On Site: Inside Stage 007!

In 1976, EON (Everything or Nothing) Productions began work on the tenth James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, their most ambitious effort to that date (estimated budget: $30 million).

No strangers to inventing wholly new exploits for the seemingly invincible 007, EON would this time do so at the behest of Bond`s creator, Ian Fleming; sensing that the source novel was not his best, Fleming licensed only the title and characters.

Borrowing heavily from You Only Live Twice [1967]–indeed, central villain Sigmund Stromberg [Curt Jurgens] was originally scripted as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. chieftain Ernst Stavro Blofeld–the resulting globe-trotting tale also tapped into the prevailing détente of the time as it follows Britain`s MI5 super-agent, James Bond (“Saintly” Roger Moore), and Russia`s seductive KGB operative, Anya Amasova (sensational Barbara Bach), as they cooperate to investigate the separate disappearances of their countries` respective nuclear submarines, Ranger and Potemkin.

Inspired by media revelations regarding the Howard Hughes-sponsored Glomar Explorer–outwardly a marine research vessel later revealed to conceal apparatus designed expressly for the covert recovery of a downed Soviet nuclear sub–Stromberg`s base of operations would be the Liparus, at first glance one of the largest oil tankers in the world (“After the Karl Marx, of course,” interjects Agent XXX.), but in reality housing a labyrinth of quays, holding cells, arsenal, control center and more, all conveniently traversed by dual elevators and twin, superconductive monorails.

Responsibility for both the concept and design fell upon renowned production designer Ken Adam. The clarity and single-mindedness of Adam`s vision is readily apparent; with the exception of the huge, illuminated control room globe, the set as realized is nearly identical to even his earliest sketches. Like his design for the Fort Knox bullion vaults of Goldfinger [1964], (for which Adam would receive his second BAFTA nomination), the Liparus seems wholly convincing no matter how impractical the reality of such a space–as evidenced by the near swamping of the sixty-three foot, twelve-ton “miniature” tanker on its shakedown cruise. As a nod to the unique look of … Spy … , Adam garnered a third Academy Award® nomination.

Having no desire to duplicate the impressive but decidedly wasteful effort required for a free-standing set along the lines of the volcano showcased in …Twice –the obvious progenitor of the submarine pens–there was nonetheless just one problem with Adam`s vision: no existing facility–aircraft hangars and warehouses included–could contain it. Producer Albert R. (“Cubby”) Broccoli`s solution: Build one. Thus ground was broken by Michael Brown–an architect with the Delta Doric Company–at famed Pinewood Studios in Iver Heath just outside London, England, in April 1976 for what came to be called the “007 Stage.” While others may make similar claims (for example, Streets of Fire [1982] boasted the largest “covered” set), the 007 Stage remains the largest fully enclosed, “silent” soundstage in the world, so big, in fact, fans must be employed to clear the fog that sometimes forms at its center.

German-born Adam, then 55, later observed:

The volcano was easier for me in a way because it was a completely imaginary concept. Nobody has seen the inside of a volcano. But here I was stuck with a supertanker. Basically that is very dull. *1

But he approached the job with fresh, unbiased thinking, choosing not to base his ideation on any existing maritime architecture plans.

I prefer to go that way. I know quite a lot about boats. These gigantic tankers are divided into individual compartments–bulkheads–where they store the fuel. I almost counter-designed against the hold of a tanker. *2

In order to meet the film`s deadline, the set and stage would be built almost simultaneously, with construction crews from Specialist Builders enclosing each section of the outer shell only after major corresponding components of the Liparus were in place. In some ways the Liparus was little more than a dressing applied to the interior walls of the stage and for this reason the one-time Klaus Adam focused on structural elements that could remain in place once filming ended. Final cost of the soundstage alone: approximately £600,000 (slightly more than one million in 1976 dollars).

A star in its own right, shooting on the “Jonah” set–the biblical nickname proffered by cast and crew–commenced in November, 1976. (On 5 December, then Prime Minister Sir Harold Lloyd conducted a ribbon-cutting for the press.) Though the submarine pens clearly made good use of a pre-existing 1.2 million-gallon tank, a newly added secondary tank allowed for full-size sinkings and other large-scale water effects. A mobile out-building at the north end of the stage allowed the Liparus bow doors to swing open while artful camera angles prevented audiences from seeing nearby Black Park and the otherwise landlocked truth of the locale.

