Bond 25: How we got to this point

No Time to Die poster

David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier and I chatted on a livestream on Feb. 19. We reviewed how No Time to Die arrived at its current point, a movie costing almost $290 million in a holding pattern.

This is mostly a summary of what we discussed. This also is my own phrasing and analysis. If you have objections, send them my way.

2016’s black hole: In 2016, there was a three-cornered game that would ensure a new James Bond movie wouldn’t happen quickly.

MGM, Bond’s home studio, was busy trying to sell itself to a Chinese buyer. That didn’t work out.

Barbara Broccoli, the leading force at Eon Productions, had other irons in the fire. Eon wanted to make movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Nancy and The Rhythm Section. None of the three would be popular successes.

Daniel Craig, the Bond star of record, wanted to do other projects. One of them was titled Kings (Halle Berry was the co-star) and set in 1992 Los Angeles. It wasn’t a hit. Craig also did a new play based on Shakespeare’s Othello.

–Le affaire de Danny Boyle: After the principals got all that out of their system, MGM, Eon and (apparently Craig) were wowed by a pitch by director Danny Boyle and one of his writers, John Hodge.

By early 2017, Eon Productions had hired Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. But the Boyle-Hodge team pitched a new idea. Supposedly this idea was so FANTASTIC, the Purvis-Wade effort was tossed aside in 2018.

In May 2018, the Boyle-Hodge effort was now the way to go. Until, a few months later, it wasn’t any more. “Creative differences” (as noted in a press release).

So long, Danny. Hello search for a new director. That would end up being Cary Fukunaga. Hello, more writers, including Fukunaga (who’d get a credit), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (ditto) and Scott Z. Burns (sorry, Scott).

Coronavirus: Some delays for No Time to Die have been due to COVID-19. But the bulk of delays stem from other reasons.

So it goes.

UPDATE (Feb. 20): Here’s a replay of most the livestream, at least after we got some technical issues out of the way.

NTTD costume designer describes working on the film

No Time to Die logo

Suttirat Anne Larlarb, the costume designer for No Time to Die, was interviewed last year on the Behind the Seams podcast about her career.

She made limited comments about the 25th James Bond film but she shared some observations.

Script state of flux: “The script changed countless times,” she said. “The settings, the locations, all that stuff was kind of in flux for a while. It was in terms of a costume process quite difficult.”

The movie has four credited writers (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, director Cary Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Scott Z. Burns did uncredited work. One script, by John Hodge, apparently went unused.

Size of the costume crew: “On any one day we had 56, or 57 people full-time…On big days, that could double or triple.”

Time spent on the project: “It was kind of a bumpy start. I was on it all told for 18 months.”

Larlarb is a collaborator with director Danny Boyle, including the films Slumdog Millionaire and Steve Jobs as well as the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Boyle originally was hired to direct No Time to Die but departed over “creative differences.” Hodge worked on the script while Boyle was on board as director. Hodge left the project with Boyle. After all that, Fukunaga was hired to helm the movie.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

NTTD: Key events, dates that shaped expectations

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All they need to do is change the “3” to a “2.”

No Time to Die has become one of the longest soap operas in the history of the Eon Productions James Bond film series. But how did it get that way?

What follows are some key events and dates. All of them helped shape outside perspective of the production.

July 24, 2017: Both Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announce that Bond 25 will be released on Nov. 8, 2019. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are onboard as writers.

At this point, MGM had no way of distributing the film. As it turns out, MGM was working to get back into distribution. But that wouldn’t be firmed up for some time. MGM and Annapurna would form a joint venture, later called United Artists releasing, for U.S. distribution. Eventually, Universal would be picked for international distribution.

In any case, the announcement creates the expectation Bond 25 would be out in fall 2019.

Aug. 15, 2017: Daniel Craig, on CBS’s The Late Show, says he’s returning as Bond in the new movie. The July 2017 announcement didn’t specify who was playing Bond.

Craig’s appearance helps create the impression of momentum. The Bond film machine is stirring.

Oct. 31, 2017: MGM and Annapurna announce their joint venture. Bond 25, for now, is not part of the deal. (It would become part of it later.) But again, the news creates the image of momentum.

February 2018: Entertainment news outlets report that Danny Boyle is a contender to direct Bond 25. Ultimately, it turns out Boyle and his writer, John Hodge, have a competing idea for the film and Hodge is working up a script. If that idea gets approved, Hodge is in the director’s chair.

Boyle confirms all this in March.

May 25, 2018: Official announcement is made that Boyle is directing and Hodge is writing Bond 25.

It’s a new day. Now, that’s what you call momentum.

