Tessa Alvarado The Queen of Swords Anthony De Longis

Behind The Scenes And on The Set With Anthony De Longis


Page Three

Anthony and others on the mine set At left - Anthony meets with (from left) 1st A.D. Rob Urquhart, D.P Alwyn Kumst, Anthony, Director Jon Cassar, Continuity Clerk Katie Harlow and "Cpl. Leandro" . Notice the jackets? It rained that day.

Rain? What Rain?

Although the clifftop fight was the first day of filming, I'll relate my comments in the order the scenes as they appear onscreen in the finished show. The first scene with action was the prisoners working Montoya's secret gold mine. Yes, that's me cracking the whip at the two prisoners and gruffly ad-libbing the line, "Get back to work." This day had the added complication of rain, lots of it. Now, the average rainfall for Almeria is five days for the entire year - at least that is what all the books say. We had an embarassment of riches, six days of rain while shooting the first episode alone! Now this really complicates matters when you're still building your interior or "cover" sets, and your first days of shooting are all scheduled to be filmed outdoors. The crew members were frantically buying raingear at the local gas stations on the way to work. I loaned David Abramowitz my extra Highlander rain poncho. The roads leading to the locations in the canyons below the town sets were being eroded even as we filmed. Now these roads were barely passable at best. Add some rain, mud and erosion and the usual traffic problems of moving a company of performers and a caravan of equipment trucks including the portable generator that supplies the power for lights,etc and you've got a logistical nightmare. You try to anticipate problems and plan for them, but nature's curveballs are more the norm than the exception. Anyway, we got a lot of coverage in the mine interior before the rain let up and we were able to move outside. And we did have some great mood setting clouds in the sky all week that are conspicuously absent in the later episodes.

Grisham & Soldier on hill At right: "Grisham" and soldier wait on the cliff to catch the escaping Torlio. for distance shots, Lemke was doubled by Nino, one of the horse wranglers for the show.

Torlio Tries to Escape

Torlio's escape attempt from the guards was a lot of fun for me. While the main or "first" unit filmed the Queen surrendering when the Sargeant threatens to kill prisoners unless she appears, I ran the second unit action filming the escape just across the valley. Jon Cassar walked the hilltop locations with me and outlined the shots he needed to tell his story. In between the Sargeant's counting, which they filmed over and over again, we shot the mounted lancer chasing Torlio through the brush, the musket shots with the special effect dirt squibs kicking up dust at his running feet and Torlio's desperate climb up the side of the cliff. We borrowed Anthony Lemke from first unit and shot his dialogue looking down at Torlio. The Sound department went back to first unit and we shot MOS ("mit out sound," a Hollywood tradition).

Pedro Lucas Fuica, the stunt/actor husband of Maria-Jose who did the high fall from the top of the cliff, filmed on the beach location later in the show, played Torlio. Interestingly, he spoke no English. We set up Torlio's fall in three shots. We started the stunt sequence with Torlio's slide down the hill shot from above with Pedro looking into camera to simulate Captain Grisham's POV (point of view). Then we put Pedro on a wire harness and moved the camera to the bottom of the hill facing upwards towards Grisham looking down. We measured the cable on Pedro's harness so he could let himself slide straight down the hill towards camera and be confident we wouldn't take out either our 2nd Unit cameraman Jean-Claude or his expensive camera equipment. Alwyn had promised me ten dollars if we kicked dirt into the camera lens, and that was a bet I wanted to collect. Next we set up the camera profile to the downhill grade and shot Pedro tumbling past camera towards the bottom of the hill. Finally we positioned the camera facing the natural erosion pit we had filled with pads and Pedro tumbled through frame to disappear over the edge into the pads. The sequence ended with a shot from above of a soldier checking Torlio's corpse with his head twisted and propped against a blood smeared rock. By piecing together this extended sequence of shots we offered the editor the means to make the fall look rougher and more violent than it was. We kept our stunt performer safe and told our story. The editor chose not to utilize everything we shot, but we'd given him the footage to make his final choices.

Tessie and doubles from 1st day At left - Tessie and doubles from the first day of photography (Roberta Brown and Natalia Guijarro) pose at the end of the day.

