Bond 24 questions: the writers edition

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are back? There’s been no official announcement but it was reported last month by The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye that the writers were retained to rewrite John Logan’s efforts.

Bamigboye had a number of Skyfall and Bond 24 scoops proven correct. Example: he wrote that Purvis and Wade were initially not going to be back for Bond 24, while their Skyfall co-scribe John Logan would be the new 007 film’s writer. Purvis and Wade subsequently confirmed they were leaving the series. Until, it now seems, things changed.

How extensive will Purvis and Wade’s Bond 24 script work going to be? If the duo end up getting a credit, you’ll know it will have been substantial.

The Writer’s Guild has extensive guidelines on how much work a scribe (with a team of writers such as Purvis and Wade counted as a single entity) should do to get a screen credit. A writer or writing team must contribute more than 33 percent of the finished product for an adapted script, 50 percent for an original one. Bond 24 falls under the adapted category since it uses a character who originally appeared in a novel.

Getting a credit isn’t as simple as counting lines of dialogue. A credit is supposed to reflect “contributions to the screenplay as a whole,” according to the guild. It’s possible, for example, for a writer to change every line of dialogue but for the guild to determine there’s been no significant change to the screenplay.

In any case, if Bond 24’s credit reads something like, “Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade,” Purvis and Wade will have done more than revamp some dialogue or tweak a scene or two.

Is this unusual?It’s the normal method of operation for both movies in general and James Bond movies in particular. Even 007 films that had only one writing credit had contributions from other writers. For example:

–From Russia With Love had a solo screenplay credit for Richard Maibaum, but also an “adapted by” credit for Johanna Harwood, while Len Deighton did work that didn’t earn a credit.
–You Only Live Twice had a “screenplay by” credit for Roald Dahl but an “additional story material” credit for Harold Jack Bloom, the film’s first writer.
–On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a Maibaum solo credit for the screenplay but an “additional dialogue” credit for Simon Raven, who rewrote dialogue in some scenes.
–Tomorrow Never Dies had a “written by” credit for Bruce Feirstein. Other writers took a whirl without credit between Feirstein’s first draft and his final draft.

As far as anyone knows, Live And Let Die really represented the work of only one writer (Tom Mankiewicz), and he did plenty of rewrites himself.

Is this any reason to be concerned? The Daily Mail also reported the start of Bond 24 filming was pushed back to December from October. If true, that should still be enough time for Bond 24 to meet its release date of late October 2015 in the U.K. and early November 2015 in the U.S.

What should fans look for next? The date of the press conference announcing the start of Bond 24 filming. There should also be a press release. If Purvis and Wade get a mention in that press release along with John Logan, that’ll be a sign they did a fair amount of work on the script.

Repeat after me, ‘Writing a James Bond movie is hard’

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

John Logan is learning a lesson that the likes of Paul Haggis, Bruce Feistein, Jeffrey Caine and Michael France learned before him. Writing a James Bond movie is hard.

You can be a hero one day (Logan after Skyfall, Feirstein after GoldenEye, Haggis after Casino Royale) and out the door the next (Feirstein for a period during Tomorrow Never Dies until he got asked back, Haggis after Quantum of Solace).

Screenwriting in general is tough. If you’re in demand, you make a lot of money. If you’re not, it can be humbling. Studios make fewer, more expensive movies. With the stakes so high, there are all sorts of people — directors, stars, studio executives — looking over your shoulder. Bond movies take it a step further. You have the Broccoli-Wilson family, which has controlled the franchise for more than a half century. They have definite ideas of what they like and don’t like.

Screenwriters don’t tally up a lot of multiple 007 screen credits. An Oscar winner such as Paul Dehn had only one. Other one-time only scribes include John Hopkins. Roald Dahl and Michael France. Some writers toil without even getting a credit, such as Len Deighton and Donald E. Westlake, hardly slouches as authors.

All of which is a long way of saying it’s remarkable that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been summoned, according to Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, for a sixth turn writing a James Bond movie, taking over for Logan, who, in turn, rewrote their script for Skyfall. The only writer who has more Bond screenwriting credits is Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) with 13. Maibaum had the advantage of a long-standing relationship with producer Albert R. Broccoli.