Aug. 21, 2018: Danny Boyle, we hardly ye. He’s out, according to a new announcement. (It later becomes clear Hodge is gone, too.) Now, that’s what you call slamming the brakes on momentum.

Sept. 20, 2018: Bond 25 has a new director, Cary Fukunaga. It also has a new release date, Feb. 14, 2020, according to an official announcement.

That’s a mixed bag, but at least work is moving ahead.

Feb. 15, 2019: New release date is announced, now April 2020. The news was a bit of a letdown to Bond fans who had started their “one year to go” countdowns the previous day.

April 25, 2019: Eon conducts a livestream event in Jamaica ahead of the start of the production of Bond 25. There are some technical hiccups. There’s still no title. But, hey, filming is starting at long last.

We’re on our way now. What could go wrong?

May 22, 2019: Eon confirms Daniel Craig suffered an injury and will have ankle surgery. It’s not the firm time Craig has gotten hurt. Eon says the April release date is still in effect.

June 4, 2019: There’s an explosion at the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios. No serious injuries but the optics weren’t the best.

007 Stage after the June 4, 2019 incident.

Aug. 20, 2019: Bond 25 gets a title — No Time to Die. This helps re-establish momentum and anticipation. A title helps things seem more real. A movie is actually coming.

Oct. 25, 2019: Eon announces filming has concluded. Whatever bumps took place, the movie is done. Anticipation builds.

Over the next few months, the first trailer comes out, an expensive ad appears during the Super Bowl and plans for a world premiere get announced.

Then, on March 4, Bond 25/No Time to Die is delayed to November 2020. This week, it was delayed again to April 2021. In both cases, the actions stem from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The pandemic has slammed a lot of industries, including the film industry.

The point of bringing all this up is that Bond 25 has had 1) a lot of ups and downs and 2) had those ups and downs for an extended time.

As a result, if fans are feeling a little whipsawed, there’s good reason.

The movie is sitting there, presumably secure and ready to be shown. When that happens, anticipation will build yet again. But nobody should blame fans for feeling a little uneasy at this point.

Bond 25 questions: Where did the money go edition

No Time to Die teaser poster

Well, everybody knew going in that No Time to Die wasn’t going to be cheap. But a recent U.K. regulatory filing by B25 Ltd., a subsidiary of Eon Productions, gives an idea of how expensive it was.

A movie and a half? 

The filing said for 2019 the “work in progress” (No Time to Die is the only work in progress B25 has) was 199.47 million pounds. The conversion rate between pounds and dollars varies, but that’s more than $240 million.

The filing also listed a figure for 2018: 17.44 million pounds. The MI6 James Bond website said that may be pre-production costs when Danny Boyle was attached to direct before departing in August 2018 for “creative differences.” He was replaced by Cary Fukunaga.

Regardless, production designer Mark Tildesley in a Masterclass video interview posted May 10, said a 350-foot rocket had been built and a Russian gulag set in Canada constructed during Boyle’s time on the project.

Tildesley also said the production continued to lease the pricey 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios after Boyle left. Part of the space was used as a construction workshop.

Expensive cast

Variety previously reported that Daniel Craig was due a $25 million payday for No Time to Die. The film then brought on Rami Malek as the villain. He was coming off winning a Best Actor Oscar. He’s probably getting considerably more than scale. That probably applies to the returning MI6 cast of characters played by Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw.

Expensive crew

Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in as a writer at a cost of $2 million, The Hollywood Reporter said last year.  Scott Z. Burns, a pricey “script doctor” also did uncredited work on the script.

Bond 25 questions: The production designer edition

Rami Malek on a No Time to Die set designed by Mark Tildesley that certainly appears inspired by a Ken Adam set from Dr. No.

Mark Tildesley, production designer for No Time to Die, has gone public with some tidbits from the 25th James Bond film. Naturally, the blog has some questions.

Homages? Again?

So it would seem.

Tildesley, in a Masterclass video interview, said “we’ve heavily lent on previous films and the designers of previous films for some of the shapes and stuff…We went through all the films. Let’s take everything we love.”

It’s not like we haven’t been down this route before. Die Another Day (2002), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012) all had their share of homages to previous 007 film adventures.

There were already signs it was happening again with No Time to Die.

One of Tildesley’s sets had a circular grille in the ceiling, similar to a Ken Adam-designed set for Dr. No. Stills emerged with Rami Malek’s villain Safin at the set.

And, of course, the Aston Martin DB5 is back, which gave the production designer a chance to tweak its design.

The car is actually a replica of the DB5 (with a carbon fiber body and BMW engine) and the designer moved the placement of the machine guns to the headlights. That’s been a prominent part of No Time to Die trailers and TV spots.

