Tag Archives: Michael Wilson

interview: Michael Wilson: Part II

In this, Part Two of Producer Michael G. Wilson`s Interview with Steve Biodrowski, Wilson answers the questions most appealing to Bond insiders in this second half of a discussion with Fandom/Forever.

WHAT WOULD IAN FLEMING SAY TODAY?

I guess he`d say, `Wow, I can`t believe it`s still going on.`

WHAT KEEPS IT GOING ON?

Bond`s a contemporary character, and we keep trying to make it contemporary. With the changes in casting, the five Bonds we`ve had, the fact that each one of them brings something different to it plays it a different way, has kept it going.

DO YOU THINK IT`S THE ACTOR OR THE CLIMATE THAT ACCOUNTS FOR THE DIFFERENT LEVELS OF SUCCESS?

Certainly, Sean and Roger were extremely successful. Pierce has been extremely successful. I guess it`s a combination of the people who come together, the political climate, the actors, and the directors.

IS THERE ANOTHER ACTOR OUT THERE TODAY YOU WOULD ALSO SEE AS BOND?

I can`t think of anybody at this point. He`s just taken over the role and made it so much his own–I don`t see anyone there.

HOW DOES A GREAT BOND FILM COME TOGETHER?

Well, we have a great team, and that team has been with us for many years. Their fathers and sometimes their grandfathers are with us, and they all pull together. They all have an investment; they all want it to succeed, and that spirit comes across and makes it work.

YOU HAVE TO KEEP COMING UP WITH GREAT OPENING SEQUENCES. WHAT ARE SOME IDEAS YOU`VE THROWN OUT?

Well, I guess I can`t even think of what we`ve thrown out. There`s a big pile of stuff, and sometimes we go back to the bone pile and say, `What`s in there?` The opening sequences really are kind of two categories. One is Bond`s just finishing a mission, and it`s basically just puts you into Bond`s world. The other ones fulfill that function but also set the story up. The way we conceive of the film opening, we start with the iris and the gun. That to show you Bond`s being stalked. He lives in a world where there are assassins, and he has to be able to shoot faster than the next guy. But it`s also a portal into this movie world, this fantasy world. It`s kind of like your world but it`s a parallel world. It`s brighter. It`s exotic. People wear tuxedoes when they don`t wear shorts. So we`re brought into that world, and that little opening sequence says, `This is the world we`re suddenly in.` Then we go into the titles and this exotic, thematic background. That`s kind of the way we bring the audience in.

HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED USING, FOR INSTANCE, THE JOHN GARDNER NOVELS AS THE BASIS FOR FILMS?

I haven`t…I read many of the John Gardner novels, and now there`s another fellow writing them, but I haven`t felt they have the things that would make good films.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE BOND GIRL?

That would be telling! I can`t really say. If you`re asked to chose between your children, what do you say? They`ve all been great. Really, that`s tough. They`ve all been troopers. They`ve all worked hard. They`ve all done a lot for us. They come out and do publicity. They did that thing in Vanity Fair where they all came out. They`re all just wonderful.

WHAT ABOUT A FAVORITE CHARACTER RATHER THAN A FAVORITE ACTRESS?

As a character, Sophie [Sophie Marceau as Elektra King] has to be the most complex we`ve ever had; I don`t think we`ve had any as complex as Sophie.

WOULD YOU EVER CAST SEAN CONNERY AS A VILLAIN IN THE SERIES?

We haven`t considered that, but I would never rule out anything. Our basic philosophy is that we`re always looking ahead. If you have writers come in and pitch you ideas, you`d be surprised how many ideas sound the same: `I`ve got GOLDFINGER`S DAUGHTER—this is gonna be great!` It`s always something along that line: they like to take something that they liked and repackage it in a way. But we`ve resisted too many looks backwards. We do some; we bring in characters we`ve used before, but we try to keep our nose pointed toward the future.

ANY CHANCE OF BRINGING BACK SPECTRE OR BLOFELD?

Well, with Spectre and Blofeld, the last film we did was DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in 1971. When I talk about not looking backwards, that is looking backwards. We`ve kind of moved beyond that.