The sequence of the Queen riding through the surf and across the plains was shot by second unit with Natalia doubling while main unit was filming the fifth episode, "The Witness." The shot of the Queen looking through her spyglass from behind a ruined wall, although also shot later in the series, was our first planned "cowboy switch." We employed the same technique we utilized to get the Queen down from the top of the church steeple in "Destiny" when Tessie, Natalia, Roberta and Tessie all combining to make the Queen look good. The term "cowboy switch" comes from the early days of Hollywood when the studios were really churning out the "oaters" as western flicks were sometimes called. The idea was to start the shot on the actor and have him move behind a building or duck behind a rock so the switch could be made with the stunt performer for action that was considered too hazardous or that required more training and experience than the actor possessed. The camera kept moving to aid the illusion that both performers were one. The stunt actor would appear to leap onto the horse with a fancy "pony express" mount and gallop off down the road. The same technique was reversed for a fast and furious arrival or a leap from a roof behind a water trough and the hero popping into close camera frame. And that's just what we did with Tessie looking through the telescope and Natalia galloping away to end the scene.

Mounted Soldier on beach. At right: One of the mounted soldiers rides on the beach during break. The uniform was changed after "Vengeance" was filmed, so they vary back and forth in the first 4 episodes aired.

You might have noticed a change in the uniforms between the early episodes and what you're seeing now. It was decided that the uniforms with the red pants looked "too Opera." So as soon as wardrobe could effect the change, all of the soldiers uniforms were changed to blue pants and the uniforms you're seeing now.

The Queen Fights for Her Life

The ambush sequence with Grisham and his soldiers in the canyon was started the sequence in the rambla below the pueblo set in Tabernas. Natalia handled the horse fall and EFX whiz Carlos fired dust hits from his semi-auto paint pellet gun to simulate the shots from the soldier's muskets.

Anthony with double Mary At left - Anthony and Queen double Mary Gallien are all smiles at the end of 2nd unit filming. The red dot on the corset is the "wound" created for shooting the close-up.

The remaining action in this sequence had begun the first day of filming with the entire company on location at the beach in San Jose some hour's drive away. Now the sword action to get the Queen to the top of the hillside was quite the patchwork of talents. The second unit sequences were reshot and added to the shooting schedule while we were filming our fifth episode, "The Witness." Since Roberta Brown was dressed to double for Marta's kitchen fight, Mary Gallien dressed as the Queen and handled the initial sword action at the base of the hill and up the hillside at our beach location. (FYI: Paulina did all the fight action herself but Roberta had to be ready if she was needed.) The action then switches to Roberta at the top of the hill with the final sword phrase, the turn and run to the top to peer over the edge and the confrontation with the soldiers to start the fight at the top of the cliff. It's Roberta in all the long shots with Tessie in the closeups and medium range body shots. Mary did the closeup wound reveals to finish off the sequence in second unit. Put all the parts together and you get the final story. We hope you liked it.

Tessie turns to fight on the beach At right - Tessie turns to engage the soldier chasing her. This shot was done on boards laid on the beach for close-ups.

By the way, the wind in Tessie's hair is big time real. Roberta shot the first master of the two on one fight with Luis Miguel and Tonio. We really were at the top of this very steep hill performing on a rocky, unfriendly surface with a rapid plummet to the rocks and ocean below. The ladies really had to pay attention and not allow themselves to be distracted. The wind was gusting to 40 mph and posed a real challenge to balance and concentration. When Roberta first took her position to rehearse the fight, the wind ripped a styrofoam reflector from its position behind camera and sent it slamming into Roberta's body. Fortunately, Roberta was unharmed and took it in stride, but this was definitely not good.

Anthony and Tessie At left -A nthony helps Tessie down the hillside to the beach after filming the fight.

I was very proud of Tessie. It was her first day of shooting and there was so much going on. We were in a very difficult location with very real hazards. Just keeping your footing both in the location and getting up and down the hill itself was a serious challenge. The wind was another unexpected factor that had to be dealt with so we could film the Queen fighting for her life without having Tessie lose hers. It was a rough day and everyone worked very hard to get a tough job done.

Mary-Jose and Pedro prepare for her fall At right - On top of the cliff, Mary-Jose prepares for her 45-ft. fall. She is wearing a harness and rope so Pedro can help her safely to the edge. When everything's ready, the harness comes off and Mary-Jose turns and falls into an airbag below.

The next day we came back to shoot our second unit action and the wind was blowing too hard for us to shoot Mary-Jose's high fall from another cliff further down the beach. We ultimately returned to the location for a third day to get our shot. We carried the heavy airbag across 300 yards of sand and levelled out the surface to level the bag for Mary-Jose's landing. Ricardo also rigged a safety rope and Mary-Jose so she could walk herself over the lip of the cliff for a better angle on her fall.

Where the fight appears to happen At left - according to television geography, this is the cliff where the swordfight and the cliff jump occurs. In reality, the action used was shot at other locations.