Maibuam and the Purvis-Wade team have one thing in common. They’ve taken their share of flak over the years. The British film historian Adrian Turner, in a 1998 book about Goldfinger, made it clear he didn’t think much of Maibaum, painting Dehn as the one who brought the Goldfinger script into shape. Purvis and Wade, meanwhile, get criticized on Internet message boards and social media by some fans as hacks. It helps to have a thick skin.

Feirstein, Haggis and Logan were the final writers on three significant 007 hits: GoldenEye (reviving the franchise after a six-year hiatus), Casino Royale (a reboot of the franchise) and Skyfall (the first billion-dollar Bond film). They got invited back but in the cases of Feirstein and Haggis it was hardly easy going. Something similar may be going on with Logan. He was hired to write a two-film story arc, but that plan got scrapped as part of the price to get Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for Bond 24.

The situation undoubtedly is even more complicated and can only really be appreciated by those who’ve gone through the same grind. But the basic lesson still stands. It’s hard to write a James Bond movie.

Aging in James Bond movies

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Skyfall director Sam Mendes this month said his 007 film was the first Bond adventure “where characters were allowed to age.” But was it really?

In 2000, author James Chapman made an observation about the opening of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. At the start of the film, Roger Moore’s Bond visits the grave of his late wife, Tracy. Her headstone gives her year of death as 1969, the year On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came out.

What is unusual, however is not that the film refers back to Bond’s wife…but that it should do so in such a temporally precise way. The dates on the gravestone place the Bond of For Your Eyes Only as being twelve years older than the Bond of OHMSS. Assuming that Bond is usually taken to be in his late thirties, then the Bond of For Your Eyes Only would therefore be approaching fifty. In this sense, the film brings Bond roughly in line with Roger Moore’s own age (he was fifty-three when the film was released) and works better for Moore than it would likely have done for a younger, incoming actor.

Licence to Thrill, Columbia University Press, page 207

Chapman, interacting with fellow 007 fans on Facebook, also mentioned how Desmond Llewelyn’s Q aged. In The World Is Not Enough, he refers to his upcoming retirement and gives Bond a piece of advice before the agent departs on his mission. It would be the last time Llewelyn’s Q would be seen. The actor died after the film was released in the fall of 1999.

This wasn’t the first time such a notion had been considered. In Bruce Feirstein’s first draft script for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, Q is retired. He has been succeeded by a man named Malcolm Saunders. Q even got a retirement gift from the CIA.

However, later in the Feirstein draft, Q interrupts his retirement to help Bond out. In the final version of Tomorrow Never Dies, there is no hint about a Q retirement.

Finally, while it’s not part of the Eon Productions series, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery returning as Bond, embraced the older Bond concept.

Arguably, though, Mendes’ Bond film addressed the aging issue the most of a 007 story.

Variations of the line sometimes, the old ways are best were repeated. Mendes, in various interviews, quoted himself as telling Daniel Craig before production started that “you’ll have to play this at close to your own age.” Also, Roger Deakins, the movie’s director of photography, seemed to highlight every wrinkle on Judi Dench’s face in some closeups.

UPDATE: Some other examples of aging in the pre-Mendes Bond universe:

–Connery, in a 1971 article in True magazine, indicated he wanted to play an older Bond in Diamonds are Forever. He said how immortality “isn’t anyone’s, not yours, not mine and not James Bond’s.” The article also referenced how Connery would have preferred to portray a balding Bond.

–Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny, in Octopussy, says “as I used to be?” when Moore’s Bond talks about how lovely her new assistant is. Of course, this changed when the part was recast in The Living Daylights.

–In Licence to Kill, David Hedison tells his wife that Bond had been married “a long time ago,” in a reference that’s not as specific as the one in For Your Eyes Only.

From Russia With Love’s 50th Part III: Desmond Llewelyn

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Audiences of the initial release of From Russia With Love didn’t realize it at the time, but they witnessed the start of a character actor’s 17-film, 36-year run.

Desmond Llewelyn took over the role of Major Boothroyd from Peter Burton, who played the part in Dr. No. In the initial 007 outing, Boothroyd presented Bond with his new gun, a Walther PPK. Llewelyn’s Boothroyd gave Sean Connery’s James Bond something more elaborate: a briefcase, if not opened properly, that would emit tear gas. It was also equipped with a sniper’s rifle, 50 gold pieces and a knife.

