It all started with a bit of that magical force called coincidence. On the very day the news came out that Star Wars Episode VII would be filming at Pinewood Studios in the UK, a friend of mine sent me an email. He saw I was heading to London for an in-and-out visit to interview the cast of another big blockbuster film. “Hey, while you’re in town, why don’t you come visit me at Pinewood Studios,” he wrote. “I’ll give you a tour.”
“Yes!” I replied, knowing how lucky I’d be to get an inside-glimpse of the place where the very eagerly awaited first film from The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of Lucasfilm deal in 2012 was going to be shot.
A fellow kindred appreciator of good movies, my friend had started working at the studios just outside London last year. It’s at Pinewood where Bond – James Bond – played by Daniel Craig saved Eva Green from a burning Italian villa. It’s at Pinewood where the original Super Man, the late Christopher Reeve flew his last flight, and it’s at Pinewood where Oliver Twist begged, “Please, sir, can I have some more.”
So, on an early Friday morning, I hopped onto the National Express out of Paddington station and heading toward the countryside. Pinewood is a 40-minute scenic train ride to Slough, and then a 12-pound taxi ride to the gates of the studio.
Pinewood was built on the estate of Heatherden Hall, an opulent show-piece Victorian house, complete with ballroom, Turkish bath and indoor squash court. It’s so extravagant that the door of a building is made from an old fireplace – but it is so high it towers above me. The estate was turned into a country club, before a millionaire Church-going magnate created a partnership with the owner to turn it into a place where movies could be made. The name, as my friend relayed it to me, comes from a play on Hollywood and the many pine trees on the estate.
Five stages were initially built, and you can see them numbered, as you walk through the studio gates. But the first thing you really notice, peering out over the estate, is the giant warehouse building with a large 007 sign on it. That’s the Bond – James Bond – Stage. And next to it is Goldfinger Avenue where the third Bond film, starring Sean Connery, was filmed. The original 007 Stage was built for 1977‘s The Spy Who Loved Me, but it burnt to the ground in 1984. Four months later, it was re-built and ready for A View to a Kill to be shot on it.
Just across from that is another giant space – Pinewood’s infamous huge well of water, which takes a week to fill and a week to empty. It’s here, at the exterior tank, that the famous scene in Casino Royale, where Daniel Craig attempts to save Eva Green took place. As I looked at the space surrounding the well, I imagined those scenes, as my friend tells me that the entire Italian village was built from scratch, with such precise detail.
The next stop on my visit was even more impressive – the Underwater Stage, the pride of Pinewood’s facilities. People come from around the world to film both movies and commercials, and it’s kept pristine 24/7, ready to be used at any time. Beautiful photographs line its walls and show just how much one space can be transformed.
Pinewood will change once again, now, with filming underway for the new Star Wars. As we wait for the final casting word (one big female role still has to be announced), anticipation keeps building. Rumours, wishes and requests have been swirling around ever since the massive announcement made in 2012 that The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, and revealed 3 new movies were coming.
Even though I was lucky enough to visit the studios, I wasn’t able to get any info about the hush-hush shoot – and so I, like everyone else, will have to wait for May 2015, to see how Star Wars put Pinewood Studios to use.