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.

It’s STFU Day for No Time to Die

The No Time to Die publicity machine apparently decided Nov. 3 was a great day to lift media embargoes for No Time to Die stories. Given how nobody can see the movie for the foreseeable future, it’s more like STFU Day.

Yes, yes, this was probably decided back when the 25th James Bond film was scheduled to come out this month. Still, given how nobody is going to see the movie until April 2021 (if then), there’s an odd feel to all this.

Example: GQ comes out with a long story about Rami Malek, with lots of photos of him wearing expensive clothes. Meanwhile, the 39-year-old actor assures us we’ll be “shocked” when the movie comes out.

Whenever that is. OK, champ. Get back to us when we can actually check it out.

Example II: NTTD director-screenwriter Cary Fukunaga boasts to The Playlist that the Safin villain played by Malek is “bigger” than Blofeld.

Earth to Cary: That’s not much of a boast. Better than Donald Pleasance? Charles Gray? Telly Savalas? Christoph Waltz? Blofeld was best on-screen in the Eon Productions series with the body of Anthony Dawson and voice of Eric Pohlman.

Example III: Harper’s Bazaar came out with a new issue with Lashana Lynch on the cover. It also has a (nominal) No Time to Die spoiler. So if you really want to see it, CLICK HERE. Later on Tuesday, the entire Harper’s story goes online with the spoiler displayed prominently, including the headline.

Yes, No Time to Die has had its share of bad luck. But this week rings hollow. “You wait and see! It’ll be really good!” Whatever. Whenever.

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.

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.

About that fuss over Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

The fuss about writer-actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge working on No Time to Die’s script isn’t going away. In part that’s because it’s getting hyped by various parties.

Case in point: The Sunday Times this week published an interview with star Daniel Craig. The actor said Waller-Brige is a great writer and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be on the project.

“Look, we’re having a conversation about Phoebe’s gender here, which is f****** ridiculous,” Craig told the newspaper.

The online entertainment site IndieWire decided to add some drama to the proceedings.

The IndieWire story ran with the headline, “Daniel Craig Shuts Down Reporter for Asking if Phoebe Waller-Bridge was a Bond Diversity Hire.”

A headline on Entertainment Tonight’s website boosted the hype a bit more. “Daniel Craig Claps Back At Reporter’s ‘F***ing Ridiculous’ Question About Whether Phoebe Waller-Bridge Was A Diversity Hire.”

That was an interesting take, especially given that the scribe for The Sunday Times didn’t feel shut down after Craig’s comments about Waller-Bridge.

It was then that I realised the more Craig shouts at you, the better things are going. He enjoys this sort of debate and, by virtue of the energetic rate he punches out words, nothing comes across as rude as it seems on the page. He is, instead, brusque and open. Just a really big fan of ironing things out and, like a friend in a pub during a fourth pint argument, any bad blood will be forgotten by the journey home.

Hence, we got a little drama where it perhaps really didn’t exist.

In a perfect world, Waller-Bridge’s gender would have nothing to do with her work on No Time to Die. But that’s not going to happen for a variety of reasons.

First, not that many women writers have worked on Bond films until now and only Johanna Harwood received a credit (Dr. No and From Russia With Love).

Second, Waller-Bridge is also a performer as well a scribe and has more visibility than most writers, female or male.

Finally, Waller-Bridge’s participation in No Time to Die may become a talking point for the movie.

The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye had a September story quoting an unidentified executive (described as being close to the production) as saying Waller-Bridge’s “great” contribution to the script was “the savior of Bond, really.”

If Bamigboye’s source really is “close to the production,” then expect to hear more of this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, the notion of Waller-Bridge as No Time to Die’s savior is amusing given how another entertainment website, The Playlist, earlier this year essentially hyped another No Time to Die screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, as saving the movie.

Who knew Bond needed so much saving?

For her part, Waller-Bridge hasn’t said much about No Time to Die. She said in a Deadline: Hollywood interview that Bond doesn’t have to change but the movies need to treat women better

In any case, expect more fuss related to Waller-Bridge between now and April when No Time to Die comes out.

