Michael G. Wilson turns 80

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, during publicity for 2015’s SPECTRE

Michael G. Wilson, a producer and writer who worked longer on James Bond films than anyone else, celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Wilson, who has been involved with Bond for 50 years on a full-time basis, is the stepson of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the half-brother of 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took command of Eon in 1994 as GoldenEye was in pre-production and Cubby Broccoli suffered from ill health. The Wilson-Barbara Broccoli combination has produced every Bond film starting with GoldenEye.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli died in 1996, ending 35 years with the franchise.

Wilson’s mother, Dana, married Cubby Broccoli in 1959. She had earlier been married to actor Lewis Wilson, who had played Batman in a 1943 serial. The actor was the father of Michael Wilson.

Michael Wilson’s first involvement in the 007 series was as an extra on 1964’s Goldfinger, but that was a one-off. Starting in 1972, he joined Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

Michael G. Wilson’s first 007 on-screen credit in The Spy Who Loved Me

In those early years, Wilson, a lawyer who also had training in engineering, was involved in the separation between Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the latter facing financial troubles. Eventually, United Artists bought out Saltzman’s interest in the 007 franchise.

Wilson’s first on-screen credit was as “special assistant to producer” on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Wilson got a small title card, sharing the screen with other crew members. But that belied how Wilson’s influence on the series was growing following Saltzman’s departure.

A Poster Changes

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me, with a credit for “Mike Wilson.”

An early poster for Spy had the credit “Assistant to the Producer Mike Wilson.” It didn’t mention other notables such as production designer Ken Adam or associate producer William P. Cartlidge. Later versions didn’t include Wilson’s credits but Adam and Cartlidge still didn’t make the final poster.

For 1979’s Moonraker, Wilson was elevated to executive producer, a title which can be a little confusing. On television series, an executive producer is supposed to be the top producer or producers. For movies, it’s a secondary title to producer. This time, Wilson was included on the posters as were Adam and Cartlidge.

With 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Wilson doubled as a screenwriter, working in conjunction with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum. Wilson received a screenwriting credit on every 007 film made by Eon in the 1980s. Starting with 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was joint producer along with Cubby Broccoli.

While adding to his production resume, Wilson also began making cameo appearances in the Bond movies themselves. A 2015 story in the Daily Mail provided images of a few examples. The cameos varied from a quick glance (The World Is Not Enough) to getting several lines of dialogue (Tomorrow Never Dies, as a member of the board of directors working with the villain).

‘Particularly Hard’

After Cubby Broccoli’s death, Wilson in interviews began complaining about the work load of making Bond films. “It just seems that this one’s been particularly hard,” Wilson said in an interview with Richard Ashton on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Service website concerning The World Is Not Enough that’s archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

In an earlier Ashton interview, after production of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Wilson described the pressure he felt.

“There are a myriad of things every day,” Wilson told Ashton. “From the producer’s point of view they want to know the schedule, does the set need to be this big? Are we gonna shoot all this stuff in the action sequence? How much of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor? You’re putting the director under pressure to make decisions all the time – and he has a point of view he wants to put across.”

‘Desperately Afraid’

Dana Broccoli was an uncredited adviser on the Bond films during Cubby Broccoli’s reign. She became “the custodian of the James Bond franchise” after his death in 1996, according to a 2004 obituary of Dana Broccoli in The Telegraph.

With her passing, Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own. One of their first decisions was to move on from Pierce Brosnan, the last 007 actor selected by Albert R. Broccoli, and go in a new direction with Daniel Craig.

In an October 2005 story in The New York Times, Wilson described the process.

“I was desperately afraid, and Barbara was desperately afraid, we would go downhill,” said Michael G. Wilson, the producer of the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” with Ms. Broccoli. He even told that to Pierce Brosnan, the suave James Bond who had a successful run of four films, he said.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also began pursuing other interests, including plays as well as movies such as the drama The Silent Storm, where they were among 12 executive producers.

Wilson as P.T. Barnum

Wilson, to a degree, also was the Bond franchise’s equivalent of P.T. Barnum. In separate interviews and public appearances he said he hoped Daniel Craig would do more 007 films than Roger Moore even as the time between Bond films lengthened while later saying Bond actors shouldn’t be kept on too long.

