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Recently MGM invited us to the promotional launch of the Die Another Day region two DVD. I took MGM up on this generous offer which included a chance to see the special features before the disc was released, the chance to be driven up and down Park Lane in an Aston Martin and, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to interview Vic Armstrong who was the 2nd Unit Director, or Action Unit Director as the role was sometimes known. Vic is an old hand at Bond films after starting his career as a stuntman in You Only Live Twice. Throughout the years he has had a hand in some of the greatest films of all time including Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, James Bond and more recently Gangs of New York and so on with the interview.

Vic Armstrong

DVDActive: So, are you a DVD fanatic?

VA: I’ve just had a home cinema put into my house which projects DVDs.

DVDActive: Oh right. A big projector?

VA – Yes it’s a ten foot screen and 7.1 THX and everything .. its such a wonderful medium. It’s fantastic! The difference between that and you know I can do tape as well. Its so great watching films projected with proper sounds and everything. I’ve been offered a thing to direct called Resident Evil so I projected that last night and it’s like WOAH!

DVDActive: The picture on that DVD is very clear.

VA – It’s superb! Really great.

DVDActive: So that was the last movie you watched?

VA – It was, Resident Evil, last night.

DVDActive: Is that the sort of genre of films you like? The high powered soundtracks, DTS?

VA – I like the DTS high powered soundtracks. Terminator 2’s I liked. I only watched that (Resident Evil) because I knew I was getting a script delivered today. Just bone up on it, you know? I’ve been watching all the Academy stuff because I am in the Academy and BAFTA like Gangs of New York, stuff like that. Normally I’m an action/adventure/comedy person. However I have just seen Y Tu Mama Tambien. I thoroughly enjoyed that. Thought it was fabulous. Anything with a good story, you know? Catch Me If You Can was wonderful.

DVDActive: Yes it was.

VA – Anything with a good story I like. I can get bored very easily.

Vic Armstrong

DVDActive: OK moving towards this film. Can you explain your role in Die Another Day? I’m sure you’ve had to do this a few times today!

VA – Yes! We class ourselves technically as the Action Unit so in the old days you’d have the 2nd Unit which is still around but they tend to do a close up of this bottle or a close up of your hand writing or a close up of your machine getting turned on, or they get up early and wait for three or four days to try and get a lovely sun rise or sunset. Where as I have a one hundred and fifty man crew minimum and we do whole sequences which basically embodies the whole of the action sequence which is why we call it the Action Unit because we shoot the whole action sequence, and my job is to conceive that sequence, get it agreed with the main unit director and the producers and the financiers and everything else, take it to the special effects, the props, set construction – everything else, and have everything designed around that sequence and then at the end of the day I have to go out and shoot it. I also do a rough cut of it on my computer in Final Cut Pro 3 so we end up with a final cut, or my final cut and then the editor obviously does the cut for the movie. So we basically conceive and make the whole of the action sequences.

DVDActive: And how much of that comes from the original story that the writers would produce?

VA – Some movies like Gangs of New York there was a lot written down, a lot that Martin Scorsese wrote in this for instance, or in The World is Not Enough for instance, it said “He escapes from MI6 at Vauxhall bridge and chases the boat girl down the Thames and they wind up at the dome, and they end up on a hot air balloon.” That’s what we started with, so you drive up and down the Thames, and look at this and look at that and we conceive everything. In this one, in Die Another Day, there’s a hovercraft chase. We knew the bay would have hovercrafts because of the mines, and it being South Korea and supposedly these hovercraft can hover over the mines without detonating them. So, we knew we were going to have a hovercraft chase, but then I went to the area the location people had picked for us which was Aldershot which was the closest to the North Korea look we could get (laughs). So I walked round the location and devised all those gags and I put everything I could think together and there’s even more that’s in the movie. And then just hone it down and then shot it. So yeah, very often it’s SORT of a blank piece of paper, with just some ghostly instructions on if you like.

Vic Armstrong

DVDActive: Did you find that from your experience in The World is Not Enough where it’s a boat scene and they are racing but they’re not on road, the back end will go out, did you find that had a lot of parallels with the hovercrafts?

