All the indications are that Daniel Craig’s next 007 movie, no.24 in the smash-hit franchise, will have some truly spectacular sequences, including some snow-bound settings and also an exciting car chase along city streets. But have you ever wondered about what happens behind the scenes when they film a new James Bond film, and about the sheer logistical, creative and other production challenges involved in putting 007 on the big screen?
As pre-production on Bond 24 heats up with just weeks to go before principal photography commences, the JBIFC briefly explores some of the enormous challenges that were involved in the making of a past entry in the multi-million pound franchise, Die Another Day (DAD).
From Pen to Screen
Pierce Brosnan’s fourth and final adventure as 007, Die Another Day (2002), the 20th entry in the iconic series, marked the 40th anniversary of the franchise. The first major challenge involved in realising a new James Bond movie is coming up with a basic storyline, something that will inevitably be subjected to numerous changes and developments over time (a pattern that has also characterised the Bond 24 screen treatment more recently).
The pre-production writing duties on the 20th James Bond movie began very shortly after the release of The World Is Not Enough (1999). As early as the summer of 2000, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, began the process of ‘brainstorming’ concepts for ‘Bond 20’, trying out new ideas with the EON producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.
Purvis and Wade quickly realised that the producers were looking for something very special to mark the 40th anniversary, a film that would tap into past 007 nostalgia but, at the same time, also deliver something fresh and distinctively 21st century. However, the veteran writing pair were under no illusions about the enormous challenges posed by Bond 20: they commented at one point: ‘People might think writing a Bond film is easy – you’ve got Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny, some beautiful girls and a villain. But that’s what makes it actually quite daunting. How do you make it all seem fresh and new?’
The screenwriting duo explained in later interviews that it was generally agreed in 2000 that Bond 20 would be on a grand scale, reminiscent of You Only Live Twice (1967), and drawing upon some characters and story themes inspired by Ian Fleming’s third 007 novel Moonraker.
In particular, Purvis and Wade both felt that there were some interesting aspects of Fleming’s third Bond book that had not been fully utilised, especially the idea of a confrontation in the Blades Club, a gentleman’s club in London. Moreover, the central character of Sir Hugo Drax – a seemingly patriotic knighted industrialist who has secret plans for revenge using a hi-tech weapon (a new missile) in the Fleming novel – appeared ripe for further exploration.
Drax became ‘Gustav Graves’ in the final DAD script, of course: a seemingly philanthropic industralist with a concern for the world’s environment, and the hi-tech weapon became ‘Icarus’, an orbital mirror satellite, which is able to focus solar energy onto a small area to provide year-round sunshine for maximum crop development. In reality, though, Graves is secretly plotting to use Icarus as a kind of laser-emitting weapon of war.
In line with this hi-tech and scientific dimension, it was also felt that the movie would benefit from a ‘global’ backdrop, the story moving swiftly from country to country. As with all 007 movies, it was a challenge to find something a bit different, even quirky, but still recognizably ‘Bondian’. James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli had read a newspaper article about a small hotel in Sweden made completely of ice, and thought this would make an excellent story-point and sequence for the movie, so Purvis and Wade also integrated this into the storyline, providing the villain with a snow-bound Ice Palace hotel and lair for the second half of the film.
To realise this big vision, the EON producers chose the New Zealand-born director Lee Tamahori. Barbara Broccoli had been particularly impressed with Tamahori’s movie Once Were Warriors (1994). The new 007 movie was also given a $142m budget.
From a View to a Thrill
Some early footage for the movie was taken on Christmas Day in 2001, when a small shooting unit began work in Hawaii, filming some material for the breathtaking surfing sequences that were to appear in the pre-credits to the movie.
Principal photography on DAD commenced in mid-January, 2002, and lasted nearly six months. It was a complex operation, requiring full co-ordination across a number of different units. After full shooting had started, and after about four months of hard work, the sheer logistical challenge faced by the crews was very apparent. But director Lee Tamahori was under no illusions about the huge demands of supervising the various film units. As he commented later, ‘that’s the pressure you put up with to join one of the most illustrious clubs of directors in film history’.
In fact, by June, 2002, with the end of shooting nearly in sight, no less than seven film units were filming simultaneously, and Tamahori and his teams were under intense pressure to deliver the completed movie for the world premiere on 18th November, 2002. This network of shooting units included a First, a Second, and a Third unit for main filming, plus special units were created for aerial, underwater and minature work. Whoever said film-making is easy?
The storyline for DAD envisaged a variety of countries being used. However, movie-making is very much the art of illusion, so the globe-trotting movements of 007 do not necessarily mean he really went to those countries! In terms of actual shooting locations for Die Another Day, a large amount of work was still carried out in England, especially at the EON franchise’s traditional home of Pinewood Studios.
According to Vic Armstrong, the Second Unit director and stunt coordinator on the movie, when he first read an early draft of the script, he was very excited to find that locations included Korea and Japan. Japan was dropped fairly early on, though, while the Korean sequences were mainly shot in England and Hawaii. Some plans for an ice yacht race to be shot in north America, by the Great Lakes, were also dropped.
