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One More Shot: How Stansted airport was transformed into a pop-up film set for the latest big-budget thriller

Plane Talk: Stansted is the stand-in for a US airport in a new Sky thriller

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 09 January 2024 16:50 GMT
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Air rage: Scott Adkins (left), the star of ‘One More Shot’, filming at Stansted airport
Air rage: Scott Adkins (left), the star of ‘One More Shot’, filming at Stansted airport (Signature Entertainment)

“Guns” and “airport” sit uncomfortably in the same sentence. Yet I am airside at London Stansted, beyond the security check, in a loose scrum with 100 other people – some of whom are openly carrying firearms, from handguns to assault weapons. The airport police are in attendance, yet they are simply looking on. Or are they actually actors dressed as airport police?

Welcome to Stannywood, home to a pop-up film set.

“All passengers clear.” The announcement rings out at 11.18pm. Tens of thousands of passengers on hundreds of flights have either flown away during the day or headed home at night from the Essex terminal. No arrivals or departures on Ryanair, easyJet or Jet2 are scheduled for a few hours. So the UK’s leading low-cost airport can now resume its nocturnal role as a film set for an extraordinary action thriller: One More Shot.

At Stansted – one of the UK’s four busiest airports – the shooting is about to begin. In both senses.

The finished product premieres on Sky on 12 January. One More Shot features dozens of terminal departures, but not in a good way. And the people doing the dispatching are wearing semi-automatic weapons rather than high-visibility jackets. Ironically, everyone in the crew who is not on camera is wearing a hi-vis jacket, except when it might show up in a reflection in this vast steel and glass “studio”.

Filming “landside” at an airport is challenging enough: staff are needed to keep passengers out of the way and safe, and to glance through the viewfinder to ensure that the camera is not inadvertently featuring airlines in an unflattering way.

The challenges multiply for airside filming. Everyone involved must undergo a background check. If they pass, their problems are only just beginning. They must go through the usual security check (no sharps, no liquids above 100ml...) accompanied by an authorised airport chaperone.

All of that still applies if all the director wants is to film a cheery Love Actually-style scene.

If, though, you have hired Stansted airport for a feature film in which grisly gun deaths are scripted to take place at an average of one per minute, you need some exceptional cooperation.

“People are just like, ‘You’re going to do what? You crazy?’” says the director, James Nunn. Night after night, he, the cast and the crew are working against a hard deadline.

“Time’s against you. It gets to 3 or 4am and flights start up again, because passengers want to go to Faliraki or wherever.”

Artistically, though, Nunn is happy. “It looks incredible because you’re in an international airport.”

And that international airport is, er, “Washington Baltimore”. Presumably the actual Baltimore Washington airport wasn’t interested in turning its premises into a shooting range, and also preferred the imposter to be precisely named.

As the trailer on YouTube shows, the scenes are scarier than being a passenger on the wrong type of Boeing 737 Max 9, or a participant in a Stansted stag party of lads to Lodz. Even the innocent little shuttle train serving outlying gates is a scene of unimaginable brutality worse than anything I have seen on a flight. And I have been on the 2am departure from Ibiza to Doncaster.

All you need to know about the plot: terrorists have brought a “dirty bomb” to the Washington DC area; all-action hero Jake Harris, played by Scott Adkins, is the only person who can avert armageddon; everything goes very badly for most of the movie, but finally, everyone lives happily ever after, except for those for whom the terminal proved terminal, with a body count approaching the capacity of an Airbus A320.

Anything from the galley? Scott Adkins helps out on board (Signature Entertainment)

Stansted is the ideal location for filmmakers. It looks far more “airporty” than many other terminals. Norman Foster’s 1991 design is a flourish of steel and glass, with a sense of space created by the sail-like roof – and, handily, views out across the airfield.

The director’s aim is that the entire 102-minute movie looks as though it was filmed in a single take. That cinematic nirvana cannot happen at Stansted for all manner of logistical reasons, not least the fact that some of the filming took place at Tilbury docks, also in Essex. Spotting any joins between the scenes was way beyond my untrained eye.

Nunn says the film includes a single nine-minute unbroken shot. That makes it among the longest ever filmed – and something achieved amid the unforgiving constraints of an international airport.

“Everyone’s face was like, ‘What just happened?’”

Anyone who is familiar with Stansted and watches the filming will be wondering: what just happened to the airport? The area where I watch the filming is around the ramp going up towards gates 81 to 88. Location catering, I quickly discover, is downstairs in the gates 90-93 area normally used for coaching passengers to planes. The meals have the look and appeal of airline food, appropriately enough.

The set designers have been busy with signage to “de-Stansted” the airport, deploying signs to “First and Business Class” areas, a concept alien to 99 per cent of users of the Essex gateway. Stars and stripes are liberally dangled from walls. The main airline seems to be called Air Xence – though, if you look closely towards the end, the familiar blue and yellow of a Ryanair jet is in evidence on the apron.

As on any film set, dozens of professionals, from make-up artists to lighting staff, are required to deliver the results. No doubt about the individual of greatest interest: the armourer, who has brought a bag of a dozen submachine guns to the party. A real police officer guards them (and the occasional knife) at all times.

The film’s highlight is a gun-and-knife fight on the shuttle – officially the Track Transit System, or TTS – that connects the main terminal with outlying gates.

“They’ll never let us do it,” was Nunn’s expectation. “So we pitched it: ‘Can we do that?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, no worries, no problem.’

“So there is a genuine unbroken fight on the TTS. Between a minute and two minutes’ worth of fighting on a moving carriage at its top speed of 28mph, and then Scott pulls the emergency brake for real and we come to a stop.”

In the end credits, “Rob Prior and his Track Transit System Engineering Team” get special thanks – as do “Ludwig Duweke & All Staff at the Radisson Blu Stansted” for enabling the hotel to be used as a production hub.

Night flight: Michael Jai White on the apron at Stansted (Signature Entertainment)

The actors and the action are terrific. In all honesty, though, the mushy plot and relentless fast-forward pace mean that I cannot recommend you take out a Sky Entertainment subscription purely to watch One More Shot.

Unless, that is, you are a cinematic type ready to be mesmerised by the one-shot concept, or a loyal Stansted user seeking a glimpse of the airport’s secret life. Or perhaps you want to make an observational documentary about the challenges of making action films in a live airport?

“I don’t think we realised how difficult it would be,” says Nunn. “You’ve got to get 100 crew members airside every day, and there’s no quick way to do it.

“Making a film is a miracle in itself, and then we have to have small miracles every day.”

Has the experience, I wonder, spoiled airports for Nunn? “Absolutely. Cruises from now on.”

‘One More Shot’ is on Sky Cinema from 12 January

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