WELL, HE WAS IN FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

The guy down the chimney? [laughs and quickly takes a question from another journalist]

YOU HAVE GREAT DIVERSITY IN YOUR FILMS.

Well, you have to understand that our films are international. About seventy to seventy-five percent of our income comes from exhibition outside the United States, and there`s a lot of people out there from all different ethnicities, all different religions, all different backgrounds, and they`re all great Bond fans. So we have to make sure those people come to our films because we don`t do anything to alienate them, and we do things to encourage them to come. So having a racially mixed cast is important. Having people with different points of view is important. Having visual gags is important. I guess it`s always been global. We`ve always been a series that appealed outside the United States more than inside the United States. Now, most American films are almost fifty-fifty. We`ve been even from the beginning fifty-fifty. We were always considered to be an international phenomenon.

I KNOW YOU SAID YOU`RE NOT INTERESTED IN LOOKING BACK, BUT WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER GETTING THE RIGHTS TO DO `CASINO ROYALE` AS A SERIOUS MOVIE?

Well, CASINO ROYALE is an interesting property. It happens to be the first book. It sets Bond up, in a way. But if you look at the structure of it, the first half is about the caper, and the second have is a love story where Bond ends up being betrayed by the woman. He kind of shuts down. It explains a lot about him, because up to this point he`d only done a couple of missions and they weren`t very complex. In that sense, it might be thought of as a coming of age story. So just shooting it as the novel is probably not what people would expect from a Bond film. It wouldn`t have all the elements that people like to see.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT `AUSTIN POWERS` SPOOFING THE BOND FILMS?

People find them funny and great. I think they`re probably not pitched exactly at my age group. But I guess if you can be spoofed and you`re big enough to be spoofed, you`re lucky. If people take the time and trouble to spoof you, it must mean you`re a household name.

interview: Michael Wilson: Part I

Michael G. Wilson has been a part of the James Bond franchise since with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977. Not only has he produced ten of the films; he also worked on scripts for five of them. Working first under the auspices of producer Albert Broccoli (who launched the series, along with Harry Saltzman, back in 1962), Wilson helped revive interest in the exploits of 007 after a certain decline during the early to mid-`70s. During the `80s, he oversaw the gradual move away from the light-hearted, humorous turn the series had taken, back toward a more serious direction.

In the `90s, since the death of Albert Broccoli, Wilson and his sister, Barbara Broccoli, have been carrying on the family tradition, again reviving flagging interest in the series, this time with the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming`s famous creation. The latest Bond film, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, is meant to set the character up in a way that will carry the franchise into the next millennium. This is quite a feat when you consider that the films have long since run out of books to adapt; fortunately, that hasn`t slowed the series down.

IS IT HARD COMING UP WITH PLOTS NOW THAT YOU`VE RUN OUT OF FLEMING NOVELS?

Plots are always needed. It`s really coming up with a good story that`s the key thing. It`s not something that the audience appreciates in the sense that, if you ask them what they like about the film, they usually don`t mention it. But if it`s absent, they won`t like the film. It`s almost a kind of unconscious, visceral thing. They really want a good story; they just articulate it. That`s why when people do research and stuff, they miss out. We do a lot of research. A lot of the series that you`ve seen that have come and gone have listened to the audience and then tried to write scripts according to what the audience says. The audience generally remembers the stunts and the action, so they just keep on getting more and more stunts and action, and letting the story go. Before you know it, they don`t have a series anymore.

HOW DID YOU DEVELOP THE SCRIPT WITH NEAL PURVIS AND ROBERT WADE?

They came to us and said they wanted to do it, and they gave us some writing samples and threw out some ideas. (We only used established writers, I hasten to say, because we get floods of stuff all the time, and it just goes to our lawyers and gets sent back.) But these fellows looked like the type of people we could work with. That`s the main thing: you want writers that can collaborate with yourself and the director. That`s key to making these kinds of films. These are made by teams of people, and the writers are part of that team. Then, we were talking about the idea of a woman villain, so we started off with that as a general idea. And then Barbara Broccoli, my sister and co-producer, saw one of the Nightline episodes about Bakku and the oil. We thought, `This could work as a backdrop.` Then it was just a matter of coming up with the plot. It evolved over eight or nine months of working, pretty much meeting the writers weekly and then daily.