At this point, the character wasn’t referred to as Q. M mentions “Q branch” and its “smart-looking piece of luggage.” Boothroyd doesn’t reveal much of his feelings toward Bond either.

No matter. The actor’s appearance in From Russia With Love set the stage for his long run in the part. The Guy Hamilton-directed Goldfinger established Boothroyd’s annoyance at Bond regarding the agent’s disrespect of Q-branch equipment. In the 1965 television special The Incredible World of James Bond, the character would be referred to as “the fussy Major Boothroyd.”

Eventually, Llewelyn’s character would just be called Q, though Soviet agent Triple-X reminded viewers of the Boothroyd name in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Llewelyn would play opposite five Bond actors. In the 1990s, the question was how long would the actor continue. Bruce Feirstein’s first-draft screenplay of Tomorrow Never Dies, includes a character named Malcolm Saunders, who is “Q’s successor.”

In his first appearance in the script, Saunders is “looking like a mummy – plaster casts on his left leg, left arm; neck-brace, crutch.” Saunders explains how he received his injuries: “Q’s retirement party. I’d just put the knife into the cake, and – ” However, the retired Q shows up later in the story. In the much-revised final story, we get a standard Bond-Q scene with Llewelyn opposite Pierce Brosnan, except it takes place in Germany instead of MI6 headquarters.

In Llewelyn’s finale, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Q/Boothroyd is talking retirement. Brosnan’s Bond doesn’t believe it — or doesn’t want to believe it. Q gives Bond some advice (always have an escape route) and makes his exit.

Llewelyn died in December 1999 of injuries from a car accident.

NEXT: Legacy

TCM includes From Russia With Love in LA film festival

FRWLposter

TCM is including From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, for the opening day of its DESTINATION HOLLYWOOD classic film festival on April 25-28.

TCM promotes the event as a way for “movie lovers from around the world can gather to experience classic movies as they were meant to be experienced: on the big screen, in some of the world’s most iconic venues, with the people who made them.”

With much of the cast and crew of Terence Young-directed From Russia With Love no longer with us, there won’t be a veteran of the Bond movie on hand for the April 25 showing at the Chinese Multiplex 1 in Hollywood at 9 p.m. local time. However, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, who labored on three 1990s 007 films, will be part of the program, according to TCM.

Here’s part of the TCM DESCRIPTION OF THE MOVIE:

The second James Bond film contained a series of impressive firsts. It was the first of the series to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the first scored entirely by John Barry, the first with a title song and the first to become a huge international success. With a tautly constructed plot, a witty script and two unforgettable villains (Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb and Robert Shaw’s Red Grant), it’s little wonder it’s often hailed as among the best of the Bonds.

Festival passes RANGE FROM $249 TO $1,599 EACH. Individual movies can be seen FOR $20 EACH but tickets won’t be sold until just before show time (pass holders get seated first). According to TCM, “individual ticket seekers should be able to attend many of their desired screenings. We advise that you arrive a minimum of 30 minutes prior to the start time of your desired events to get in the stand-by line.”

You can view the festival schedule BY CLICKING HERE. You’ll first see the Thursday, April 25 schedule. Use the tabs at the top to check each day. You can CLICK HERE to see the list of films being show.

Thanks to Mark Henderson for pointing this out to us.

Michael France, GoldenEye screenwriter, dies

goldeneyeposter

Michael France, one of the screenwriters of 1995’s GoldenEye who devised the film’s original plot, has died, according to an OBITUARY IN THE TAMPA BAY TIMES.

An excerpt:

ST. PETE BEACH — Hollywood screenwriter and Beach Theatre owner Michael France was discovered dead at his St. Pete Beach home Friday morning after an extended illness, his sister said. He was 51.

In recent years Mr. France struggled with diabetes that impaired his left arm and right leg. Nine months ago he was found comatose at his residence by his sister, who also discovered his body Friday.

We’ve written before how France’s FIRST DRAFT of GoldenEye included a planned attack on the World Trade Center in New York years before it occurred in real life. In the France draft, the villain was Augustus Trevelyan, the predecessor to the Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M, who defected to the Soviets.

