By Helena Poleo
When audiences all over the world pack into movie theaters to enjoy the new “Get Smart” movie, they will experience an exciting skydiving scene where the blundering super-spy, his beautiful side-kick agent and the scary bad guy all go hurling towards earth. Looks easy, right? Well, not quite.
As the veteran skydivers who filmed this thrilling scene will tell you, skydiving scenes in movies are anything but easy to create.
In the scene that audiences will see, Maxwell Smart, played by Steve Carrell, will accidentally activate a hidden hatch in the bathroom of a commercial jet and freefalls out of control without a parachute. But, never fear! Beautiful Agent-99, played by Anne Hathaway, quickly puts on her rig and dives after him, ready to save the day once more.
Agent-99 manages to glide Smart so safety, but not before having struggling against the very scary bad guy, played by 7ft 4in Dalip Singh, who tries to kill them both in freefall.
To bring this thrilling five-minute scene to life, the skydiving team had to make over 70 jumps in Skydive Miami over four weeks, only at sunrise and sunset to maintain the continuity of the scenery, and draw on every ounce of their skydiving experience to execute these jumps safely while making them seem life-threatening.
The exhilarating maneuvers include hidden-rig stunts, freefall tackles, face-to-face tandems, head-down flying and fast swooping.
Guy Manos, who has written and produced several skydiving movies, including “Dropzone” and “Cutaway”, designed the scene for Get Smart using a 3D computer simulator. “We can see the scene before we ever go out to shoot it,” said Manos about the simulator.
Norman Kent, renowned skydiving cinematographer and director of photography, was in charge of all of the filming for the skydiving scene, using a 35 mm movie camera and a Cannon still camera for production shots. The camera ensemble, which weighed approximately 29 pounds, had a small video camera that allowed the video to be reviewed on a jump to jump basis.
Maxwell’s stunt double is Fred Whitsitt, vice president of Skydive Miami and a veteran skydiver with over 14,000 jumps, had to freefall out of control, without goggles and wearing a suit with a hidden parachute, a tiny Optimum reserve as his main made by Performance Designs in a special container built by United Parachute Technologies. The suit had a special custom design, which flew open at pull time. “I rolled on my back with this contraption take after take until Norman was happy,” Whitsitt said.
Kent acknowledged that filming this part was very difficult. “If I tried to stay with him like in most skydiving situations the person would be in place all the time and it wouldn’t look as exciting. I had to let him tumble around and get away from the camera,” he said. “You spend a lot of jumps getting very little footage.
It makes it really critical to get the shots as quickly as possible.”
Manos also participates in this scene, although off-camera. His job during the jump is to act as safety officer and assist Whitsitt should anything go wrong. He hovered just outside of the shot a couple of feet above Whitsitt, and made sure his pilot chute pulled the bridle and his parachute opened safely.
Thankfully, everything went as planned. “I never had to do the hero saving scene!” he said.
As Maxwell, played by Whitsitt, is apparently flailing uncontrollably during freefall, Agent-99, played in freefall by Manos’s wife, Pam Manos, a veteran skydiver and skydiving stunt woman, comes to the rescue. She swoops down to save Maxwell, catches him and opens her parachute. In reality, the two jumped out doing a face-to-face tandem.
Unfortunately for the pair, the bad guy, played by Dalip Singh in the rest of the movie, and whose skydiving double is 6’10” John Sikorsky, is not far behind, and he swoops down and slashes their parachute. This is when the really tricky skydiving begins.
In filming, unbeknownst to the audience, Whitsitt now becomes Agent-99, wearing a wig and stiletto boots, and a dummy is used to play Maxwell’s part. Whitsitt is wearing a tandem parachute, with the dummy hanging off him, underneath a tandem canopy that has been cut down the middle.
“When I leave the plane, I go straight away into a horrendous malfunction,” Whitsitt recalled. “After we get the shot, I go into full skydiver mode to save myself. I have to cut away the malfunction, pin the dummy and gain control.”
Beneath his clothes, Whitsitt wears a second parachute, which he will use to get himself safely to the ground. “I used every single bit of my 22 years of skydiving to make sure this was done safely,” Whitsitt said. “These scenes pushed me right up to the edge of my knowledge.”
In the movie, Agent-99 manages to cut-away tells Max to wait right there, in freefall, while she goes after the bad guy, who has by now pulled his parachute.
Agent-99 dives by with her knife and slashes his parachute, which rips rigut up the middle. Then Agent-99 tracks back to Maxwell, tackles him and, just as she’s getting ready to pull her reserve, the bad guy Dalip tackles both of them and holds them in a giant bear-hug.
The three freefall in a head-down until Agent-99 plants a big kiss on his lips, which stuns him enough to let go of the two agents. That gives Agent-99 time to pull her reserve handle, saving herself and Maxwell at the last second.
Norman and the rest of the crew acknowledge the impossibility of the several-minutes-long skydiving scene.
“When you think about the sequence, it’s physically impossible. But in this case because it’s a comedy, we can get away with anything,” Kent said. “Although it’s unrealistic, it’s all in fun, and any attention given to the sport is beneficial to the sport.”
See the Get Smart photo gallery.