Legal fights between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired United Artists in 1981) caused a six-year hiatus in Bond films between 1989 and 1995. When production resumed with GoldenEye, Wilson no longer was a credited screenwriter.

Cubby Broccoli had benefited from a long relationship with Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who ended up contributing to 13 of the first 16 Bond movies. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli seemed to search for their own Maibaum.

At first, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein seemed to fit the bill. He received a writing credit on three movies, starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World Is Not Enough.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011 Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011.

Later, the producing duo seemed to settle on scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who received credits on six consecutive 007 epics. They ran began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and ran through 2015’s SPECTRE. They were hired in 2017 to work on a 007th film, No Time to Die, released in 2021. Director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among the other writers on the script.

Still, it wasn’t the same. After 2012’s Skyfall, Purvis and Wade weren’t supposed to return, with writer John Logan (who’d done Skyfall’s later drafts) set to script two movies in a row.

It didn’t work out that way. With SPECTRE, the followup to Skyfall, Logan did the earlier drafts but Purvis and Wade were summoned back. Eventually, Logan, Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth would get a credit.

Changing Role?

Cubby Broccoli seemed to live to make James Bond movies. Wilson  not as much, as he pursued other interests, including photography. By the 2010s, it appeared to outsiders that Barbara Broccoli had become the primary force at Eon.

In December, 2014, at the announcement of the title for SPECTRE, Wilson was absent. Director Sam Mendes acted as master of ceremonies with Barbara Broccoli at his side. Wilson showed up in later months for SPECTRE-related publicity events.

Nevertheless, Wilson devoted the majority of his life to the film series.

Making movies is never easy. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment is helping — in a major way — to keeping the 007 series in production. He was not a founding father of the Bond film series. But he was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures for the film Bond beginning in the 1970s.

“When you go around the world you see how many people are so anxious, in every country, ‘Oh, when’s the next Bond film coming out?'” Wilson told Ashton after production of Tomorrow Never Dies. “You realize that there’s a huge audience and I guess you don’t want to come out with a film that’s going to somehow disappoint them.”

1999: TV Guide publishes a Bond special

TV Guide cover to the Nov. 13-19, 1999 issue

In 1999, TV Guide decided to go big on a special James Bond issue.

The Nov. 13-19 edition, with a Pierce Brosnan cover, included a new Bond short story, an interview with Bond actresses and an essay by a conservative icon.

Live at Five by Raymond Benson: This was a five-page short story by the American James Bond continuation author. Bond recalls an assignment in Chicago.

This was part of a big year for Benson’s tenure as a Bond author. 1999 also saw publication of an original Bond continuation novel by Benson, High Time to Kill, and the novelization of the 007 film The World Is Not Enough.

Buckley on Bond: William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008), a conservative commentator and sometimes spy author, mused about Bond. “James Bond does it all with that remarkable lightheartedness that attaches to the Just Man,” Buckley wrote. “The Bond films are there to be viewed, popcorn in hand. You’re not to worry about the girl’s emotional problems.”

I wonder what Barbara Broccoli would say if she had a conversation with Buckley.

Bond actresses: The issue has a Q&A with Jane Seymour, Luciana Paluzzi, Maud Adams, Lana Wood, Tanya Roberts, Lynn-Holly Johnson and Lois Chiles.

Aston Martin gets its 1st F-1 podium in a Bond setting

Aston Martin achieved its first podium finish today in Formula One. Appropriately, it took place in a James Bond film setting, although not one of the usual suspects.

Sebastian Vettel, driver for Aston Martin’s F-1 team, finished second in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, held on the streets of Baku. The race was stopped with a few laps to go and a restart took place.

For the uninitiated, the top three finishers appear on the podium where they proceed to spray champagne on each other. The winner was Sergio Perez of the Red Bull team.

F-1’s most famous street race is the Monaco Grand Prix, an event held since 1929.

Still, Aston Martin is a brand associated with Bond and Azerbaijan was a setting for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. (Even if the main Bond car was a BMW in that film.)

Here’s a tweet Aston Martin posted about today’s race.

Michael Apted, TWINE director, dies

Michael Apted

Michael Apted, the director of The World Is Not Enough, has died at 79, Variety reported.

Apted mostly was known for helming dramatic films such as Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist. He also worked on the “Up” series of documentaries that followed the lives of 14 people from the time they were 7 years old. Each installment took place in 7-year intervals.

