaussee, Obertilliach and Sölden, the latter being the home of the ICE-Q restaurant and the cable cars that feature in a tense sequence with Q.

According to Corbould, the main action sequence in Austria proved very complicated, technically. “We had planes hanging on high wires coming down the valley approaching one of our villains and his men who are in Range Rovers,” he explains.

“Then the plane wings hit a tree before it lands. It’s going down the hill using its engines to propel itself but it’s on the ground. Hence, we built planes that had skidoos inside so they are actually being driven.”

Corbould and his team used eight different planes that were involved in a number of separate rigs. Two of the planes could actually fly, while another two were fitted to the wire rig. Another four planes were carcasses fitted with hidden skidoos, which the stunt team could use to drive the plane down the mountainside, ensuring total control.

“It is a matter of getting the right vehicle for the right terrain and incorporating it and hiding it inside the relevant vehicle,” Corbould says. “In SPECTRE, our sequence sees the plane smash into a barn and it explodes out the other end, dropping from 20 feet.”

When shooting this sequence, the SPECTRE team added ten sheds and a barn to the area in which they filmed. Eight of the sheds were found in the local mountains nearby and were bought and rebuilt on the set. A total of 20 miles of reclaimed wood siding was used to create the remaining sheds and the barn, which the plane smashes through.

The biggest challenge in Austria, however, was different. “Initially, in Austria, there was no ice or snow,” Corbould says. “All our preparations were delayed and we had to travel quite a few miles to a different location to test the plane rigs and skidoos.”

So unseasonal was the weather in Austria that the filmmakers had to make 400 tonnes of man-made snow to cover the hillside, which would normally be blanketed in white. “Austria was a full-on sequence,” notes Corbould, “and then we went straight into Rome.”

Rome: Museo della Civiltà Romana

In Rome, the filmmakers shot for four days at the Museo della Civiltà Romana, which doubled for a cemetery where Bond first sees the widow, Lucia. The second unit then spent a further 18 nights over the course of three weeks shooting the stunning night-time car chase sequence, where Bond in his Aston Martin DB10 and Hinx in a Jaguar C-X75 race through the city streets.

“We always try to do things on screen that have never been seen before,” says producer Barbara Broccoli, “and the result is that in Rome we had the most spectacular car chase. It is something that we feel very proud of and I think also that the Romans will feel very proud as well.”

The logistics, however, were difficult to marshal. “In Rome we saw a load of roads we liked and sometimes the road is specific to a stunt because it had a feature which would be really nice to jump,” says Gary Powell.

“A lot of the time when we asked for permission we would get a yes, but some of the time we’d get a no, so we would have to try and find other roads. It was a constant process to find the right location to fit the stunts. There was a lot of toing and froing in Rome.”

The filmmakers were able to shut down key portions of the city, including a section alongside the Tiber, looking towards St. Peter’s Square and the Coliseum. Though the audience will only ever see two cars on screen, the second unit used a total of eight Aston Martins and seven Jaguars to shoot the chase.

Corbould, meanwhile, points out that the Rome car chase allowed no room for error. “The stunt drivers were driving around Rome at 100mph, so absolutely everything had to be perfect as far as their performance was concerned,” he says.

“We didn’t want the drivers to get injured and also we didn’t want them damaging buildings that are thousands of years old. The stakes were pretty high. We spent a lot of time testing the cars, making sure they could cope with the punishing regime that the guys put them through.”

For the filmmakers, the most punishing location was Morocco. Here the main SPECTRE team filmed in Tangier and Erfoud, while the Second Unit also shot in the city of Oujda in the northeast of the county. While the cities were pleasant places to work, the Sahara desert outside Erfoud was much more challenging.

When out in the desert, the filmmakers had to make sure that everyone within a 20-mile radius knew to expect loud explosions, the locations department driving out to speak to villagers and the nomad tribes. Indeed, local nomads were hired as guides and security throughout prep and filming.

To make things even more challenging, a huge sand storm blew in on the first day of filming in Erfoud, shutting down production for the entire afternoon; there was no visibility. The crew had to take cover in their vehicles as winds reached 50mph. The temperature in Erfoud was an average of 113 degrees Fahrenheit and reached 50-degrees on the hottest day.

Here the special effects team oversaw what might well be the largest movie explosion ever. The team brought in over 2,100 gallons of kerosene to fuel the massive blast. “It is most definitely the biggest explosion of my career,” says Corbould. “It was complicated to plan and to pull off but it was more than worth it.”

In England, the filmmakers faced a number of very different challenges when co-ordinating their scenes in London. Key external locations included City Hall, The Home of the Mayor and London Assembly — which appears as the Centre for National Security — as well as a number of bridges along the River Thames. Westminster Bridge, in particular, plays a pivotal role in the climax and a section of this was built at Pinewood.

Supervising Locations Manager Emma Pill explains, “We have a river sequence that was all set at night, and involved a high-speed boat and a low-flying helicopter chase, which raised many organisational challenges.”

For each of the six night-shoots the filmmakers had to seek the support of the Port of London Authority. “The scheduling was very complicated,” says Pill, “due to the amount of events taking place in London at the time, including the General Election, the State Opening of Parliament and three weekends of Trooping the Colour.”

In order to complete the scenes with low-flying helicopters, the filmmaker had to send out 11,000 letters to residents and businesses that fell within the fly zone. “The biggest challenge, however, was to light the river at night,” says Pill. “This involved weeks of preparation. We lit under each arch of Vauxhall, Lambeth and Westminster Bridge, 17 arches in total.

“These lights then remained in position for five weeks. We also lit the river from 10 rooftops along the bank of the Thames from Vauxhall Bridge to Hungerford Bridge, working with Lambeth Palace, Tate Britain, and the Royal Parks to gain permission. We also worked very closely with the House of Commons, County Hall and The London Eye to keep various lights on/off, or to change the colour of their lights for each night-shoot.”

Each night-shoot involved a location team of nearly 200 personnel that included marshals, security, traffic management and police officers. “That’s a lot of radios to hand out and coordinate on a night,” laughs Pill, “but it ran extremely smoothly each time.”