Doug Liman Blog: Piper, Parkour and Paris — I Survive Shooting David Belle

Posted on: June 12th, 2011 by Doug Liman 2 Comments

Everything seems to be happening at once. On the TV front, Covert Affairs got off to a really great start and I’m particularly excited that this year we’ve been allowed to take our cast abroad. So a couple weeks ago, I flew over to Paris with Piper. We landed on a Wednesday morning and Piper went to the Hotel and I went straight out to my scout. This is my favorite kind of production; we had one day to scout and figure stuff out, then we started shooting on Thursday. We weren’t shooting insignificant stuff — I’m talking about major action sequences on rooftops of Paris. Adding to the pressure is that Paris isn’t one of these places that’s without rules. On Bourne Identity we had to get our permits six weeks in advance, and then you couldn’t change anything. So we needed to come up with stuff within what was already permitted, and figure out how to do an amazing action sequence.

Day 1: From the Louvre to Squeezing onto the Back of a Motorcycle – Weaving In and Out of Traffic

The scout went until midnight (starting me right off the bat with a major dose of sleep deprivation) and then we started filming the next morning at the Louvre. When we got there the person in charge of supervising us loved the Bourne Identity and basically bent the rules and let us do way more than was promised. For all the access we got on Bourne Identity, we were never allowed into the Louvre. From there we went to Montmartre and did the rooftop action sequence, which was very improvised.

As you can see in the picture, I was filming part of it from the back of a motorcycle, facing backwards. We were driving high speed, down one-way streets, the wrong direction, while filming Piper who was running the wrong direction. We had no control whatsoever over traffic, except a PA at the end of the block to tell us if a truck was coming, or there was that was going to be un-passable.

Day 2: On the Rooftops of Paris with the God of Parkour.

The next day I filmed on the rooftops themselves with David Belle and another stunt double, who is also an incredible Parkour stunt-player. David Belle’s the founder of Parkour, or as we like to call him at 30ninjas: The God of Parkour. Shooting him was very nerve-racking because, as you can see in the photos, we’re on real French rooftops and there are no safety wires — for the stuntmen or for me. The roofs weren’t perfectly flat they were either the copper roofs, with grooves every few feet, or roofs with other obstacles and there were all these spots where you had to be extremely careful not to walk (or run) over the edge.

Now, if you’ve ever seen footage of me filming you’ll know that I’m always moving (and I’m known for tripping and whatnot), so shooting in this environment is a challenge. The challenge was worth it because to film an action sequence around all those obstacles and adding fact that a couple feet over is certain death is what makes it visually interesting. If we’d tried to achieve this by visual effect it wouldn’t be as gripping. The whole approach to the Bourne Identity was to do all real action sequences, getting away from the cheese and the fake stunt sequences and it’s my favorite way to shoot. Shooting on the rooftop in Paris for Covert produced footage that’s really visceral. The action’s story-centric, nothing we shot in Paris was gratuitous. I believe the best action sequences are the ones where you learn about character and advance story through action. Steve Hootstein wrote this episode, supervised by Chris and Matt, and he did a great job writing well-constructed action sequences that advance the story. While we only shot a few days in Paris (we did much of the episode in Toronto) I think you’ll find that the effort was worth it.

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2 Responses

  1. Jabari says:

    Dope as always Doug. Interesting to see how you film. I heard you filmed on roller blades once, so it doesn’t surprise me that you would be on the back of the bike filming lol. Sorry to hear that the site is closing, I hope you will keep blogging, it helps me to learn as much as I can from you.

  2. richard says:

    skateboarding, jet skiing…the list is a long one and now includes parkour that involves negotiating urban structures by jumping.

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