“We had Messerschmitts flying overhead, thousands of extras on the beach, minesweepers in the background, a 350ft destroyer and torpedo boats all in the same shot.”
This is what Neil Andrea, marine coordinator on forthcoming epic movie Dunkirk, was standing alongside director Christopher Nolan on a single-camera boat with a crane and Imax in the middle of the action last year.
Andrea is convinced this was the biggest naval film shoot ever. Where most films use the magic of CGI to fill in backdrops, Nolan and his team actually filmed on location in Dunkirk with real war ships and fighter planes.
“On certain days, there were up to 60 ships in the water,” enthuses Andrea, veteran marine coordinator of major movies including the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Captain Phillips and National Treasure.
The Moonstone, where Cillian Murphy’s character spent most of his time
“It didn’t matter what the crew had worked on before; when we headed to such scenes, with explosions going off, we were all blown away like never before. It was basically a re-enactment of the real events.”
As most will know, Dunkirk was a famous Second World War evacuation effort of Allied troops from the beaches in and around the Northern French commune, which took place over 10 days in 1940.
A quickly assembled fleet of more than 800 boats – including motor yachts, pleasure steamers and fishing boats – rushed to Dunkirk and rescued nearly 340,000 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the shore.
The then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the evacuation as a “miracle of deliverance”. And that is an apt way of describing what Nolan and his team have achieved with their re-enactment.
Andrea had been briefed before the film began shooting and had read the script, which caused a number of expletives to leave his mouth in awe, but nothing could prepare him for the true scale of what he was to work on from January to September…