Some 007 notes from the Toronto film festival

Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli and current 007 star Daniel Craig

Some 007-related tidbits have come out during the start of the Toronto Film Festival.

Barbara Broccoli: The boss of Eon Productions and producer of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool made a few comments.

“I have a few other lower-budget films in mind and a couple of theatre pieces, too,” Broccoli said, according to THE SCREEN DAILY WEBSITE.

“There are a lot of women working on this production [Film Stars] which pleases me very much,” Broccoli said, according to the website. “It’s incredibly important to support change in front of and behind the camera. I love working with women. It’s a different vibe.”

Daniel Craig: Kings, in which Craig stars with Halle Berry, is being shown at the festival.

Craig mostly has been talking about Kings but had a few comments about Bond 25, according to Toronto’s Globe & Mail:

“The Internet is like a noisy pub on a Saturday night,” Craig is quoted by the newspaper. “Ninety per cent of what’s being said is rubbish. There’s a perception that I’m ungrateful, and that’s so far from the truth it’s laughable. I don’t talk to the press a lot. I say things occasionally that I shouldn’t say, which is stupid of me.

“But the timing was right. I’d done [the stage production] Othello, and Steven Soderbergh’s movie [Logan Lucky, where he plays a bleached-blond safecracker named Joe Bang], and Deniz’s movie [Deniz Gamze Erguven, director of Kings], and I was incredibly creatively satisfied. The question of Bond came round, and I said, ‘Let’s have another go, and see if we can produce something wonderful.”

A bit of a reality check: Craig previously said he and director Marc Forster did most of the writing for Quantum of Solace, even though writer Joshua Zetumer was on set to do rewrites. Craig, in a joint interview with Barbara Broccoli in 2012 (search the word “liars”), denied Ben Whishaw had been hired to play Q in Skyfall.

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Skyfall’s 5th anniversary: Brief return to Bondmania

Skyfall’s poster image

Five years ago, the James Bond film franchise reached a level — unadjusted, adjusted for inflation, or whatever measure you’d like — not achieved since the height of Bondmania in the 1960s.

That was Skyfall, the 50th anniversary 007 film. It was the first (and so far only) Bond film to reach and exceed the global $1 billion box office level.

Even taking into account ticket price inflation, the 2012 007 adventure is No. 3 in the U.S. in terms of number of tickets purchased. On that basis (or “bums in seats” as the British would say), Skyfall is  No. 3 in the U.S. market for Bond films, behind only Thunderball and Goldfinger.

Bringing the 23rd James Bond film to cinemas, however, was a more difficult undertaking than usual.

Beginnings

Initially, Eon Productions hired three writers: The team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade as well as prestige film writer Peter Morgan. Morgan had been twice nominated for an Academy Award.

As it turned out, Morgan had deep doubts about the viability of the James Bond character, something he didn’t go public with until a 2010 interview. “I’m not sure it’s possible to do it,” Morgan said in 2010, after he had departed the project.

Still, Morgan’s main idea — the death of Judi Dench’s M — would be retained, even though the scribe received no screen credit.

But there was a bigger challenge. While the film was being developed, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 007 franchise’s home studio, went into bankruptcy.

Delay

Eon Productions, on April 19, 2010, said Bond 23, as the yet-untitled film was known, had been indefinitely delayed.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in December 2010. There was a cost, however. MGM, which had already shrunk from its glory days, was even smaller. It had no distribution operation of its own.

Skyfall teaser poster

Behind the scenes, things were happening. Eon was bringing director Sam Mendes on board. Initially, he was a “consultant” (for contract reasons). Eventually, Mendes got his preferred writer, John Logan, to rework the scripting that Purvis and Wade had performed.

Mendes also was granted his choice of composer, Thomas Newman. David Arnold’s streak of scoring five 007 films in a row was over. Roger Deakins, nominated for multiple Oscars and who had worked with Mendes before, came aboard as director of photography.

Revival

In January 2011, a short announcement was issued that Bond 23 was back on.

