MI6 caught up with underwater engineer Jordan Klein to talk about and his work on "Thunderball", "Live and Let Die" and "Never Say Never Again"...

Jordan Klein Interview (1)

Jordan Klein Interview (2)
14th January 2009

"Thunderball" is noted for its large-scale underwater sequences. How were these in pioneering and how is such a big production handled underwater?
It was amazing. We had 40 divers in one scene, plus camera and safety personnel. It was the good guys (in white) and the bad guys (in red and black) and the camera crew. That was truly incredible.

We had trouble finding divers that understood quarter inch wet suits and their compressibility. Most would weight themselves to sink at the surface, as they went down they became heavier and went down rapidly, some with dire results like blown eardrums. So divers would jump in the water and we'd tell them, "OK trim yourself out and go to the bottom." We had safety divers in the water watching them. All these hot-shot divers from up and down Miami and the coast of Florida came over and jumped in the water and ended up with about six blown ear drums and all kinds of problems.

The rubber in the new suits was monocellular, so the water just compressed the bubbles it didn't squeeze the air out. When you went down you would get less and less buoyant because the bubbles were being compressed in the wetsuit. The weight you put on the surface was about four times what you needed to stay at the bottom. Once they started down the suits provided less and less buoyancy which made the diver descend more rapidly, crashing to the bottom. It became a nightmare to get enough people. It took us over a week to get enough divers for the fight scene.

What were you responsible for on the Thunderball shoot?
My job as 'Director of Underwater Engineering' was to provide workable underwater props. The Bomb Carrier, as well as the Sleds, had to work almost every day. This required all 28 batteries to be charged, spears reloaded into the Bomb Carrier, all air ballast tanks had to be filled and any repairs had to be made. This took four technicians all night to accomplish.

Right: Jordan Klein on location in the Bahamas.


You were back with the Bond team for "Live And Let Die" where you were responsible for shark wrangling. What aspect does this add to the production?
I was involved with the shark wrangling, yes. I did filming on that. In one scene there was a good guy and a bad guy and they were fighting away and I see a shark in the background. I think, "I don't believe this!" The shark is coming and coming and I kept the camera running. Then the fighting guys both look and see the shark and they both stop fighting, watch the shark and then the shark swims by and they continue fighting. You couldn't have set up that scene.


What goes into guiding the sharks and keeping the actors safe?
We had a pretty good system on shark wrangling that we started, I think, it was in that picture. After that there were a lot of pictures with sharks and we figured it out pretty quick. Ricou Browning was the Underwater Director on that, and he also wrote "Flipper" - he's a true animal lover and likes to train them.

We ended up having a pretty good system. We knew how to release them to come toward the camera, to go away from the camera, to go up or down. It was very interesting.

We understood the psychology of a specific shark after working with him for just a few minutes. The psychology was different for almost every one of them. Fortunately, we could out think them.

Having worked on both "Never Say Never Again" and "Thunderball", which share plot elements and sequences, from your perspective and role, how did they differ?
"Thunderball" would have to be my overall favourite. I did the exact same thing on both of them. I built the underwater hardware and props and some of the sets. I started out doing filming and ended up operating the Bomb Carrier. As far as the excitement of shooting those particular scenes, and being involved, there were some of the scenes of "Never Say Never Again" that I enjoyed doing a lot more than "Thunderball" and vice-versa. The funny part that I remember during the shooting of "Thunderball" was that the word got out but I don't remember how, was that "Thunderball" was going to be the first $100 million gross production!  You can do that in a weekend now. Of course, $100 million won't buy what it did back then.

Above: Jordan Klein and his team work with the bomb sled from "Never Say Never Again"...

How much did you work with the actors versus stunt doubles?
We worked with the actors - with Sean Connery and a lot of the girls. They had training but not too much time to get serious training. Connery really didn't like diving all that much, but he was there for the important shots. The best part of the day was heading back to the dock after a day working with the girls. They would change out on deck as if they were one of the guys!

On the Bond productions, who is responsible for the direction or the over-all vision of an underwater sequence?
Ricou was the director - and he is the best wet director ever to do underwater - he's not the kind of director to sit up there in a chair in the sunshine and talk about it. He'll be the first in the water and the last out. He knows what he wants to see and then he'll discuss it with the camera crew as to how it can be done. I did most of the rigging with a crew, pretty much at his direction.

Right: Sean Connery and Claudine Auger shoot a sequence in the shallows.


What are some of the technical challenges filming a portion of a picture underwater compared with regular filmmaking?
What most Producers and Directors don't consider when working on an underwater project  - they don't put themselves in an underwater environment. That's a deadly sin for a director. The underwater camera is omni-directional, it can move in any direction, you can go backwards, forwards, do a 360-degree roll or invert yourself or all of the above at once. In production people don't think that way. This makes production more costly and without the action they are seeking. The underwater camera can produce shots that can only be dreamed about on land.

I think the camera underwater should be moving all the time to enhance the action. You can always enhance the action by moving away or back of following or passing by. The cameraman has to understand the physics of the whole thing, what he can and can't do and the amount of time the scene is going to take. I feel very comfortable under these circumstances.

Are you currently involved in any film or television productions and if so what are your responsibilities?
I wrote a script while working on another picture in 1993. The name of it is "Whiskers" - which is a working title. It's about a Sea Lion that is a "Fugitive". None of the three S's is involved - no sex, shooting, swearing - so it probably can't be successful with what is going on in today's market, but we'll give it a hard try. I have interested parties saying that they've got the money and we can go to production very soon. That should be an interesting show and it's ideal for a TV series.

Related Articles
Jordan Klein Interview (1)
Thunderball Coverage
Live And Let Die Coverage
Never Say Never Again Coverage

Many thanks to Jordan Klein. All pictures, unless otherwise stated, courtesy Jordan Klein.