Articles - A Lonely Place to Die
Jamie Maddison - Posted on 03 Aug 2011
Filmed in the beautiful Scottish highlands, A Lonely Place tells the story of a group of climbers who make a grim discovery of an eight-year-old girl buried alive high up in the mountains. “Terrified, de-hydrated and unable to speak a word of English, she is the victim of an elaborate kidnapping plot and the climbers set out to rescue her, with horrifying repercussions.” The film, a taught action-climbing-thriller, stars Golden Globe nominee Melissa George (30 Days of Night, Triangle, In Treatment.) with Ed Speleers (Eragaon), Karel Roden (The Bourne Supremacy), Eomon Walker (Unbreakable, Lord of War) and Sean Harris (Harry Brown) co-starring.
(Actress Melissa George, who plays climber Alison, watches back footage with director Julian Gilbey.)
It seems that this director takes his project research very seriously indeed, as both Julian and his brother Will, also a writer for the production, took up climbing some two years before the film began shooting. From a quick induction on indoor walls, to a swift progression into traditional climbing in Cheddar Gorge and through to winter epics up on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, the pair thoroughly ground themselves within climbing practice and climbing culture. When asked whether such dedication to research was common amongst directors, Toby Richards, the film's co-producer (Eigerwand Media) jokes: “some people are method actors, well Julian's a method director,” as way of explanation.
The footage, even before processing and editing, looks utterly gripping. This is in large part thanks to the dedicated work of Mountain Motion, the team of Guides and MIC's who were responsible for managing and organising the location climbing film-work in Glen Nevis and Glencoe. Using a host of talented mountaineers - names including Richard Bentley, Rob Jarvis, Dez Wilson, Dave Hollinger and Di Gilbert, to single out but a few - the group assisted camera crews with the complex rigging and shooting required for performing at height. They also acted as climbing doubles for the stars. It was Mountain Motion’s on-set help that really injects an authentic mountaineering dimension into the thriller, resulting in some truly astounding climbing footage.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the opening scene; chosen after a lengthy location hunt, the film commences with a spectacular helicopter ride over the climbers high up on the mountain route Agag's Groove, a Vdiff on the Rannoch Wall of Beuchaille Mor in the Scottish Highlands. The exposure is palpable, the backdrop jaw-dropping, and unlike previous films in the mountain genre, this route is not persevered for the realm of elite rock doubles like Ron Kauk (Mission Impossible II) and Wolfang Gullich (Cliffhanger) but rather is a climb regularly lead by university clubs and families alike.
You may think that filming on a Vdiff wouldn't present too many difficulties, however when you're also conducting a whole myriad of vertical stunts and falls - all in the same terrain - things can get tricky. On top this, the team have really gone for broke with the mandate that even the most basic stunts, from falling out of a tree, to being knocked into a river, are to be enacted with a grungy, sometimes nauseating degree of realism. International renowned stunt coordinator Jamie Edgelle explains: “The stunts are gnarly, that's the word. We've really turned away from the classic, controlled James Bond-esk falls. Instead we've done a lot of box stunts (constructing a gargantuan pile of cardboard boxes at the base of a fall) so that the stunt-people can fall quite out of control for the cameras, whilst actually still remaining relatively safe in reality.” Back in the editing suite I can see exactly what exactly he means as I watch footage of Melissa George's character plummeting after being knocked off a ledge whilst soloing down a wall; arm's and legs fly as the body revolves like a rag-doll, looking every inch like someone has just fallen down a cliff. In truth, it looks utterly brutal.
There is a danger that the stunts, no matter how vividly enacted, could be undermined by poor or misunderstood climbing knowledge (see Vertical Limit as case and point of this fact). Climbing instructor Bruce Blagdon is responsible for making sure this doesn't happen. Overseeing the climbing aspects within the film, Bruce makes sure that the technical details of the shots, from clove hitches to cam placements, are all correct. But his role extends much further than this: “I've really been trying to turn as many people onto climbing as possible. Throughout the set everyone has been keen to get involved and know about sport.” he tells me. Bruce provided classic videos such as Hard Grit and King Lines for the cast to watch, gave out ropes to take home for people to practice coiling, and in essence was instrumental in getting the film team to really engage with the subject matter that they're handling. Alec Newman who plays Rob, the male lead in the film, summed it up best: “If Bruce was not around then there was no guarantee that the footage would look as accurate technically. But we also wouldn't have had that experience as climbers, which clearly shows through in our performances in the film.”
Enthusiasm has permeated every level of the production. From the director downward, a connection has been created between crew and climbing. The foremost aim throughout has been to produce a taught and exhilarating action-thriller. Yet as the project progressed a greater and greater understanding appears to have grown between the film's crew and the culture of rock climbing. “We could have set it in Hyde Park or some such similar location” director Julian attempts to explain, “but climbing is real; it's exciting. It's ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. The vast majority of climbers are decent, down-to-earth people. They can have climbed the north face of the Eiger or summited Everest and you'd have to drag it out of them; they never brag.” Such genuine appraisals, accompanied by a host of mountaineering knowledge, on-set climbing advice and an internationally renowned stunt team, have all contributed to the hopeful success of this ambitious mission to make the climbing element of A Lonely Place to Die as realistic as possible. And so we can all hold our breath that finally a mainstream cinematic film has been produced that cares enough about our sport to do it the justice of an accurate portrayal on the silver screen. Fingers crossed.
A Lonely Place to Die opens in UK cinemas on September 7, 2011