Co-author discusses Nobody Does It Better

Cover to Nobody Does It Better

Mark A. Altman is an executive producer of television series such as Pandora. He also writes books with Edward Gross. The two have come out with Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond.

The book runs more than 700 pages. It includes the viewpoints about 150 people, including those directly involved with the film series (producers, directors, writers, actors) as well as observers and followers of the film series.

The blog interviewed Altman by email.

QUESTION: What made you want to tackle a book about James Bond?

ALTMAN: After writing bestselling books on Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, I was pretty much done, but my co-writer wanted to keep going. For me, they’re basically passion projects so I told him I was done and then I took a dramatic pause and said: “unless we could do a book on James Bond.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, our agent sold it immediately and I found myself committed to it in short order. But I don’t regret it because I had more fun writing this than any book we did previously and it’s my favorite of all the oral histories we’ve written on a subject that is very near and dear to me.

Q: What does your bring to the table that other books haven’t covered?

ALTMAN: As Han Solo says, that’s the real trick isn’t it? I’ve been reading books about 007 since I was a kid and am a big fan of much of the scholarship about the Bond franchise. So the real question was what we could bring to the table that was different from previous books on the subject,. I had no interest in just covering the same ground given that books like Steve Rubin’s The James Bond FIlms and Raymond Benson’s Bedside Companion were dog-eared parts of my childhood and later I devoured John Cork’s Encyclopedia and, more recently, the wonderful Some Kind Of Hero.

Unlike with Star Trek where there were a lot of books, but most of them sucked, this was a subject where the bar was very, very high.  In terms of making it different, we seized on the format combining both making of behind-the-scenes and critical analysis which is what we all do every time we watch a Bond film and that made it different. It was also important to talk to as many people as possible, especially those who haven’t talked about working on a 007 film before or talk to them in a level of depth that hadn’t occurred before.

Q: How did you split up the work with your co-author Edward Cross?

ALTMAN: We basically split the book and then flip it. That’s essentially what we did here with Ed writing from The Road To Bond through On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and then I took over and wrote from Casino Roayle 1967 to License To Kill and then he took over the rest and then we flipped it and added and revised each other’s work.

Q: How long did the book take to complete? You’re a showrunner and that can be time-consuming by itself.

ALTMAN: The biggest problem for me is time since I have a day job running a TV show. It’s been a problem in the past on other books as well where I start during hiatus and then get busy on a TV series and have limited time to do interviews and then write and promote. This was no different, but we spent about two years on it off and on and I think it shows in the quality of the book.

On the other hand, my day job often gives me access I wouldn’t get strictly as a journalist. I also was able to revisit some interviews I did back when I was a journalist like Tom Mankiewicz which I never got to use and finally was able to share in this book and he was a national treasure so that was a real incentive for me to do this book as well.

Q: What was the biggest surprise (an anecdote, piece of information or something else) you encountered while working on the book?

ALTMAN: There’s so much to unpack here. One of the most interesting stories was Jeff Kleeman, the former president of United Artists, explaining what really happened with Timothy Dalton leaving the franchise for Pierce. Also, there are some great stories from Woody Allen about Casino Royale 1967 and I felt that Paul Haggis who did his first in-depth interview on Casino Royale and Quantum really had some terrific insight into how Quantum went off-the-rails.

I also loved so much of the Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour stories about Live And Let Die that go a little deeper than what we’ve heard before about that film and, of course, a real deep dive examining the Pierce era which it hasn’t really gotten before. There are also some great stories from John Landis about The Spy Who Loved Me which I thought were fantastic.

Q: What’s your analysis of where the series stands now? What impact will the delay in the release have?

ALTMAN: I was really disappointed when No Time To Die was pushed to Thanksgiving, but obviously in retrospect it was a very smart and necessary decision. I’m really hoping that it is a fitting capper to the Craig era and takes its cues from Casino Royale not to mention On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and doesn’t double down on the family drama of Spectre.