Mendes officially was now the director. Over the next several months, the casting of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Berenice Marlohe leaked out, with Eon not confirming anything until a November 2011 press conference.

Even then, some specific character details remained unconfirmed. For example, Eon wouldn’t confirm that Whishaw was the new Q until July 2012, well after the actor had completed his work on the film.

Publicity surge

Regardless, Skyfall benefited from much hype. Being the 50th anniversary Bond film got the movie additional publicity.

What’s more, London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. A major part of the opening ceremonies was a Danny Boyle-directed sequence featuring Daniel Craig’s Bond and Queen Elizabeth supposedly parachuting to the festivities.

Mendes, a director of the auteur school, also imported his style into the movie itself. Various segments were intended to provide dramatic moments to the principal actors.

Among them: A shaky Craig/Bond seeking redemption; a theatrical entrance for Javier Bardem’s villain; a dramatic reading of a poem for Judi Dench’s M, who is under fire by U.K. politicians.

Behind the curtain

Not everything holds up to scrutiny if you think much about it.

–Bond deserted the service, apparently upset about being shot by fellow operative Naomie Harris, while MI6 doesn’t seem to mind that at all. This was based loosely on the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond went missing because he had amnesia. That doesn’t appear to be the case in Skyfall.

–Bond has the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 in storage, all gadgets still operational. Purvis and Wade originally wrote it as the left-hand drive DB5 that Bond won in Casino Royale in a high-stakes poker game. But Mendes insisted it be the Goldfinger car.

–M blathers on. She’s fully aware — because Rory Kinnear’s Tanner told her — that Bardem’s Silva has escaped.  But that’s secondary to the poem, which gives Silva and his thugs time to arrive and shoot up the place.

Unqualified success

None of this mattered much with movie audiences.

Every time the Spy Commander saw the movie at a theater, the audience reacted positively when the DB5 was revealed.

Some British fans rave to this day how wonderful the M poem scene is. Yet, when you break the sequence down, the doomed MI6 chief got numerous people killed by Bardem’s thugs by keeping them around instead of letting them disperse.

For all the trouble, for all the script issues, Skyfall was an unqualified hit. The movie’s release was the biggest Bond event since Thunderball’s release in 1965.

Oscar wins

Skyfall also broke a long Oscars losing streak for the 007 film series. The movie won two Oscars (for best song and sound editing). Both Newman and Deakins had been nominated but didn’t win.

Barbara Broccoli

Normally, a studio or a production company would want to strike while the iron was hot.

Not so in this case. Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in 2012 interviews, made clear she would not be hurried into the next 007 film adventure. There would be no quick attempt to follow up on Skyfall’s success.

At the same time, Mendes indicated he didn’t want to direct another Bond film. He relented and his hiring for the next Bond movie was announced in July 2013.

It’s possible a bit of hubris set in. You can imagine people saying something like this: “If this movie did $1 billion at the box office, the next 007 film will surely do $1.5 billion!” Or whatever. That’s human nature after all.

Instead, the next Bond outing would run into a new set of problems. Nevertheless, that should not distract from what Skyfall achieved (even for fans who didn’t enjoy the movie as much as others) five years ago.

SPECTRE’s Oscar campaign gets underway

SPECTRE LOGO

Sony Pictures has kicked off its campaign for promoting SPECTRE for Oscars.

If you CLICK HERE, you’ll see a Sony website aimed at members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Scientists who nominate and vote on the Oscars.

Sony’s website lists “for your consideration” basically all the major SPECTRE cast and crew members. Among them: Daniel Craig for Best Actor; Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista and Andrew Scott for Best Supporting Actor; and Lea Seydoux, Naomie Harris and Monica Bellucci for Best Supporting Actress.

One change of note, compared with Skyfall’s Oscar campaign. Here, Sony suggests SPECTRE’s scribes of John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth as worth of “Best Original Screenplay” consideration.

Three years ago, Logan, Purvis and Wade were promoted for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for Skyfall.

Skyfall ended up with five nominations, the most for any Bond film. It won two, including Best Song.

