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.

The Bond of the 1990s

Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Does anyone remember the 1990s?

Beverly Hills 90210, the Backstreet Boys, the fall of Communism, Claudia Schiffer everywhere, the rise of the Nintendo and Sega videogames, Windows, Internet… so much stuff to make us all feel a little nostalgic and perhaps a bit old, too.

Now we can watch once again on YouTube, in that standard VHS quality, we might now consider bad footage of a long haired and beardy man in a dark suit being surrounded by thousands of cameras and photographers, next to producers Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and a director called Martin Campbell.

It was 20 years ago. The man was Pierce Brosnan. And this moment was the return of James Bond.

The franchise had its weak moments before, but in the longest gap in the franchise history between 1989 and 1994, Bond seemed really dead, without a chance to survive the post Cold War era or the legal troubles surrounding Danjaq and MGM.

Even with the necessary reboot in 2006 with Casino Royale after the somewhat exaggerated Die Another Day, there was probably no bigger buzz about Bond being outdated than in these five years, for many reasons: (a) Agent 007 was a product of the Cold War, and there was no more Cold War, (b) Licence to Kill was a commercial failure and had weak reviews, and (c) too many years were passing without Bond.

By no means was the return of 007 in the form of Daniel Craig unimportant. It certainly was, but it was expected James Bond would return. By the early 1990s, with only the TV cartoon James Bond Jr. and some telefilm Ian Fleming biopics, the “man on the street” would have many doubts of watching our hero back in the silver screen. Some headlines even called Licence to Kill “007’s final mission.”

This is why June 8, 1994, will be remembered as one of the greatest days in the history of the cinematic agent 007.

With a thousand journalists and photographers from all over the world, Brosnan promised to show us “what is beneath the surface of this man, what makes him a killer,” but also maintain the elements that made him famous: “He’s still a ladies man, yes.”

(Essay continues below the videos)

From that day on, the name of James Bond, sentenced to be part of a retro club subject of conversations years before, was being heard again everywhere, including in Papua New Guinea, where Brosnan, shooting Robinson Crusoe, was recognized by a group of children as the secret agent.

The Brosnan era firmly represented the ‘90s, in the humor, the costumes, the music and the scripts.

GoldenEye (1995) offered us a classic story with some twists. The old Communists were back –- in jokes included –- but also with explicit sex scenes; a metallic and modern score by Eric Serra; and, of course, the inclusion of something that was starting to change our lives, the Internet (Natalya asks for an IBM Computer with 650 MB hard drive, basically one-sixteenth the capacity of our iPad;), the 007 vs 006 rivalty, first time a 00 agent –- a friend of Bond — goes rogue.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) opted for a more pragmatic and less brainy idea by having media tycoon Elliott Carver using his empire to make a war between China and Britain (action, action, action everywhere).

The World Is Not Enough (1999), being the last Bond of the 20th century, provided a twist by having as a villain a woman he fell for, with Sophie Marceau having the distinction of being the first female mastermind in a 007 film.

The 40th anniversary adventure, 2002’s Die Another Day, might have been a weak film in many aspects, but it also had its dosage of drama and violence (i.e. a depiction of torture as part of the main titles).

Even when nowadays Pierce says his Bond wasn’t “good enough” and that he doesn’t dare to watch his own Bond movies, his contribution to the franchise was more than memorable and needed.

Brosnan not only resurrected Bond but also brought a new generation of fans. The end of Cold War couldn’t kill James Bond.

A Bond for all seasons; how 007 endures

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming


By Nicolás Suszczyk

Who was the best James Bond? Which is the Best Bond film?

We often ask and we often fight in boards, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. Want to know my answer? Pierce Brosnan and GoldenEye. Still, I get along with every Bond and every film very well, despite those I don’t like very much, i.e. Quantum of Solace.

But besides many people are a child of their generation or relate to their favorite Bond actor/film to his first memories, there are many reasons to consider every 007 film was great and every Bond actor was unique. They represented a particular time in society.