But I always go into every 007 movie hoping it’ll be the best one ever and sometimes I more disappointed than others. I actually think the release date might help the film as it could play all through the holidays. It’s not unlike when Force Awakens got bumped from summer and ended up being a huge hit for Christmas and changed the whole release pattern for Star Wars films with Solo proving a notable outlier.

Q: Is there something you’d like to add?

ALTMAN: I’m really proud of this book. I think anyone who is a fan of the James Bond films and the spy mania films they spawned in the ’60s is going to enjoy this book. No matter how much you think you know about 007, you’re likely to find some new and fascinating information and also some wonderful arguments that will potentially engage and enrage you as well. But that’s the fun of being a Bond fan.

Anyone who was alive in 1983 still is fighting the same battle of Octopussy vs. Never Say Never Again and that’s what this book is in a nutshell. Not to mention there are some GREAT Never Say Never Again stories in here. Barbara Carrera and Dick Clement were two of my favorite interviews despite the fact that I really don’t like that movie very much :))

The book is available in hardcover, digital and audiobook and a great way to spend your time in social isolation if nothing else.

To view the Amazon listing for Nobody Does It Better, CLICK HERE. You can follow Mark A. Altman at Twitter and Instagram @markaaltman. To read a review of the book from The Associated Press, CLICK HERE.

Broccoli & Wilson talk up diversity in Bond films

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions have talked up how the James Bond film series has embraced diversity over its almost 58-year history in an interview with the Blackfilm website.

We’ve always tried to have diversity in the films,” Wilson said in the interview.

“We’ve always had international casts, and they’ve all been different ethnicities,” Wilso added. “So it’s nothing new. However, people are more sensitive to what they want to see, and when they see it — they point it out. I think we have a great diverse cast from all over the world. It’s in keeping with the times, but I think we’ve always been a little ahead of the times.”

Barbara Broccoli added the following: “Look at Live and Let Die, which was 1973. It was one of the first interracial relationships, Bond with Gloria Hendry. I mean, it’s crazy.”

Fact check: In Dr. No, Sean Connery’s Bond told Quarrel to “fetch my shoes.” This occurred seven years after the Montgomery bus boycott (a major event in the U.S. civil rights movement) and hasn’t aged well since.

What’s more, Live And Let Die screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz got shot down when he proposed that Solitaire (Jane Seymour in the movie) be played by an African American actress. So Bond films weren’t that ahead of the times. (Soliaire was written as a white woman in Ian Fleming’s novel.)

Broccoli also talked about Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas:

“These women have trained like you can’t imagine. They are absolutely in tip-top, peak condition, and they could take anyone on. It is not just strength; it’s flexibility. Your muscles have to be in good condition, you have to be able to stop and start. So it’s a constant training thing. And then they have weapons training. They have to look like they know how to shoot a weapon, and you want them to be safe, and you want them to look good. It’s been a long, intensive training program for both of them.”

Broccoli also talked up how No Time to Die ties up the Daniel Craig era for Bond films.

“I think the story is really an accumulation of the past four films and this one. So the five-film cycle, and I think the arc of his character — particularly the emotional arc of his character, is completed. We feel it’s a very satisfying conclusion to his movies; hopefully, the audiences will too.”

Maibaum’s ‘circular’ script structure

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

A few James Bond films utilize a structure that, for the purposes of this post, I am crediting to veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum (1909-1991).

That’s the “circular” structure — the audience sees something at or near the start of the movie that is repeated (with key variations) at the climax.

With the following examples, it’s difficult to give Maibaum full credit. Other screenwriters worked on the Bond films involved. But Maibaum is the only constant. So, without further ado:

From Russia With Love (1963): The film opens with James Bond apparently being stalked — and then killed — by Red Grant (Robert Shaw). However, Grant has only killed a double as part of a training exercise.

Grant kills Bond’s double using a garrotte hidden inside a watch. Later, Grant tries to kill the real Bond (Sean Connery) with the garrotte during a fight sequence on the Orient Express. Naturally, Bond turns the tables on Grant.

