Driving Bond’s Aston Martin

Daniel Craig on set during the filming of Skyfall. Daniel Craig and the iconic Aston Martin DB5.
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Ben Collins driving during filming of the latest James Bond film.

It’s dark, it’s cold. We are working nights somewhere in east London under stark moonlight, which does little to take the edge off. I’m back with the James Bond stunt crew, probably the best team of daredevils in the world, who have the rare privilege of taking on the ballistic driving sequences for which star Daniel Craig is literally uninsurable. During the next five months, we will circle the globe from the neon-lit highways of Shanghai to the Scottish Highlands and the gritty streets of Istanbul.

This first shot is a pick-up of Bond spiriting away his boss, M, in his 1964 Aston Martin DB5, the most famous Bond car of all. I swallow hard as my eyes absorb the metallic-grey torpedo sitting in Bond’s oil-stained lock-up. The director, Sam Mendes, and Craig lean against the garage wall in deep discussion while staring longingly at the machine.

After introductions with the screen legends, I get the brief: a sharp pull-away, speed down the alley, then a hard right underneath the railway crossing.

I loosen Bond’s custom-made pinstripe suit and ease into the leather aboard the $5 million DB5 from Goldfinger. Gadgets abound, notably the red button inside the gear knob, and I’m not brave enough to press it. Was it the ejector seat or machineguns?

The stunt co-ordinator, Gary Powell, inspects the camera positions before crouching out of shot. I make sure M’s double, Penny Ryder, has a firm grip of the door handle before we launch. Mendes grasps the radio: ”Action!”

It feels like sacrilege, but I rev the nuts off the ageing six-cylinder engine and dump the clutch. Tyres squeal in protest and we rocket out the door into the alley. The brick wall fills the windscreen until I swing the boat-like wooden wheel to the right and the suspension leans gracefully to make the turn.

For the next shot, the camera crew moves to the kerb, where the alley meets the narrow road. It’s pitch-black and the Aston’s lights throw only a hazy glow at the patch of road directly ahead, making the corner blind. Naturally, I would prefer not to reshape the DB5 on the bridge right in front of the director, but it’s a Bond movie, so you go large or go home.

I make it to third gear in the DB5, which by now knows it prefers being in the museum. The brakes sing, I snatch second and we skid into the black abyss of the archway. The wheelspin echoes around the walls as the DB5 leaps the speed humps and we exit the frame. I love this car. Penny thinks it’s ”f—ing fantastic”, too.

Next stop is Adana, Turkey. This is home for the next three months, and we sink into the routine of a six-day working week: 5am wake-up, breakfast, travel, rehearse, shoot, then back to the hotel to hit the gym.

On set, the special-effects team peels the covers off my new ride: a Land Rover Defender with a pod system mounted on the roof so I can drive it while the actors ride below. The pod contains a seat bolted to a heavy-duty roof rack. All the functions of steering, changing gear, braking and accelerating are diverted upstairs so I can operate the vehicle without being seen by the camera.

All that weight on the roof makes the pod top-heavy, so we prove the system won’t roll over by exploring its limits. Some hard cornering and handbrake turns confirm the pod is ready for duty.

Eve, played by Naomi Harris, is the character driving the Land Rover, and we gradually turn our heroine into a speed junkie by relentlessly rehearsing around the off-road course. Harris’s new skills provide plenty of onscreen action.

In her first set-up, Eve races through Istanbul to keep up with Bond. The ensuing carnage results in a truck flipping into her path. The truck and the Landy have to navigate through their respective traffic at exact speeds in order to meet at their impact point. Arrive too early and the camera misses the shot; arrive too late and crunch. We have about six Land Rovers and back-up trucks in case one of them gets twatted and we need to call in a spare.

Using a stopwatch, we measure the runs and set out start points. I run the route aboard the pod before switching to another driver in the standard Land Rover for the main shot.

Fellow stunt driver Lee Morrison bolts himself into the doomed truck wearing a helmet, neck brace and pads. Morrison has to strike a mobile ramp hidden inside a car being towed by a minivan. A few inches left or right and the resulting collision could wipe out all three vehicles – no pressure.

When ”Action!” is called, the hill springs to life as stunt pedestrians meander up the footpath and the vehicles gun their engines. The Landy snakes through the traffic. Moments later, the thundering red cab of Morrison’s truck looms over the horizon of the bridge just as the Landy squeezes into position alongside.

Clashing metal shakes the ground as the truck rams its target and rolls, casting a shadow over the passing Landy. The truck slams into the deck and spews its cargo. Powell eyes the camera feed and says, ”It doesn’t get any closer than that.”

Steam rises from the truck as its fluids trickle down the road. Morrison gives a thumbs up from the smashed cab and we move on to the next shot.

