Why Shooting Skyfall's High-Octane Train Fight Was So Challenging

There are numerous ingredients that make up a James Bond film, and one of the most prominent is the inclusion of pulse-pounding action set pieces that feature death-defying stuntwork. Beginning with the second Bond movie, 1963's "From Russia With Love," the series created an expectation for a shocking pre-title sequence to accompany each film, further raising the bar for subsequent entries. As if that inherited pressure weren't enough, 2012's "Skyfall" was not only to be the return of star Daniel Craig to the Bond role after a four-year hiatus, but would double as a celebration of the James Bond movies' 50th anniversary.

For all these reasons, "Skyfall's" opening action sequence had to be a banger on multiple levels. Director Sam Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan devised a scenario where Bond and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) pursue the mercenary Patrice (Ola Rapace) through the busy streets of Istanbul, with the baddie and Bond eventually ending up fighting in, around, and on top of a speeding train. With Mendes' commitment to honoring the Bond tradition and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson's penchant for capturing as much as possible in-camera, the "Skyfall" train fight became a challenging, dangerous, and ultimately rewarding scene.

Hold Your Breath and Count to Ten: In-Camera Stunts

By 2012, tentpole action filmmaking had become safer and more remote, with directors able to rely on computer-generated elements and composites to construct stunts and action sequences rather than shoot things in-camera. Yet Broccoli and Wilson's Eon Productions, being traditionalists, didn't want to take such a modern approach, and neither did Mendes. Thus the train chase was shot for real over a period of several months across two units: Mendes' first unit and a second unit directed by Alexander Witt.

The train fight wasn't shot on a constructed set against blue screen or anything of the sort. Instead, it was shot in Adana, Turkey, on a real speeding train traveling at 40 mph. Craig and Rapace were attached to safety wires, of course, but they performed the bulk of their own stunts. While Craig did have Andy Lister, a stunt double, around to help out with the most dangerous moments, one need look no further than this B-roll for proof of Craig and Rapace's bravery while shooting the scene. In those brief clips, it's also clear how many elements the production had to juggle for the sequence beyond just one train and two actors, including a myriad of bullet hits, falling vehicles and rampaging construction equipment. This behind the scenes footage proves that the bulk of those elements were really there on the day, captured in-camera.

We Will Stand Tall, Face it All Together: Selling the Action

Even if they had all the money and all the time in the world, the filmmakers wouldn't have as thrilling and effective a scene as the train fight without the right actors in the roles. Barbara Broccoli praised both Rapace and Craig in particular, saying that "the moves that they were doing were just heart stopping" and that Craig is "the reason why the action works as well as it does because he sells it." Although it was only his third turn as Bond, Craig's performance in "Skyfall" proves his knowledge of the character. In the train chase's most memorable moment, Bond readjusts his shirt cuffs after jumping inside the torn-apart train car. It's a moment that was totally improvised by Craig as a way of showing Bond's barely-held-together composure in the face of danger.

In the end, "Skyfall's" train fight was so challenging thanks to every member of the production refusing to compromise and deliver less than their best. That doesn't necessarily mean that the sequence was completed in a total "old-school" fashion: cinematographer Roger Deakins used Arri Alexa digital cameras to shoot the movie, making it the first Bond to be shot digitally. "Skyfall" is a movie about a blending of the new and the old, a theme that's found within its narrative and its making. The train fight is a sequence that acts as the epitome of that theme, and the hard work that was put into it makes it one of the most memorable and impressive Bond pre-title scenes ever made.