Back in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most “hated” newcomer James Bond -– mainly thanks to the Internet and the famous CraigNotBond.com site. We can remember Daniel wasn’t only criticized for his looks but for representing an opposition to the style set by Pierce Brosnan in four James Bond films, a style reminiscent to the Roger Moore era with typical “save the world” and “get the girl” plots with a pinch of drama.

But Craig promised a grittier and tougher Bond, his muscular body giving us a hint of that, and fans couldn’t really get it.

It is funny to see what happens now, with Daniel Craig being established as a successful 007 after three films: Casino Royale, his follow-up Quantum of Solace and the Academy Award winning Skyfall, also the most successful Bond film to date. Now there are lots of people out there blaming the Pierce Brosnan era calling his Bond “weak”, “without charm” and with “stupid plots”.

This makes me think and evaluate every Bond and Bond film not as standalone plots or just thinking about the actor, but going beyond the film and actor and thinking of the sociopolitical/cultural era they were released. Why does Bond battle a media-tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies? Why does Bond go to outer space in Moonraker? Why the Miami Vice-style villains and plot in Licence to Kill?

The answer is simple: the era in which the film was released.

It’s perfectly logical Bond has to face a guy like Franz Sánchez: his American friend works with the DEA, he was captured and tortured, his wife killed, Bond seeks revenge on his own –- and obviously, Auric Goldfinger won’t be his villain, he’ll have to face a ruthless drug dealer with his butchers. The same way a man obsessed with increasing his value of gold won’t be a drug dealer in 1964. In 1989, you could obviously expect plots like Miami Vice or Die Hard.

Of course, if Star Wars rings a bell to you, then you’d understand why 007 went to outer space in 1979, the same way in 1997 communications and technology were involving every day and you could create a war using mass media – oh, by the way, remember how the media was involved in the Gulf War from the 1990s?

Ian Fleming began writing his novels in the early ‘50s and the Broccoli-Saltzman duo adapted the plots to the ‘60s, respecting the standards set by the British spy, journalist and author, but making them suitable for the time we were living.

That’s why Goldfinger tries to irradiate Fort Knox and ties the secret agent to a laser beam instead of stealing the gold or using a buzz-saw. The same reason the guano plot from Dr. No the novel is no match for the rocket toppling the evil doctor plans in the 1962 film. And of course, the abundance of girls had to be there (the swinging ‘60s) in the first Bond cinematic adventure, instead of letting Honey Ryder being the only girl in the whole adventure.

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Fifty years later, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go straight the same way: they respect the origins of the character, but they also give a look at the times we’re living. Plenty of situations in Casino Royale and Skyfall were lifted from the Fleming books: Bond’s “death” at the end of You Only Live Twice with M’s obit, the Glencoe settings where Fleming tells us Bond was born, and 007’s decadent situation and re-shaped for duty just like at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.

We all have our hearts, people. Mine is, of course, with that first glance at the GoldenEye film and game and the cardboard Tomorrow Never Dies standee I came across at a shopping mall being a kid in the ‘90s. That was “James Bond” for me as today “James Bond” is what people see in Skyfall or what my parents or my uncle watched in the Roger Moore era (some of them still complaining about the few gadgets in Quantum of Solace).

But Bond was made for all seasons. Perhaps that’s why we all get the “James Bond Will Return” credit at the end of every film!

U.N.C.L.E. and the crowded U.K. filming scene

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

U.N.C.L.E. insignia from a second-season episode

The Los Angeles Times has A STORY TODAY about the booming U.K. movie industry. One of the people interviewed is Guy Ritchie, director of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie and an old hand at filming movies in England.