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE MICHAEL APTED?

Part of the film works because the relationship between Sophie and Pierce works; if that didn`t work, the film wouldn`t work. So rather than think in terms of `Who`s a good action director?` we thought `Who`s a good dramatic director who can work with actors to bring out the drama that we need for this to work?` As a consequence of hiring him, we were also have to have Robbie Carlyle and M have a great scene together, Bond and M have a great scene together. It sort of…the whole picture improved because of the fact that Michael knows how to deal with actors, and they trust him implicitly; he gets a really good performance out of them. As far as the action goes, he`s knowledgeable about action; he knows that all action sequences need a good, solid narrative, and he had no problem letting Vic [Armstrong] and the special effects guys work to bring these really good, solid action sequences in.

WHAT WAS YOUR CONCEPT FOR THE DR. JONES CHARACTER?

The Dr. Jones character came out of a friend of mine who collects rugs from Afghanistan. When you collect something that obscure, you have to go where they are; to find other collectors is quite a job. In New York city he heard of a Russian woman who was a collector of these rugs, and it turned out that she was an atomic scientist who, as soon as she graduated, went into the special services. The Russians-when a plan crashes with atomic weapons on board, no matter where it is in the world, they spend a special unit that surreptitiously drops in, and they take the bombs and disarm them. This is what her job was during her twenties, and she was an athletic, attractive, wild kind of girl who was an atomic physicist. Having that was a pretty good model for Denise.

WHAT MADE DENISE RICAHRDS THE BEST CHOICE FOR THAT ROLE?

Well, we wanted an American. We wanted somebody who could fit this image of a physicist who was going around doing something important. Not necessarily an action hero but just committed to doing something.

IS DESMOND LLEWELYN LEAVING THE SERIES NOW THAT YOU`VE ESTABLISHED JOHN CLEESE AS R?

As far as Desmond Llewelyn, who`s been playing Q since FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, we`re anxious to have him continue on. He`s the one who suggested we bring someone else in, a younger man, so we brought someone in just slightly younger. But he`s just great. He just goes on and on, so we`re going to keep using him.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE TO HAVING JUDI DENCH AS M?

The idea of casting a woman as M, which we did in GOLDENEYE in 1994, came about because Stella Remington had taken over MI6 in London, so we had a woman in charge of MI6. We thought, `If we`re going to be contemporary and up to date, why not try it and see what it would be like?` When you think about that, you then say, `Who can we cast in that kind of role?` It turned out that Judi Dench was enthusiastic and ready to do it, and we thought, `Wow, we`ve got a great opportunity here.` We`ve taken that and developed that idea, and she has a much bigger role in this film. The character of M has never had as large a role as in this film.

THE NEW FILM TRIED TO BALANCE THE DRAMA WITH LOTS OF VERBAL HUMOR.

Some better than others, I trust. I think it`s just a matter of trying to get a balance right. Sometimes we use too much humor, too many double entendres; sometimes not enough. As soon as you change anything, you get a flood of letters: `What happened to this? What happened to that?` Other people write in saying, `It`s all right, except you`ve got too many double entendres.`

THAT LAST LINE OF DIALOGUE WAS A BIT MUCH. WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?

That was Rob and Neal, the original writers on it. We`ve always pushed a bit. At the very end of the film, we kind of pushed a bit, for the teenagers. We`re family films, and you`ve got to have something for everybody in the family.

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT SELECTING COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS FOR THE THEME SONG?

We`ve had a lot of different forces acting on us in the music area over the years. We have a view, Barbara [Broccoli, Wilson`s sister] and I, that we should have the composer do the theme song, the title song, because the theme will be integrated throughout the score of the film. The lyric may be done by the performer or some other guy. We feel ballads by female singers probably work the best in the Bond films, so we aim for that. This time, we were lucky enough to get Garbage. That`s because David Arnold, our composer, suggested Shirley [Manson, the singer] and went out and got a hold of her. She was very enthusiastic, and we clicked right away.

WERE YOU AWARE OF THIS BAND?

I`ve heard of them, but I don`t know much about them. I can`t say I`m current on pop music.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT OPENING ON NOVEMBER 19?

