Watching the 007 sausage getting made

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No SPECTRE spoilers in this post.

There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t watch laws or sausage being made.

With the recent hacking at Sony Pictures, there’s been an opportunity to watch sausage production as it relates to SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions.

The CNN/Money website reported about hacked emails CONCERNING SPECTRE’S BUDGET. The Gawker website reported about hacked emails DEALING WITH ISSUES ABOUT THE MOVIE’S SCRIPT. (Warning: if you’re spoiler adverse, don’t click on either link).

Movie making can be a messy business. There are countless decisions to be made all the time. Different ideas get floated and what, to the lay person, seems like a terrible idea can even be seriously considered.

Until now, the sausage making, as it concerns Bond films, has emerged well after the movies came out. Books such as Steven Jay Rubin’s The James Bond Films, Adrian Turner’s Adrian Turner on Goldfinger and Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service showed how the 007 movies didn’t always go smoothly. Even studio-approved documentaries on DVDs of the films detailed problems with the productions.

Thus, fans have become familiar with stories how screenwriters wanted to dump Ian Fleming’s Dr. No character and have a villain with a pet monkey named Dr. No; how screenwriters sweated bullets to explain why Goldfinger just didn’t kill Bond when he had the chance; how screenwriter Paul Dehn turned in a draft where Goldfinger would end with “red velvet curtains” coming down as if the movie were a play; how some drafts of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service included an amphibious Aston Martin. One resource in uncovering all this has been the papers of 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum at the University of Iowa.

With the Sony hacking, the information about the script and budget came out shortly after SPECTRE began principal photography. A seven-month shoot is scheduled, so the movie is a long way from being finished.

Meanwhile, Eon has a history of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Maibaum didn’t begin a draft that solved the storytelling problems of inserting SPECTRE into the plot of From Russia With Love until filming was underway. The screenplays of The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies had chaotic histories but things turned out all right in the end.

Thus, it’s certainly possible that SPECTRE could well turn out fine. It’s just that 21st century technology (and hazards such as the Sony hackers) makes things more anxious until there’s an actual movie to judge.

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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.

E-book on the Matt Helm films now available

Dean Martin as Matt Helm with Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Dean Martin as Matt Helm in The Silencers.

There’s an new e-book about the four-film Matt Helm series available. Bruce Scivally has written Booze, Bullets & Broads: The Story of Matt Helm, Superspy of the Mad Men Era.

Scivally previously worked on John Cork-directed documentaries of the James Bond films that were part of DVD extras. He and Cork also wrote James Bond: The Legacy, a coffee table book that came out last decade.

Here’s the description from the new e-book’s AMAZON.COM LISTING:

The story of Matt Helm, spy of the Mad Men era. After his creation by Donald Hamilton, Helm went from being a literary rival of James Bond to being a cinematic rival with the production of four movies starring crooner Dean Martin as a woozy, boozy secret agent. Produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of 007 film producer Cubby Broccoli, the Helm movies influenced not only the Bond films but also Austin Powers, and remain a “guilty pleasure” viewing favorite of red-blooded males everywhere.

We’ve written before how the first Helm movie, The Silencers, had THE BIGGEST EFFECT ON THE 007 FILM SERIES from rival movies because Dean Martin got a bigger paycheck than Sean Connery. Allen made Dino a partner in the enterprise. Soon after, Connery began demanding not only more money but to be a partner in the Bond films. 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman resisted the partnership demand, contributing to Connery’s departure after You Only Live Twice.

Also, according to film historian Adrian Turner, some at United Artists were keen on Phil Karlson to direct Dr. No. But Karlson’s asking price was $75,000, which helped Terence Young get the job. Karlson ended up directing The Silencers and The Wrecking Crew, the final Helm movie.

For the Scivally e-book, the price is $2.99. You can download it for free if you’re a Prime Member of Amazon.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary part III: `a pretty rough diamond’

Sean Connery chats with Dr. No co-star Jack Lord.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had $1 million of United Artists’ money to spend to bring Dr. No to the screen. That meant they couldn’t spend a fortune on their lead actor, the man who would personify James Bond. Their choice ended up themselves and the actor involved rich.

