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John Richardson Interview

30th January 2023

The SFX wizard talks about his new book

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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In 2019, Oscar-winning special effects supremo John Richardson released his first book, the bestselling Making Movie Magic, which chronicled his remarkable career in the film industry. A year later, during a house clear-out as the UK was stuck in a seemingly never-ending lockdown, he unearthed another treasure trove of behind-the-scenes images from the blockbuster films he worked on. Featuring never-before-seen photos from his eight James Bond films, we caught up with John to talk about this new book.

How did the idea for the book come about?

Well, it came about in a couple of ways really. One was that when the first book came out, I was a little bit peeved that the color pictures were all going to be in black and white, that all the pictures in that first book were black and white, even though I'd given them good color renditions of them. But it was explained that it was for cost and whatever. Then the other thing that happened was, they decided not to put all the captions that I've written underneath the photos because they said, "Oh, the wording in the book is sufficient to explain to people," which I don't think it was.

So after the book came out and it was quite successful, History Press came back to me and said, "Actually, looking at it, if you've got more photos, would you be interested in doing a book? Just the photographs with captions, and in color." So I was quite delighted because it meant they were pleased with the circulars of the first book. It gave me a chance to put right what I thought was missing from the first book. So it's worked out quite well, I think.

I had to delve through so manly photographs from over the years because I've had boxes and boxes from the ones my father took, the ones I took of slides, and I had to buy a decent scanner and scan them all in. Then I went around to all my old mates in the film industry, particularly that stills men, people like Keith Hamshere, and beg, borrow, or steal, whatever I could from them that was of interest from the movies. And from that, this book has evolved.

It was an interesting process again, putting it together. I got a lovely foreword from Barbara Broccoli and Michael, and it seems to have been well-received by those that have seen it thus far.

So from a Bond perspective, which of the photos, for you, tells the most exciting personal story? 

Well, the lovely thing about the Bond films is that so many of them have in their special and visual effects that we did way before CGI, that people still don't realize are models of foreground miniatures or whatever, how we did it. So on 'Octopussy' and 'A View To A Kill' in particular, and 'The Living Daylights', there's a lot of shots in there, showing how we did things with a description underneath, explaining how we did it.

That, for me, is one of the happiest things about the book, is that people will really realize the trickery that we got up to because we had to be a lot more inventive, and doing it that way, I think, has added a reality to those movies, which sadly, I think, is lacking in a lot of the films we usually look at today.

It feels like CG is the go-to-answer now when there might be a really simple, practical option.

Yeah. I did have another interview for the Sunday Express a few weeks ago, and, of course, the guy headlined it that I was trashing CGI, which I wasn't at all. My opinion of CGI is that it's a wonderful tool and it's enabled films to go where it was almost impossible to go before. However, it's not, in my opinion, properly used. It's overused. It's used as a get-out-of-jail card, I think, by a lot of directors, and because it's done by people that specialize in gaming and video games and that sort of genre when they build the previews, they put it together that way, and that immediately loses the reality. And it goes back to, I think, something I explained in my first book, talking to a director, is that if you're shooting a model sequence or models, you have to put the camera where you'd put it if you were shooting it for real and full-size.

So that's what the CGI guys don't get, is that they'll stick a camera up in the middle of the sky and have a plane fly towards the camera, and then the propeller goes right through the camera. Well, you've got a dead camera crew to start with, and immediately, the audience knows that they're not looking at something real, whereas if you imagine you are shooting the model from say a helicopter, then it becomes more believable. It's like looking at the film, the Battle of Britain, where it was all shot for real, and that footage is used again and again and again today to enhance films because you cannot replicate it in any other way and maintain the reality.

Release Date: October 20th, 2022
Publisher: The History Press
Format: Hardback
Pages: 224
Price: £24.99 / $50
Dimensions: 9.92 x 0.87 x 7.91 inches
ISBN-13: 9781803990538

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