Location managers are highly-skilled at finding places that more-or-less match the countries supposedly being portrayed on the screen. Although the Ice Palace hotel was built at Pinewood, location work was also carried out on the roof and in the interiors of the huge bio-domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall. A beach at Holywell Bay, in Cornwall, was also used as North Korean coastal territory, while an army base in Aldershot in Hampshire, a redundant cement works at Chinnor in Oxfordshire, and the backlot at Pinewood were also all utilised for the pre-credits hovercraft chase sequences.
The former cement works at Chinnor, where the final sequences in the hovercraft chase were filmed, proved especially challenging; at one point, even though the filming was taking place in June (usually the height of summer in England), some recent very wet weather had turned the set into a sea of grey mud, leaving the unit having to scrape the top layer off the dirt track with heavy machinery. On the other hand, in terms of continuity, even though some of the main hovercraft sequences had been shot three months previously at Aldershot and at Pinewood in muddy conditions, the grey weather that summer at Chinnor proved surprisingly helpful!
Similarly, just as a fair number of sequences were shot at locations fairly close to the home-base at Pinewood, some of the early sequences in the movie were filmed relatively close to home – in Europe. The Cuban sequences were actually shot in Spain, at Cadiz (doubling for Havana) and also at La Caleta. This is not as easy as it sounds: moving a film crew abroad means having to shift a large amount of equipment, set up a temporary production office, and find hotel accommodation for a large number of people, often months in advance. And, as Halle Berry would undoubtedly confirm (she had to emerge from the sea in a bikini), even though the beach at Cadiz looked very sunny on film, it was unusually cold!
On the other hand, the production of the movie was still, in other ways, truly ‘international’. Apart from some footage shot at Svalbard, Norway, undoubtedly the most challenging set of sequences in terms of international locations was the amazing stunt work shot with duelling cars in Iceland.
The location chosen, at the frozen Lake Jokulsarlon, near Hofn in Iceland, was at the south end of the eye-catching and truly beautiful glacier Vatnajokull, one of the largest glaciers in Europe. The scenes with Bond’s Aston Martin V12 Vanquish and Zao’s Jaguar XKR, and envisaged by stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong as a kind of ballet-style duel on ice, involved a large amount of very careful preparation and detailed Health and Safety planning. The ice on the frozen lake was only ten-inches thick, and every member of the crew involved had to wear special survival suits just in case the ice broke. Only a certain number of crew members were allowed on to the lake at any one time. Moreover, each car on the ice (including the back-up ones) had to be kept at a certain distance from one another, to help spread the weight.
The sequence also involved considerable work on the cars beforehand; Chris Corbould and his team worked at Pinewood on converting each car to four-wheel drive (to cope with the ice), and this meant spending over a million pounds on this operation alone! Moreover, in a sense, to quote one comment made at the time, ‘Q’s workshop isn’t a cave under the M25. It’s a big, green shed behind Pinewood’.
Staying on the art of illusion, not people realise that a small segment of the car fight on the ice was finished off not in Iceland, but on a large chunk of land at a business centre at Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds area of Gloucestershire, England. This part of the filming, which took place in June, 2002, involved creating numerous ice caps and a large amount of ice and ‘snow’ in the background. Isn’t film-making wonderful?
The explanation for using an English location for this is that, due to the complexity of the stunt where Bond’s Aston Martin flips over onto its roof, it was felt this was simply too dangerous to attempt to do on the ice in Iceland. The good news for Aston Martin fans is that Bond 24 will see the return of the iconic vehicle, in a brand new model.
Try Another Way: Bond 24
Even though, in one sense, each Bond movie is unique, in another sense the process of 007 movie-making has certain common organizational patterns. So, how does the behind-the-scenes story of a past 007 movie like DAD help us with understanding the enormous challenges that the Bond producers, and also second-time 007 director Sam Mendes and his team, have been facing on the next (still un-titled) 007 adventure?
Regarding the ‘producing’ side to a new Bond film, both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have been very clear in recent interviews about the enormous challenge that each new entry in the franchise presents. Bond 20 was a real test. Bond 24 is no different.
Wilson, speaking in April, 2013, for example, said it had always been ‘a challenge’ to maintain the 007 franchise’s appeal to audiences, and ‘for 50 years’ they had been trying to keep it ‘current and exciting’. Similarly, both Wilson and Broccoli have also acknowledged in various interviews over the last two years the sheer challenge of how they will ever top the spectacular success of Skyfall, the most successful Bond movie ever.
Nevertheless, at the same time, the veteran producers clearly enjoy such a test, and have carved out a huge reputation in the film industry. Significantly, in January, 2014, when the EON duo were given the highly prestigious David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Motion Pictures, Wilson said that their father, Cubby Broccoli, had taught them ‘not to fear failure but to learn from it’; he said Cubby had also taught them that it is a producer’s job to inspire the cast and crew, ‘to act as a sounding board for the director’, and to be their advocate with the studio.