The intense sequences contrast many hours spent waiting for the train on which Bond slogs it out with a relentless and fearless villain named Patrice (Ola Rapace). Various destructive elements and special effects take forever to set up. Then it’s 120km/h down a dirt road to get parallel to a camera lens on carriage No.5, loaded with sunburnt crew and one Daniel Craig dangling off the side by his fingernails.

DC, as he’s known on set, commands the Bond character with aplomb in Skyfall, increasingly at ease with the wild situations thrown his way. When the shades come off, his cool reserve brightens with a nod and a smile as he climbs aboard the pod for the motoring equivalent of the Cresta Run: a vertical cobbled lane in the downtrodden district of Belat.

Here, Eve is in hot pursuit of Patrice in his Audi A5 (3.0 TDI V6 Quattro). There are twists and turns, stuff blowing up, cars getting in the way and, to keep up with the Audi, my foot is welded to the throttle stop. To help me react to their cues, I can hear Craig and Harris through my earpiece. They know this, so before launch he’s humming the tune to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to wind me up. Powell’s instructions are simple enough: ”Keep two lengths off the Audi’s bumper for this one.”

On ”Action!”, the Audi shoots off and I’m grateful for the ”special” modifications the SFX team made to enhance the pod’s engine. We weave through a chicane amid a cacophony of exploding debris to some glib dialogue from downstairs. The rough cobbles shake the hydraulic steering, affecting the wheel alignment. I chase the wheel to compensate, ever mindful of the precious cargo.

Gravity ramps up our speed and emergency manoeuvres are required. We quickly reach the bottom for a 90-degree right hand bend, a big compression and a sudden stop. It’s our first hard run and there’s silence downstairs, broken by chuckling from DC.

You can hear the adrenalin in Harris’s voice: ”Oh … my … god.”

Mendes adds: ”Good one. We don’t need it any faster.”

Arguably, the stunts in a James Bond movie are as memorable and iconic as anything about 007. Especially when you know the stunts are, I promise you, performed for real. Combining them with great performances from Daniel Craig and the star-studded cast should make Skyfall a classic.

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Martinez and Aubrey hospitalised following ‘brutal fight’

No love lost … Martinez and Aubrey.Gabriel Aubry has been released from custody after being arrested and booked for battery following a punch up with Halle Berry’s fiancé, Olivier Martinez.
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According to TMZ, both men were hospitalised after the ‘brutal fight’. Aubrey is said to have suffered a broken rib, facial wounds and possibly a more serious head injury, while Martinez is said to have broken his hand and suffered neck injuries.

The brawl took place inside Berry’s home at around 10am on Thanksgiving Day as Aubrey, Berry’s former partner dropped off their daughter, Nahla, in a custodial handover.

According to the site, the fight started after Olivier told Aubry: “We have to move on”. This is thought to be a reference to the recent custody battle which blocked Halle from moving to France with Nahla. 

Aubry allegedly responded to Martinez’s approach by pushing and then punching him.

Sources told TMZ that Berry rushed four year-old Nahla inside the house so she did not witness the fight.

Berry, 46, and Aubrey have been involved in a bitter custody dispute, since they split in 2010 after dating for more than four years. The case has involved accusations of violence after Aubrey allegedly pushed Nahla’s nanny into a wall while she held the child. He was not criminally convicted of the charge.

More recently, Berry had made the request to move to France after receiving death threats from a convicted stalker. However, the judge decided that Nahla “Shouldn’t be separated from her father,” according to Radar Online.

Martinez and Berry, who confirmed their engagement earlier this year, are said to have put their wedding on ice until the custody battle is resolved.

Following Thursday’s incident, a judge has issued an emergency protective order, requiring Aubrey to stay 100 yards (91.4m) away from Berry, Martinez and Nahla.

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Savage’s biggest headaches at David Jones

After his last shareholder meeting as chairman of David Jones, Bob Savage opened up on some of the more controversial issues that dogged his near-decade long run in the job.
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Top of the list, of course, was the sexual harassment scandal that lead to the departure of David Jones chief executive Mark McInnes.

‘‘That was a very difficult time for the company, it put everybody in the organisation under stress, people on the shop floor wanted to talk to me about it, customers wanted to talk about it, (and) shareholders,’’ he said.

‘‘I think we did the right things, the only regret I would have is that it was not able to be handled outside of the public arena, but that wasn’t our choice,’’ Mr Savage told reporters after the AGM.

He said the company has also been vindicated over its handling of a hoax bid earlier this year from EB Private Equity – a fantasy thought up by reclusive Brit, John Marshall Edgar.

‘‘I think we acted promptly I think we acted in accordance with the stock exchange rules and in accordance with the ASIC rules and I think that’s substantiated by the fact that ASIC has written to us saying they don’t propose to take any action against the company.’’

Mr Savage said the company was ‘‘highly sceptical’’ but had to make the assumption that there was a remote possibility ‘‘that there was somebody behind this guy who had a genuine offer’’.