The choice, of course, was Sean Connery, 31 years old at the time Dr. No went into production. Ken Adam, in interviews for extras for 007 movie DVDs directed by John Cork, described him as “a pretty rough diamond” at that time. Broccoli, in his autobiography, used nearly identical phrasing: “…an uncut diamond at the time…Physically and in his general persona, he was too much of a rough-cut to be a replica of (Ian) Fleming’s upper-class secret agent.”

The Scotsman wasn’t a star, but he was already an experienced actor. He had acting credits extending back to 1954 (even if some of them were small parts, like on an episode of The Jack Benny Program or a secondary role in 1959’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure).

How much, or little, Connery was paid for Dr. No is in some dispute. Connery told Playboy magazine in a 1965 interview, he only received 6,000 British pounds, or $16,800. U.K film historian Adrian Turner, in his 1998 book on Goldfinger puts the figure at $40,000, in line with director Terence Young’s paycheck.

In Broccoli’s autobiography, a reproduction of a message sent from Broccoli to Saltzman appears. It says “New York,” a reference to UA’s New York headquarters, “did not care for Connery feels we can do better.” The UA executives would change their minds, especially once audiences had their chance to evaluate Connery as 007.

Connery was coached by Young in the ways of the Bondian lifestyle despite, according to Broccoli, the director preferred Richard Johnson in the role. Richard Maibaum, one of three credited screenwriters on Dr. No, said at a 1987 conference (the video is included in the DVD extra, The Thunderball Phenomenon) that Connery wasn’t exactly Ian Fleming’s James Bond and a rougher character.

“Our attributing to him all these gentlemanly qualifications and stuff was the cream of the jest,” Maibaum said a quarter-century ago. “It made it funny. It also made him instantly acceptable.”

Whatever the exact reason, the choice of Connery was a successful one. For the actor, it was the springboard to a legendary career. For the producers, it ensured more orders from United Artists for Bond movies. For many fans, Connery supplied an image of 007 that hasn’t been surpassed. Connery would have battles later with Broccoli and Saltzman (especially about money). But, a half-century ago, the choice of an unknown actor was proven right.

NEXT: The elegant Venus

On 007’s 50th, will Harry Saltzman be the forgotten man?

This week, the official 007.com Web site added some new features, including this greeting from Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions:

At the 0:22 mark, Wilson says, “Cubby Broccoli made Dr. No, the first Bond film, in 1962.” Albert R. Broccoli did indeed produce the film with his then-partner Harry Saltzman. Now, Wilson is Broccoli’s stepson and our guess is this isn’t an intention dig at Saltzman, who exited the series in 1975 and died in 1994. It is, after all, a 45-second video, not a definitive history. But it may be a sign that in 2012, the year of the cinema Bond’s 50th anniverary, Saltzman may end up being overlooked.

When Saltzman’s name comes up today, the image is of a cranky, volatile man who almost axed the classic Goldfinger title song, ordered elephant shoes for a movie (The Man With the Golden Gun) that didn’t have any elephants in it, etc., etc. At least one film historian, Adrian Turner, took a different view in his 1998 book, Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“To begin with, Saltzman took the responsibility for the scripts” of the early 007 films, Turner wrote. “Having worked with John Osborne, it’s clear he thought that Richard Maibaum — Broccoli’s man — was little more than a hack.” Obviously, that’s hardly a unanimous opinion of Maibaum. Still, Maibaum is quoted on page 100 in author James Chapman’s 2000 book Licence to Thrill as saying that Saltzman did bring in U.K. screenwriter Paul Dehn to do the later drafts of Goldfinger (the notes section of the book says the quote is from page 285 of a book called Backstory.)

We only bring this up to show that Saltzman’s contributions extended beyond being an eccentric crank. The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership wasn’t an easy one. Eventually, the pair largely alternated producing the films while both were listed as producers. Saltzman primarily responsible for Live And Let Die (though Broccoli did visit the set in Louisiana and posed for a photograph with Saltzman and star Roger Moore) while The Man With the Golden Gun was Broccoli’s picture.