Sony’s contract to distribute Bond movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expires with SPECTRE. MGM will either reach a new agreement with Sony or sign with another studio.

A shout out to “Gustav Graves” on the message board of the MI6 James Bond website for pointing out the website.

Our modest proposal for 007 Twitter quizzes

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The OFFICIAL JAMES BOND TWITTER FEED has been doing occasional quizzes about the Bond film series of late.

One such quiz was took place May 15 and the question was who played Moneypenny the most times in Bond films.

Not the most difficult quiz, given the correct answer was Lois Maxwell at 14, with Samantha Bond the next highest at four followed by Caroline Bliss at two and Naomie Harris at one (going up to two when SPECTRE comes out in November).

On June 12, there was another quiz. Compared to the Moneypenny question, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is narrower, but Bernard Lee is the only actor to play M with double digit appearances at 11 while Judi Dench is runner up at seven.

We mused about this on Twitter and a reader suggested these quizzes may well be aimed at those with only a passing knowledge of James Bond. So perhaps the intent is to make Bond more accessible to a broader audience.

With that in mind, here are some suggested future quizzes for the James Bond feed on Twitter:

What actor has played Q the most times in the Bond films?

a) Desmond LLewelyn b) Peter Burton c) John Cleese d) Ben Whishaw

What is James Bond’s code number?

a) 007 b) 86 c) 99 d) 008 e) $6.2 billion

James Bond has a license to do what?

a) kill b) fish c) drive d) print money at the box office

How did SPECTRE’s budget get so high?

SPECTRE LOGO

Many entertainment websites (including this blog) have written about how the Mexican government may have helped shape a sequence in SPECTRE in return for $20 million in incentives, something the TAX ANALYSTS WEBSITE REPORTED EARLIER THIS MONTH.

The Cinema Blend website in its story on the subject added a question about SPECTRE’s $300 million-plus budget: “Why is the budget that high to begin with?” Skyfall had a reported budget of $200 million.

Sam Mendes, at the Dec. 4 media event for SPECTRE said the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios was “where budgets go to die.” The comment took on a whole new meaning after hacking of internal Sony Pictures emails revealed the budget was on pace to exceed $300 million, making the 24th James Bond movie once of the most expensive of all time.

Cinema Blend poses a good question. Here’s an attempt at a partial answer. What follows is by no means definitive or comprehensive.

More locations: With 2012’s Skyfall, the first unit only went to one location: Turkey. The second unit went to Shanghai to film exteriors but the first unit used Pinewood Studios and U.K. locations in place of the Chinese business center.

With SPECTRE, the crew is traveling more. The OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE said, “The locations for SPECTRE include Pinewood London, Mexico City, Rome, Tangier and Erfoud, Morocco. Bond is also back in the snow, this time in Sölden, Austria as well as Obertilliach and Lake Altaussee.” Already, there has been filming in Rome and Austria.

Some of the principals probably got a big raise: In November 2012, as Skyfall was on its way to a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion, THE INDEPENDENT reported star Daniel Craig would be paid 31 million pounds (or almost $46 million at current exchange rates) to play 007 in Bond 24 (now SPECTRE) and Bond 25 combined.

According to that article, Craig received 1.9 million pounds for Casino Royale, 4.4 million pounds for Quantum of Solace and 10.7 million pounds for Skyfall.

Meanwhile, Skyfall director Mendes initially said the thought of directing another Bond movie made him “physically ill.”

Nevertheless, Eon Productions wanted Mendes back, to the point of being willing to push back production so the director could participate in some stage projects. With Skyfall’s box office, it’s likely he got a big raise also. Money has a way of calming upset stomachs.

Bond movies now have pricier casts: Under Albert R. Broccoli, Eon was willing to pay big money for its Bond but supporting actors — particularly those with the M, Moneypenny and Q roles — were paid modestly.

In the 21st century, the likes of Ralph Fiennes (a two-time Oscar nominee), Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are paid better adjusted for inflation than Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn. Meanwhile, Skyfall had an Oscar winning actor (Javier Bardem as Silva) and SPECTRE has another (Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser).

