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Stuntman Rick Sylvesters personal account of the Ski Jump in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

“Ok, it appears that I’m experiencing a period of raging candor, maybe due to weird biorhythms or whatever. Last night I revealed a little faux pas regarding the rope fall in “For Your Eyes Only”. Now it’s time to mention how I fucked up with the skiBASE — keep in mind that the acronym BASE hadn’t been coined yet so I termed it just the less poetic less elegant “ski parachute jump — jump in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.

Preparation for the filming of the sequence consisted first of the involved personnel, cameramen and related, reviewing the Super 16 footage of the 3 previous skiBASE jumps I’d done off Yosemite Valley’s El Capitan, one of this planet’s most famous cliffs and huge chunks of granite. There’d been a reconnaissance trip to Baffin Island and Mt. Asgard which was instrumental in the decision to go ahead with the idea of using the jump in the film. Once the crew arrived for the actual filming it’s my memory that our first week was primarily devoted to things like checking the winds — it would be unfortunate to be blown back into the cliff face (recently a very skilled Norwegian climber/alpinist and presumably also experienced BASE jumper suffered this sad fate in the Grand Canyon. Unlike in the case of El Cap which I’d climbed several times and felt familiar with Asgard constituted a less known quantity. I tossed off wind drift indicators and smoke bombs — for some reason I found it amusing that the British vernacular for these was ‘smoke pots” which besides giving some idea of what the winds were doing, at least at the time of the tests. But the smoke bombs/pots also gave the cameramen a rough idea of both the trajectory and speed my body might assume when I skied off. This was important for their tracking me, keeping me in frame.

Anyway, in addition and related, we selected the best and most suitable camera locations. The master shot was to be gleaned from a chopper which would be out a fair — and safe! — distance from Asgard and at a bit of an angle to my flight path. In addition, a cameraman employing a wide angle lense was sited on a small ledge which conveniently was right below my exit point on the edge of Asgard, just a couple or so of meters down and not too difficult for him to scramble down to. It was of course a dramatic location of high exposure. And he was securely roped into the rock. This camera was meant to capture me as I exited the summit and flew out into the void. Its purpose was to provide only a few frames of film to be edited into the master shot. And that’s indeed what happened. His silhouette including his camera/lenses appears in the footage, a fact I’m not sure I was aware of before Uwe Brosamle only recently brought to my attention. You’ve got to have quick eyes, or freeze frame capability, to perceive this.

Lastly, there was a third camera — its footage from this one that captured the aforementioned silhouette — that was placed on the summit close to the cliff’s edge (I’m presuming that cameraman was also roped in) somewhat to the side of my short ski run. This placement afforded coverage of both the ski run and my flight out into space. Interestingly enough, at least to me, these 3 camera locations were almost an exact duplication of the camera locations I’d had on El Cap (save, with one exception, for the lack of a helicopter)
Again, my memory is that the first week of our two weeks there were spent on this preparation. The weather was great, especially considering that Asgard sits approximately 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I was sort of concerned about this. Sure enough, our good luck ran out. Continuous rain ensued. Due to a fortuitous — and surprising to me — brief break in the precipitation the sequence was achieved. But that story is for another day. Getting back to the supposed theme of this, my screw up, after I flew off I was slower than anticipated getting stable. Remember, skydivers usually wear baggy suits meant to capture air which affords them control. But I’m clad in a tight Bogner downhill ski racing suit and wearing heavyish ski boots. The skis have been released. I’m trying to achieve the proper stomach to earth arched body position before deploying the chute. Achieving this due to the above mentioned suit and boots is a bit difficult. It doesn’t have to be perfect but one does want that chute to open straight up, not to chance getting wrapped around a leg or other body part for obvious reasons. Also, I am not — this can’t be stressed enough — a highly skilled and experienced parachutist. Anyway, the result of all this was that I fell further than anticipated and planned. I was out of the chopper’s camera frame when I got the chute with its iconic Union Jack design opened. Not good!

Once things were wrapped up, everything and everyone was evacuated from Asgard and back at the lodge around 50 miles away, congratulations were given but there was worry and consternation. The planned master shot had not been achieved. There was even a problem with the footage from the camera directly below the exit point but that could never have filled the role of master shot. Then a ray of hope. The cameraman on the other camera opined that he thought he’d gotten pretty decent results. The film was sent south to a laboratory in Montreal for processing and evaluation. A somewhat tense waiting period followed, especially for me. Not only was I the culprit but the expert from the Southern California company which had sewn together the chute had several days departed for home and work, unable to stay any longer. I’d repacked the chute if another jump was necessary, not at all sure I’d done the job properly.

At last the call came. The footage from camera #3 wasn’t bad, it would suffice. And it was a good thing. Rob and I remained behind after the shoot, after the crew departed. Rob had played a key role in assisting with the shoot, belaying me, safeguarding the cameramen and other crew members atop Asgard. Our plan, having conveniently — read “free airfare” — gotten to the remote location, was to attempt a route climbing up Asgard while I’d failed to complete on a previous trip. We didn’t get so far as that last effort. The weather defeated us. It stayed bad for at least another week. The Bond crew would have never stayed another week, no way. During the second week up there when the bad weather set in and the delay led to mounting potentially over budget expenses — crew salaries, Panavision rentals et al, — of what already was going to constitute a cost record setting film stunt — calls from London had become increasingly frequent. “Has he done it yet?” Rene DuPont who headed our crew, essentially was its producer, and I, not to mention the entire crew, both were under a great deal of pressure. By the way, Rene, just a heck of a good guy in my estimation, later co-produced one of the all time great films, “A Christmas Story”. “

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