Tom Cruise MI5 / 04.10.2017
Originally the newsroom had heard rumblings Will Smith could be in Essex filming Aladdin, but as the date drew closer it was confirmed as Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible 5.
Thorndon Country Park, just south of Brentwood, was to be the filming location, with access closed to the public for several days. This included parking which made gaining access rather tricky.
Luckily closing actual footpaths is almost impossible, even if you are TC himself! Piers, the reporter who I was teamed up with, found a good spot and we set off in to the woods on our own mission.
The first day we spotted a fake helicopter partially covered in tarpaulin and a few filming vehicles. But it seemed far too quiet for any filming to take place.
On day 2 we spent hours in the trees and hedgerows, narrowing down the exact spot we needed to be. Eventually we noticed a member of the crew painting the road markings black. Finally, a clue! At that exact moment, we heard a twig snap and three paparazzi appeared from the bush next to ours. They were friendly enough (that opinion changed pretty fast) and suggested today was not the day.
To be honest, I was getting tired of the whole idea by the end of day 2. The woods were large and dense, we had to park over a mile from the entrance and both attempts have failed.
My editor suggested I arrived in the early morning on day 3 and try to spot Tom's helicopter (a real one this time!) arriving on set. Naturally I overslept and wasn't even sure it was worth another visit.
Thankfully the editor disagreed and so I set of for the 45 minute journey back to Thorndon. This time I was more prepared with knowledge of the area and had narrowed down the likely location, but Piers was unavailable so this time I would be solo.
The road where the marking were disguised was heaving with activity and the paparazzi were also there. It was looking promising and as I approached several filming vehicles left the park and drove off in to the distance. So now I know exactly where, but no idea how to get there.
I spoke to the production staff on the edge of the cordon and introduced myself. They explained there was almost zero chance gaining access to the set.
After spending 10 minutes perusing Google Maps I decided to try and get parallel to the road, in a similar spot to the previous days. Just before I planned to set off, the paparazzi started to argue with the crew.
"This is a public road, you can't stop us", shouted one of them. After a few minutes to staff agreed to let them in, as long as they didn't interfere with the filming. I wanted to enter with them but I clearly was separate and this was my first time in this environment. As I thought that a staff member pointed at me and said, "Let him in too. He's the only nice one here".
As I head up the road I see the stunt helicopter set up on the end of a large van and another vehicle facing it. I headed off road and noticed the Director Christopher McQuarrie setting up the next shot. As everyone clears the road, i hear "action" and the helicopter and lorry head down the road towards each other. The lorry jack-knifes and the helicopter rig lifts up over in the last moment.
What a sight to see. Then who leaps from the helicopter? Tom Cruise.
Finally. But i'm on the wrong side of the road to get the shot and I need to cross the set to be in the best location. The paparazzi realised this too and approached me with an offer. They'll head one way, I'll go the other and we'll split the sales royalty 4 ways. They already had this deal between the 3 of them.
I declined. I'm already paid to be there and my employer will resell the pictures through syndication and I receive 50% already. Plus they weren't the nicest of people.
After they left I approached a member of the crew and asked if I could cross the road. They allowed me to. Well that was easy.
I'm in the right spot. Tom Cruise is here. Now I just need timing. I set my camera to the appropriate modes and wait for the Director to call action.
The lorry comes from the left and the helicopter from the right. Just before they collide the helicopter rises up again, lowers down and Tom exits.
I was shaking. TC had injured himself on set in London a few months earlier was still not 100%. When he exited the helicopter he stepped straight in to a car. The window of opportunity was tiny. But I had the shot.
I connected my camera to my phone, downloaded the image, edited for a few seconds and sent it straight to the news room. Receiving messages of excitement and congratulations from the team was one of the best moments of my career to date. Moments later and the story was live and I had my first world exclusive.
For three days there had been messages back and forth, minute by minute at some stages. Piers had been a running blog on Essex Live, constant updates with set photos and information on filming. It was a huge team effort and we'd pulled it off.
Just as I was calming down from all the excitement, the paparazzi emerged through the trees. "Did you get the shot?", one asked.
They all look at their phones and realised it was too late. The leader of the group who had offered me the split was not best pleased. He berated my photo and started being aggressive towards me. This did not go unnoticed by the production crew or the police, who were all looking at the commotion.
Now, this was not one of my most professional moments, but hear me out:
It had taken 3 days, almost 200 miles of driving back and forth, miles of walking through the woods and a long time spent listening to the paparazzi shouting disrespectfully at almost everyone they spoke to.
So my response was, "I got the shot. Get over it. You see, you can get the job done without being a complete dick".
The production crew applauded and cheered. This did not best please the photographer, who threated me and headed in my direction. The police intervened and he was forced to leave the set.
Without a doubt in the top 10 strangest moments of my career and just topped pf what was a surreal day.
I stayed on set for a while longer and enjoyed watching the filming process and taking it all in. It's important to savour the moment as it's most likely never going to happen again. A member of the team said he had heard on the radio about the commotion and the crew was happy "the little guy" beat the paparazzi.
Often in press photography you go through stages of breaking news that can make you question everything from institutions, people's humanity to your own morality covering the stories. I once visited a murder scene at 8am and filmed a wedding at noon. It can be a confusing way to make a living.
But over those few days, I got to focus on a single goal and cover a story that was pure excitement and curiosity from the paper's audience. And we did it. And we did it first.
I spent the evening watching the pictures spread around the world's media and pondering a quandary.
I got the shot without being rude like the paps were. However, I got access to the set as a result of their attitudes.
© 2022 - CHRISCHARLESCOOK.