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.

Bond 25 questions: The odds and ends edition

No Time to Die logo

No Time to Die’s production grinds on. Still, the blog has a few questions.

Annapurna Pictures apparently cut a deal with its banks. What’s the significance for No Time to Die?

There were reports from major entertainment news sites such as The Hollywood Reporter and Variety that Annapurna was preparing for bankruptcy in case it couldn’t reach a deal with its lenders.

Variety this week reported Annapurna had reached such a deal, covering $200 million worth of debt. Lenders will get 82 cents on the dollar, according to Variety.

Annapurna and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are partners in United Artists Releasing, which will distribute No Time to Die in the U.S., with Universal handling international distribution.

An Annapurna bankruptcy might, at the least, been a distraction. Now, assuming Variety’s report is correct, bankruptcy is off the table. Annapurna can figure out how it wants to continue operations with the debt issue settled.

Is that the end of it?

I wouldn’t be surprised in the long run if there were some sort of restructuring at United Artists Releasing. Perhaps MGM buys out Annapurna. Or something else. Regardless, that’s a longer-term question that can be addressed separately from No Time to Die.

When’s the No Time to Die teaser trailer coming out?

At this point, who knows?

A favorite fan theory was the title for Bond 25 wouldn’t come out until the teaser trailers. Instead, the title was dropped in the afternoon New York time.

It may be the teaser trailer’s debut will be just as unpredictable. Maybe in a few days. Maybe a few weeks. It doesn’t seem worth guessing right now.

Why it may be time for Eon to modernize its P.R.

Eon Productions logo

You are making a major action-adventure film. Your star injures himself. What do you do?

If you’re making Mission: Impossible-Fallout, you get ahead of the story. Your writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives an interview to Empire magazine to explain how things are under control even though star Tom Cruise broke his ankle.

Confirming that Cruise had broken his right ankle, McQuarrie assured Empire that his star remained in good shape, in spite of his injury. “Tom is great,” McQuarrie said. “He’s in very good spirits.”

Meanwhile, if you’re Eon Productions and your star, Daniel Craig, has suffered (apparently) a lesser injury, you stay quiet.

This week, The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. tabloid, ran a story about how Craig hurt his ankle during Bond 25 filming. Other outlets summarized The Sun’s story, including Variety.

Throughout all this, there was no word from Eon, which has produced the 007 film series since 1962.

Finally, after about 24 hours, The Sun produced a follow-up story saying Craig’s injury wasn’t that bad and he’ll be back at work in a week or so.

Still, for that 24 hour period, others were dictating the Bond 25 story line to the general public.

The thing is, this is par for the course. Eon has a history of denying things that are true such as Ben Whishaw being cast as Q, Naomie Harris being cast as Moneypenny, John Logan being hired to write Bond 24 and 25 (before things changed), Christoph Waltz being cast as Blofeld and so on and so forth.

For that matter, Eon spun a fairy tale in the 1970s that Roger Moore was always the first choice (rather than Sean Connery) to play Bond. For that matter, in the 1980s, Eon’s principals said with a straight face that Pierce Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond and Timothy Dalton was always its first choice to succeed Roger Moore as 007.

We’re now almost one-fifth into the 21st century. Things change. What worked in the past, doesn’t necessarily work now.

You need a communications strategy where your viewpoint is made clear and plain at all times. If you’re making a movie that costs more than $200 million, you can’t be passive.

Truth be told, a big chunk of the 007 fan base acts as if this is still 1965 and Bond is the biggest thing on the planet. There are times that Eon appears to believe the same thing.

Whatever you believe, you can’t be passive in an age where social media helps shape the perception of your product. For one 24-hour period this week, Bond fans genuinely were wondering what was going on.

With silence from Eon, the notion that Craig suffered an injury serious enough to affect Bond 25 filming began to take hold.

This particular dust-up already is fading. But it still points to the need for a more pro-active public relations approach.

Variety says Bond 25 to begin filming at end of April

Daniel Craig in Skyfall.

Bond 25 is scheduled to begin filming at the end of this month, Variety said in a story today.

The Variety article primarily concerned the hiring of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the newest writer on the film.

Variety said it confirmed Waller-Bridge’s involvement with the production. It also had this passage:

A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the British writer was indeed taking a pass through the script and that director Cary Fukunaga was fully aware of the decision. The source said production remained on track to begin at the end of April.

A sequence was filmed in Norway last month, but that apparently was done by the second unit without primary cast members. Fukunaga has been photographed in Italy last week scouting locations.

So far at least six writers have performed Bond 25 work. Besides Waller-Bridge, they are Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Hodge, Paul Haggis and Scott Z. Burns. Director Fukunaga also has been known to write scripts so it’s possible the actual total is at least seven.