Scott Z. Burns talks (a little) about No Time to Die

Scott Z. Burns

Scott Z. Burns, one of No Time to Die’s screenwriters, discussed the 25th James Bond film as part of a longer feature story in Variety.

“It was being able to throw in with a group of really talented people on a franchise that had a huge impact on me,” Burns told Variety.

“I mean, it’s a dream come true to have grown up in Minnesota watching James Bond movies, and then you look at your laptop and you’re writing the name Bond and then writing dialogue underneath it. If anybody would have told me that was ever going to happen, I would have never believed them.”

The writer received Variety’s 2019 Creative Impact in Screenwriting Award. The outlet’s article was a look at Burns’ screenwriting career.

Burns’ credits include scripts for The Bourne Ultimatum and Contagion. He also has a reputation as a top “script doctor” in Hollywood.

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.

Burns coming aboard initially created a buzz. It later got overshadowed when it came out that actress-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge was also working on the movie. The original No Die to Die writers were Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

Familiar face to return for Bond 25, Baz says

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

If you haven’t guessed, this is a spoiler. I even wrote the headline to not give it away. So scram if you don’t like spoilers.

SPACE….OK….

Christoph Waltz will again play Blofeld in Bond 25, the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye said on Twitter.

Waltz played Blofeld in 2015’s SPECTRE.

Exclusive:Hello Mr Waltz… we’ve been expecting you.#ChristophWaltz is back as #Blofeld in ⁦@007 #Bond25 , shooting scenes at Pinewood studios,” Bamigboye wrote . “When a visitor spotted him , Waltz insisted , ‘You haven’t seen me.'”

Bamigboye had a number of scoops proven correct on Skyfall and SPECTRE. He has been relatively quiet on Bond 25.

Bamigboye also is not the first scribe to say Waltz was returning as Blofeld. Rodrigo Perez, editor of The Playlist, said as such in an April 25 tweet.

Perez was the first to report that Scott Z. Burns had been employed as a Bond 25 screenwriter. That was confirmed in the late April “reveal” event Eon Productions had in late April.

Waltz said in 2017 he wouldn’t be back as Blofeld. Then again, he originally said he wasn’t playing Blofeld in SPECTRE.

As I write this, Bamigboye only has his tweet out. The post will be updated if and when the Mail posts a story.

Here’s Bamigboye’s tweet:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

UPDATE (8:20 p.m. New York time): Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist does a victory lap.

There was more and something I revealed on The Words Are Not Enough podcast ‏—a 007 podcast run by Playlister Griffin Schiller and pal Brody Serravalli—back in April: Christoph Waltz would be returning to the series and reprising his role as Blofeld. Tonight that’s been confirmed by trusted U.K. writer Baz Bamigboye.

Personally, I find it odd that Perez wrote about Waltz on Twitter and mentioned it on a podcast but never got around to doing a story. “Twitter scoop I shoulda posted as a story long ago, but life got in the way and I’m way too exhausted now,” he wrote in that April 25 tweet linked above.

Anyway, since we’re in spoiler territory, Perez adds this in tonight’s story.

” I’ve heard that Blofeld returns in a kind of “Silence Of The Lambs”-like appearance; Clarice Starling (in this case Lea Seydoux), visiting him in prison and trying to mine him for information about (Rami) Malek’s sadistic character.”

“I’ve heard” isn’t the strongest attribution. Heard according to people associated with the production? You can still provide an idea of how strong your information is without identifying your sources. But all the story provides is “I’ve heard.”

UPDATE II (10:15 p.m.): Bamigboye’s story was posted by the Daily Mail earlier in the evening.  Here’s an excerpt:

Waltz’s involvement as Blofeld has been kept top secret . . . until now. When visitors to the set spotted him, the Austrian-born star put a finger to his lips and in hushed tones told them: ‘You haven’t seen me. I’m not here.’

An executive on the film told me: ‘There’s unfinished business between Bond and Blofeld. If I told you any more, I’d have to kill you.’ That may not even have been a joke.

As noted above, it hasn’t been top secret “until now.” And once again, we get a variation on the “I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you” cliche. Whatever.

