Written by Jack O'Rourke
Photography by SailGP
31 August 2020
Relentless action, breathtaking visuals and mind-bending technology. Words that have been used to describe Christopher Nolan’s epic new sci-fi spy thriller, Tenet.
No better example of this is when SailGP’s F50 foiling machines make their first appearance in the movie, showcasing the incredible power and capability of one of the world’s fastest and most technologically advanced sail race boats.
SailGP was first approached by the studio to appear in the film during last year’s San Francisco event on 4 May, when Christopher Nolan and his crew jumped on board an F50 and observed them in action during the race. Nolan was so impressed he included them in an action scene in the movie that is filled with tension.
Tom Slingsby from the Australia SailGP Team and US SailGP skipper Rome Kirby were selected to helm the F50s and set up the dramatic, boat-on-boat scenes in the Solent while Nolan kept a watchful eye from a helicopter.
Filming involved 12 days of sailing and production included multiple helicopters, chase boats, hi-tech camera boats and IMAX cameras. During filming, Slingsby and Kirby would get the boats up on the foils well behind the camera boat then fly by in time to get the right shot, turn around and do it over and over again.
Kirby even went the extra mile as Elizabeth Debicki’s stunt double during the close-up sailing scenes, complete with blonde wig.
“It was unbelievable how hard the production team worked,” said Slingsby. “We were putting the boats in the water at 4 am, and it was rare if we were finished by 10 pm. Then we were straight back into it the next day.”
“We were there to tell the directors what the F50s could and couldn’t do when it came to the choreography of the boats. They would ask, ‘How close can we get the boats together?’ and we would coordinate tacking duels. They were happy to take our advice.”
The plot was a closely guarded secret, but Nolan worked with the sailors to get the epic shots required for the film.
“Christopher Nolan was great to all the sailors and it was a pleasure for us to be involved. I was able to collaborate with him, organising the helicopter shots so they didn’t affect our wind but they could still get the best shot.”
Slingsby revealed that the crew took some time to comprehend the speeds the F50s were truly capable of.
“On the first day, they rocked up with a high-tech camera boat, which they were pretty excited about. They said, ‘It goes pretty fast; it should reach around 14 knots.’
“They were shocked when I said the F50s didn’t start foiling until at least 17 knots; we were looking at getting up to 35 knots when we were sailing.”
The futuristic technology of the F50 certainly matched the theme of Tenet, and SailGP organisers are hopeful fans will get a chance to see them live in action next year, with SailGP Season 2 expected to restart in San Francisco and New York in April and June 2021.
The league wants to hold seven to nine events for Season 2, with racing set to hit Australia and New Zealand in the early part of 2022.
Slingsby said, “We’re excited to get back sailing next year; we have new events and new teams. During downtime, we made some upgrades to the boats and improved the whole SailGP package.”
He continued, “I’m excited about the New Zealand team entering the league. Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are old friends of mine; we’ve raced against each other many times.
“They were the missing piece of the puzzle – we can now claim to have the best sailors in the world in our competition.”