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.

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.

Robert Wade speaks at University of Chichester

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis. (Paul Baack illustration)

Robert Wade, a seven-time James Bond film screenwriter with his partner Neal Purvis, spoke at the University of Chichester on Feb. 11.

The university, on the story portion of its Instagram account, provided a summary that didn’t include comments Wade made about No Time to Die.

Meanwhile, people who said they attended the talk took to Twitter.

First, some highlights from the official university summary.

— Wade said he and Purvis worked on Skyfall for a year but it wasn’t until two weeks before they had to submit a script that they came up with the idea of Bond kidnapping M.

— Director Sam Mendes “really leaned towards doing a London centric story.”

— On writing Bond films generally, Wade said he and Purvis “always start quite dark.”

Now, some comments from people who said they were at the presentation.

@TheTchaikovsky, author of the upcoming book Quantum of Silliness (part of the cover illustration is his Twitter avatar and the book’s Amazon.com entry references the Twitter feed), posted these tweets.

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Purvis and Wade were hired to write No Time to Die in 2017. Director Danny Boyle pitched an idea by himself and writer John Hodge, which was reported in 2018.

The film was announced in May 2018 as being written by Hodge and directed by Boyle. But Boyle departed in August 2018 and Hodge left with him. Cary Fukunaga was brought in after that.

The Purvis and Wade team, Fukunaga, Scott Z. Burns and Phoebe Waller-Bridge have all been involved in writing No Time to Die. A press release issued in December listed all but Burns, according to a story by the MI6 James Bond website.

The final writing credit will be determined by the Writers Guild of America.

Broccoli & Wilson give an interview to Variety

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions gave an interview to Variety that’s the cover story in the entertainment outlet’s print edition. Much of it consists of new variations of previous comments. Some highlights:

–Broccoli on No Time to Die being Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film: “I’m in total denial. I’ve accepted what Daniel has said, but I’m still in denial. It’s too traumatic for me.”

–Broccoli on why Craig is such a good Bond actor: “Bond in the novel is a silhouette. Daniel has given him depth and an inner life. We were looking for a 21st-century hero, and that’s what he delivered. He bleeds; he cries; he’s very contemporary.”

–Broccoli on how No Time to Die wraps up Craig’s five Bond films: “We have come to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.”

–The duo on possible future Bond actors: Wilson told Variety, “You think of him as being from Britain or the Commonwealth, but Britain is a very diverse place. Broccoli’s comment:  “He can be of any color, but he is male.”

–Broccoli and Wilson rejected “a ‘Smallville’-like television series that would have followed a teenage Bond at Eton.” Variety provided no details when this proposal was made.

–Broccoli on original No Time to Die director Danny Boyle’s departure from the project. “It was hard on both sides because we had mutual respect and admiration, but better to know [the differences] before you embark on a project. We worked together well for a number of months, but there came a point when we were discussing the kind of film that we wanted to make, and we both came to the conclusion we were not aligned.”

–Broccoli on the job replacement director Cary Fukunaga has done. “He’s brought a fresh new approach. He’s made an emotionally engaging film. It’s epic both in the emotional scale and on the landscape scale.”

–Variety says once Boyle departed, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade started on “an entirely new script with Fukunaga.” If true, that means all the work they did in 2017 got thrown out entirely. The 2017 work was put off to the side because Danny Boyle and John Hodge proposed a different, supposedly great, idea.

Bond 25 questions: The script edition

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Bond 25 filming is underway. Work has wrapped up in Jamaica. Things should be moving along nicely, right?

Not according to tabloid newspapers, specifically The Sun and Daily Mail in the U.K. and the New York Post in the U.S. And a lot of the hubbub has to do with the film’s script.

Naturally, the blog has a few questions.

Is there really “no script”?

From the time the first draft is submitted, there’s a script. The question is whether there’s a script everyone is happy with.

