Michael Apted discusses 007 films and the female audience

Michael Apted

Michael Apted, director of 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, says the James Bond film series may have trouble expanding its female audience beyond what it is now. Also, Apted says he wouldn’t be up to directing another 007 film.

Apted, 77, gave an interview to The Hollywood Reporter. Much of the interview covered his “Up” series of documentaries that follows the same group of people every seven years. But the interview veered into James Bond territory.

The director was mostly known for dramatic films, including Coal Miner’s Daughter prior to signing to direct the 19th James Bond film made by Eon Productions. He was brought aboard The World Is Not Enough for that season. What follows are some of his Bond comments.

-How he got the 007 job: “It turned out, they were trying to get more women to come and see it. So, we really wanted to do a Bond with a lot of women in it. I was right person because I’d done a lot of successful films with women in them. But they didn’t tell me that until right before we started. When I found out, I finally understood.”

–Bond’s female audience: “Well we had a woman as the murderer (in The World Is Not Enough) and Judi Dench was featured a lot more. But it still did not bring more women in to see it….I honestly don’t think they can (bring women in) anymore than they have. We have really tried everything. At the end of the day, it is for the fathers and the sons.”

-Why he wouldn’t do another 007 film: “I’ll never do another one. The actor sets the tone and I think the current Bond is a great actor, but Bond has become very violent. There is so much violence in it now.”

–Could Bond ever be transformed into a woman? “I don’t think so. They could do another version with a woman but I don’t see how it could be Bond.It could beJulia Bond” or something like that, but than it gets into the realm of stupidity.”

TWINE’s 15th anniversary: a transition for 007

The World Is Not Enough poster

The World Is Not Enough poster

The World Is Not Enough, the 19th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, marked a transition.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli hired a director, Michael Apted, with little experience in action movies. Apted was brought on because of his drama experience.

The producers also hired a new writing team, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, to develop the story. They’re still in the world of 007 15 years later.

The script development established a pattern the duo would soon be familiar with. They delivered their script, which would be reworked by other writers. In the case of The World Is Not Enough, Dana Stevens, Apted’s wife, revised the story. Another scribe, Bruce Feirstein, worked on the final drafts. Purvis, Wade and Feirstein would get a screen credit.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench’s M got expanded screen time, something that would persist through 2012’s Skyfall. The film also marked the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. John Cleese came aboard as Q’s understudy.

Pierce Brosnan, in his third 007 outing, was now an established film Bond. In interviews at the time, he talked up the increased emphasis on drama. In the film, Bond falls for Elektra King, whose industrialist father is killed in MI6’s own headquarters. But in a twist, Elektra (played by Sophie Marceau) proves to be the real mastermind.

The movie tried to balance the new emphasis on drama with traditional Bond bits such as quips and gadgets, such as the “Q boat” capable of diving underwater or rocketing across land. Some fans find the character of Dr. Christmas Jones, a scientist played by Denise Richards, over the top.

Sometimes, the dual tones collided. Cleese’s initial appearance was played for laughs. In the same scene, however, Q, in effect, tells Bond good-bye in what’s intended to be a touching moment. It was indeed the final good-bye. Llewelyn died later that year as the result of a traffic accident.

The movie was a financial success, with $361.8 million in worldwide box office. Broccoli and Wilson, meanwhile, would return to the idea of increased drama in later entries after recasting Bond with Daniel Craig.

What’s next for a Mendes-less Bond 24?

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

With Skyfall’s Sam Mendes taking his name out of contention to direct Bond 24, there may be some other 007 dominoes to fall. Which ones remain to be seen but here are some of the obvious questions:

Who gets the job instead? There’s already fan chatter about Christopher Nolan and Matthew Vaughn. Nolan, director of a 2005-2012 trilogy of Batman movies, is a 007 fan and incorporated some Bond touches in those films. In turn, Mendes said Skyfall was inspired by Nolan’s work. Vaughn’s recent credits include an X-Men movie with Michael Fassbender looking Bondish in places playing Magneto in his early years.

Still, nobody outside of Eon Productions saw Mendes as a 007 director until the Deadline entertainment news Web site reported he was involved in the project. Going further back, neither Quantum of Solace’s Marc Forster or The World Is Not Enough’s Michael Apted seemed to have resumes that made fans think of a James Bond movie. Perhaps Eon hires a candidate who doesn’t seem obvious at the moment.

How does this affect Bond 24’s schedule? Hard to tell for sure but presumably searching for a director won’t make it come out any faster. It may be another strike against the idea of Bond 24 coming out in 2014.

Could this affect John Logan? Logan was brought into Skyfall by Mendes and got signed to write Bond 24 and Bond 25. Will a new director be as keen on Logan as Mendes was? Or would a new director want to bring in his preferred writer to revise whatever Logan works up?

Could this lead to David Arnold’s return as composer? Mendes and composer Thomas Newman had worked together multiple times on films and the director wanted Newman to do the same on Skyfall. Much will depend on who’s selected as Bond 24 director, but have a director other than Mendes for Bond 24 may provide an opening for Arnold to do his sixth 007 film.

Arnold wasn’t entirely gone from Skyfall; one of his Casino Royale tracks was worked into the scene where Bond switches cars and gets into the Aston Martin DB5.

Eon’s drive for ‘respect’ and how it affects the 007 film franchise

The Peter Morgan situation (fiasco?), where Eon Productions’ flirtation with a “prestige” writer didn’t pan out, got us to thinking about the state of the James Bond movie franchise. As Lt. Columbo on more than one occasion said, “little things” bothered him about a case. So it is with our concerns about the state of the James Bond movie franchise.