The scribe did add one tidbit: “Extra post-production technicians and other experts have been drafted in to ensure that Bond 25 makes its scheduled April 3 release date next year.”

Bond 25 questions: Miscellaneous edition

Denis Villeneuve, one-time contender to direct Bond 25

We (apparently) are on the cusp of Bond 25 production getting underway. Before that happens, the blog has a couple of questions (for entertainment purposes only).

Did anybody think Dune would start production before Bond 25? 

You may recall that director Denis Villeneuve said in November 2017 he’d been asked to direct Bond 25 but took a pass because he wanted to direct a new film version of Dune.

Dune was seen as a difficult, ambitious project and one that might take a long time to get going — if it could get started at all.

However, it got underway last week. See stories from UPI and Screen Rant for details. The film’s cast includes the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin among others.

Dune has a Nov. 20, 2020 release date, or more than seven months after Bond 25’s April 8, 2020 release date.

Speaking of Bond 25, what’s the state of its script? 

Scott Z. Burns was brought in to rework Bond 25’s script, The Playlist reported last month. He was scheduled to work four weeks.

After roughly four weeks, Burns wrapped up work, the same outlet said last week.

Easy peasy, right?

Not so fast. The more recent Playlist story also talked about cast members such as Ralph Fiennes saying they haven’t seen any script pages.

The writer, Rodrigo Perez, said “the screenplay seems to be a work in progress, and isn’t complete yet enough for producers to circulate it to the cast, despite being just weeks away from filming.” (emphasis added)

“Seems” is a long way from “knowing.” Still, that passage didn’t go unnoticed among 007 fans.

I suppose it should be remembered that Eon Production has always been loosey goosey when it comes to Bond scripts. Two extreme cases:

–Richard Maibaum was still at work during filming of From Russia With Love in 1963. It was after the start of filming that he got the idea of showing Red Grant shadow Bond in Istanbul. That was a move that caused the story to come into focus, according to the documentary Inside From Russia With Love.

–Bruce Feirstein was reworking Tomorrow Never Dies script during filming. He wrote the first draft, others had a go at it and then Feirstein was brought back. Supposedly, Feirstein was writing scenes shortly before they would be filmed.

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.

About that killing James Bond off in Bond 25 thing

Danny Boyle, a sort of spectre over Bond 25.

Some time back, it seemed the memory of Danny Boyle, briefly the director of Bond 25, had dissipated. But, for some reason, that memory is hanging around like a spectre that won’t leave a haunted house.

The catalyst of this was a story in the Daily Star proclaiming that Boyle had gotten the boot because he wanted to kill off 007 in his version of Bond 25. The story got picked up and Bond fans were aghast about it.

The thing is, this wasn’t the first time — not by a long shot — that this notion had made the rounds. The Playlist’s Feb. 16 story about the hiring of Scott Z. Burns as a Bond “script doctor” also alluded to this idea. That piece said “there were rumors that Boyle wanted to kill Bond in the end…and this was a bone of contention. Having heard about the ending of the current, non-Burns version of the script (which I can’t reveal), I can say there’s likely some truth to that rumor. ”

Of course, the idea goes even further back. The Sun, in an August 2018 story, had it the other way around — that Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig wanted to kill Bond off but Boyle didn’t.

It makes your head hurt either way.

In 2017, Eon had spent months developing a story by long-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. But, as first reported by Deadline: Hollywood in February 2018, Boyle and his screenwriter John Hodge made a pitch that intrigued Eon.

Suddenly, the Purvis and Wade story seemed expendable.

Three months later in May 2018, Eon announced that Boyle was onboard and Hodge was writing the movie. Another three months later, Boyle and Hodge were gone.

Now, if Boyle wanted to kill Bond off, when did he present that idea? During the pitch? In a treatment by Hodge? When Hodge turned in his first draft? Still later? (“Oh by the way, we’ve got to kill Bond off.”)

If Broccoli and Craig wanted to kill Bond off, when did they present that notion to Boyle? When they were having their pitch meetings? After Hodge did his script or….well, you get the idea. Killing off James Bond would be a big deal. You would think it would have happened early in the discussions. If it was deal killer (which you’d think it would be) it’d be something to resolve right away. Oh well…..