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[Interview] James Bond Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson On Exploring New Opportunities With ‘Skyfall’

Written by on November 9, 2012 

For as long as I’ve been seeing Bond films in a theater, I’ve also seen the names Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Past my own limited theatrical engagement, the two franchise mainstays have actually been around for decades — officially, the former’s been around since 1983’s Octopussy, while the latter’s first credit is 1979’s Moonraker. With Skyfall, they’re still managing to cover new ground.

Thus, it’s that freshness which serves as the backbone of our discussion. During my interview with them, our main topics were the importance of Daniel Craig, what makes Sam Mendes a good fit to direct, and how they worked through some behind-the-scenes issues — though there is a bit more.

You can read all that, the “more” included, right below:

The Film Stage: You’ve both been involved in this franchise for at least 30 years or so. When it came to Skyfall, at what point did you feel it was time to mix things up?

Michael G. Wilson: I think Casino Royale was the first. Pierce [Brosnan] had done a great job, but we had gone into fantasy land and it was very difficult for us to know where to go with the series. We got the rights to Casino Royale, and that was wonderful, because we could explore the origins of Bond — and we had to get a new Bond.

Which was difficult, because Pierce had been a great Bond — and we had a close, personal relationship — but that story required us to start with someone new. And, then, Daniel’s given us an opportunity to really explore the Bond character in a variety of ways we hadn’t been able to in the past — just the kind of actor he is, the way he delves into the character. So, you go back to Fleming and find elements there that we’d develop and help the character. It gave us new opportunities.

With Daniel, then, is there a bigger opportunity to explore the character’s personal life? I can’t remember any series installment that went into such a territory that greatly. Were you itching to traverse that for a while?

Barbara Broccoli: I think so. I think… the thing about the Fleming books is, in the books, you’re privy to the kind of internal workings of Bond’s mind, because he’s very conflicted in the books. You get a sense of what’s going on in his mind, and it’s very difficult to portray that in a character without him speaking about how he’s feeling all the time — and that’s not really appropriate for Bond. You know, he’s not going to sit around all the time analyzing himself. He’s not a Woody Allen kind of character.

So, I think with the casting of Daniel Craig, he’s able to convey a lot of that, of Bond’s inner life without actually saying very much. So, once we kind of started down that path, we thought it would be interesting to — the writers, in particular, though it would be great — in Skyfall, to go back to the place he is most reluctant to go to. Which is the place he grew up.

Is that trip back to the past — in other words, this dramatic element — part of the choice in picking Sam Mendes as a director? Not many peg him as a typical choice to direct Bond, so what was your tipping point?

MGW: Sam is a Bond fan, and he certainly wanted to make a Bond movie — and he’s a great director. He works fantastically well with actors. So, we always felt we could supply the other elements. Because, even in the action elements, the narrative behind the action and how it’s… it’s just another way of telling a story, because they’re integrated with the story itself. We were confident he would do fine, even though he doesn’t have a signature for being an action director, as such.

But we wanted to get the dramatic thriller part of it right, and that’s the part that’s really the most difficult. That’s where he excels.

Regarding the dramatic thriller aspect: We had this delay because of MGM’s financial troubles — which, for Bond fans like myself, was stressful because —

MGW: For you, stressful!

[Both Laugh]

Yeah, I know.

BB: You have no idea how stressful it was for us!

But, you know, I think we all thought, “A new Bond will come out because Bond always comes out.” It was only a question of when that might happen. Downstairs, Sam talked about how this wait afforded extra time to develop the screenplay. Could you talk about the evolution of Skyfall’s script from then to now?

BB: Well, I guess, you know, the thing was that we started working on the script and we thought we had a very good story — and then we had all the problems with MGM. Which threw a real monkey wrench into the whole thing because, obviously, we wanted to make the film for the anniversary year, and, also, we had everyone lined up. You know, Sam Mendes was set, and Roger Deakins.

So, it was all going to be derailed, because if you’re on hold for a period of time you can’t expect these people to not take other jobs. It was a very tricky situation trying to keep everyone engaged — and during that time, yes, we ended up spending time focusing on the script. We managed to engage Sam, to get him focusing on the script with the writers. And, so, in a way, it afforded us more time.

But, at the same time, it was also very distracting and perilous. Fortunately, it all came together and MGM sorted themselves out; so, when they were back on track, we had a script that was in pretty good shape.

Do you think you’ll be back on the one-film-every-two-years path now?

BB: I think it’s going to depend on how it all comes together. So, you know, ideally it would be great to make one every two years, but it’s going to be determined by how the script’s going, the location scouts, and the financial ramifications of MGM’s situation. So, we’ll see.

Before starting, we talked about spoilers. Did you take any precautionary steps when it came to preventing those? Were you monitoring anything, or were you just trying to keep it on lockdown?

BB: We’re very, very careful about the script. We didn’t want to get the script out, so — you know, we’re not quite as bad as some other people — we are very tight on not letting people have the script.

MGW: But it is quite amazing. You know, everybody on the film had a script, so there were two- or three-hundred scripts out there, but the people are very professional and very careful about not getting too much out there. I think it’s quite amazing that, you know, it managed to keep all the spoilers confidential.

BB: And it’s also very impressive that all the journalists have been very respectful of it, too, because I think they understand that it’s not a gimmick. It’s because, you know, we want audiences to be able to come to the film fresh and enjoy the experience as it develops, as it reveals itself.

We’ve been following the movie since… I remember us writing the story about Sam Mendes signing to direct in January of 2010. And even when you’re posting the trailers and the clips and the video blogs, I was still surprised when I saw the movie. That never happens nowadays.

[Wilson Laughs]

BB: Yeah.

It’s interesting how Bond originally came from a place where, really, you never had to worry about things like that — spoiler culture, specifically. So, internally, do you notice that evolving sensibility?

MGW: It has to evolve. It must evolve, because if you don’t evolve, you’ll be too late. You know that old expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, it doesn’t work in the film business.

But, with that evolving, do you see yourselves ever going back to the old days of Bond, where it’s, tonally, less gritty and real-world? Maybe doing something like, I don’t know, Moonraker? Well, maybe that’s not the best example…

[Both Laugh]

MGW: It’s impossible to say where this is going. I don’t think we can ever look ten years ahead and say, “That’s where we’re going to be.” That’s life.

Skyfall opens everywhere today.

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