Still, at any time, there’s a document that exceeds 100 pages and says “The End” at the end. The first draft is replaced by a second draft and so on and so forth.

Nevertheless, the tabloids say differently. The Post in an April 25 story quotes a person it didn’t identify as saying, “They don’t have a script.”

The Sun in an April 26 story said “there is no script.”

Not to be outdone, the Daily Mail began a May 9 story thusly: “The joke on the Bond 25 set is the script’s under wraps. And the response is: ‘What script?’” The story said the story is being rewritten “endlessly.”

So what’s really going on?

Clearly, a number of writers have worked on the project at one time or another. Among them: the team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; John Hodge when Danny Boyle was attached as director; and Scott Z. Burns and Phoebe Waller-Bridge since Cary Fukunaga (who also writes scripts) replaced Boyle.

In the past week, Waller-Bridge has gotten a lot of attention. She’s both a performer and writer and worked on various high-profile projects.

Waller-Bridge was interviewed on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast. That mostly concerned her career generally but included a few minutes about Bond 25 at the end. She was also the subject of a separate Daily Mail feature story.

In both instances, Waller-Bridge made it sound as if Bond 25’s scripting is under control.

“We have a script and we’re continuing to work on it, all of us floating ideas around and creating characters together,” she said in the Daily Mail story.

Anything else catch your eye?

The Daily Mail’s May 9 story about the “endless” rewriting of Bond 25’s script said it was being revised by Waller-Bridge, director Fukunaga and star Daniel Craig.

Back in 2011, Craig said how he and director Marc Forster supposedly rewrote Quantum of Solace on the set. “A writer I am not,” Craig said then.

If the Daily Mail is correct (something I am not assuming), did Craig change his mind?

Is there context we should keep in mind?

At various times in the 57-year history of the 007 film franchise, there’s been frantic rewriting: From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies come to mind. Things turned out well at the end.

Still, past performance isn’t a guarantee of future success. You can’t take success for granted.

That’s something to keep in mind. But not something to lose sleep over, at least not at this stage in the proceedings.

UPDATE: A Japanese outlet, Cinema Today, posted a story dated May 12 but is based on an April interview with Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. According to a translation, the duo say that director Cary Fukunaga recruited Scott Z. Burns as a writer while they brought in Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Wilson said work on the script “struggled for a while” but they have a story “with a lot of twists and surprises.”

Bond 25 script rewritten by committee, Baz says

“We can’t go yet, dear. I have to help out on the script rewrite.”

Bond 25’s script is being “endlessly” rewritten by a committee, the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye wrote in a story published Thursday night.

The committee consists of “director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and 007 himself, Daniel Craig,” Bamigboye reported.

Bamigboye quoted a source he didn’t identify as saying Waller-Bridge is “writing a re-write of a re-write…‘They have an outline of plot, but dialogue is all last-minute. It’s not the way to make a movie.”

Efforts to devise a Bond 25 script began in 2017 when 007 film veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were hired. For a time, the production shifted to screenwriter John Hodge when Danny Boyle was hired as director in 2018.

A few months later, Boyle exited and Hodge followed him out the door. Fukunaga, who often writes his own scripts, was hired to replace Boyle. Scott Z. Burns and Waller-Bridge subsequently were hired to work on the Bond 25 story.

Bamigboye has a record of coming up with 007 film scoops that were later proven correct. Among them was the fact that Purvis and Wade were brought back to begin Bond 25’s scripting.

A Bond 25 sequence was filmed in Norway in March. Principal photography began late last month.

Mail on Sunday delivers newest B25 writing rumor


Possible spoiler below.

The Mail on Sunday (the Sunday edition of the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail) just came up with a Bond 25 curve ball.

The publication says Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator and star of the BBC series Fleabag, is the latest writer to tackle Bond 25’s script.