Why Bond 25 may not economize much

Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Bond 25 production got underway last week with some filming in Norway. There’s a lot we don’t know (including a title). But there are some signs that the film isn’t traveling in Economy Class.

Delays in production: Eon Productions began renting space at Pinewood Studios last year. But filming there has been delayed at least five months.

Eon couldn’t just give up that space. Demand for space at Pinewood is high. So that’s a few months without any footage actually being shot. That makes it harder to economize.

An expensive script doctor: Scott Z. Burns recently spent four weeks working on Bond 25’s script. He’s a well-regarded scribe and he’s moving into directing. His services are in demand. It’s likely his Bond 25 services didn’t come cheap.

The star may have gotten a raise: Variety last year reported that Daniel Craig will receive $25 million for his fifth 007 film. The truth is known to Craig, Eon boss Barbara Broccoli, Craig’s agent and the various studios backing Bond 25. Still, it’s unlikely Craig’s services are receiving discounted rates.

The Mission: Impossible franchise means now isn’t the time to economize: This is a favorite fan theory/speculation. During the 2010s, the Mission: Impossible films starring and produced by Tom Cruise have cranked out three entries while Eon’s 007 series will have two.

Moreover, the M:I films have gotten a lot of attention for their stunts, big set pieces and international intrigue — things the 007 films are known for.

Paramount recently announced the Cruise M:I series will produce two more entries back-to-back, coming out in 2021 and 2022. By the time the latter entry is out, Cruise will be 60 and Christopher McQuarrie will have written and directed four films.

MGM looks to expand film-based consumer products

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wants to expand consumer products based on its films, including James Bond, Variety reported.

The home studio of the 007 film series hired Robert Marick as executive vice president of global consumer products and experiences, the entertainment news outlet said. Marick has worked at various studios prior to joining MGM.

Marick will supervise “expansion of MGM’s traditional merchandise, interactive and consumer products business,” Variety said. Besides Bond, the executive will deal with film franchises and TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Pink Panther and Legally Blonde.

In recent years, Bond-related merchandise has been mostly high-end, such as a Lego Aston Martin DB5 and replica DB5s made by Aston that cost 2.75 million British pounds each and aren’t street legal.

The 007 series was once an active generator of video games but that’s fallen off. In the 1960s, Bond-related merchandise included lunch boxes, puzzles, liquor and clothing. The official Eon James Bond site has a section that includes various goods.

About those Bond 25 script stories: The Rashomon Effect?

Can’t keep all these writing scenarios straight? Relax with a drink.

In the space of days, we’ve gotten two wildly different scenarios about the progress of Bond 25’s script.

The Playlist, in a Feb. 16 story, said noted script doctor Scott Z. Burns was doing an “overhaul” of Bond 25’s screenplay. “Burns, like Tony Gilroy and Christopher McQuarrie, is known as one of the top emergency rescue script doctors in Hollywood. If your script is hemorrhaging, he’s one of the first people you call.”

Later, on Feb. 27, Variety did an imitation of Kevin Bacon in Animal house and reassured everyone all is well.

Bond 25 director Cary “Fukunaga turned in his recent draft at the beginning of the year, and while reports surfaced that major rewrite work was done to the script, sources say no significant changes were made,” according to Variety, “and the producers and (star Daniel) Craig were excited with what Fukunaga had delivered.”

This might be an example of what’s known as The Rashomon Effect. That’s defined as “a phenomenon where different people have contradictory accounts of the same event.”

Rashomon was a 1950 movie directed by Akira Kurosawa where the characters have wildly different memories and impressions of the same story. The film was quite influential. In the 1960s, a plot on some television situation comedies in the U.S. was to depict the very different recollections of characters of the same occurrence.

Maybe, just maybe, The Playlist and Variety have different sources with different outlooks on the progress of the Bond 25 story. Both sources cited “sources” they didn’t identify.

The Playlist played up Burns’ record as a script doctor. “It’s an overhaul and I won’t be surprised if Burns is ultimately given first screenplay credit,” wrote The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez.

Variety’s Justin Kroll specifically said Fukunaga had a turn writing the script himself. Fukunaga often writes his own scripts. There’s been plenty of fan speculation this would take place with Bond 25. Variety was the first place I saw that said that had happened. The Variety story doesn’t mention Burns by name.

Scripting efforts on Bond 25 began when 007 veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were hired in 2017. There was a detour last year when Danny Boyle was hired to direct the movie, bringing along his writer, John Hodge. Boyle and Hodge departed.

So now we’re where we’re at — where ever that is. Maybe it’s time for a drink to relax after trying to evaluate the different scenarios.