In Conversation Catch Up : David Allcock (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.)

Hi Film Folk,

Today sees the long-anticipated worldwide release of Guy Ritchie‘s spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and to celebrate we chatted to David Allcock, storyboard artist on the film and past interviewee (check his career interview here!)


Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Photo by Daniel Smith - © (c) 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


David, what have you been up to since we spoke – because you’d actually done U.N.C.L.E. at the time but it’s being released now?

I worked on U.N.C.L.E. in 2013 for about 8 months – quite a while – and after that I went straight onto Pan with Joe Wright, was on that for almost a year. Then straight onto King Arthur with Guy Ritchie again. Then I went onto a short stint on Beauty and the Beast – the new live action version of that at Shepperton.


So The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – how was it, when did you join etc?

It was from very early on, through most of the shooting but not through post. In pre-production mostly working with Guy – working on ideas with him – and then when it got to the shooting I was mostly working with the 2nd unit and the 2nd unit director Paul Jennings (who I’d worked with before on the Sherlock Holmes films) on the nuts and bolts of the action sequences.

The prep is where Guy likes to explore different ideas. He’s quite intuitive and tends to constantly rewrite stuff, which he does even when they’re shooting. He’ll rewrite things in the morning if they’re shooting that day, working with the actors if something doesn’t feel right or they come up with a better idea. He’s not afraid to switch it up, try something different. He’ll do that in prep as well.

He’ll keep re-working the script and say to me ‘If you can think of something else or think you’ve got something better, try it out. Now’s the time to do that’. It’s great. It’s quite liberating, fun and creative.


Henry Cavill in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Photo by Daniel Smith - © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Henry Cavill in ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Photo by Daniel Smith – © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


That’s quite interesting really. Scriptwriting is obviously quite visual but it just gives you the action, it doesn’t literally play out the scene in front of you and this way you get to see it in multiple forms…

Yeah, he’s exploring every avenue. He’s not locking things down so much that you become restricted. He likes to keep room to explore and he writes the script – it’s written by him and Lionel Wigram, the producer – so he’s very much immersed in it already and he knows where he wants to get to so he’s not afraid to deviate at some points because he’s got a pretty good idea in his head of the main thread.


They’re not page one rewrites of scenes though, just variations of the scene?

Yep, just variations.


So when we last spoke you said usually at the start of a project there’s a reference file put together by the Production Designer or concept artist – what types of references were in this one?

Yeah, Oliver Scholl, the designer – who I worked with on Edge of Tomorrow – had been on it for a short time and some research work had been done and we knew the main locations of the film.

We knew it was going to start in Berlin, based around Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin wall and knew it was going to go to Italy because Guy and Lionel wanted to pay tribute to not only spy films but that exotic, glamorous Fellini ‘La Dolce Vita’ tone – they wanted to capture that.

There’s a lot of action scenes in various vehicles – in cars, there’s a speed boat chase, there’s an off-road car chase towards the end with a Jeep and a motorbike. The designs were there so there was a fair amount of stuff to work with already.


Armie Hammer in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Photo by Daniel Smith - © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Armie Hammer in ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Photo by Daniel Smith – © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


You’re not a stranger to a car chase – with Fast and Furious 6

(laughs) Yep, I’ve storyboarded many car chases and worked with stunt coordinators and 2nd Unit directors. I’m quite partial to a car chase myself. The other thing about this is Guy, as he often likes to do, is to try something new. A new way of approaching scenes like this and everything he does is kind of character driven. If you ask him, and I’ve heard him say this in interviews, he gets quite bored by car chases so if there’s something we can do to make it slightly different, we do.

With the speed boat chase we watched every speed boat chase ever filmed and the majority of them – I have to admit – are quite boring. So when you see the film, you’ll see we did something slightly different with that. We came at it from a different angle. On the one hand it’s very faithful to its genre – it feels like the 60s, a lot of it is shot in the way a 1960s spy action film would have been shot – but he has kind of re-invented it in a way. He’s brought something fresh to it.


Did you go out to Italy for it?

I went to Naples when they were doing the location scouting, where most of the 3rd Act of the film takes place and went round some incredible locations, but not while they were actually shooting.


And that’s a case of getting storyboards that match the location precisely?

Yeah because it was all location work and there were a couple of big action scenes based around very specific locations and we were exploring ways of shooting it in those locations.


Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Photo courtesy of- © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill in ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Photo courtesy of- © (c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


This isn’t so much to do with storyboards but what are the issues that crop up in a foreign territory – does the company use translators?

It’s a bit off my radar, but you’ll often work via a local production company and hire a producer or PM locally who will organise the rest of the crew (not the HODs) who are often local.


Let’s hear some challenges that you faced on this one?

I guess to be faithful to the source material and the period and the tone of the piece and just remember ‘yeah, it’s not Fast and Furious, it’s not Avengers, it’s not Bond‘. So times when Guy did say ‘what can you come up with?’ I had to make sure to not lose sight of that and to try and stay in that arena. Which was fun because I love that arena itself.

I love 60s spy films. The early Bonds, ‘The Spy Who came in from the Cold‘, ‘The Quiller Memorandum’. I love the style of filmmaking and to stay faithful to that BUT to make it fresh at the same time. That was a challenge, to work in the box but think outside of it at the same time. You don’t want to be too slavish to the period and source material because then you’re in danger of it feeling like a spoof or pastiche and it’s not that either.


Any movies over the last year or so you’ve seen that you’d recommend?

There are loads but Ex Machina – also starring Alicia Vikander – I thought was fantastic. Great cast. Brilliantly written and directed. I think I’ve watched it 3 times now and every time I get more from it. There’s a lot more to it than God complex and Man vs. Machine. It’s a brilliant example of how to do a genre film on a fairly low budget with limited resources but make it feel grand and exciting. There’s tension, suspense. It’s beautifully shot and beautifully designed. Really interesting film.

Thank you David! Read his FULL INTERVIEW here to learn how he became a storyboard artist and check out his website here.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E. poster

 The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is out now internationally.

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