What was Danny Boyle up to?

Tildesley said a rocket and a Russian gulag were among the things being built for a Danny Boyle-directed No Time to Die.

He didn’t give away a whole lot more. But his comments suggesting various reports that Boyle wanted to cast a Russian villain were correct. Also, the MI6 James Bond website reported in February 2019 Bond was imprisoned by the villain for much of the Boyle version of No Time to Die.

So it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that a Russian villain would imprison Bond in a gulag.

Boyle’s hiring was announced in May 2018 and he left because of “creative differences in August 2018. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace Boyle.

Fukunaga also is listed as one of the writers of No Time to Die. His version of the movie is a sequel to 2015’s SPECTRE, even bringing back Lea Seydoux as Madeline Swann.

Anything else interesting?

In parts of the interview, Tildesley talks about how having a low budget forces the creative team to be more creative.

No Time to Die doesn’t have a low budget. The estimated production outlay is $250 million.

The designer said the challenge with a large budget film is to stay creative.

“The thing about doing a bigger film is to try and keep light on your feet,” he said. “I’m always trying to think of. like, arresting images that will burn onto your retina.”

NTTD production designer spills a few secrets

007 Stage after the June 4, 2019 explosion.

Spoilers, of course.

Mark Tildesley, the production designer for No Time to Die, described some of the work he did for the 25th James Bond film. Among the topics: Set built while Danny Boyle was slated to direct and how an accident occurred that damaged the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios.

Work he did when Boyle was director

“I started working with Danny Boyle,” Tildesley says during an interview in the Masterclass series of videos. “I’ve been working on that film for two, two-and-a-bit years.

“We started to build sets. We had a rocket, a 350-foot rocket being built in the Bond stage. We had a gulag, a Russian gulag going up in the mountains in Canada.”

The announcement of Boyle’s hiring was made in May 2018. But in August, Boyle departed because of “creative differences.”

In February 2019, the MI6 James Bond site reported that for much of the script written by John Hodge (Boyle’s writer), Bond is imprisoned by the villain. There were also reports that the Hodge script had a Russian villain.

Cary Fukunaga was hired as Boyle’s replacement and he saw the project through completion of filming and post-production.

The June 2019 007 Stage explosion

Hiring the 007 Stage is expensive, Tildesley said. So the production team sought to get the most out of the time the stage was hired. “We had to use it to start making it pay,” he said. Half of the space was used as a construction workshop so another workshop didn’t need to be hired.

In addition, “we built a really tiny set inside this enormous space.”

The small set was blown up on June 4, 2019. Problem: the 007 Stage contains an enormous water tank encased in concrete.

“What we didn’t account for was the explosion would ricochet off the concrete walls of the tank,” the production designer said. That sent the force of the explosion upward and taking off the roof of the 007 Stage, he said.

“So, yeah, there were some miscalculations.”  The accident also took off some exterior side panels from the 007 Stage. The explosion soon became big news.

Homages to previous Bond films

“We haven’t copied but we’ve heavily lent on previous films and the designers of previous films for some of the shapes and stuff,” Tildesley said. “We went through all the films. Let’s take everything we love.”

The interview is below. The No Time to Die material starts around the 35:40 mark. h/t @NO_TIME_TO_DIE

Fukunaga says NTTD was a tough shoot

Cary Joji Fukunaga

Director Cary Fukunaga, in a new interview, describes No Time to Die as a tough shoot.

“It’s felt like climbing up a mountain every day without ever seeing the summit,” Fukunaga told Interview magazine.

“During the shoot, I feel like I stopped moving as an animal and started slowly becoming some kind of inanimate object,” he said. ” I could feel my body deforming.”

In fact, the director said he sought a delay in the movie’s release date. No Time to Die originally was scheduled to come out in fall 2019. That got pushed back to Feb. 14. Then it was put back to April. But COVID-19 caused another delay to (as of now) November.

“I came onboard, there was a whole reset,” Fukunaga said of when he replaced Danny Boyle. “So we pushed it back to March [actually Feb. 14, editor], and then I was fighting to push it back even further, because I just didn’t think we had enough time to finish it. Something I hadn’t realized, even until now, is how far in advance studios swoop up these windows for their films to come out, in order to give them the best chance of having a good box office.”

Other highlights of the interview:

A (hopefully unused) Fukunaga idea: “I swear to god, I had an idea that this movie could all be taking place inside the villain’s lair from the last film. There’s this scene where a needle goes into James Bond’s head, which is supposed to make him forget everything, and then he miraculously escapes by a watch bomb. And then he and Léa (Seydoux) blow up the place, and go on to save the day. I was like, ‘What if everything up until the end of act two is all inside his head?'”

