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.

From Russia With Love’s 50th Part I: the difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Nothing about From Russia With Love was easy. From scripting all the way through filming, the second James Bond film was difficult and at times an ordeal.

At last three writers (Richard Maibaum, Johnna Harwood and an uncredited Len Deighton) took turns trying to adapt the Ian Fleming novel, with major rewrites during shooting. One cast member (Pedro Armendariz) committed suicide shortly after completing his work on the movie because he was dying of cancer. Director Terence Young was nearly killed in a helicopter accident (CLICK HERE for an MI6 007 fan page account of that and other incidents).

For many 007 fans, the movie, which premiered Oct. 10, 1963, is the best film in the Eon Productions series. It’s one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel, despite the major change of adding Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE into the proceedings. It also proved the success of Dr. No the previous year was no accident.

Fleming’s novel was one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 10 favorite books, a list published in 1961 in Life magazine. From Russia, With Love (with the comma and published in 1957) was one of the author’s most important books.

Fleming’s friend, author Raymond Chandler, had chided 007’s creator for letting the quality of his Bond novels slip after 1953’s Casino Royale. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be,” Chandler wrote to Fleming in an April 1956 letter. Fleming decided to step up his game with his fifth 007 novel.

Years later, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with an endorsement of the source material from Kennedy, proceeded with adapting the book. Dr. No veterans Young, editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore and scribes Maibaum and Harwood all reported for duty on the new 007 project.

The major Dr. No contributor absent was production designer Ken Adam, designing the war room set and other interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. John Stears, meanwhile, took over on special effects.

Armendariz, as Kerim Bey, the head of MI6’s station in Turkey and Bond’s primary ally, had a big impact. He lit up every scene he was in and had great on-screen chemistry with star Sean Connery. When Kerim Bey is killed, as part of the complicated SPECTRE plot, it resonates with the audience. The “sacrificial lamb” is part of the Bond formula, but Armendariz was one of the best, if not the best, sacrificial lamb in the 007 film series.

The gravely ill actor needed assistance to complete his scenes. In long shots in the gypsy camp sequence, you needn’t look closely to tell somebody else is playing Kerim Bey walking with Connery’s 007. (It was director Young, according to Armendariz’s WIKIPEDIA ENTRY.)

Young & Co. retained the novel’s memorable set pieces (the fight between two gypsy women, the subsequent battle between Bulgarians and gypsies and the Orient Express train fight between Bond and Red Grant). The production also added a few twists, including two outdoor sequences after getting Bond off the train earlier than in the novel. The question was how would audiences respond.

The answer was approvingly. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in,” former CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote to Fleming in 1964.

He wasn’t alone. The film, with a budget of $2 million, generated $78.9 million in worldwide box office, almost one-third more than its predecessor.

NEXT: John Barry establishes the 007 music template

1997 HMSS article: A VISIT WITH IAN FLEMING

November 2012 post: LEN DEIGHTON ON FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Len Deighton on From Russia With Love

Len Deighton and Michael Caine


The Deighton Dossier blog has a new interview with author Len Deighton. You can read the entire interview by CLICKING HERE One thing that caught our eye was Deighton’s description of his work on From Russia With Love, the second 007 film.

The Q and A featured questions from readers. One of those readers was Jeremy Duns, journalist (he dug out Ben Hecht’s screenplay drafts for producer Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale) and spy author.

Richard Maibaum got the screenplay credit for From Russia With Love, with Johanna Harwood receiving an “adapted by” credit. Maibaum had a long association with Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli. On the early Bond films, Harry Saltzman, the other Eon co-founder, was involved heavily in developing the scripts and often sought English writers such as Paul Dehn and John Hopkins. Saltzman later produced the Harry Palmer series, starring Michael Caine, based on Deighton novels.

Here’s how Deighton in the Deighton Dossier interview, prompted by a question from Duns, described his time working on the film:

I’m very interested in your work on From Russia With Love – do you have any surviving drafts of your script and how do you regard it?

Len: I went to Istanbul with Harry Saltzman, plus the director and the art director. As with virtually all movies, the producer is the driving force who gets the idea, buys the rights, commissions the screenplay, chooses the actors and employs the director.

Harry demonstrated this creative power. We took breakfast together every day so that he could guide me and teach me how film stories worked. It was a wonderful course in movie making especially as the rest of each day was spent roaming around Istanbul with Harry plus the director and art director talking about locations and building the sets back in England.

I’ve always been rather careless about typescripts and notes etc. And having a restless disposition I have packed, unpacked and repacked countless times as my family and I lived in different countries, I don’t have much written stuff left.

Terence Young directed the movie and Syd Cain worked as art director, with Michael White as assistant art director.

The Deighton Dossier and this blog, are members of the Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies. We noticed the From Russia With Love mention from Tweets by Jeremy Duns.

Happy 91st birthday, Jack Lord

The first screen Felix Leiter, Jack Lord, would be 91 years old if he were alive today. The Leiter character wasn’t in the Dr. No novel by Ian Fleming but he ended up in the 1962 film version scripted by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather. When approached about reprising the role in Goldfinger, he famously demanded billing on par with Sean Connery and was refused.

007 fans wonder why Lord would have done that, but let’s face it: being Felix in a Bond movie isn’t going to get you much screen time and probably isn’t going to help your career that much. A few years later, five days before filming was to begin on the pilot, Lord was cast as lawman Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O, whose lead character dabbled in spy storylines. Here he is on The Mike Douglas Show during the show’s first season, 1968-69:

And here are the opening credits of the 11th season Five-O episode The Year of the Horse, where former Bond George Lazenby was “special guest star.” (No Lazenby in the clip but you do see his billing). McGarrett even flies to Singpore on Pan Am, the airline of choice in the Bond movies up to this time (United was the normal airline shown on series episoes):

From Russia With Love: When Ian Fleming met Len Deighton (sort of)

While paging through a few 007 reference works recently, we came upon this gem: that Len Deighton had a whirl at writing a James Bond screenplay. But not just any script. No, he attempted to adapt From Russia With Love, the 1963 film considered by many 007 fans sd one of the best Bond movies ever.

OK, this gets a little complicated. The book we saw this was Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films by James Chapman, published in 2000. In turn, Chapman quotes Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age, a 1986 book edited by Pat McGilligan.

In any event, the source of all this is none other than 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum, the sole credited screenwriter of From Russia With Love (though Johanna Harwood got a vague “adapted by” credit). Maibaum said the following:

On From Russia With Love, they had Len Deighton start, and he did about thirty-five pages; but it wasn’t going anywhere, so they brought me in. I did the screenplay and got a solo credit on it. Johanna Harwood got an adaptation credit, because she worked some with the director, Terence Young, and made several good suggestions. I was a little put out that she was given an adaptation credit because I don’t think she deserved it, but there are always politics in these things.

Deighton, of course, wrote the novels that became the basis of the Harry Palmer films of the 1960s, that were produced by 007 co-producer Harry Saltzman. Saltzman, in turn, hired Bond veterans such as John Barry, Peter Hunt, Guy Hamilton and Maurice Binder to work on the Palmer films.

Over on the Mister 8 Web site, there’s an article that discusses other ties between Ian Fleming and Len Deighton and you can read it by CLICKING HERE.

The earliest days of Bond

Nothing startling here, but given many of the principals are no longer with us, it’s still interesting to hear the perspectives of those who launched 007 movies in 1962.

So, in this video, you can hear 007’s first director, Terence Young; Johanna Harwood, one of the screenwriters of Dr. No; Peter Hunt, and edited five films and directed a sixth; and former United Artists executive David Picker all discuss how Bond got started.