On location with Bond

Stumbling upon a film crew or a movie set is a real thrill. I think it goes back to the time I hung out on the set of a James Bond movie, but more about that later.

I went for a little break in Otago last week. We went to see the amazing Elephant Rocks near Duntroon, which were used for Aslan's camp in the first Narnia film. It's a beautiful spot and well worth a visit. But as we walked back to our car, we could see something strange just over the brow of the hill. My curiosity was piqued. After a bit of a walk, I found myself standing in front of an abandoned film set. It was a cluster of fake stone buildings in a little valley at the top of a field. It was a strange sight in the midlde of the Kiwi countryside. The fake stones were not fully painted and it all looked a bit weatherbeaten. It seemed to be a simple plywood structure with painted foam rocks stuck on top.

Here are some pics I snapped on my phone that give you the general idea:

Once I got home, a bit of web searching taught me it was a set built for the later abandoned biblical movie Kingdom Come. A story here says the film could be back on track soon.

I don't know why, but I always find it exciting to stumble upon a film crew or a set. There's something cool about getting a first-hand glimpse of the smoke and mirrors employed to summon movie magic. I like walking behind a set and seeing all the wooden planks holding it up. It always reminds me of a Terry Gilliam cartoon or that bit at the end of Blazing Saddles.

Like most passions, my love of movie sets can be traced back to a vivid childhood experience. When I was four years old, my family took me to the Greek island of Corfu for a holiday. One day, we saw people building a fake villa on the local beach. It was fascinating. From the front it looked like an idyllic Greek beach villa, but behind you could see it was just propped up with wood. The plants on the fake verandah were made of plastic and stapled to the fake wall. It was awesome and blew my four-year-old mind. The fact that I can remember all this so vividly after more than three decades shows that the experience clearly made an impression.

Then, one morning, the beach around the fake villa was covered in tyre tracks swerving through the sand in dramatic fashion. I remember spending the day running around in the tracks on the beach. Later, when they took the villa down, my sister was given some of the plastic plants from the verandah. The plastic plants, complete with flowers, were a fixture in her bedroom for many years to come, but in the end they went to that mysterious place where treasured childhood possessions go, along with all the Star Wars figures and Mr Men books.

It was only later that we realised the villa was a set for the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. It took a long time for films to make it on to television in those days, so it was years later when I finally saw the film. There was the villa that we watched them build, there were the flowers that were now on my sister's wall and I finally got to see how those tracks were made in the sand.

They were filming this:

Here is a still of the villa as it appears in the film. Just over that dune on the left you can see the beach buggy coming:

Somewhere in my mum's house are pictures of the four-year-old me sitting on that fake movie verandah with a big grin on my face. It was 1980 and I get the feeling that movies were already under my skin. The arrival of a Betamax video recorder in the house a few years later would seal the deal.

But I don't think I'm alone in my love of visiting movie locations. There are whole websites and guidebooks devoted to cataloguing movie locations. You can go to Tunisia to visit the restored Lars Homestead, you can tour New Zealand looking at Lord of the Rings sites and they clearly hope The Hobbit will lure tourists to these shores.

I think there are many film pilgrims like me. We are filmgrims, if you like. Have you ever stumbled upon a film set? Did you chance upon any Hobbit malarkey? What about Lord of the Rings? Or have you ever gone out of your way to visit a particular movie location? Tell us about your filmgrimages.

To get you started, here is an amazing story about a Star Wars fan who stumbled upon a Return of the Jedi set and took some amazing pics. I will see if my mum can find the old holiday snaps from the Bond set and use them in a later post.

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