That idea has been expressed before on fan forums. Fukunaga, in previous interviews, has mentioned “the joy of continuity.” This would take that to new heights.

Barbara Broccoli’s influence on No Time to Die’s female characters: “Feminism is something she has slowly been turning up the dial on for decades. The inclusion of a new female 00 agent had come from Barbara. …The female characters in the film, who they are and what they stand for, was definitely something Barbara had already had in mind.”

Fukunaga, 42, relatively, is a new Bond fan: “I don’t think I’d seen every single James Bond film, but I was pretty well-versed on it. I don’t think I became a fan of the franchise until Casino Royale. Prior to that, my only in-depth James Bond experience was at my cousin’s house playing Golden Eye” the video game.

Hindsight: Boyle-directed Bond 25

Danny Boyle

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20.

So, if Danny Boyle and Eon Productions hadn’t parted ways in August 2018, Bond 25 presumably would have made its original November 2019 release date.

Of course, it didn’t play out that way. Cary Fukunaga was hired as Boyle’s replacement.

Once that occurred, Bond 25 (later No Time to Die) was scheduled to come out Feb. 14, 2020. But that didn’t work out and the release was pushed back to April 2020 — this month.

That’s the comfort of hindsight. Maybe Bond 25 would have been handicapped by an Odd Couple relationship between Boyle and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions.

There’s no way to know for now. All fans know is Boyle exited because of “creative differences” between himself and Eon Productions.

The best evidence of a better alternative is the Fukunaga-directed No Time to Die, currently being stored where ever it may be. Fukunaga says the movie is locked down and won’t be tweaked until its current release date of November.

Movies evolve. Directors and writers come and go. For Bond fans spending their time at home because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), they can only wonder what could have been — and anticipate what is to come.

Hilarious 007 ‘reports’ over the past five years

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The world is a grim place right now and we could all use a laugh. So, in that spirit, here is a partial list of questionable reports involving the James Bond film franchise over the past five years.

The Bond series will be a period piece overseen by the Mad Men showrunner!

In October 2015, the Sunday Express reported that “studio bosses” (it cited an MGM executive who wasn’t identified) had asked Matthew Weiner, the creator/showrunner of the now-defunct TV show Mad Men ” to head a new team to oversee Bond’s return to his heyday 1960s.” This would occur after the departure of star Daniel Craig.

This story, of course, appeared shortly before the debut of 2015’s SPECTRE, the most recent James Bond film.

Mad Men was set in the 1960s. One episode referred to both the 1967 Casino Royale and You Only Live Twice (as well as a 1965 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)

Left unanswered by the story: What happens to Eon Productions and its producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson? Reading the story in 2020 also is unintentionally hilarious given the soap opera surrounding the production of the next Daniel Craig Bond film.

Daniel Craig was being offered $150 million to stay as Bond!

In September 2016, an outfit called Radar Online said that Sony Pictures was offering Craig $150 million to play Bond in two more movies.

Problem: Sony’s involvement with the franchise ended with SPECTRE. The studio sought to continue the relationship but that didn’t happen.

Second problem: Paying Craig $75 million per film? Really? Some Daniel Craig fans contacted the blog to claim this made perfect financial sense. Later, Variety reported Craig’s paycheck for Bond 25/No Time to Die was $25 million.

Studio bosses want Bond 25 out by November 2018!

In December 2016, the tabloid Mirror chimed in with a story saying MGM was getting nervous and Bond 25 was supposed to be out by November 2018. (Oops).

Bond 25 will be called Shatterhand but be based on a Bond continuation novel!

There has been a long-held fan theory that Shatterhand (a Blofeld alias in the You Only Live Twice novel) would be a great title for a Bond film. But in July 2017, the Mirror had a novel twist on this.

This version said Bond 25 would be called Shatterhand but be based on a Bond continuation novel, Never Dream of Dying, by Raymond Benson. Benson said nobody from the Mirror had contacted him about the story. This was a few weeks before Craig finally announced he was coming back to play Bond in one movie.

Danny Boyle’s haunting laugh!

By now, Bond fans know the Danny Boyle saga. The director had suddenly become a contender, in early 2018, to direct Bond 25. Then, in May 2018, he was announced as the director. And then in August 2018, he was out because of “creative differences.”

In March 2018, Boyle talked briefly about the prospect of directing Bond. At that point, he was working with scribe John Hodge on a script. But around the 25-second mark of this Associated Press video, Boyle lets out with a laugh that comes across as haunting given subsequent events.