The way it works these days, nothing builds; everything comes out, and they hit you on the head with a hammer. You`ve got to go see the picture, and first weekend`s important, and everybody looks at the figures. But of course we`ve seen films that have gone on and on. Some of our films have; they just play through. I think, to me, that`s the most important thing, because almost any films you can get a big weekend out of it if you advertise it to death. The good films have legs, and they go. We`re positioned here, the 19th, because we run up to the biggest weekend in America. There`s really two big weekends in America: the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving`s the biggest one for film and everything else. We`re playing so that`s our second weekend. We`ve got very few-certainly no other action-adventure films competing with us. We have things like SLEEPY HOLLOW and END OF DAYS, but we don`t seem to have any other ones coming in to Christmas, so we should be able to play through the Christmas holiday. If we do that, we`ll have a good return.

PIERCE SAYS HE`D LIKE TO STEP BACK AND TAKE A BREAK AFTER THIS FILM.

It doesn`t give me a problem to do one in three years instead of two. The studio may feel different, but these are very hard to put together. They take over your life. When we`re working on the script and production, my wife will say, `Do you realize you`ve been working seven days a week?` So I don`t mind doing something else; to me it`s fine.

interview: Director John Glen and Producer Michael Wilson

Imagine if you will, our hero being buried in an avalanche of snow during a harrowing ski chase in the Swiss Alps; plunging off a 5,000-foot precipice while evading a team of KGB assassins; being thrown from a plane sans parachute during a savage midair battle. Each scenario spells certain death, right? Not for James Bond for whom these adventure`s are all in a day`s work. They epitomize his world and touch the imagination of filmgoers across the globe. They`ve also made James Bond films the most successful motion picture series of all time.

With the advent of Roger Moore as Ian Fleming`s intrepid agent 007, the Bond films transformed from tongue-in-cheek spy thrillers to action-comedy romps that strove more for cheers than thrills, laughter than suspense. This approach reached its height (or depth, if you prefer) with 1979`s MOONRAKER. Having moved as far as it could go in this direction, the series began edging back towards emphasizing action and suspense with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Two of the men who helped guide the films in this direction were director John Glen and producer-cowriter Michael G. Wilson.

“The Bond films have evolved over the years in a variety of ways,” Wilson concurred. “But they`ve changed with the times. They went from being spy thrillers to becoming action adventures; and their comedy went from being rather cynical, sick humor to a more comic knd of humor.”

The slapstick humor and spectcacular action of MOONRAKER supports this. Gone was the sardonic, razor-sharp Bond who had created a phenomenon in the `60s. In his place was a Bond who seemed content to let the audience know that he was having a good time, and who continually served as a reminder that this was, after all, only a movie. Characterizations and plot took a backseat to stunts, gadgets and special effects; and the film was closer to a comic STAR WARS than to early James Bond. Though the metamorphosis was not terribly well received by critics and purists, it received praise from the commerical audience, and was one of the highest-grossing entries in the series.

“As far as our audience was concerned, MOONRAKER was the most popular one,” said Wilson. “It was our feeling–which was probably more in line with the critics than the movie-going public–that we couldn`t go any further in that direction. You always have to take new directions or you risk becoming stymied.”

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY followed in 1981, and though Bond was portrayed as a more serious character, critics claimed that the film was nothing more than a series of chase scenes. They placed the blame on debuting director John Glen, who had previously supervised the stunt sequences in several earlier Bond films. OCTOPUSSY (1983), on the other hand, released in 1983, combined the best of the old and new elements and turned out to be one of the more superior Bond films to be released in many years. Unfortunately, the follow-up, A VIEW TO A KILL (1985), slipped back into slapstick excess. The film turned out to be Roger Moore`s swansong, allowing the series to reinvent itself with a new, younger Bond in the form of Timothy Dalton.

“I learned a lot of things on FOR YOUR EYES ONLY in terms of pacing,” Glen reflected. “I tried to be more objective on OCTOPUSSY and not too emotionally involved in the action of it–stepping back and listening to criticism. I also think that I did more work on OCTOPUSSY`s script. On FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, I was brought in just before shooting began; the script was very rushed. I think the transitions were better in OCTOPUSSY.”