The Broccoli-Wilson clan, now headed by Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, has supervised the 007 series since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nobody is suggesting that Cubby Broccoli wasn’t a master showman, who deserves a lot of credit for launching Bond on the screen. Still, it would be a shame if Saltzman ends up being the forgotten man as fans look back on a half century of 007 films.

Also, here’s a shoutout to Dell Deaton, who blogs about James Bond watches. A tweet of his got us to thinking about all this.

007 and Aston Martin: development of a myth

When Prince William and his bride pulled out of Buckingham Palace in an Aston Martin convertible, it didn’t take long for people to make the connection between the royal couple’s ride and 007. The Reuters news service (Ian Fleming’s one-time employer) ran a video it called James Bond moment for royal newlyweds. Meanwhile, some 007 fan Web sites wrote up the connect such as THIS EXAMPLE

No question, Aston Martin is viewed as 007’s ride. Bond driving an Aston Martin is a modern myth, one that thrived for decades. But the original connection was much more modest.

In Fleming’s 1959 novel Goldfinger, Bond drove an Aston Martin DB III from MI 6’s car pool. “Bond had been offered the Aston Martin or a Jaguar 3.4. He had taken the D.B. III. Either of the cars would have suited his cover — a well-to-do, rather adventurous young man with a taste for the good, the fast things of life.”

Richard Maibuam introduced the DB V model in his first draft of the screenplay for the 1964 film. However, he took it out in his second draft in favor of a Bentley, the literary Bond’s preferred personal car, according to film historian Adrian Turner, who reviewed all of the film’s drafts for a 1998 book. The DB V returns in later drafts by Maibaum and Paul Dehn. John Stears, the film’s special effects man, added various extras not in the novel.

Goldfinger, of course, was a big hit and the Aston Martin was one of the movie’s attractions. The DB V returned in Thunderball. Different Aston Martin models could be seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever (a visual joke in the background in a shot of Q talking to Bond on the telephone), The Living Daylights, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Some authors of Bond continuation novels have tried to equip 007 in different rides. Raymond Benson’s 1997-2002 run included Bond in a Jaguar. Jeffery Deaver’s upcoming Carte Blanche, a reboot of the literary 007, features the agent in a Bentley. There’s a special limited-edition of the new novel that plays up the Bentley connection.

None of that, though, is likely to shake the association between Bond and Aston Martin. The royal wedding on April 29 is just another example:

UPDATE: We’re reminded that the DBV (or DB5, depending on your preference) also appeared in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, even though the main “Bond cars” were BMWs. In Raymond Benson’s novelizations of the films, we’re told Bond bought the car for his personal use after MI 6 was had decided to sell off the car.

BBC says MI5 suspected 007 screenwriter of being a Communist agent

Wolf Mankowitz has only one official 007 screenwriting credit but his influence extends beyond that. Anyway, the writer was monitored by the U.K.’s MI5, which suspected Mankowitz of being a Commnist agent, the BBC reported this week, citing newly released government records.

You can read the full story BY CLICKING HERE. Here’s a brief excerpt:

Born in London’s East End, Mr Mankowitz attended the University of Cambridge where he joined the university’s Socialist Society and met his wife Ann, a Communist Party member.

MI5 first became interested in Mr Mankowitz in 1944, when the couple were living in Newcastle.

Mankowitz is one of the credited screewriters of producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But a few years earlier, he introduced Harry Saltzman, who held an option on Ian Fleming’s 007 novels that was running out, with Albert R. Broccoli. That fateful meeting resulted in the 1961 formation of Eon Productions, the company that produces the official Bond film series.

Mankowitz worked on the new company’s first project, Dr. No, along with Richard Maibaum but, according to the documentary Inside Dr. No, pulled out, fearing the project would be a disaster.

Also, according to film historian Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger, Mankowitz sold Saltzman an idea that was incorporated in to that 1964 film. Turner quotes Mankowitz as saying he came up with the idea of having a Mafia chief put into the trunk of a car that would be run a car crushing machine. The price: 500 British pounds.

Also, here’s a shoutout to Jeremy Duns, author of the spy novel Free Country, from whom we learned of the BBC story on Mankowitz.