Caveat: Both Johanna Harwood (who got an “adapted by” credit) and Len Deighton (uncredited) also worked on the script.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): The film opens with a gangster (Marc Lawrence) hired to take out Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) on his home grounds, including a “fun house.”

Scaramanga has to scramble before he finally dispatches the gangster. Much later, James Bond (Roger Moore) is lured into the “fun house.” Bond loses his own Walther PPK. But he kills Scaramanga taking a PPK from a life-sized 007 figure.

Caveat:  Tom Mankiewicz was the original screenwriter, then Maibaum was brought in. Mankiewicz did the final rewrites.

Octopussy (1983): After the main titles, a 00-agent disguised as a clown flees from a circus. He’s fatally wounded by twin assassins who are also circus performers.

Toward the climax of the film, Bond (Roger Moore) is disguised as a clown — the same getup as his doomed predecessor — and manages to deactivate an atomic bomb just in the nick of the time.

Caveat: Octopussy began as a script with an effort by George Macdonald Fraser, which was later rewritten by Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.

Moonraker’s 40th: When outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

Moonraker poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

June marks the 40th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer.

Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million. Today, that’s a pittance. Back then, it was a huge investment.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967’s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit.

This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

Rave Reviews

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby (1924-2000) of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

The final film bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1966 Dino De Laurentiis-produced Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. Both films feature a villain who feels Earth is getting over populated and is willing to go to extreme lengths to address that problem.

The 1966 film was also filmed in Brazil and arguably makes better use of the locations. However, during Moonraker’s release, Kiss the Girls was mostly forgotten and there wasn’t the kind of home video for viewers to compare the two movies.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

A Different Era

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

Moonraker also is a symbol of a different 007 era.

Albert R. Broccoli only cared about entertainment. In the 21st century, Eon Productions has chased after Oscars and prestige, seeking out writers such as Peter Morgan and directors such as Danny Boyle (both of whom ended up dropping out of 007 film projects). You can’t image the current principals of Eon even attempting a Moonraker.

Writer rosters for Eon 007 films

SPECTRE’s crowded writer title card.

This week, the Geeks Worldwide website said Paul Haggis had turned in a Bond 25 draft, rewriting work by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

If so, Haggins joins a growing roster of Bond 25 scribes, including the team of Purvis and Wade as well as John Hodge.

As it turns out, that’s probably more routine than not. Here’s an incomplete list of screenwriters who took a whirl at Eon’s 007 film series.

Dr. No: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather (credited), Wolf Mankowitz (uncredited)

From Russia With Love: Richard Maibaum (credited for screenplay), Johanna Harwood (credited for adaptation), Len Deighton (uncredited).

Goldfinger: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn (credited). In addition, Wolf Mankowitz sold an idea to Harry Saltzman — Goldfinger disposing of a gangster (initially Mr. Springer, but Mr. Solo in the final film) in a car crusher. Mankowitz’s fee was 500 British pounds in cash, according to the book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

Thunderball: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins (credited).

You Only Live Twice: Roald Dahl (credited for screenplay), Harold Jack Bloom (credited for additional story material).

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Richard Maibaum (credited for screenplay), Simon Raven (credited for additional dialogue).

Diamonds Are Forever: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

Live And Let Die: Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

The Man With the Golden Gun: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (credited).

The Spy Who Loved Me: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum (credited). Tom Mankiewicz, Cary Bates, Sterling Silliphant, Ronald Hardy, Anthony Burgess, Derek Marlowe, John Landis, Anthony Barwick (uncredited).

Producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, When the Snow Melts, said he and his wife Dana really came up with the shooting script.

“One day Dana and I were at our home in California and we had all these scripts, close to a dozen of them, spread out all over the room,” according to the autobiography, written with Donald Zec. “We sat and talked for hours with Dana scribbling ideas down on paper. We rewrote the whole story…Lewis (Gilbert, the director) said it was the first time a producer had come to him with a storyline that worked.”

Moonraker: Christopher Wood (credited), Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited), Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais (writing team, uncredited).

For Your Eyes Only: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

Octopussy: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

A View to a Kill: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited)

The Living Daylights: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson (credited).