Analyzing the success of the Bond films` new style, Wilson explained that “starting with THE SPY WHO LOVE ME, we had developed a style of spectacle, action and humor in about equal amounts. You`ll find that other successful pictures, like the Indiana Jones films and Superman, have utilized these same ingredients in about equal balances.”

Glen fully agrees with this point, citing his own work as second unit director on SPY. “I suppose my biggest single contribution was the pre-title sequence. In fact, I think that is really responsible for my being [allowed to direct].” Indeed, that sequence, which has Bond skiing off a mountain ledge, impressed both critics and audiences with its inventiveness, and Glen went on to helm five Bond films-more than any other director.

“I really think that that scene really helped to change the Bonds,” Glen continued. “They became basically action pictures, and the stunt sequences had to be improved with each one: we had to outdo outselves. It does get quite difficult to come up with original ideas, but I think we managed to do it.”

Despite the reliance on stunts, Glen finds it strangely amusing that these films can actually shoot key sequences without an actor having been signed for the lead role. He cites a climactic scene in OCTOPUSSY as an example. In this sequence, James Bond is on horseback pursuing a plane taxiing for takeoff. He leaps from the horse to the plane and hangs on for dear life as it soars skyward. It is undoubtedly one of the most stunning sequences ever filmed. We shot that before we commenced main shooting,” Glen admitted with a wry smile. “We hadn`t cast James Bond yet, but the favorite was a fellow with black hair, so the double had black hair.”

During the first week or production, rumors began that Roger Moore would be coming back as Bond, so the double was told to lighten his hair a bit. “During the second week, we found out that Roger would be returning, so we told him to lighten it all the way,” he recounted. “That`s what happens. You have to keep shooting even though you don`t know who the actors are.”

Glen stressed the importance of staying ahead of the competition. “That`s the biggest problem. Coming up with the story takes the most time, but the shooting is so visual that the idea is to keep on getting it right and staying original.”

These efforts paid off on the screen. In A VIEW TO A KILL, for example, an enemy leaps off the Eiffel Tower and floats away via a cloak turned parachute; Bond (again on skis) is pursued by a bomb-dropping helicopter; and during a chase through downtown San Francisco, 007 hijacks a fire engine and tries to elude police. The last collaboration between Moore, Wilson and Glenn combined originality with a hybrid plot that borrowed heavily from several Bond films, including FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, and ON HER MAJESTY`S SECRET SERVICE, as well as from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. Computer genius-villain Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) plots to trigger an earthquake on the west coast that will plunge California–together with much of the world`s computer technology and expertise–into the ocean.

While Michael Wilson has gone on record saying that he didn`t make the connection between the sinking of California and SUPERMAN until A VIEW TO A KILL was heavily into production, he did admit that it`s becoming increasingly difficult to come up with original Bond capers. “The limitations on the character are British Secret Service and sort of spy,” he said. “This is basic, and when you get into that, you do become limited, to some extent, in the variations. We try to make our capers reasonably important, and for that reason it`s sometimes difficult. If you made them less important, then I suppose we could have more of a variety.”

As to how Bond storylines are “important,” Wilson responded that he believes the films are “fairly political. In THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, each side was played off the other until they found out about this and joined forces,” he explained. “In OCTOPUSSY, Russian General Orlov was ready to launch World War III; and in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, General Gogal was quite prepared to take any advantage he could, so long as he didn`t get himself in some kind of public involvement. I think that`s more or less the attitude of Russians today. They`ll take advantage if they can, but they`re cautious at the same time.”

Despite any political stance Bond films may have taken, each release brought an outcry from critics and Bond fans for a return to the early, more serious Bond. “When people say `a more serious Bond,` I`m never quite sure what they mean,” Wilson said emphatically. “They might mean FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was a serious kind of film. I`m not sure they really want that today. We`re comic adventure fantasies. That`s what we do. As to being serious, they`re never going to be serious. I mean, they`ll never be serious in the sense of GANDHI or some other films.”

Does anyone feel that there is an end in sight? Said Wilson, “The Washington Post said that at the rate we`re going, it could continue into the 21st Century. The way I put it is that I think of myself as a member of the House of Representatives. Every two years I`m up for a vote, so I never know when my term is over. I have to be re-elected.”