VA – In some ways, probably when I started yes, and then once when we started testing these hovercrafts we suddenly realised they don’t manage, you can’t control them as much as you can even a boat which is tough enough you know? So they took on a whole life of their own and in fact I changed a lot of the storyline to match them once I started working with them realising exactly how unmanageable they were and unwieldy. So I started adapting the storyline for that as well, you know? I just wanted to go through the story and we even had one instance where they did a big jump and land on a lake and everything else which I had in my rough cut. I just wanted to show them in every type of terrain that a normal vehicle couldn’t cover.

DVDActive: Was the hovercraft perhaps your favourite scene to be involved with on Die Another Day?

VA – No I’d have to say the ice car chase was my favourite scene. That was, the original cut was much much bigger than that, much more balletic – it was like a ballet on ice. I was very proud of it because it had an amazing look to it. Hovercraft was unique in it’s own way, but this car chase was incredible because we had these two, you had this fantastic great wide shot of these two little dinky cars amongst great prehistoric icebergs with the blue and the ice and they were just floating and dancing and I was very proud of that one. To come up also with a chase with just two cars chasing, no interaction, no nothing you know?

DVDActive: Will we get any of that on the DVD?

VA – Yes I believe there’s a twenty six minute making of, so you’ll get to see all of that stuff on there which I was happy about when I read that on one of he previews of the DVD, yeah. It’s spectacular it really is, just sensational.

DVDActive: Yeah I’ll look forward to seeing that. So obviously protecting the stunt men for these types of scenes is paramount were there any times you can talk about where things did, or nearly went wrong when shooting this movie?

VA – Yeah on the ice chase, in particular, we were deadly worried about cars going through ice, but at the same time if you hit an iceberg then there would be a terrible impact or if the two cars hit each other as they do a lot of crossing or what have you. So we had five point harnesses built into all the cars but it was a personal agreement with whatever the drivers wanted to do whether they wore their harnesses or not because the open car is not so bad, you could probably get out of that, the Jaguar, but the enclosed Aston, if that did actually break the ice and go through, the shock of the water – I don’t think you’d ever release your harnesses and get out you know, so they both decided to go without harnesses on because the chances of hitting an iceberg was much less than going through the ice. And unfortunately once we did hit an iceberg (laughs) and totally destroyed an Aston Martin probably four, five hundred thousand dollars which was the money we put into them building them and everything else. And he got terrible concussion for four days cause he whacked his head on the side and then went up and split his head on the roll bars. But you know, he walked away from it, fine, four days after he was back again but err.. so that was a calculated risk if you like. If they had the harnesses on and they went in the water I don’t think they’d have come out of it, so you know.. just a calculated risk. Apart from that (touch wood) we didn’t really have any majors no.

Vic Armstrong

DVDActive: Earlier on (in the day) we were being told about Pierce and his stunts and how he is very athletic and did a lot on board the hovercraft and stuff, were there any times when he really wanted to do a stunt but say the insurance company or whoever won’t let him?

VA – Erm, he had a bit of a bad knee at the beginning of the movie which he actually had when we did Tomorrow Never Dies and he had some surgery on it. So we were aware of how much he could do, but my argument was I think the insurance company were a bit sceptical about letting him lose with me in a hovercraft, and my argument was, once we got him in the hovercraft, he’s a passenger and there should be no strain on his knee at all and he’s just to hang on you know? And I think it really makes the hovercraft chase because you can see him and he’s getting mud in his face and bullets exploding trees and wood hitting him from the trees and there’s crap flying everywhere and he loved as he’s actually in amongst it and people go to see Pierce Brosnan who is James Bond, they don’t go to see stunt double A.N.Other do an exciting sequence. They want to see Pierce Brosnan doing an exciting sequence because he IS James Bond – same as Harrison was in Indiana Jones. That’s why it’s so important to put them in it, and he knows that and he knows the value of it and he’ll come at the drop of a hat to my unit all the time - he knows, like the boat chase, you know he’s in there you know. Which is great, and to me that makes the movie. As an audience goer I’ll enjoy it a lot more when I do see what I believe is the actors doing their stunts.