He said the company was trying to get to a situation where it could make an informed decision when news of the bogus offer leaked to a blog ‘‘and in that situation everything changes’’.

Mr Savage said after more than 50 years in the work force he it was time to relax a bit and does not plan to take up any new positions on public boards after retiring from David Jones at the end of this year.

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NRL outsider can bank on tough initiation

Stepping up to the job … Dave Smith. Smith will start as NRL boss on February 1.
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WHILE he hasn’t played rugby league, Dave Smith proved he still has a strong fend, even though, as someone who is not a rugby league man, that might not be enough to stop criticism.

Smith is not only a man with a rugby union background, but also a banker, neither of which will endear him to some rugby league people.

That he learnt his sporting fend in rugby union, as well as his continual references to the sport – even if as a boy growing up in working class Wales – will irk some.

Should it? Probably not. He is a businessman and he has been hired to run a business. But rugby league can be an insular sport. Outsiders are frowned upon. Which means the new NRL chief executive, an outsider, will not be fawned upon.

That was clear from the outset today, when he was asked – first up – how he responded to the assertion that he was not a rugby league man. Largely, he responded well.

“I love rugby league,” he said. “I’m a fan of rugby league. I’m a fan of rugby union. I’m a fan of multiple sports. I watch all sports. I really enjoyed the grand final, I thought the State of Origin series was probably some of the most competitive matches I’ve ever watched.

“For it to be reported that I’m not a fan is misleading.”

So he passed one major test; he did not refer to the jewel in the crown of rugby league as State of the Origin. Yet being a rugby league fan is one thing; being a rugby league man is another to the masses. How many games did you go to this year? “I’ve spent six months on a plane this year, I manage businesses across ten countries, and I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with my family, let alone to go to live games,” he responded. “I haven’t been to any live sport this year.”

It seems remarkable that Smith – who grew up in working class Pontypridd, has been in the army, counter terrorism, and lately in the banking sector, while always with a passion for sport – can have such business acumen but might be eyed suspiciously when it comes to understanding the salary cap. But rugby league can do that.

“I’m in a big business at the moment, I have to manage multiple stakeholders,” Smith said. “I’ve been doing that for many years. That’s a challenge in terms of any business, and it’s something that I’ll have to take very seriously. I always try and earn credibility.”

Today was, as Smith said, an “introduction”. But in two ways. He introduced himself to rugby league, while rugby league introduced itself to him.

“This is the best job in Australia,” Smith maintained. For now.

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$11m mansion sale hits snag

The sale of Rosecraddock in Caulfield North is subject to a dispute over an unpaid tradie’s bill.The $11 million sale of the historic Rosecraddock estate has hit a snag, with a disgruntled tradie moving to block the deal over an unpaid $15,000 renovations bill.
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It’s not the first run-in with contractors for owner and former Channel Seven newsreader Simone Semmens, who was ordered to pay $37,000 to a builder earlier this year after a bitter legal dispute.

Darren Edgell of Summit Electrical placed a caveat on the title of the Caulfield North mansion after learning the property was sold last month, hoping to block its transfer to Kmart chief executive Guy Russo.

“When the job came to completion [Ms Semmens] didn’t pay a large portion of our account – about $15,000. We sent her letters but there was no response so we put a caveat on the property,” Mr Edgell said.

“We’ve had to carry that debt. I put the caveat on hoping the new purchaser would force Simone in the settlement to pay us out.”

Rosecraddock received a complete renovation and refurbishment after Ms Semmens bought the landmark estate for $7.8 million in 2007. The Victorian, which has a ballroom, tennis court, pool and six-car garage, was the scene of the 2005 murder of eccentric millionaire Peter Shellard.

Ms Semmens and her lawyers, Clamenz Evans Ellis, did not respond to requests for comment.

It marks the second dispute over work done at Rosecraddock, with Ms Semmens ordered to pay $37,000 to builder Mitch Court Constructions by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal earlier this year.

An invoice of $14,318.18 for synthetic grass for the tennis court was among the documents submitted to the court as part of a claim for more than $90,000 worth of unpaid services. Ms Semmens contested the claim, citing faulty work.

Following mediation at VCAT, Ms Semmens agreed to settle for $37,000 but ultimately refused to make the payment after reporting newly discovered problems with the property’s airconditioning system.

VCAT then ruled in favour of Mitch Court Constructions and ordered the $37,000 payment be made after Ms Semmens failed to attend a hearing in January.

Mitch Court declined to comment and it is unknown whether the payment has been received.

Former lawyers for Ms Semmens, Best Hooper Solicitors, also this year won a $19,579.87 claim plus costs against their client in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Ms Semmens, a former Telstra public relations manager, has been an active property trader and developer for more than a decade, buying and selling luxury homes in Toorak, Portsea and Caulfield North.

In her latest project, Ms Semmens bought the 30-room riverfront mansion Edzell House in Toorak for $11 million and is looking to sell off a portion of the land for up to $9 million.

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