Bond 25 questions: THR’s Fukunaga story edition

No Time to Die’s back story is often opaque

The Hollywood Reporter has come out with a big feature story about Cary Fukunaga, the director of No Time to Die.

But there are elements that don’t square up previous tellings of No Time To Die’s back story. Naturally, the blog has questions.

Whose idea was it to bring aboard Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer for the 25th James Bond movie?

According to THR, it was Fukunaga’s, of course.

At Fukunaga’s suggestion, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in to work on the draft he wrote with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have worked on every Bond film since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.

Except, supposedly it was the idea of star Daniel Craig. For example, there’s this story from IndieWire in February 2020:

 The “Fleabag” creator, whose Amazon Prime Video series picked up six Primetime Emmy Award wins last year, was brought onto the film back in 2019 at the behest of star Daniel Craig.

Oh. Well, the winners get to write the history. Both Fukunaga and Waller-Bridge were among the winners of the No Time to Die saga.

How big a factor was #MeToo in No Time to Die’s development?

Apparently, a lot. We won’t really know until the movie comes out shortly. But THR’s story has some clues.

A quote in the THR story from Lashana Lynch: “Cary had big discussions with Barbara (Broccoli) and Daniel about how to give the female characters equity, how to keep them in charge of themselves, how to give them solo moments where the audience learns who they are.  It was really important to empower the female characters as stand-alones. And I think that he kept that in mind throughout the whole shoot.”

A quote from Barbara Broccoli in the new story:

“I think people are coming around — with some kicking and screaming — to accepting that stuff is no longer acceptable. Thank goodness. Bond is a character who was written in 1952 and the first film [Dr. No] came out in 1962. He’s got a long history, and the history of the past is very different to the way he is being portrayed now.”

Finally a quote from Fukunaga himself in The Hollywood Reporter:

“Is it Thunderball or Goldfinger where, like, basically Sean Connery’s character rapes a woman?” Fukunaga told THR. “She’s like ‘No, no, no,’ and he’s like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ That wouldn’t fly today.”

Why did Bond 25 switch from Danny Boyle to Cary Fukunaga as director?

Bond 25 has a complicated history. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, long-time Bond screenwriters, were hired in 2017 to develop a script. They worked on it for months. Then, in 2018, it became known than director Danny Boyle and his writer, John Hodge, made a pitch.

An announcement came out in spring 2018 that the Boyle and Hodge team were hired. The initial script was set aside.

But later that year, they were gone. Fukunaga would soon be hired.

The key excerpt from THR’s story:

With Boyle, there was a deviation of visions. His version was more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical. Broccoli and Wilson wanted something more serious for Craig’s final outing.

This leads to a lot of questions. Did Eon, which at one time loved the Boyle-Hodge pitch, not realize the tone was different? Did Eon not vet Boyle and Hodge?

We’re less than a week before the premiere of No Time to Die. Many fans don’t want to hear about this.

Still, The Hollywood Reporter raises more questions than answers

THR: Boyle’s Bond 25 was more whimsical

Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of No Time to Die

Danny Boyle, the original director for Bond 25, had in mind a project that was “more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical,” The Hollywood Reporter said today in a feature story about Cary Fukunaga, who ended up helming the 25th James Bond movie.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson “wanted something more serious” for actor Daniel Craig’s final turn as Bond, according to the entertainment news outlet.

After Boyle’s departure, Fukunaga told THR, “I emailed Barbara and was like, ‘Is there a chance to talk about this?’ She responded right away, and we set up a meeting the next week. I didn’t have a pitch or anything, just asked them what they’re after and what wasn’t working.”

This raises all sorts of questions. In 2018, Eon put aside a script it had been developing after Boyle pitched a supposedly great idea that wowed Eon and executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In May 2018, it was announced Boyle was directing with John Hodge doing the script.

The main question is did Eon and MGM vet Boyle and Hodge and the great idea? Boyle apparently did not vet how Eon works.

In the article, Fukunaga is credited with suggesting Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a writer for No Time to Die, Bond 25’s eventual title.

A review of No Time to Die’s scripting process

Dramatic re-enactment.

Earlier today, I was reminded by @_SpringY84 that Aug. 21 is a notable anniversary in the development of Bond 25/No Time to Die.

A brief discussion broke out how all this came to be. In turn, that got me to thinking how the scripting developed. So here’s a quick review.