The second day we did all troop a mile down the beach to a third and bigger cliff that Jon Cassar wanted to use as his long range establishing shot. You can just make out our tiny figures outlined against the sky in the enclosed still picture. It's Roberta and the boys performing the fight on yet another cliff. Ricardo, Pedro and myself are hunkered down below the lip the the cliff so the camera can't see us and acting as catchers if anyone loses their footing. Alas, the editor decided not to use this shot in the final assemblage.

I was a little disappointed in the editor's final choices for the Queen's sword fight. Tessie's close up coverage never captured the thought and dexterity of the Queen's ability to outfight both soldiers and outmaneuver Tonio with a clever disarm to use his sword and her own to persuade him that he should consider a change of careers. Her line says it all, "I wouldn't if I were you"

Lancers on the beach At right - Two lancers with their mounts walk along the beach.

In between shots the view from the top of the cliff was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed the view the mounted lancers presented galloping across the sand with the pennants on their lances snapping in the breeze. They looked mighty fine and the snapping colored cloth really pulled the eye. I'd fought to have lancers and not just gun toters and the effort paid off. It's fun to watch the show grow and mature. Tacho is really making Don Hidalgo his own. Valentine and Peter, as usual, are doing their magnetic performances.

Seeing the soldiers discover the Queen's sword buried in the sand and half underwater still makes me cringe. Dave Baker designed and hand built a distinctive and functional sword for our hero. While the blade is aluminum, the layered guard is shaped and welded steel. That means it rusts. Dousing it in sea water just hastens the process. The next day we put in an emergency request for steel wool and Mary cleaned and polished the rust out of the nooks and crannies of all three of the Queen swords.

I had an idea for a shot that I thought would look really cool. I ran it by Ricardo and he agreed we should go for it. I suggested to Jon Cassar that the soldier plant the Queen sword upright in the sand when he spots the Queen's body down the beach and goes to investigate the body. We'd come back and pay it off later.

Tessie handled the action with Tonio, the soldier, herself. Roberta got to lie in the cold, wet sand to frame the shot and rehearse the action for camera. As you may have noticed, the sun had disappeared and the day had gotten grey, cloudy, windy and cold. Aaah, the glamor of showbiz.

After Tessa punched out the soldier's lights, Luis Miguel Arranz appeared from behind the rock, reared his horse and came charging down the beach with his lance lowered to put an end to the Queen once and for all. We'd rehearsed with Ricardo, Luis and Natalie back in Tabernas and filmed on my Hi8 video camera to check camera angles for safety and effectiveness. We'd practiced with a piece of wooden dowling to be sure we could make the gag work, and was assured by EFX that they could find a pole that would support Luis' weight. The first practical pole they came up with was 15 feet long and made of steel. Needless to say it was far too heavy. It was Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend and every store was about to close. I suggested we call a sporting goods store for pole vault pole that handle Luis' weight and still be light enough for him to control and keep Natalie, his horse and himself safe. We got lucky and located a pole Saturday afternoon for our Monday morning shoot. Whew.

Natalia, doubling for the Queen, waited until the lance was almost in range, pivoted aside and brushed the lance towards the ground so Luis could plant the point and crash to the ground. We positioned our cameras and shot with the Queen's POV facing the lance, the lancer's POV from behind the charging horse, and in semi-profiles to catch the fall and roll. Tessie stepped in for some closeup shots and gave the director a scare when she let Luis Miguel ride right past her close enough for Tessie to touch the horse. Brave girl, good rider. The editor assembled the pieces and we had our sequence.

But the Queen still had to exit, preferably with style and flare. Our final shot focused on the sword left forgotten in the sand at the start of the scene. It took us two tries to get our shot because Chico had never rehearsed this deep sand pass near enough to the sword for Natalia to be able to reach from horseback at the gallop. The margin for error was very small and a horse naturally moves away from unfamiliar objects. But Natalia reassured Chico and her second pass gave us the shot that appears in the title sequence each week.

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Copyright 2000 Anthony De Longis. All contents, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Anthony De Longis or used with permission of the copyright owner. All text and photos herein may not be reproduced or distributed without the express written consent of Anthony De Longis, his official representative, or the copyright owner.

The Queen of Swords is trademark of Fireworks Productions, Toronto, Canada, and is a production of Fireworks (Canada), Amy Productions (UK), Morena Films (Spain) and M6 (France), and is distributed in the United States by Paramount. The Official Queen of Swords Website can be found at


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This page last updated November 24, 2000