When Apted was hired for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough it was a sign that Bond film series was in for changes.

Apted didn’t have experience with making action films. Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, wanted a director more attuned to making dramatic movies.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) would be fooled and betrayed by Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) in The World Is Not Enough.

Apted handled the dramatic end while second unit director Vic Armstrong oversaw the action sequences. Dana Stevens, then Apted’s wife, did an uncredited rewrite of the script to improve the depiction of women characters. The final screenplay credit went to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein.

“I didn’t understand why they picked me to do (The World Is Not Enough),” Apted told The Hollywood Reporter in an October 2018 interview.

“It turned out, they were trying to get more women to come and see it,” Apted said. “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.”

The World Is Not Enough would be Apted’s only Bond film.

He continued the Up series with 2019’s 63 Up. Apted’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 79 directing credits going back to 1967.

The official Twitter feed of Eon Productions posted a tribute to Apted.

UPDATE: A number of obits for Apted are online, including the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and the CBC.

Also, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out this tweet.

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

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About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

TWINE’s 20th: A transition for Bond

Cover to the original soundtrack release of The World Is Not Enough

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

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.

Apted also was charged with increasing the female audience for a Bond film.

“I didn’t understand why they picked me to do (The World Is Not Enough),” Apted told The Hollywood Reporter in an October 2018 interview.

“It turned out, they were trying to get more women to come and see it,” Apted said. “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.”

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 20 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.

Q’s Good-Bye

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.

Bond 25 questions: The new writer edition

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

One of the later questions deal with a possible Bond 25 story line, so consider that a spoiler.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a writer and performer, has come aboard Bond 25 as the newest screenwriter. The story was broken by the Mail on Sunday while The Observer had its own, later story with additional details.

Not surprisingly, the blog has some questions.

What is Waller-Bridge’s background?

She was born in 1985 and acts, writes and directs. One of her prominent credits is the BBC comedy Fleabag.

Why is she being brought on Bond 25?

According to The Guardian’s story, actor Daniel Craig requested her services. An excerpt:

Sources close to the film in the US said that while in the country she discussed with Craig how to improve the script of Bond 25, which the 007 actor felt needed some “polishing”, by introducing more humour and the offbeat style of writing she is best known for.

What’s the significance of this move?

Eon Production recently hired “script doctor” Scott Z. Burns for a four-week stint going over the script. If The Guardian is to be believed, the powers that be felt yet more work was needed.

The Mail on Sunday hyped Waller-Bridge’s hiring as “a comprehensive makeover for the MeToo era.” The Guardian’s story makes it sound like more of a tweaking.

Any plot hints? (here’s the spoiler for the spoiler adverse)

The Mail on Sunday story said one plot “being considered” has a retired Bond while a woman agent now has the 007 code number.

If accurate, that’s the flip side of an idea in Anthony Horowitz’s Forever and a Day 007 continuation novel. It’s set in 1950. Bond gets promoted to the 00 section and opts to take the 007 number, which had been assigned to a murdered agent.

Is it a big deal to hire a woman screenwriter for a Bond film?

It shouldn’t but it probably will be because there have been so few.

Johanna Harwood (b. 1930) worked on the first two films in the Eon series. She shared the Dr. No screenplay credit with Richard Maibaum and Berkely Mather. On From Russia With Love, she received an “adapted by” credit while Maibaum got the screenplay credit.

Dana Stevens took over from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had done the initial drafts of The World Is Not Enough. Bruce Feirstein subsequently took over from her. Purvis, Wade and Feirstein shared in the screenplay credit while Stevens went uncredited.

Expanded TWINE soundtrack coming Nov. 27

Cover to the original soundtrack release of The World Is Not Enough

An expanded two-disc soundtrack to 1999’s The World Is Not Enough will be available Nov. 27, La-La Land Records announced on Twitter and Facebook.

La-La Land’s Facebook post has a track list. The first disc has almost 74 minutes of material, while the second dis has more than 67 minutes.

The World Is Not Enough was the second of five 007 scores composed by David Arnold. La-La Land previously released an expanded soundtrack for 2002’s Die Another Day, also featuring an Arnold score.

The company also has released limited-edition soundtracks for the Mission: Impossible television series, Jonny Quest and The Wild Wild West.

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.”