All of this is, at best, a partial explanation. SPECTRE’s budget exceeds the estimated outlays of Marvel’s The Avengers ($220 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($250 million), movies with extensive special effects.

SPECTRE: Welcome to the new MI6

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

Minor spoilers in this post.

By Nicolás Suszczyk, guest writer

The countdown has already begun for the release of the 24th James Bond film, SPECTRE, on Nov. 6.

The movie is directed by Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous 007 film Skyfall, whose story (apparently) completed the James Bond reboot process bringing back the full MI6 team missing in the first two previous James Bond films starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Throughout the story, the 2012 film introduced the audiences to Miss Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris; gadget-master Q, played by Ben Whishaw; and a male M in the person of Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory.

By the end of  Skyfall, we had the MI6 team as we know it from the 1960s Bond films: M, Q and Moneypenny. The latter two were absent in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, while M was still portrayed by Judi Dench who was first cast in 1995’s GoldenEye, the first outing of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

But is SPECTRE bringing back the old MI6? We’ll just get Bond flirting with Moneypenny, then M’s briefing followed by the Q lab scene? Probably not.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes

In a videoblog last week, Mendes – who says he shaped Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw in their roles – pointed out that the trio “will risk their careers in order to help Bond,” a far cry from the old days where the service remained in Whitehall or Vauxhall Cross to brief Bond and wish him luck on the job.

In fact, since Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, Judi Dench’s M has had more screen time, even going to the field to assist Bond (something that Robert Brown and Bernard Lee barely did) or being a substantial part of the plot in 1999’s The World is not Enough as well as Skyfall.

Introduced in Skyfall as the chariman of the security comittee, Gareth Mallory is set to replace the Dench’s M. A former lieutenant colonel of the British Army, he was captured by the IRA and after his retirement he turned into a bureaucrat.

Nevertheless, he gets involved  in a shootout very well as he proves during Silva’s attack during the inquiry audience, even after being wounded by one of the villain’s bullets.

In SPECTRE, M will battle political forces – in a fight where Andrew Scott’s Denbigh character probably is involved. What makes us think that Mallory won’t be going into the action this time?

More of this in Moneypenny's future in SPECTRE?

More of this in Moneypenny’s future in SPECTRE?

Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny sat at a desk of MI6 facilities in Egypt and Brazil in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, or posing as a HM Customs officer in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But it looks as if Naomie Harris’s version will be involved in the action, as we saw during the inquiry scene in Skyfall. In February 2014, the British actress said she thinks her character “needs to be in the action,” even when she followed Bond’s advice that “field’s work is not for everyone” and took a desk job.

A big revelation may be provided by Ben Whishaw who plays Q.

Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is known for heading to the field to deliver Bond his gadgets as we could see in You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy and most notably Licence to Kill, just to name a few examples. On the contrary, John Cleese’s Q in Die Anopther Day stuck on the MI6 underground lab proud of his invisible Aston Martin Vanquish.

Recently, German actor Detlef Bothe told the press that he’ll have a showdown with Ben Whishaw’s character on a cable car, which seems pretty logical after footage of Q entering a gondola in Austria has been released on the videoblog.

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

This probably leads to a new approach of the MI6 quartermaster, perhaps taking advantage of Whishaw’s age (34) that seems more suitable for fist-fights than the elderly Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.

Twenty-six years ago, in Licence to Kill, the character of Q had the longest screening time appearance in the series when he decides to help Timothy Dalton’s 007 on his personal vendetta against drug lord Franz Sánchez in the field, not only as his armorer but as a field operative and integral part of the mission. He poses as Bond’s chauffeur at Isthmus City and helps the agent and the CIA’s Pam Bouvier to sneak into the Wavekrest vessel.

It’s likely that Whishaw’s Q will have a similar part in SPECTRE while going even one step further – action scenes. According to Empire Magazine, 007 visits Austria following the lead of one Dr. Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux character, apparently a psychiatrist or therapist working on a clinic in the Austrian Alps.