Peter Morgan wrote Frost/Nixon and other movies that had the label of being a Very Important Film. So, in 2009, when Eon announced that Morgan would be part of a writing team to script Bond 23, it got a lot of attention, especially among Bond fans. Months after ending his 007 writing efforts, Morgan gave an interview where he indicated he really didn’t care that much for the Bond concept.

In a way, that seems to seems to represent the approach of Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli after the death of Albert R. Broccoli, Eon’s co-founder, in 1996. There have been hints of this for awhile. Michael Apted got hired to direct 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, even though he had basically no experience directing action films. But the stepson and daughter of Cubby Broccoli really hit paydirt on the respect scale with 2006’s Casino Royale, which arguably got the best reviews of a 007 film in decades. Part of the reason was co-screenwriter Paul Haggis, known as a writer and director of Very Important Movies, despite the fact he also created the schlocky TV series Walker, Texas Ranger.

That’s a heady thing to ignore. So the duo hired Marc Forster, also known as a director of Very Important Movies, such as Monster’s Ball, to direct Quantum of Solace, with Haggis returning as the lead writer, getting first billing ahead of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The result: a $230 million-budgeted movie that was hard to follow in many places and seemed twice the length of its 106-minute running time, the shortest of the 22-film Eon/Bond series.

For an encore, the Wilson-Broccoli duo hired Peter Morgan to write Bond 23. Now the delay in Bond 23, understandably, is blamed on financial problems at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., 007’s home studio which also controls half of the Bond franchise with Eon. But even if MGM’s finances hadn’t tanked, there’s some reason to doubt the current Eon regime was up to getting out a Bond film in a reasonable amount of time. In April, when Eon said it was suspending development of Bond 23 because of MGM’s financial ills, it said the film was originally scheduled for a “2011/2012” release. That would have been three or four YEARS after Quantum of Solace.

What’s more, Morgan revealed in an interview that after months of work in 2009, he had gotten no further than a “treatment” (essentially a detailed outline) and never had gotten around to actually writing a script. Aside from Morgan himself plus the grateful city of Vienna (where Morgan lives), it’s hard to see who else benefitted from the decision to hire Morgan in the first place. Morgan made his reputation on films that were lathered in politics. Bond films, while having a few referendces to the time they were made, tended to be as “timeless” as possible. Eon’s co-founders, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, de-emphasized the Cold War roots of Ian Fleming novels such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which formed the basis of the first three films of the series. The Russians were the ultimate villains of all three novels; in the first two films the independent SPECTRE took the place of the Soviets while in Goldfinger, the title character was acting independently with the backing of the Chinese.

Bond 23 has been delayed primarily because of MGM’s financial ills, make no mistake. But even if MGM’s finances were fixed tomorrow, Eon would still have a lot of work to do to get a shootable script ready. The Broccoli-Saltzman team was able to do four films in four years and, after that, adhere to producing a film every other year (more or less). It’s unimaginable to envision the current Wilson-Broccoli regime sticking to such a schedule. They seem too busy worrying about their press clippings. The irony: Cubby Broccoli, a supposed hack, in 1982 received the Irving Thalberg Award, one of the most prestigious Hollywood gives to one of its own. Does anyone really think either Michael Wilson or Barbara Broccoli will receive that award anytime soon?

The World Is Not Enough’s 10th anniversary (and why it’s a signficiant 007 film)

There are a lot of significant 007 film anniversaries this year. One such anniversary, the 10th since the November 1999 release of The World Is Not Enough, may not get the attention of others (Goldfinger, Moonraker, and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert R. Broccoli and Richard Maibuam).

Still, the 19th James Bond movie produced by Eon Productions does deserve some comments. Afterall:

1. It was the last James Bond movie of the 20th Century.

2. It was an attempt to bring some serious drama to the 007 franchise by hiring Michael Apted as director. Apted was primarily known for serious dramas such as Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park as well as his involvement in the “7 Up” series of documentaries.

3. It was the first 007 film where Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were retained as screenwriters. A decade later, they’re still around and have been hired, assuming the film gets made, to script Bond 23, along with Peter Morgan.

4. It had the longest pre-credits sequence of the series.

5. It would be the last appearance of Desmond Llewelyn (1914-1999) as Q, the master of MI6’s special ordinance department. He died in an auto accident in December, a month or so after TWINE’s release. Feirstein’s final version of the script established that the Llewelyn Q might never be seen again and Apted staged the scene to emphasize that it was the end of an era.

TWINE doesn’t get the highest marks of the series and, got some mixed marks when our parent Web site ranked the Bond movies. It is uneven. On the one hand, the seeming innocent is really the villain (which creates a climatic moment for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond) while we’re treated to the absurdity of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

The film had some odd moments in its production. While Eon Productions liked the work of Purvis and Wade enough to proceed, it also hired Dana Stevens (Apted’s wife) and Bruce Feirstein to do rewrites. Feirstein got a writing credit, but only late in the process (only Purvis and Wade were referenced in the title page of Raymond Benson’s novelization). It would be Feirstein’s last contribution to the series after three consecutive films.

In any case, here’s one of the trailers:

If you pause at the 2:13 mark, you’ll see it only has Purvis and Wade credited as writers.

Here are TWINE’s end titles, which were also a bit of a departure. Composer David Arnold did a long version of The James Bond Theme along with an overture of other music from the film:

DGA magazine interviews living 007 directors

The quarterly magazine for the Directors Guild of America has an interview of the living Bond directors. The Double O Section blog has the cover and a summary RIGHT HERE.

One thing that had escaped our notice (sorry) was that one of those interview subjects is president of the DGA. To see what Michael Apted is up to these days, click RIGHT HERE.