Wishing to avoid the flat, harsh appearance of …Twice`s volcano, Ken Adam sought-out … Spy`s … cinematographer, Claude Renoir, grandson of famed impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir. Privately, Renoir made a sad confession: his eyesight failing, he could not make out the farther reaches of the set. Rather than further embarrass Renoir, the infamous director of another of Adam`s award-winning efforts, Dr.Strangelove [1963], was quietly consulted. Though the late Stanley Kubrick employed specialists on his own films, he was widely regarded as a master technician himself, having devised a variety of new methods for such landmark efforts as 2001:a space odyssey [1968] (on which Adam had declined the production designer`s post). Kubrick`s suggestion upon spending a long Sunday afternoon on the set? Incorporate functional lighting directly into the Liparus, greatly reducing the need for the enormous, glaring arc lights normally associated with filming in a large space. (Some twenty years later, Kubrick would embark on a more protracted stay in Stage 007 while directing Eyes Wide Shut.)

As luck would have it, that winter was one of the coldest on record in the UK, forcing cast and crew to don parkas and anoraks whenever the cameras weren`t actually rolling; in many scenes the actors` breath is clearly visible. Beyond near-freezing temperatures, on many days the production also had to contend with food, costumes, and make-up for nearly 600 extras. Further, any players issued fire arms were subject to strict safety regulations, notably the surrendering and inspection of hundreds of blank-firing–and, therefore, hazardous–Sten guns at every break in filming, including meals.

One final concession to reality was both budgetary and aesthetic: while a modern supertanker could indeed conceal a nuclear submarine averaging 600 feet in length, the resulting set would have rendered the actors and extras mere flyspecks. Adam instead reduced the subs to five-eighths scale, making the set more manageable both visually and financially.

Filming proceeded smoothly into the new year with only one serious mishap: during the climactic battle sequence, pyrotechnics accidentally ignited a portion of the control room. Only Adam`s precious fiberglass globe was significantly damaged though, despite heavy security, uniformed extras apparently made-off with a number of television monitors and other bits of set dressing during the evacuation procedure. The Liparus interiors ultimately wrapped on 26 January 1977.

While industry wags questioned the necessity of such a space, the 007 Stage has been in constant use since its completion, playing host to both the Superman and Indiana Jones series as well as later Bond entries. One of many advantages to utilizing the 007 Stage is that large scale “exteriors” (such as Batman`s [1989] Gotham City) can be built without thought to weather or the other uncertainties usually associated with filming on an outdoor lot or location.

As director Ridley Scottfilmed Legend, a far more calamitous fire erupted during the lunch hour on 27 June 1984, this time burning the stage to the ground. Rechristened the “Albert R. Broccoli Stage” on 7 January 1985 at the suggestion of Pinewood general manager Cyril Howard, the entire structure was miraculously rebuilt–with added fire safety features and additional square footage, again under the supervision of Michael Brown–in under five months, just in time for “Operation Main Strike” sequences of A View to a Kill [1985], the fourteenth Bond epic. New price tag: £1,000,000.

**The model of the Liparus shown in cutaway and revealing its superstructure was one hit of the Bond Weekend `99 in Las Vegas. Alan explains this collectible`s provenance–Matt Sherman

“The model was obtained by proxy at the Christie`s South Kensington [London] auction of James Bond memorabilia in September 1998, given a custom-fitted shipping crate by the neighboring firm of Cadagon-Tate, and delivered to the United States in mid-October by Federal Express.

The exact purpose of the miniature (Lot #95) is unknown. From footage included in the Mass Communications & Society film study series, director Lewis Gilbert can be seen with production designer Ken Adam discussing the various camera positions and cast movements using a somewhat larger though less detailed mock-up.

Christie`s claim that the model is a fan effort seems unfounded; a Bond devotee would likely havebeen more careful with the finish and added greater detail. The replica`s quality is closer to that which you would expect from an architectural firm. The probable explanation, then, is that the diorama was created by either EON, Pinewood, or both for the purposes of promoting The Spy Who Loved Me to potential exhibitors. That is, it was an expensive means of saying, “Look, look at what we`ve done here! How could you not want to show a film for which we`ve gone to such lengths?!”

The model was put-up for auction by a Mark Bamford having originally obtained it from a colleague who dealt directly with Pinewood Studios about 1977. Regrettably, said colleague passed away in 1988, thus no further information is available.

Contact with Bamford was coordinated by Sarah Hodgson of Christie`s South Kensington.

The miniature furnishings–such as Stromberg`s custom chair and console–as well as the over 100 figures–each taking approximately one hour to prepare (including, in many cases, sculpting their beret) and paint–were added in Winter 2000.

The sequence being filmed in the control room–Bond`s confrontation of Stromberg; their second such meeting–was shot on 13 December 1976, Curt Jurgen`s birthday.”

1* “Ken Adam: 007`s Designer,” Starlog, 9 (October 1977), p. 22. 2* Ibid.

–Alan D. Stephenson is one host of the annual Bond Collectors` Weekends, meeting this year in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is one of the leading 007 memorabilia collectors worldwide, and has been building his collection for 30 years. His 1998 museum show in California featured outstanding examples from his treasure trove…one of the largest 007 collections in the world.

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