If Q is going to the clinic to assist 007 or take part into the mission, is he probably doing the same than Agent Campbell in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Maybe he won’t face the same fate than the “sportsman” agent, who was hanged upside down by Blofeld in his Piz Gloria clinic. With that in mind,  it wouldn’t be strange that Q would play some kind of aid on the field to James Bond.

However it is done, it’ll be interesting to see Mendes’ take on the new MI6 staff, classic but redefined and modernized.

 Nicolás Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

A few observations about SPECTRE

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No real spoilers but spoiler sensitive fans should stay away.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, has been in production for more than two months. But there’s been a bit of publicity this week. So here are a few observations:

It may be time for some new talking points: Actress Lea Seydoux, in Empire magazine, desecribed her character in SPECTRE thusly: “She’s his equal, independent and strong and smart, and she doesn’t need him or wait for him to save her.”

In other words, Seydoux’s character is like, among others, Agent Triple-X (agent who was “Bond’s equal in every way” as director Lewis Gilbert described her in The Spy Who Loved Me), Holly Goodhead (CIA agent *and* a trained shuttle rocket pilot in Moonraker), Melina (revenge driven woman who’s deadly with a crossbow in For Your Eyes Only), Pam Bouvier (CIA agent and pilot in Licence to Kill), Wai Lin (Chinese agent in Tomorrow Never Dies), Jinx (NSA agent in Tomorrow Never Dies) and Camille (another secret agent in Quantum of Solace).

Thus, the notion that a woman character is Bond’s equal isn’t unique or even unusual in the 21st century. It might be time to retire that talking point.

“It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is”: Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli told Empire that only “a very old version” of SPECTRE’s script leaked out because of the Sony hacks.

That depends on what you mean by “very old.” To the lay person, a very old script might be the first draft that John Logan turned in around March of 2014. Or it might be a draft before veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned in the summer of 2014 to rewrite Logan’s work.

The Gawker website IN A DEC. 12 POST (warning: spoilers), described a draft that existed after Logan’s story had been revised as well as memos from studio executives suggesting changes and that rewriting was happening in November, while filming began on Dec. 8.

On the other hand, if you define “very old” as something other than the version the crew has right now (dialogue if often tweaked during shooting), that would be accurate.

The Eon co-chief IN APRIL 2012 denied Ben Whishaw had been cast as Q in Skyfall and IN NOVEMBER 2012 that Logan had been hired to write two Bond movies. Both turned out to be true, though Logan’s scripting effort was judged to need rewriting.

The publicity machine is gradually revealing details: Broccoli acknowledged the title of SPECTRE refers to the organization featured in early Bond movies, but this is a new take. Normally, that’d rate a “duh,” but nobody wanted to say that much when the title was revealed in December.

Director Sam Mendes, in a video released by the official 007 website gave a bit of information about the movie. He even said that SPECTRE has more information about Bond’s childhood. Meanwhile, Whishaw’s Q was seen out in the field. Just like Desmond Llewelyn’s Q in Licence to Kill? That remains to be seen.

UPDATE (Feb. 28): Adding a question to the mix.

What was the story when Sam Mendes signed on to direct SPECTRE? Sam Mendes, in a video released by 007.com this week, says the reason he opted to direct a second 007 film, or any film, has “all to do about the story.”

But what story? Mendes’s signing as SPECTRE director was announced in JULY 2013. At that point, there even wasn’t a first draft script. John Logan didn’t deliver one until early 2014.

There had to be some kind of treatment, or detailed outline. The announcement also said the movie (then just called Bond 24) had a release date. We know through the reporting of Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail and the Sony hacking that Logan’s story was found insufficient and that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned back in the summer of 2014 to revamp the script and it greatly changed.

Mendes spoke in a promotional video intended to sell the movie. But it would be interesting the next time an entertainment journalist gets an interview to pursue questions like these: What was appealing about that initial story? Are those elements still there? Was the scripting process tougher for SPECTRE compared with Skyfall?