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.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Bond 25 questions: Where did the money go edition

No Time to Die teaser poster

Well, everybody knew going in that No Time to Die wasn’t going to be cheap. But a recent U.K. regulatory filing by B25 Ltd., a subsidiary of Eon Productions, gives an idea of how expensive it was.

A movie and a half? 

The filing said for 2019 the “work in progress” (No Time to Die is the only work in progress B25 has) was 199.47 million pounds. The conversion rate between pounds and dollars varies, but that’s more than $240 million.

The filing also listed a figure for 2018: 17.44 million pounds. The MI6 James Bond website said that may be pre-production costs when Danny Boyle was attached to direct before departing in August 2018 for “creative differences.” He was replaced by Cary Fukunaga.

Regardless, production designer Mark Tildesley in a Masterclass video interview posted May 10, said a 350-foot rocket had been built and a Russian gulag set in Canada constructed during Boyle’s time on the project.

Tildesley also said the production continued to lease the pricey 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios after Boyle left. Part of the space was used as a construction workshop.

Expensive cast

Variety previously reported that Daniel Craig was due a $25 million payday for No Time to Die. The film then brought on Rami Malek as the villain. He was coming off winning a Best Actor Oscar. He’s probably getting considerably more than scale. That probably applies to the returning MI6 cast of characters played by Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw.

Expensive crew

Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought in as a writer at a cost of $2 million, The Hollywood Reporter said last year.  Scott Z. Burns, a pricey “script doctor” also did uncredited work on the script.

Bond 25 questions: The potpourri edition

New No Time to Die poster

We’ve had a few No Time to Die developments recently. Naturally, the blog has a couple of questions.

Will the gunbarrel be at the beginning?

Hard to say, but this week’s Cary Fukunaga video suggests it’s a strong possibility.

“The white dots on the screen…the adrenaline starts pumping,” Fukunaga’s voiceover says, accompanying the Daniel Craig gunbarrel from SPECTRE. “Settle in and get ready for a ride.”

That sounds like a description of the first 20 Bond films when the gunbarrel was at the start of the movie. Things got changed up with 2006’s Casino Royale, which began a new, rebooted timeline. The gunbarrel appeared at the end of the pre-titles sequence.

Then, for Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the gunbarrel appeared at the end of the film. There was some pushback from fans. That generated pushback to the pushback where other fans questioned how dare fans question the artistry of the films. The comments section of this 2012 post demonstrates both sides of the argument.

The gunbarrel was back at the start of SPECTRE, although it wasn’t the best executed, including having Daniel Craig swinging his arm wildly showing he’s holding a gun.

In any case, Fukunaga at least sounds more appreciative of the gunbarrel logo than his Bond directing predecessor Sam Mendes. We’ll see.

Why didn’t Scott Z. Burns get a script credit?

Supposedly, the ace Hollywood “script doctor” in early 2019 was on his way to save No Time to Die’s script. Certainly, The Playlist website made it sound that way in a February 2019 story.

To give credit where credit is due, The Playlist was the first to report Burns participating in the writing of the film. Saving the script? Not so much. Burns ended up not getting a credit while Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, director Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge did.

Ultimately, script credits are decided by the Writers Guild of America. The rules are a bit complex but in general favor the early writers over those who rewrite. There is also a cap on the number of credits available. In this case, Burns had no seat when the WGA musical chairs of writing credits ended.

New No Time to Die poster is out

A new No Time to Die poster is out today. It includes credits and a few things leaped out.

— Ana de Armas isn’t referenced among the cast. She is a rising star and has drawn a fair amount of publicity. Fans have suspected she has a small part and this may be a confirmation.

— Daniel Craig is again credited as a co-producer, as he was in SPECTRE. Personally, I was wondering if he might get promoted to executive producer but that’s not the case.

— The writing credit matches a Jan. 21 entry in a Writers Guild of America East database. The writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge all get some form of writing credit. Scott Z. Burns, once hailed as coming in to save the script, is out man out.

— Hans Zimmer gets a “music by” credit. Presumably, that means that Steve Mazzaro, who has assisted Zimmer, will get an “additional music” credit (probably in the end titles).

The version below was tweeted out by UIPSA, which distributes Universal and Paramount films in South Africa. Universal is handling international distribution of No Time to Die.

The official @007 account on Twitter also had a tweet about the poster. But that version had no credits at the bottom.

UPDATE (4:20 p.m. New York time): A separate e-mailed release has a longer cast list. Ana de Armas is listed with Rory Kinnear, Dali Bessalah, David Dencik, and Billy Magnussen.