Licence to Kill: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum (credited).

GoldenEye: Jeffrey Caine (credited for screenplay), Bruce Feirstein (credited for screenplay), Michael France (credited for story), Kevin Wade (uncredited).

With Tomorrow Never Dies, only Bruce Feirstein received a writing credit despite several writers working on the film.

Tomorrow Never Dies: Bruce Feirstein (credited), Donald E. Westlake, Nicholas Meyer, Daniel Petrie Jr., David Campbell Wilson (uncredited).

The World Is Not Enough: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (credited for screenplay and story), Bruce Feirstein (credited for screenplay), Dana Stevens (uncredited).

Die Another Day: Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (credited).

Casino Royale: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis (credited)

Quantum of Solace: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (credited), Joshua Zetumer (uncredited).

Skyfall: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (credited). Jez Butterworth (uncredited).

SPECTRE: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (credited for story and screenplay), Jez Butterworth (credited for screenplay).

Bond 25 questions: The “Mr. Obvious” edition

Omega advertising image released hours before Eon Productions announced Danny Boyle was exiting as Bond 25 director.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, who is known for getting 007 film scoops correct, finally weighed in and said that director Danny Boyle departed Bond 25 because Eon Productions wanted to bring in a new writer to replace his man, John Hodge.

As a result, the blog has a series of “Mr. Obvious” questions.

Did Boyle and Hodge do their due diligence before signing on for Bond 25? The 007 film franchise has a history of bringing in multiple writers to massage scripts.

In the early days, Richard Maibaum replaced Johanna Harwood and Len Deighton on From Russia With Love. Paul Dehn replaced Maibaum on Goldfinger. Tom Mankiewicz replaced Maibaum on Diamonds Are Forever.

More recently? Well, this decade, John Logan replaced Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on Skyfall. Purvis and Wade were summoned to replace Logan on SPECTRE. On both films, Jez Butterworth did work (but only getting a credit on SPECTRE).

Assuming Bamigboye is correct, neither Boyle nor Hodge should have been surprised when Eon wanted a new scribe. Hell’s bells, Maibaum dealt with that sort of thing over 13 separate 007 films.

Did Eon Productions do its due diligence before bringing on Boyle and Hodge? In 2017, Eon hired Purvis and Wade do the script for Bond 25. But that work got cast aside when the possibility arose of getting Boyle as director. But Boyle wanted his man, Hodge, to write it.

Boyle has a reputation for doing unique films and Hodge is one of his main collaborators. So you’ve got to figure they have a certain way of working.

Yes, Boyle said he was a James Bond fan. Everybody (especially if they’re British) says they’re a James Bond fan when they hire on to work for Eon. But did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson really think through whether Boyle could adapt to working for Eon?

What role does Daniel Craig have in all this? Bamigboye’s story said Craig was a key figure in wanting a new writer to take over from Hodge. But is that really a big deal?

Before the cameras rolled on Goldfinger, Sean Connery objected to some of Paul Dehn’s ideas (such as ending the moving with “curtains” being drawn). The 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger goes into this in detail.

Tom Mankiewicz, in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever, described a meeting he had with Connery. The star weighed on various issues, according to the screenwriter. So it’s not unprecedented for stars of Bond films to let their opinions be known. Granted, Craig had a co-producer title on SPECTRE, something Connery never got when he toiled for Eon.

Live And Let Die’s 45th: The post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Adapted from a June 2013 post with appropriate updates.

For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.

The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted 45 years ago this month, would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.

Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began. They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.

Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint television series. Older than Connery, Moore would eventually employ a lighter touch.

Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.

Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for the Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both. The song eventually received an Oscar nomination.

Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect. Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)

For Clifton James, the role was just one of many over a long career. But he made a huge impression. When the actor died in April 2017 at the age of 96, the part of J.W. Pepper was mentioned prominently in obituaries, such as those appearing in The New York TimesThe Guardian, The Associated Press and Variety.

Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could possibly continue without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.

Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.

Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.

“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.