As far back as March 2017, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported veteran Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were being hired for Bond 25. The duo’s return was confirmed July 24, 2017 in announcements by Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer stating Bond 25 would have a U.S. release date of Nov. 8, 2019.

Those announcements have since been stripped from the websites of Eon and MGM. In any event, the involvement of Purvis and Wade was made official before the return of star Daniel Craig. The latter wouldn’t take place until mid-August 2017.

In December 2017, Purvis and Wade were still on the project. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli told a Hollywood Reporter podcast that the writers were “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

Well, apparently it wasn’t that fantastic.

By early 2018, Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge put their hands up, saying they had some great ideas for Bond 25. Evidently, it was a great pitch because Hodge was commissioned to turn it into a script. If that script got approval, that would be the new path ahead for Bond 25.

Boyle (vaguely) commented about the process in March 2018.

Apparently, the script was OK with Eon in the spring of 2018. A May 25, 2018, announcement about the movie includes Boyle as director and Hodge as screenwriter. No mention of Purvis and Wade.

As noted at the start of this post, such bliss didn’t last. By Aug. 21, it was so long Danny and John, welcome back Neal and Robert. The writers would soon work with a new director, Cary Fukunaga.

Here’s how the process was described by an article in Total Film.

Boyle’s script, written by Trainspotting’s John Hodge (which contained “some extraordinary ideas, they just needed a little pulling together,” according to production designer Mark Tildesley) was scrapped, with Purvis and Wade brought in to pick up where they left off a year prior. “Effectively, we went back to what we’d done,” says Purvis. “And then we changed things with Cary over several months in the attic at Eon.” As well as being the first American, Fukunaga is the first director to have a writing credit on a finished Bond film. “He’s fresh to it,” Wade says of Fukunaga. “He’s open to doing things differently, and wanted to push the boundaries as much as he could. This film feels quite different to the last one, even though it’s got elements that connect it.”

Things weren’t quite that simple. The release date would be pushed back into 2020 with Fukunaga coming onboard. COVID-19 would push the release into 2021.

Meanwhile, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (with Daniel Craig taking credit for recruiting her) and Scott Z. Burns did rewrites at the word processor. Burns’ arrival was initially hyped by The Playlist in February 2019. Rodrigo Perez of The Playist said Burns was doing “an overhaul and I won’t be surprised if Burns is ultimately given first screenplay credit.”

As it turned out, Burns received no writing credit on No Time to Die. Savior one day, forgotten man the next day.

All this time later, we don’t know what spectacular ideas Boyle and Hodge came up with to spur Eon to ditch a script in the work for months. The ones who do know have probably signed non-disclosure agreements.

Regardless, today’s anniversary calls to mind a rather involved process. Let’s hope No Time to Die’s final script is as involved as the work performed to create it.

Total Film provides a behind-the-scenes look at NTTD

No Time to Die poster from 2020

Total Film is out with an article taking a behind-the-scenes look at No Time to Die.

Here are some non-spoiler highlights:

–Cary Fukunanga, who would eventually direct the movie, wined and dined Eon’s Barbara Broccoli before Danny Boyle was hired as the film’s first director.

“At that point Daniel (Craig) said he wasn’t doing another one, so we spit-balled all the potential new Bonds – that was exciting,” Fukunaga told Total Film. “I just told her what I loved about Bond and what it meant to me growing up. And just that I’d be honoured if they’d consider me for the next one.”

–After Boyle (and his writer John Hodge) exited the project, writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade went back to a script they were working on before Boyle was hired. That’s not terribly surprising but there has been hype that *everything was new* after Boyle left.

“Effectively, we went back to what we’d done,” Purvis told Total Film. “And then we changed things with Cary over several months in the attic at Eon.” Over time, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who got a credit) and Scott Z. Burns (who did not) also worked on the script.

–Michael G. Wilson of Eon describes the Craig era as “a little miniseries within the series.” Broccoli added: ““This film feels like a good bookend to Casino (Royale), because his emotional evolution gets to a place where we’ve never seen Bond before. So that’s pretty exciting.”

–Craig describes the theme of No Time to Die as “love and family.”

–Funkunaga says that only goes so far. “No one’s trying to say some sort of long sentimental goodbye. It’s just another Bond film. The credits still say: ‘Bond will return.’”

There’s a lot more, including some comments about Safin, the villain played by Rami Malek, that get into spoiler territory.

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.”