MI6 Confidential looks at SPECTRE, Donald E. Westlake


The newest issue of MI6 Confidential takes a look at a key segment in the upcoming SPECTRE as well as a prominent American author’s try at writing a James Bond movie.

Among the articles is a feature about the movie’s 300-member second unit and the work it did on a Rome car chase involving the Aston Martin DB10 Bond drives. The sequence is one of the highlights of the 24th James Bond film.

Also a part of the issue is an article concerning “the little-known story” about author Donald E. Westlake’s 1995 treatment for a Bond film, according to an MI6 Confidential promo.

Westlake (1933-2008) was a prolific author of crime stories. But his 007 writing effort hasn’t received much attention until now.

In 1995, Westlake was interviewed by a columnist for The Indianapolis News while the author was at a crime writing festival in Muncie, Indiana. The column quoted Westlake as saying he was going to write the next James Bond movie — not the then-upcoming GoldenEye but the next film after that.

Producer Michael G. Wilson was asked during a Q&A sessions with fans at a November 1995 convention in New York about Westlake’s remarks. Wilson confirmed that Eon Productions had been in touch with Westlake, and said that the author might someday write a Bond movie. The next movie turned out to be Tomorrow Never Dies, which was started by Bruce Feirstein, rewritten (without credit) by others and finished by Feirstein.

For more information about the new issue, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros.

1998: the Purvis & Wade era begins

The World Is Not Enough poster

The World Is Not Enough poster

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, at six movies and counting, are No. 2 among credited 007 screenwriters, behind only Richard Maibaum at 13. Their tenure began with a first draft script for The World Is Not Enough, submitted June 15, 1998.

The title page says the draft is based on an idea by Maibaum. The copy this blog got from Bond collector Gary Firuta has The World Is Not Enough on the title page, though it’s referred to as Bond 19 on subsequent pages.

The script weighs in at 109 pages. The rule-of-thumb for scripts is they average out at one minute of running time per page. The final movie, released in November 1999, was 128 minutes. The first draft would eventually be rewritten separately by Dana Stevens and Bruce Feirstein. Feirstein would share the screenplay credit with Purvis and Wade.

Overall, the 1998 first draft is closer to the final product than either Michael France’s first draft for GoldenEye or Feirstein’s first draft for Tomorrow Never Dies. There are still significant differences, but the basic plot and many set pieces are present in the initial effort by Purvis and Wade.

The pre-credits sequence of the first draft is similar to the final movie with a couple of major differences. It opens in Havana, instead of Bilbao, Spain. Later, in London, Bond takes off after the woman assassin with a jet pack instead of the gadget-laden Q boat.

Bond uses the jet pack to get ahead of the woman assassin in her boat. She spots him “minus jet pack, standing at the front of a moored ship, feet apart, poised to start firing.” The two fire at each other. She’s hit and “crashes into the side of the ship.”

This sets up a bit of a cliffhanger as an explosion ensues “lighting up the evening sky, enveloping James Bond and burning us into our….TITLES.”

Of course, Bond survives (it’d be a short movie it he didn’t), but after the titles we see a funeral. It takes an exchange between M and Bill Tanner to establish it’s the funeral for businessman Robert King (thus establishing it’s not 007’s funeral). We don’t actually see Bond until the next scene.

In this draft, Q is around for a bit longer than in the final film, which would be actor Desmond Llewelwyn’s final appearance in the role. There’s no “R,” the Q deputy John Cleese would play. There’s also no sign of Robinson, the aide to M who debuted in Tomorrow Never Dies. As a result, Tanner gets more dialogue.

The woman doctor Bond gets to clear him for duty is named Greatrex instead of Molly Warmflash.

The character of Christmas Jones is present, but there’s a bit of a difference. Here, she’s  a “BEAUTIFUL FRENCH POLYNESIAN GIRL,” and “is a mid-twenties, shortish hair, hot right now.”  She also speaks with a French accent.

Her entrance is much like the final movie. When she gets out of protective suit she has “a khaki sports bra, similar shorts, heavy duty boots. Deep tan, incredible figure. Totally unselfconscious.” The part ended up going to American actress Denise Richards.

The biggest structural difference in this draft compared with the movie is that M stays put and doesn’t go out into the field. Thus, M is never kidnapped and put into peril. Later versions of the script added that element, which would be the start of the trend where Judi Dench’s M leaves the office a lot to deal with Bond away from MI6 headquarters. That became a way for the series to provide more screen time for the Oscar-winning actress.

Finally, the first draft — similar to Bruce Feirstein’s first draft for Tomorrow Never Dies — makes occasional references to earlier 007 films.

Besides the jet pack (a nod to Thunderball) in the pre-titles sequence, Bond initially travels to see Elektra King posing as David Somerset (an alias Bond used in From Russia With Love). Here, the David Somerset cover is supposed to be a public relations expert in crisis communications.

Anyway, for Purvis and Wade this was just the start. The duo have made five 007 encores, including SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film that comes out this fall. With SPECTRE, the duo revised drafts by John Logan.



The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

SPECTRE: newest twist on 007 product placement

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No spoilers.

James Bond movies have never been shy about product placement. SPECTRE may just be a twist on a long-standing tradition.

For decades, the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions has cut deals with companies pitching their wares. Goldfinger did deals with Ford Motor Co. and Gillette. With Thunderball, not only did Ford provide vehicles but then-CEO Henry Ford II appeared as an extra. Moonraker had deals with Marlboro, 7 Up and British Airways.