This had certainly worked extremely well on Skyfall. Shortly after Skyfall hit the big screen, however, Sam Mendes quickly dampened speculation that he would return to Bond, saying that he had put ‘everything I wanted to’ into Skyfall and ‘it might be someone else’s turn’. The Bond producers were evidently very disappointed about this, and faced a hunt to find a new director for Bond 24.
In the event, as we all know, Mendes at some point changed his mind, and clearly decided he could still do interesting things with the character. But he also remained very realistic about the ‘juggling’ act helming such a large production would involve, something that Lee Tamahori back on Bond 20 had also experienced.
On the other hand, given his career in theatre as well as in film, Mendes arguably faces even greater hurdles. Speaking in May, 2014, for example, Mendes described the sheer challenge of managing his 007 duties while also overseeing the complex development work on his long-awaited stage version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; his work on this stage show had continued alongside his work on Skyfall, and also while he was now developing new concepts for Bond 24. He also emphasised the importance of a solid basis to Bond 24’s story line: ‘For me, so much of it is about script… you’ve got to make sure there’s no holes in the boat, and that’s what we’re doing now’.
But, as with DAD, finding a suitable storyline has proved demanding, to say the least. In terms of the creative side to Bond 24, and given the smash-hit success of Skyfall, the producers were naturally keen to turn once again to the very successful creative writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan.
However, shortly after Skyfall hit the big screens, Purvis and Wade publicly announced that they were stepping aside from Bond screen-writing and now wanted to concentrate on other projects: they said it was now ‘time to move on’ from Bond, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves since 1999; interestingly, though, they also did not completely rule out returning to Bond at some point in the distant future.
The solo Bond 24 writing duties were now very much in the hands of John Logan, who had (according to Variety) apparently already pitched the main story idea for Bond 24 to the producers during the summer of 2012. Logan also stated in interviews that, like Purvis and Wade, he was still keen to delve back into the original Fleming source-material for inspiration.
Sources close to the production hinted, however, that Logan’s early draft screen treatment, which picked up on the rather burnt-out James Bond of Skyfall and further explored some of the character’s psychological flaws, and involved a key segment taking place in a north European country, was felt by the producers to be in need of a wider, more global backdrop.
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, after deciding to step aside after Skyfall, were recently approached to carry out some re-write work on the Bond 24 screen treatment and, apparently, give it some more ‘punch’. It was also revealed recently that playwright Jez Butterworth, who carried out some uncredited work for Mendes on the Skyfall script, has also been carrying out some similar work for Mendes on the Bond 24 treatment. Whoever said writing a Bond film is easy?
Double O Heaven: On a Budget
The other formidable challenge faced by the Bond 24 team, as with DAD back in 2002, has been finding suitable locations while not blowing a big hole in the budget. Pinewood Studios will once again be the main base for Bond 24 filming, and it is known that an area in central London has been identified for some key location filming again.
In terms of Bond 24’s ‘international’ dimension, according to reports, the Bond 24 planners originally wanted to make use of some incredible scenery in Norway. However, they were presented with a range of quite tricky logistical and financial problems that this would inevitably entail, and so this work has switched to the snowy Alps of Austria, with a key sequence being set in Obertilliach. But, again as with DAD, this has involved having to send a construction crew out to the area months beforehand to build sets, and also having to book just about every hotel in the area weeks in advance, including one which will act as a crew HQ for the main Austrian filming. Location managers are often the great unsung heroes on a major movie, and that includes the 007 franchise.
Other international locations for Bond 24 will include Rome (where a production office has been set up) and a palace at Caserta, in Italy, plus various locations in Morocco, including Casablanca, Tangier, and Marrakech (near the famous Atlas Mountains). And it is clear that a real buzz of excitement has now descended on the Bond 24 production crew in recent weeks, with all the preliminary location recce work now falling into place and coming up trumps. Significantly, Chris Corbold tweeted on November 6th that the locations for Bond 24 ‘are amazing’.
There is another key aspect of the Bond 24 pre-production news that has caused particular excitement for Bond aficionados in recent weeks: it would appear that the script envisages a return to the classic henchman of Bond film tradition: a formidably strong aid to the main villain, who will give 007 a real run for his money. This is something that one could argue Die Another Day strongly lacked: ‘Mr. Kil’ proved surprisingly easy to kill!
The final challenge for any new Bond film is the title: as was the case with Bond 20, possibly one of the most formidable hurdles for Bond 24 is what to call the movie. Like Bond 20, there are very few actual Fleming story titles left, and often the pressure from both the main studios and the marketing people is to have a short, sharp and snappy title, something that will also easily translate into foreign markets. Skyfall fulfilled this brilliantly. It will be fascinating to see what title Bond 24 is awarded.
Did You Know?
The title for Die Another Day was said to have been taken from a verse by the poet A.E. Houseman (1859-1936). In A Shropshire Lad (1896), one verse (about the nature of battle) explores whether it is better for a soldier to fight or to run away, and it hints that to run away will merely extend a soldier’s life for a brief time, leaving him just to ‘die another day’.