New No Time to Die poster

NTTD’s writing credit: Scott Z. Burns may be odd man out

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

Sorry, Scott Z. Burns. You may have gone from saving No Time to Die’s script to being the odd man out.

The Writer’s Guild of America East database has a listing for the writing credit for the 25th James Bond film:

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Story by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga

The Writers Guild database listing the credit is dated Jan. 21, 2020.

The film’s script went through a series of revisions. In February 2019, The Playlist reported that Burns had been enlisted to rewrite the movie.

“It’s an overhaul and I won’t be surprised if Burns is ultimately given first screenplay credit,” wrote Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist.

What The Playlist didn’t know was that Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an actress and writer, had also been employed for script duty on No Time to Die. Also, director Cary Fukunaga also does writing on his projects.

Still, an April press release from Eon Productions listed Burns among the screenwriters.

Meanwhile, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been the first writers hired, joining the project in 2017. They were bumped in 2018 when Danny Boyle was hired to direct, bringing scribe John Hodge with him.

Boyle then departed over “creative differences” and Hodge also exited. In came Fukunaga as the new director. Back came the Purvis and Wade team. The writers now have their 007th Bond screenwriting credit.

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.

The Playlist says Burns may go uncredited on NTTD

Scott Z. Burns

The Playlist, which originally reported that Scott Z. Burns was recruited to do a rewrite on No Time to Die, says in a Dec. 4 story that the scribe may, indeed, go uncredited.

Here’s an excerpt:

“True Detective” and “Beasts of No Nation” director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, is set to direct the film along with sharing co-writing duties with longtime Bond film screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and recent Emmy winner Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Scott Z. Burns did a rewrite too, but with five writers originally credited, someones gotta go) (emphasis added)

The Writers Guild of America will have the ultimate say. However, there are a number of writers contending for a credit for a limited number of writing credit slots for the 25th James Bond film. The others include Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, director Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The Playlist reported in February that Burns, a noted “script doctor” had been hired to work on No Time to Die.

We’ll see what the final writing credit is after an arbitration by the union.

Scott Z. Burns apparently bumped from NTTD writing credit

Scott Z. Burns

Script doctor Scott Z. Burns, once hailed as coming in to overhaul No Time to Die’s script, isn’t listed as one of the film’s screenwriters in a new press release.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sent a press release to outlets, including the MI6 James Bond website. MI6’s story, which includes updated credits from the press release, says the writers are listed as the writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, plus director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

In April, during a “reveal” event in Jamaica, those writers and Burns were listed as writers of the film. An April 25 press release listed the writers as “Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Scott Z. Burns with Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge,”

Burns was also mentioned the same day in a tweet from the official 007 account.

That was then.

According to the Screen Credits Manual of the Writers Guild:

“Written by” credit generally will not be shared by more than two writers. In unusual cases, and solely as the result of arbitration, the names of three writers or the names of writers constituting three writing teams may be used.

That means there weren’t enough credit slots available. Purvis and Wade count as one writing entity because they’re a writing team. Two more slots were available. What’s more, the guild says a credit arbitration is automatic when “three writers are proposed for ‘Written by’ or ‘Screenplay by’ credit.”

Back in February, The Playlist reported that Burns had been hired to rewrite the script. “It’s an overhaul and I won’t be surprised if Burns is ultimately given first screenplay credit,” Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist wrote. That story was published before it was known that Waller-Bridge was also working on the project.

It remains to be seen whether the writing credit in today’s press release is the final version.

Meanwhile, the press release also said Christoph Waltz also is in No Time to Die’s cast. He played Blofeld in SPECTRE. Presumably, he’s reprising the role given the new film is tethered to SPECTRE. The casting announcement confirmed an April 25 tweet by Rodrigo Perez that Waltz was coming back.

Scott Z. Burns says Bond is other side of coin from Bourne

Scott Z. Burns

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, in a new interview with The Express, says writing for James Bond is the other side of coin of writing for Jason Bourne.

“It’s fun for me because a few years ago I got to write a Jason Bourne movie and they’re definitely opposite sides of the same coin,” the writer told The Express.

“So I’m thrilled to have had a chance to contribute to the other side of the coin,” he said.

Burns was a screenwriter on 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. Since then, Burns has moved into directing but is also a well-known “script doctor.”

The writer said No Time to Die’s script “was in a completely reasonable shape” when he joined the project early this year.

The Playlist reported in February that Burns was working on the No Time to Die script. The hiring was confirmed in late April during a “reveal” event in Jamaica that also disclosed various casting movies. Burns was hired to work for four weeks, The Playlist said in its story.

In the Express interview, Burns also talked up star Daniel Craig. “I think Daniel has been an incredible custodian of that character and I think for the people who like the direction he has taken it, they are going to really love what happens next.”