Adrian Biddle: On Second Units

From American Cinematographer, Paging 007 by Ron Magid (December 1999)

Due to the epic scale of The World Is Not Enough, the caviar factory proved to be one of Apted and Biddle's rare opportunities to shoot an action scene in its entirety. The other action sequences were generally handled by up to three additional camera units, supervised by veteran stuntman and second unit director Vic Armstrong... Despite the huge amount of work involved, Biddle regrets not being able to shoot every scene in the picture, as he had on such action and effects heavy projects as Event Horizon and The Mummy.

"I would have loved to have shot some of the second-unit stuff, but our units shot [concurrently] for six months, so we couldn't have dont it any other way. We'd still be shooting now!"

- Adrian Biddle, BSC

Apted, Biddle and Armstrong initially split the work up between the first and second units based on storyboards of each sequence.

"We found that the storyboards didn't last very long, though. Each sequence was a slightly different challenge. Vic would do the scenes that were very stunt-driven, and then I would take in the first unit to do the extra bits and pieces we needed. Conversely, I'd take the actions scenes that were more actor driven, and then Vic would finish them up. There was so much to do that the division of scenes was really determined by whether or not the audience would be able to tell if it was the actual actor in the shot. There was no artistic thinking in that decision. It was more like, 'If you can't see it's Pierce Brosnan, it's second unit.' We generally started shooting on any given set first, even if it was for just a couple of days. That way, my gaffers could pre-rig the set, so the look and the lighting style was determined before the second unit went in; they could then go from there. I think that's really the key to getting good second-unit stuff."

- Adrian Biddle, BSC

However, there were a couple of sequences that were shot by Armstrong and second-unit cinematographer Jonathan Taylor ahead of first unit, including a stunning boat chase on the Thames River. In those instances, communication was vital to maintaining a consistent look.

"I just made sure that I talked to Jonathan. That sequence is a good example of why, when you go on a location scout, you've got to do it well. You have to determine, especially with the assistant director and the director, that you're going to shoot in one direction all morning , even if that means cutting up the scene and then doing the reverses in the after noon."

- Adrian Biddle, BSC

... Of course, shooting what amounts to a series of actors' inserts creates its own difficulties, particularly in terms of making those closeups feel integrated into the overall action. For Biddle, the key to these dilemmas is movement.

"You have to repeat what the second unit has done. That is, you design each of your shots so the editor can use them instead of what second unit photographed, although you then wouldn't have the big stunts. I think the best way to approach these inserts is to do them exactly the same way as you would do a standard wide shot. That way, the camera moves become more exciting, so when you cut to the insert shot, it just looks as if it's part of the sequence, and you might find that you can use a bit more of it in the scene."

- Adrian Biddle, BSC

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