NTTD roundup: Add to music team, running time questions

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Here’s a quick roundup of No Time to Die developments:

Music team adds a recruit: Musician Johnny Marr will work with Hans Zimmer on the No Time to Die score, NME reported, citing comments from Marr.

“Part of the legacy of the Bond films is iconic music, so I’m very happy to be bringing my guitar to No Time to Die,” Marr told NME.

Marr has worked with Zimmer on previous films, including Inception, where Marr was a guitarist and Amazing Spider-Man 2, where Marr contributed to the score along with Zimmer.

A three-hour Bond? The MI6 James Bond website examined recent developments that may (or may not) point to the 25th James Bond film having a running time of almost three hours.

@ImAFilmEditor tweeted back on Dec. 4 that No Time to Die may end up being the longest Bond film but there weren’t any details beyond that. He reminded people of that in a Jan. 16 tweet.

This week, @antovolk did some more detective work. He provided caveats that the movie is still in post production and that a final running time isn’t locked down.

Bond films during the Daniel Craig era have tended toward longer running times, except for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which had a 106-minute running time. SPECTRE’s running time was 148 minutes, the longest so far for the film series.

Billie Eilish will perform, co-write NTTD’s title song

Billie Eilish photo that was included in Eon announcement

Billie Eilish will perform and co-write the title song for No Time to Die, Eon Productions said on its official Twitter account.

The song’s other co-writer is her brother, Finneas O’Connell, who performs under the name Finneas, according to the announcement.

Eilish’s Twitter account also had an announcement but it didn’t mention her brother’s participation in writing the song. Finneas O’Conell had his own comment on Instagram.

Prior to the announcement, Eilish had earlier posted images of Bond actresses on the story portion of her Instagram account.  The MI6 James Bond website reported Jan. 12 that Eilish, 18, would perform the song, becoming the youngest singer of a Bond title song.

Earlier in the morning, Variety ran a story concerning whether Eilish would be retained as title song performer. It included this analysis of how Eilish compares with previous Bond song performers.

If true, the choice of Eilish would be a dramatic change of direction for the legendary franchise’s long history of theme-song performers, which have progressed from Shirley Bassey to Paul McCartney and Duran Duran over the decades. More recent films have featured younger artists like Adele — who sang the smash hit “Skyfall” — and Sam Smith, both of whom, while contemporary artists in their 20s, are both British and create more adult-leaning music than Eilish: Her music is innovative and enormously popular, but her audience skews much younger than those artists’.

Eon yesterday announced that Hans Zimmer will do the score for the 25th James Bond film.

No Time to Die will continue a pattern where the title song is done separately from the score. A Bond film composer hasn’t been involved with a Bond title song since 2006’s Casino Royale, when David Arnold collaborated with Chris Cornell.

About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

A look back at the blog’s other media appearances

2019 was an interesting year for the blog because of appearances on podcasts and one YouTube video. So what follows are some highlights. Thanks to all involved for having me on.

James Bond & Friends logo

James Bond & Friends podcast: This is a podcast produced by the MI6 James Bond website and MI6 Confidential magazine. It debuted in March and I was on some episodes.

Part of the format is the title of an episode is based on the often freewheeling conversation among participants. During recording, I’m often not sure what the title of an episode will be until it’s out.

I ended up contributing a few titles including these:

Episode 0012: Cai-Cai-Cairo (May 20): The episode’s main topic was how unused parts of Bond screenplays show up in later films. The title is from the pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever where the dialogue and lip movements didn’t quite match.

Episode 0013: The Peeing Dog (May 28): Somewhere in the conversation (which primarily was about how perception of Bond films can change over the years), I referenced the dog that’s urinating in the middle of a frame during Thunderball’s Junkanoo sequence.

Episode 0016: Powered by Explodium (July 3): The episode primarily explored “defending the indefensible.” But the title referred to the apparent power source for the hotel in the middle of nowhere featured in Quantum of Solace.

Other highlights for me (where I had nothing to do with the title) included Episode 0029 Survey Says, based on the game show Family Feud. I blew the climatic question that lost my team the game.

Also, Episode 0024 Freddy’s Got a Cold was pretty fun. That episode had suggestions for alternate takes on James Bond songs. The idea was to put together something similar to David Arnold’s 1990s album Shaken and Stirred.