An excerpt from the end of the story:

Like others, English director Guy Ritchie, who has made two Sherlock Holmes movies for Warner Bros. in Britain and is now at work on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” is noticing his home turf getting more crowded. While shooting a car chase at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, which he had also used in his 2005 film, “Revolver,” and in “Sherlock Holmes,” Ritchie noted that the location has popped up in several other movies, including “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Skyfall” and “Les Miserables.”

“Maybe the novelty will wear off,” Ritchie said. “I quite like it, because I can go home at night. I don’t know who the chap is that got this going. Whoever he is, I’d like to take him out for a drink.”

The U.N.C.L.E. movie is based out of Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden. The site is a former factory converted into a movie studio for the production of 1995’s GoldenEye. Warner Bros. used Leavesden to film the Harry Potter movies. Warner Bros. bought the studio in 2010. Warners spent more than 100 million British pounds to rebuild and expand the studio, according to the official website for Leavesden tours.

The Los Angeles Times story by Rebecca Keegan provides details of how the movie boom came about, including tax incentives, the country’s ” tungsten northern light,” and work rules that appeal to studio bosses. The story also references a number of current and upcoming U.K.-based films. The list includes the next Star Wars film that will be shot at Pinewood Studios, the tradition home for James Bond films. To read the entire story, CLICK HERE.

Separately, the Henry Cavill News fan website PUBLISHED A POST of photos shot by a fan identified as marliimarl_ of an U.N.C.L.E. boat chase with stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer participating. The post includes a couple of videos that Henry Cavill News also uploaded to YouTube.

Bond 24’s Rorschach test

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig

“Hopefully we’ll reclaim some of the old irony…and make sure it doesn’t become pastiche. I can’t do shtick, I’m not very good at it. Unless it kind of suddenly makes sense. Does that make sense? I sometimes wish I hammed it up more, but I just can’t do it very well, so I don’t do it.”

Daniel Craig AS QUOTED BY THE VULTURE BLOG of New York Magazine About Bond 24.

That’s not a lot of detail, but since that interview was posted Aug. 23, various publications and Web Sites have been interpreting it. Those interpretations vary a bit, somewhat like a 007 Rorschach test. Some examples:

Yahoo!: 007 TO CRACK WISE IN `SKYFALL’ SEQUEL.

The U.K. Telegraph: DANIEL CRAIG WANTS TO LIGHTEN UP BOND 24.

IGN: DANIEL CRAIG: BOND 24 WON’T BE CAMPY.

Entertainmentwise: DANIEL CRAIG WANTS TO SEE MORE DRY HUMOR IN BOND 24.

Dark Horizons: CRAIG WANTS IRONY, NOT CAMP, IN “BOND 24.”

Not much is known about 2014, scheduled for a fall 2015 release. Even some of what is known, such as the fact Skyfall co-scribe John Logan will pen the scripts for Bond 24 and Bond 25, was initially denied by one 007 partner (Eon Productions) before being confirmed by another (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Thus, any word about Bond 24 — especially coming directly from the movie’s star — is going to be analyzed.

Irony is defined as “the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.” Or: “a technique of indicating, as through character or plot development, an intention or attitude opposite to that which is actually or ostensibly stated.”

But which “old irony” did Craig mean? It’s not detailed explicitly in the Vulture article. The quote about irony comes after a passage where it’s described how Skyfall was “lifted by a late ‘humor pass’ on the script.” The actor also says it was his idea to have Bond straighten his cuffs amid mayhem in Skyfall’s pre-credits sequence. It’s a Bondian moment, similar to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond straightening his tie in the middle of GoldenEye’s tank chase and The World Is Not Enough’s pre-credits sequence.

Presumably Craig’s irony comment wasn’t referring to the Roger Moore era (1973-1985), known for an expansion of humor relative to earlier 007 films. But even the Sean Connery era of the Eon movies (1962-67, 1971) had quips such as “She should have kept her mouth shut,” and “Shocking, positively shocking,” not necessarily the most subtle bits of humor. Connery’s non-Eon 007 film, Never Say Never Again, had a slapstick British diplomat, Nigel Small-Fawcett, and jokes about urine samples.

