Iraq in Upington

(OCT-NOV, 1997)

South Africa has proved its value as a versatile compendium of locations. Bravo Two Zero, the true life adventure story set in the Gulf War, was shot almost entirely in South Africa with a few UK-specific scenes filmed in Britain.

Another Anant Singh project (a Distant Horizon/BBC co-production), Bravo Two Zero is the true story of what promised to be a normal SAS incursion into a war zone that turned sour. Based on the book by Andy McNab, who led the actual mission to destroy communications links, the film tells the story of just about everything that went wrong, their encounters with Iraq troops, their capture and tragic casualties.

In clinching the deal, Singh scouted the world for a suitable location, and settled on the desert outside Upington in the Northern Cape. "Iraq was out of the question, Israel was pricey, and South Africa offered the best deal in terms of suitability, cost, political stability and the cooperation of the military."

Weather in the Kalahari is only suitable for filming during a short period, and although the producers missed the 1996 season, they were ready to catch the spring of 1997.

Starring Sean Bean as Andy McNab, Bravo Two Zero is directed by Tom Clegg. DOP is Rod Stewart and editor is Ettie Feldman. Apart from Clegg, six actors and some real Iraqi soldiers, the entire cast, crew and equipment were sourced in South Africa. Andy McNab wrote the screenplay, and was on hand at every set up to advise, based on his personal experiences.

The pace of shooting was fast, with up to 20 set ups a day. These included such complexities as a snow storm in the desert (courtesy of Rick Creswell), with cameras, lighting, equipment and massive generators from MCC.

Line Producer Gill Pearson says a lot of the wardrobe were imported as well as specific firearms. "Otherwise we fitted in with the requirements. We sourced Iraqi fatiques locally, and the locations were spot on."

Accuracy was pre-eminent in the mind of Clegg. McNab was on hand to verify the props, sets and visual features. "More important was to have him coach us in the emotional aspects of the situations," says local actor Jamie Bartlett. "He helped us understand how a trained operative reacts to the circumstances and even put us right on tiny items such as a safety catch being on or off."

Bartlett describes Clegg's direction as entirely actor-driven. "We would block a scene as it suited the needs of the story. Only then were the angles and lenses brought into it."

The film was shot on Super 16, and processed at The Film Lab. Pearson says they viewed dailies on prints projected on the locations.

"We've done it," she says proudly. "We had to bring in most of the weapons, but we dyed fabrics and painted props to get the colours right. We replicated the weather, adapted small villages, and even built a New York taxi to specification. We're on schedule, and processing and post are all handled locally." She adds that an Italian crew has also spotted the suitability of the same location.

Bravo Two Zero will be released early next year. Two endings were shot, one for the BBC, and another for general release. The total budget was £3-million.

The BBC has the distribution rights, and Distant Horizon to the rest of the world. Icon Entertainment is being approached as a co-distributor.

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