Here’s an excerpt:

One plot being considered involves (Daniel) Craig’s ageing Bond retired and now living in Jamaica – the island where 007 author Ian Fleming had his Goldeneye retreat. The 007 number has been taken up by a new agent – a woman – who embarks on a mission which forces Bond to come out of retirement.

Despite Bond’s legendary reputation as a womaniser, the new 007 manages to resist his charms.

A source said last night: ‘Phoebe is the hottest young writer in the UK and Hollywood at the moment.

The story also says Bond 25 is scheduled to begin filming in Jamaica “within weeks.” Last month, a unit shot a sequence in Norway.

If the story is correct, Waller-Bridge joins a growing roster of Bond 25 scribes, including Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Hodge, Paul Haggis and Scott Z. Burns.

Also, if Waller-Bridge joins the Bond 25 writing brigade, she’ll join a select group of women screenwriters who’ve worked on 007 films. Others include Johanna Harwood (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) and Dana Stevens (The World Is Not Enough, uncredited).

Here is an appearance Waller-Bridge made on NBC’s Late Night With Seth Myers.

Scott Z. Burns completes Bond 25 work, The Playlist says

Bond 25 writing update.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has completed his work on a Bond 25 rewrite, The Playlist said.

The story was part of a broader Bond 25 piece. But, toward the end, there was this passage:

More soon, but the latest I’ve heard is Scott Z. Burns handed in his draft and but then had to leave to direct an episode of “The Loudest Voice,” the Roger Aisles mini-series starring Russell Crowe as the former Fox mogul. What’s next for the spy film? I’m told there’s more work to be done still, but Burns is booked and had a tight deadline to begin with.

The article was penned by Rodrigo Perez, who broke the news in February that Burns had been hired to revamp the script. Perez’s original story cast the Burns rewrite as a major overhaul and not just tweaking dialogue.

What’s next? Nobody really knows. Perez’s new story is a slightly broader look at the film but doesn’t have a lot of hard details.

So far, multiple scribes — including Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Hodge and others — have had a turn on Bond 25.

Boyle-Eon: The lack of due diligence

Danny Boyle

Last August, the blog asked whether Danny Boyle and Eon Productions did proper due diligence before Eon decided to hire Boyle to direct Bond 25.

Boyle, seemingly, has confirmed the answer was no.

Empire magazine has a feature story about Boyle in its May issue. The story isn’t online, but Boyle comments about Bond 25 have been summarized, including a story at the MI6 James Bond website.

There’s a passage where Boyle says he left Bond 25 after Eon wanted to bring in other writers to rework what John Hodge had done. (Cary Fukunaga would be hired to replace Boyle.)

“We were working very, very well, but they didn’t want to go down that route,” Empire quotes Boyle as saying. “What John Hodge and I were doing, I thought, was really good. It wasn’t finished, but it could have been really good.

“You have to believe in your process and part of that is the partnership I have with a writer. It’s like saying ‘Hey, we are going to give you a different editor…’ Those fundamental partnerships are vital.”

It sounds like Boyle learned his lesson the hard way. If he had done a little research, maybe a half-hour using Google, he’d have discovered Eon often brings in multiple writers to work on Bond films. In some cases, the more the merrier. 

To be fair, Boyle would not be the first auteur director to have difficulties working in a blockbuster film environment. The 2015 Marvel Studios film Ant-Man originated with Edgar Wright. But, in the end, Wright bowed out while retaining a screenplay credit.

Nevertheless, Eon had plenty of chances to check Boyle out. Boyle and Hodge reportedly pitched their idea. How did they think Boyle would react after telling him Hodge’s work needed to be reworked by other scribes?

“Oh sure, Barbara. Whatever you say.” Not likely. They call it auteur for a reason.

This whole affair likely is more complicated. Regardless, neither side did their proper due diligence. And both sides are to blame. That’s as obvious as how the sun rises in the East.

UPDATE (March 21, 2019): Empire has posted an online excerpt of its Danny Boyle story that contains his comments about Bond 25.