My suggestions were offbeat: Tony Bennett singing Goldfinger (similar to the arrangement Anthony Newley once performed) and Hugh Jackman performing Thunderball.

Spybrary podcast logo

Spybrary: Spybrary is for fans of spy books and movies. Host Shane Whaley interviewed me in a July 31 episode. We discussed Bond films and novels, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible and Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels.

I discovered what it’s like to host a podcast in a Nov. 23 episode of Spybrary that provided an overview about The Man From From U.N.C.L.E. The other participants were academic Cynthia Walker and Robert Short, a film industry professional and long-time U.N.C.L.E. fan. He has the distinction of appearing in both an U.N.C.L.E. episode and a James Bond movie (Diamonds Are Forever in an out-of-focus way).

Hosting a podcast is harder than it sounds. You have to recruit guests and then keep an eye on the clock during recording. Shane Whaley was on hand to handle production, which was a big help.

Being James Bond: The podcast hosted and produced by Joseph Darlington interviewed me for an Oct. 11 episode. We covered a lot of ground about Bond, the blog and the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website.

The Bond Experience: David Zaritsky, host of the YouTube channel, asked me to discuss how James Bond marketing has evolved. The video was posted Oct. 27 and is embedded below.

Bond 25 questions: The trailer edition

No Time to Die logo

h/t @CorneelVF for a tweet that got me thinking about this.

James Bond fans may finally get to see the first trailer for No Time to Die next week. Naturally, the blog has some questions.

Is this the teaser trailer we heard about back in August?

In August, the James Bond & Friends podcast referenced a rough cut, or preliminary version, of a teaser trailer for No Time to Die.

However, a finished version of that trailer — whatever it contained — has yet to be shown. Meanwhile, the MI6 James Bond website, which produces James Bond & Friends, reported this week the trailer will go online Dec. 4 or 5, depending on what time zone you’re in.

If that comes to be, will this be the same trailer? Or will it be different?

What makes you ask that?

In August, there was still a lot to be be filmed. In late August, filming began in Matera, Italy, involving replica Aston Martin DB5s and other vehicles in a car chase. That got a lot of exposure thanks to tourists taking smartphone videos.

What’s more, filming ended in late October. So there is a lot of footage available to update the trailer — if the filmmakers decide to do so. At this point, there’s no way to know for sure.

Do you think we’ll really see a trailer (updated or not)?

Walt Disney Television, which owns ABC, put out a press release about guests who will be appearing on Good Morning America next week.

On Dec. 4, No Time to Die’s Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Lea Seydoux and director Cary Fukunaga are listed as scheduled guests. It would appear to be a natural their appearance would come at the same time as the trailer.

Also, in late April, there was a segment about the movie on Good Morning America. Anyway, we’ll see how it plays out next week.

Spy Command participates in two podcasts

Spybrary podcast logo

The Spy Command was part of two podcasts in the past week.

The Spybrary podcast on July 31 featured an interview with me. Host Shane Whaley asked for my “dead drop five.”

I named a combination of TV shows and books, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible (the original TV series), and From Russia With Love novel and film as a joint entry. I also listed the Matt Helm series of serious novels (as opposed to the Dean Martin movies).

Shane and I have discussed this possibility for more than a year and it was fun to get it done. Shane also wants me to host a panel about U.N.C.L.E. in the future.

The Spybrary host followed up with an Aug. 5 podcast reviewing The Removers, the third Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton. It was one of the titles I had discussed on the July 31 podcast.

James Bond & Friends logo

Meanwhile, James Bond & Friends, produced by the MI6 James Bond website, is back with episode 0020, which came out on Aug. 6. This edition includes a new guest, Marcos Kontze of the James Bond Brasil website. I was there as well along with David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier, Ben Williams of MI6 Confidential as well as MI6 founders Paul Atkinson and James Page. A description from the MI6 website:

Observing the passing of David Hedison – two time Felix Leiter – we note how he became the first man to return to the role some 10 years later with the long-serving ally’s pivotal role in ‘Licence to Kill’. We continue by discussing Leiter and Bond’s relationship and how the re-casting has lead to some inconsistent characterisation. Along the way, we stumble on Leiter’s drinking habits, Felix’s faux pas, his Kennedy impersonation, Jack Lord’s moisturiser, Felicia Leiter, big livers, the martini olive scam, an ill-fated fishing trip, Le Chiffre’s undead exit, rewrites whilst boozing, and the Leiterverse.

Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.