By the time Pierce Brosnan was 007 (1995-2002), writer Bruce Feirstein, in his FIRST DRAFT for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, didn’t even specify a car model for 007’s vehicle. It just said “(Insert name).”

What’s different about SPECTRE is it may amount to being product placement for a country — Mexico, to be specific — than a series of companies.

The Tax Analysts website, which is targeted at tax professionals, PUBLISHED A MARCH 3 ARTICLE detailing how SPECTRE’s script was altered to take advantage of as much as $20 million in Mexican incentives. (If you click on the link, there are spoilers.)

The incentives are intended to make Mexico look as good as possible in movies, according to the website. The country has reason to do so, according to AN ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST. Here’s an excerpt:

The Mexican government’s sensitivities to its violent reputation are no secret. When President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he tried to minimize the focus on the drug war while emphasizing economic and political reforms. But ongoing high-profile violence, including battles in Michoacan and the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, has undercut that message.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. For blockbuster movies, access to the vast Chinese market is a must. The 2013 movie Iron Man 3 was a co-production with China. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn turned the villains into North Koreans instead of Chinese.

With SPECTRE, according to Tax Analysts, it was more of a direct subsidy. SPECTRE’s budget may exceed $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made.

Meanwhile, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns half the Bond franchise, emerged from bankruptcy only a few years ago. It doesn’t even release its own movies, cutting deals with Sony Pictures (including the 007 films) or Warner Bros. (the now-completed Hobbit series). For MGM, $300 million is a huge bet, even for a 007 film and even though the most recent Bond movie (Skyfall) had a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion.

Put another way, $300 million is real money. Some Bond fans may get annoyed with product placement but they don’t have to sign the checks. As a result, it’s understandable why MGM would be willing to change SPECTRE’s story in return for millions of dollars.

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by Variety.com)


Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.


Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Bamigboye suggests Bellucci is in Bond 24

Baz Bamigboye of the U.K. Daily Mail put out a Tweet suggesting actress Monica Bellucci is in the cast of Bond 24.

Here’s the Tweet:

The possible casting of Bellucci was raised in a story on Dec. 2 on the DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD website. That story wasn’t definitive. Writer Nancy Tartaglione wrote, “I’ve also heard that Monica Bellucci may be in the mix” for the cast. That was the only mention of the actress in the story, which mostly centered on how the Bond 24 and cast is to be announced on Dec. 4.

Bamigboye has had a number of scoops about Skyfall and Bond 24 proven correct. But his Tweet is vague and doesn’t plainly say Bellucci is in Bond 24.

Pierce Brosnan has said Bellucci was screen tested for the part of Paris Carver in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. The part, a woman from Bond’s past, went to Teri Hatcher.

Bond 24 questions: the writers edition

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are back? There’s been no official announcement but it was reported last month by The Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye that the writers were retained to rewrite John Logan’s efforts.

Bamigboye had a number of Skyfall and Bond 24 scoops proven correct. Example: he wrote that Purvis and Wade were initially not going to be back for Bond 24, while their Skyfall co-scribe John Logan would be the new 007 film’s writer. Purvis and Wade subsequently confirmed they were leaving the series. Until, it now seems, things changed.

How extensive will Purvis and Wade’s Bond 24 script work going to be? If the duo end up getting a credit, you’ll know it will have been substantial.

The Writer’s Guild has extensive guidelines on how much work a scribe (with a team of writers such as Purvis and Wade counted as a single entity) should do to get a screen credit. A writer or writing team must contribute more than 33 percent of the finished product for an adapted script, 50 percent for an original one. Bond 24 falls under the adapted category since it uses a character who originally appeared in a novel.

Getting a credit isn’t as simple as counting lines of dialogue. A credit is supposed to reflect “contributions to the screenplay as a whole,” according to the guild. It’s possible, for example, for a writer to change every line of dialogue but for the guild to determine there’s been no significant change to the screenplay.

In any case, if Bond 24’s credit reads something like, “Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade,” Purvis and Wade will have done more than revamp some dialogue or tweak a scene or two.

Is this unusual?It’s the normal method of operation for both movies in general and James Bond movies in particular. Even 007 films that had only one writing credit had contributions from other writers. For example:

–From Russia With Love had a solo screenplay credit for Richard Maibaum, but also an “adapted by” credit for Johanna Harwood, while Len Deighton did work that didn’t earn a credit.
–You Only Live Twice had a “screenplay by” credit for Roald Dahl but an “additional story material” credit for Harold Jack Bloom, the film’s first writer.
–On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a Maibaum solo credit for the screenplay but an “additional dialogue” credit for Simon Raven, who rewrote dialogue in some scenes.
–Tomorrow Never Dies had a “written by” credit for Bruce Feirstein. Other writers took a whirl without credit between Feirstein’s first draft and his final draft.

As far as anyone knows, Live And Let Die really represented the work of only one writer (Tom Mankiewicz), and he did plenty of rewrites himself.

Is this any reason to be concerned? The Daily Mail also reported the start of Bond 24 filming was pushed back to December from October. If true, that should still be enough time for Bond 24 to meet its release date of late October 2015 in the U.K. and early November 2015 in the U.S.

What should fans look for next? The date of the press conference announcing the start of Bond 24 filming. There should also be a press release. If Purvis and Wade get a mention in that press release along with John Logan, that’ll be a sign they did a fair amount of work on the script.


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