Hemsidan senast uppdaterad: 2020-07-06

En konversation med brittiska Optical Effects artisten Alan Church

Av: Mark Cerulli
Publicerad:
2020-02-19
Timothy Dalton Optical Effects artist Alan Church
Making a movie, any movie, is a massive effort involving hundreds, if not thousands of people in various corners of the globe. Of course, this holds true for a James Bond film – but at its core, the Bonds are still a family operation. One person who can attest to that is Alan Church.

Thirty years ago, Alan Church worked hand in hand with legendary main title wizard Maurice Binder on optical effects and titles. Albeit uncredited, Church worked on four of EON Productions’ James Bond films in the 1980s (returning for a fifth, 1995’s GoldenEye), then went on to a truly impressive career in the UK film and television industry, working on dozens of films including Aliens, Cape Fear, City of Joy, Deep Blue Sea and many others. Like most Bond fans, his 007 love affair started in the darkness of a local cinema.

“My first Bond films were a Dr. No/Thunderball double bill and when I saw the gun barrel and heard the John Barry music, my hair used to stand up and I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I wanted to do it...” Alan remembers. Jump forward several decades and he was part of a small but dedicated team creating one of the most memorable parts of any Bond film – the main titles!


“I also worked on the opticals for Never Say Never Again, but my fondest memories were of Maurice”, Alan mentioned at the start of this exclusive interview for FSWL.

Alan Church Oxberry 1500
Alan Church and his Oxberry 1500. The optical camera that created the titles and gun barrel seq. Also many hundreds of other films. Copyright Alan Church. All rights reserved.

“It wasn’t very glamorous,” the filmmaker said, describing working on the Licence to Kill titles out of a studio in freezing cold of a British spring. “Here’s the thing about the titles, we didn’t shoot them at Pinewood [Studios], we shot them in an old warehouse (which later housed the theatrical optical company GSE), we had to acquit them very quickly… the magic came in editorial and when you put all the opticals together and (added) the music.” Alan also recalled working with what he thought was the main title track sung by American musical artist, Patti LaBelle – who, of course, provided the memorable end titles song for LTK. (Singer Gladys Knight wound up singing the main title track in the finished film), but the team worked with what they had!

“We started shooting the titles with no reference to the music at all…” Alan explained, “… but as long as you refer to certain things that were in the film, you’d just shoot a load of footage with ideas… towards the end, we had the Patti LaBelle track and we had the girl jumping around behind a sheet of glass with me using a watering can, shooting 120FPS (frames per second) so you have to move the girl quite fast which didn’t quite go with the music...”

One incident Alan remembers is when everything came together on the LTK titles… In those “old” days (the 1980s!), movies were still physically cut on editing tables – large contraptions which wouldn’t look out of place in Dr. No’s lab. “I would collect the rushes (processed raw footage) from Rank Labs at Denham and bring them to Uxbridge (their editing room) and we’d do a rough assembly... with key parts from the title sequence just to create a linkage between one shot and another just to see if the effects worked...”

“Suddenly Maurice came in smiling and said, ‘I’ve got it! I’ve got it! Link this up!’ Alan loaded the film into the table and “We were bloody lucky, a lot of the cues worked!” He also lived out the dream of many a Bond fan by appearing IN a Bond film… in LTK’s opening titles no less. “That’s my hand firing the gun... Maurice said I have small hands and we got some lady’s black gloves, we filled the gun barrel with oil and I fired the gun and we super imposed the girl to the left of me… you also see my hand again when the gun fires and the girls are dancing across the screen.”

Maurice Binder directing Alan Church
Maurice Binder directing Alan Church... ready to fire gun. Copyright Alan Church. All rights reserved.

“I got 25 quid (about 32 USD) for that”, Alan adds proudly, “It was deemed a bit too dangerous for the girls to do it...

Although every title sequence is different, all were put together in roughly the same way – “We would do the opticals in sections,” Allan recalled, “then combine them all in one big section and Maurice would present them to John Glen or whoever in the cutting (editing) room… Maurice would be working with us at GSE right up to the last day.”

Licence To Kill title sequence
Screen grabs from the Licence To Kill title sequence. Copyright © 1989 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Pictures Limited. All rights reserved.

Alan also left his stamp on the series in another memorable way – by redoing the iconic Gun Barrel opening for LTK. As he recalled, “Being such a fan, I knew the others (Gun Barrels) inside out. Maurice was way too busy, so I took on board creating the last traditional, non-CGI gun barrel.” And Alan jumped on the project with a true fan’s gusto!

“I went as far back as I could to use first generation components... my favorite was George Lazenby’s (the only one where Bond famously drops to a knee).” Immediately a challenge popped up - “Tim (Dalton) walked way too fast across the frame so the animated circle matte couldn’t keep up!” Alan’s ingenious solution was to optically move the actor back several thousands of an inch for a few frames. (“You can see a ‘moon walk’ effect if you look carefully,” Alan recommends.) He kept Bond moving until the blood covered the gun barrel, then he froze him. After that, he and Binder worked together to create the final version: “Once in the can Maurice was ready in the cutting room for me to initiate, create and combine the title background elements on the optical camera and about the same time we also received a 35mm mag track of the final Gladys Knight version of the song.”

However he did it, the gun barrel opening was highly effective. Alan also mentioned creating a very modern steel blue version for The Living Daylights, which apparently stayed in the edit room although he called it “stunning”.

Timothy Dalton Licence To Kill gun barrel
Timothy Dalton's gun barrel sequence for Licence To Kill. Copyright © 1987 Danjaq S.A. & MGM/United Artists Pictures. All rights reserved.

Technology has radically changed the way movies are edited – now everything is down to keystrokes on a computer, but Alan fondly remembers working with 35MM and the labor-intensive art of “cutting” … “Oh I loved it,” he enthuses. “I did a load of Cannon trailers (for movies like Runaway Train, Delta Force, etc.) and I purely worked on film. I used a Moviola and a Steenbeck (editing table) … to me it was very organic, I loved holding film and making splices – even removing one frame and splicing in another…”

Maurice Binder, Alan’s friend and mentor, sadly passed away after License to Kill.

“His [Maurice Binder] death in 1991 was very sad…” Alan recalled. “I went to his memorial and Cubby [Albert R. Broccoli] was there. I was quite a shy person in those days and Cubby wasn’t well, but he came over to me and said, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Somehow, I said, ‘But you don’t know me, do you?’ And Cubby said, ‘Yes I do, you’re Alan.’”


That little gesture to a grieving colleague meant the world – and proved, once again, that no matter how big the Bond franchise became, it’s a family business. And the Boss knows your name.

Licence To Till Alan Church Prince Charles Cinema London screening
On-screen at The Prince Charles cinema a 30th anniversary screening of Licence To Kill in 2019. Copyright Alan Church. All rights reserved.

Alan remains very active in the business and are now a much sought-after visual effects supervisor around the world. Among his credits in recent years are The Devils Double (2011) directed by Lee Tamahori, Third Person directed by Paul Haggis and Good Omens (2019) directed by Douglas Mackinnon. In 2001, Church won a BAFTA for Gormenghast directed by Andy Wilson.

Learn more about Alan Church' amazing career on his IMDB page.

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