So perhaps Bond 24 will have a lighter tone. But there are other signs that humor may still be limited. John Logan was quoted in March by the Financial Times as saying words he “hopes to build on Skyfall in examining the complexities of Bond’s character.” We’ll see.

Earlier posts:
NEW QUESTIONS ABOUT BOND 24

AN EARLY BOND 24 ACCURACY CHECKLIST

MGM MAY BEND ON BOND 24’S SCHEDULE

Daniel Kleinman discusses his influences

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) self portrait


Daniel Kleinman, who has designed the main titles for six James Bond movies, did an interview in April with the ART OF THE TITLE Web site. Kleinman discussed the titles and what has influenced his work. A few excerpts:

Bond title sequences obviously carry a huge legacy and they often present the themes and settings of the film they precede. What’s the starting point for a new Bond sequence? The script? A cut of the film?

The starting point for me is always the script; I am usually brought into the process before the film has started shooting or at least in very early stages of production. I read the script and get a sense of the main themes of the movie, perhaps start to have a few ideas, brainstorm with myself a bit, write lists, get excited, look for reference, and start sketching. Next I meet with the producers and the director of the film to get a clear idea of the vibe of the film and be aware of any input or requirements for the title sequence. Then, I explain how I see the tone of the titles perhaps with rough sketches and reference. I rarely see a cut of the film until quite late in the process but I do see some individual scenes particularly the ones that lead into and out of the title sequence. There is a back and forth process.

What were some of your stylistic influences?

I have very eclectic tastes! I trained as an artist and designer, so I love painting and film. I collected comics as a boy and was drawn to Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, Saul Bass, Windsor McKay, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Magritte, Bosh, Géricault, George Grosz, Hokusai, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Holbein, Dürer, Arthur Rackham, Heath and Charles Robinson — actually the list is fairly endless!

One of Kleinman's influences

One of Kleinman’s influences

What are some of your favorite title sequences in general, whether film or television?

As a child I loved the opening to The Man From Uncle. The way Napoleon Solo stands behind the bulletproof glass being shot at perhaps subliminally influenced my mirror scene in Skyfall. Get Smart was a good one. Man with the Golden Arm was a great visual. Oddly, I’ve never really taken a great deal of notice of title sequences. I didn’t set out to do them and I don’t do any other than Bond, which I do for fun. I’m really an advertising director and therefore shoot a lot of disparate types of things. I suppose I don’t think of myself as a title sequence director.

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

To view the Jack Kirby entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

To view the Steve Ditko entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

U.N.C.L.E. movie supposedly gearing up in the U.K.

"What do you think about that, Illya? We never got more than 30 miles away from Culver City."

“What do you think about that, Illya? We never got more than 30 miles away from Culver City.”

A movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is supposedly gearing up at the same studio complex where GoldenEye, the 17th James Bond film, was filmed.

The Screen Daily Web site has AN ARTICLE about how U.K. film studios are being booked with work, helped by a new tax credit. Here’s an excerpt:

Over at the Warner Bros Studios Leavesden, the Wachowskis are shooting Jupiter Ascending. Rush director Ron Howard has exchanged Formula 1 cars for the world of whale hunting with his new feature In The Heart Of The Sea. Meanwhile, The Man From UNCLE is also revving up at Leavesden.

The Leavesden studio is a former Rolls-Royce PLC factory. It was turned into a studio for 1995’s GoldenEye when Pinewood Studios, the traditional home of the 007 film series, was fully booked. Warner Bros. acquired the studio in 2010 as a European base of operations.

The Screen Daily article doesn’t have any more details about the U.N.C.L.E. project. The story mostly details how other major projects, including a new Star Wars film and The Avengers 2 may be filmed in the U.K.

The original 1964-68 U.N.C.L.E. series, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, was filmed at the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City, California, and the show never ventured more than about 30 miles away.

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