DVDActive: There’s a large fighting scene in the middle with Bond fencing and stuff – was that part of your unit at all?

VA – No. My contribution to that was to recommend Bob Anderson who I think is one of the best fencing masters in the world. He’s eighty-odd years old, got the enthusiasm of a twenty year old, he’s trains Canadian Olympic teams, he even worked with Douglas Fairbanks and everybody – he’s a fantastic fencer. So as soon as this sequence came up I said “If you want to do this correctly, get this guy”. I did fencing sequences – Rob Roy and all that sort of stuff – this guy, is innovative. You know, I did a couple of movies with him. What did I do.. erm.. The Phantom and what else? Oh I recommended him for Zorro as well which is some of the best fencing I’ve seen in a modern day movie you know? It had all the swash and buckle of all the old movies. So O recommended him for Zorro, and I worked with him on The Phantom so in my mind it was a no brainer – get him for this if we can get him and I think he did a superb job. I’d like to take credit for it, but he choreographed it, came up with great ideas, the set was built, and I think it was a really really good sequence. Very enjoyable you know? Very classy.

DVDActive: Just popping back to the car chase. The Aston has this adaptive camouflaging which allows it to disappear in and out of view. Did that present any problems while filming the scene?

VA – I wasn’t wild about that. It is very democratic making a Bond film but I wasn’t totally enamoured with that. It was OK and it was fun when in disappeared and I thought “Well.. hmm..” It sort of leaves it open to cheat a little bit – it was OK. It did present problems shooting it because of the optical effects you had to achieve and how much movement you get in the camera of what can cross the frame so anything that has an optical in it creates a problem when physically shooting. So it wasn’t that I didn’t like so much, I just wasn’t too sure of that as a gag. I didn’t mind it that much, but it was OK, you know?

DVDActive: I noticed on the DVD there is some multi angle footage of the hovercraft scene and perhaps other scenes – were you involved with that in any way?

VA – Oh every shot of the hovercrafts I shot. What you’ll see in the end result is that I’m probably running five cameras and we probably use one or two in a sequence so there’s three other wild cameras. There’s longer shots of helicopter approaches and all other stuff, so I’m very interested to see it myself, see what other angles they’ve put in there because I shoot things so you can cut them 10, 15 different ways and I use multi cameras because of the difficulty of doing a shot – it’s a huge set up for one shot and if anything goes wrong you need to make sure you have captured it from one of the other angles.

Vic Armstrong

DVDActive: If they came up to you and said “Do you want to do the next Bond?” would you leap at the chance or would you think “I’ve done a lot of Bonds – I want to make way for someone with perhaps a new perspective on things” ?

VA – No – I’d leap at it, I’d love it. Then I’d be petrified that we wouldn’t come up with something new (laughs). It’s the trepidation when you start a Bond – can we get an original story you know? But I do pick brains, and I ask all my mates and I go round and round and round and round – sleepless nights trying to come up with something each time. But yeah I’d jump at it cause I’m very proud of my association with Bond – goes back to 1966 as a ninja in those days sixty five pounds a week and now spending probably twenty million of their money you know? I’m very proud of my profession and I’d be heart broken not to do it – put it that way.

DVDActive: Ok.. one final question – who’s your favourite Bond?

VA – (pauses) I think it’s so difficult. I think Sean was great cause was the best, the first but I really do think Pierce has made the part his own I really do. And I was very impressed with his last one - he’s really getting a hard edge and he’s matured. He’s just taken a little longer to mature than Sean Connery did. But I think as it stands at this moment, Pierce is.

DVDActive: I agree. Well thank you very much for your time.

VA – My pleasure.

DVDActive would like to thank Vic Armstrong and MGM for allowing us access to the Die Another Day DVD promotion and for their time throughout the day.

Die Another Day is now available to purchase on DVD from all good DVD retailers. Why not check out our review of this two disc release? Click here.

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