France ended up with only a “story by” credit in the 1995 James Bond movie after his script was worked over by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein (credited with the screenplay) and Kevin Wade (who didn’t get a credit). It was France’s only contribution to the series but it was a key one. GoldenEye kick started the Bond franchise after a six-year hiatus and there were plenty of doubters at the time whether 007 could make a comeback. Still, of the GoldenEye writers, only Feirstein got invited back for an encore by Eon Productions.

You can read the entire Tampa Bay Times obituary by CLICKING HERE. You can also view stories by DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD and UPI.COM

Skyfall’s Oscar campaign and its quirks

Daniel Craig, among those being suggested for consideration in Skyfall Oscar ads.

Skyfall’s Oscar campaign puts forth Daniel Craig “for your consideration” to Oscar voters.


Sony Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer definitely are pressing to secure Oscar nominations for Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie. The studios are buying ads on entertainment news sites such as Deadline Hollywood, with rotating banner ads listing possible Oscar-worthy performers and crew “for your consideration.”

Perhaps the most detailed list in the Skyfall Oscar campaign is a list of suggested nominees on THE FILM’S OFFICIAL WEB SITE. It urges that Skyfall be considered for:

Best Picture (Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; producers receive the Best Picture Oscar)

Best Director (Sam Mendes)

Best Adapted Screenplay (emphasis added, which we’ll discuss in a moment, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan)

Best Actor (Daniel Craig); Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney); Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench, Berenice Marlohe and Naomie Harris)

Various crew categories including cinematography (Roger Deakins), editing (Stuart Baird), original score (Thomas Newman) and song (Adele and Paul Epworth).

A few questions:

Adapted screenplay? Adapted from what? The on-screen credit reads, “Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan.” Generally, you use “written by” for an original screenplay, i.e. one not based on an existing novel, play, short story, etc.

It’s pretty well known that the writing crew took parts of Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun novels as a starting point, in particular Twice’s Chapter 21, an obituary of Bond written by M. But the movie’s credits don’t acknowledge this. It’s “Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007″ in the main titles, but there’s no mention of other Fleming source material, unlike 2006’s Casino Royale, which mentioned Fleming twice, including the Casino Royale novel.

In the “old days,” the titles said “Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love,” or Goldfinger, Thunderball, etc. which implied it was based on a Fleming story. That was true even when chunks were thrown out, such as 1967’s You Only Live Twice or 1979’s Moonraker. This would be followed by a “Screenplay by” credit, which often implies adapting other source material.

“Screenplay by” can also be used for an original story that has been rewritten substantially such as “Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein, Story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade,” as in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. Purvis and Wade did the original screenplay, with Feirstein doing the final rewrite. (Dana Stevens also did drafts in-between but didn’t get a credit.)

Something similar happened with Skyfall: Purvis and Wade wrote the early drafts, then Logan was brought in to rewrite. But Skyfall’s writing credit is relatively streamlined compared with TWINE’s.

UPDATE: We went to the Web site of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the SPECIAL RULES FOR THE WRITING AWARDS but that wasn’t much help. It reads:

1.An award shall be given for the best achievement in each of two categories:

Adapted Screenplay

Original Screenplay

2.A Reminder List of all pictures eligible in each category shall be made available along with nominations ballots to all members of the Writers Branch, who shall vote in the order of their preference for not more than five productions in each category.
3.The five productions in each category receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Writing awards.
4.Final voting for the Writing awards shall be restricted to active and life Academy members.

One possibility: even though Skyfall has an original story, the character of James Bond is adapted from another medium, so therefore Skyfall’s script is considered “adapted” by the academy.

UPDATE II: The writer’s branch of the academy is also known for being prickly about what’s eligible for an original screenplay award, sometimes ruling what seem like original scripts are adapted. CLICK HERE to view a story in The Wrap Web site about a 2010 example.

Berenice Marlohe or Berenice Lim Marlohe? The Oscar push again highlights the oddity of how the actress was billed one way in ads and another in the movie’s titles.

One editor or two? As we’ve noted before, Stuart Baird was listed as sole editor in Skyfall ads, but in the main titles it listed Baird and Kate Baird as editors, with Kate Baird’s name in smaller letters. Also (which we only caught on a subsequent viewing), Kate Baird is also listed as first assistant editor in the end titles.

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