Directing Bond films leaves auteurs shaken, if not stirred
How each of the slew of directors since 1962 has lent their styles to the 24-strong franchise
The big news in film over the past few weeks has been the high-profile departure of director Danny Boyle from Bond 25 – leaving over undisclosed “creative differences” – and his replacement by True Detective auteur Cary Fukunaga.
But isn’t directing a Bond movie much more than a regular directing job? It’s about shouldering the responsibility of a billion-dollar franchise, and the legacy of action cinema’s most iconic character. Because the story of Bond – from Dr No in 1962 to now – is also the story of his transition from Ian Fleming’s novels to screen, and the story of Eon Productions, longtime producer Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli, and multiple actors and directors.
So what awaits Cary Fukunaga in the mysterious world of 007? Here’s a look back at the experiences of past directors to find out what it’s really like directing a James Bond film.
It’s a bit like being Bond yourself
As the director of three of the first four movies, Terence Young set the tone and style for Bond. But his greatest contribution was creating the cinematic version of Fleming’s character, made in the director’s own self image.
“He saw himself as James Bond,” said Ken Adam, the series’ original production designer. Indeed, Young taught Sean Connery how to be 007.
“Terence had worked with Sean before, and really invented Sean as James Bond,” said stuntman Richard Graydon. “All the sophistications, the moves, his style, his dress, everything.”
Young was twice offered a percentage of box office receipts, but instead opted for a bigger salary up front. He preferred to splash out on the high life, throwing lavish champers and caviar parties for the crew and relishing in the exotic locations (a perk of the job for most future Bond directors – scouting and visiting Bond’s destinations).
Young knew how to splash production cash too, with both Dr No and From Russia With Love over-schedule and hundreds of thousands over budget. But after the success of those Bonds, Young had even more money to play with. “When I made Thunderball we had so much money we used to throw it out of the window,” he said.
It sometimes has a shock twist
The success of Dr No in UK cinemas – earning a whopping £69,000 (R1.3m) in the first week (whopping for 1962 at least) – was a surprise to everyone. But, according to a story told by Peter Hunt to John Glen, who both went on to direct Bond films, Terence Young was also surprised by how audiences reacted.
“When they made Dr No, Terence Young went to the press show,” says John Glen, who wrote about his Bond career in the autobiography For My Eyes Only. “Terence was standing at the back of the theatre and when the critics started to laugh at various things, he got terribly embarrassed. He’d made what he considered to be a straight thriller, he didn’t realise that the humour was in there.
“He got so embarrassed he left the theatre and went home. Peter Hunt had to ring him and tell him to get a copy of the evening papers because the critics were raving about this new style of humour – the tongue-in-cheek Britishness, if you like. Terrence said to Peter Hunt: ‘That’s all well and good, but how do we do the second one, knowing what we know now?!’”
It’s as much fun as you can think up
Guy Hamilton took over directing duties for the third film, Goldfinger. He famously couldn’t take Bond seriously, and called the film’s pre-credits sequence “a wonderful piece of nonsense”. (It’s a fair point – 007 swims with a decoy seagull on his head and wears a tux under his wetsuit.)
Hamilton also created the formula that most Bond films would follow over the next 40 years. Goldfinger remains the, well, gold standard.
He came back for Connery’s last EON-produced Bond, Diamonds Are Forever. His biggest challenges were managing the deteriorating relationship between producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and keeping the film under two hours. (“Or else I had a penalty clause you had never seen in your life,” he said in a 2015 interview.)
Hamilton kept up the sense of fun for the occasionally ludicrous Diamonds and directed the first two Roger Moores – Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.
For Hamilton, the fun of directing Bond was coming up with “snake pit” scenarios to trap 007 in – think Connery locked in a burning coffin, or Roger stranded on an island surrounded by crocodiles – and then figuring out how Bond would escape, sometimes taking months to think up an ingenious escape.
“We’d try to find a way to give him 50 seconds to get out of there,” said Hamilton. “So when Bond gets out of the snake pit, everybody cheers.”
There’s nothing basic about going ‘back to basics’
As editor on the first three Bond movies, Peter Hunt was an on-target choice to direct On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 – the sixth film and first to feature recast Bond, this time played by the Australian model George Lazenby.
As Bondmania was starting to go out of fashion towards the end of the decade, Hunt stripped away the excesses to make it closer to Fleming’s novel, chucking out the gadgets to instead focus on character. (Bond gets married, only for Blofeld to murder his wife minutes later.) “I was intent at making the best James Bond film of all,” Hunt later said.
It became the Bond equivalent of a cult classic: often overlooked, thanks to the undue rep of one-off 007 Lazenby, but one of Bond’s true artistic triumphs.
Subsequent directors would follow Hunt’s stripped-back approach whenever the series needing reigning in from some silliness: John Glen on both For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights, and Martin Campbell on Casino Royale.
But production was far from basic for Peter Hunt: a tense and isolated set in the Switzerland’s Bernese Alps; negative press coverage of Lazenby during production; an avalanche special effect ruined by an actual avalanche; a bobsled track that was melting; and a James Bond actor who wouldn’t commit to further films.
It takes Bond-like heroics get the job done
With OHMSS falling behind schedule, then-editor John Glen was called upon to save the day and shoot a bobsled chase sequence as second unit director.
“I think Peter had a tough time,” says Glen. “The weather in the mountains is very unpredictable. The bobsled run was built at great expense and suddenly the sun was shining and it started to melt away, so they called me in.
“I hit it hard for two to three weeks. We had two helicopters lifting the bobs from the bottom to the top, we were doing eight to 10 runs a day. We were all in white suits so the helicopter could get aerial shots at the same time.”
Cameraman Johnny Jordan dangled below a helicopter in a specially-built harness to get the aerial footage – a bit of derring-do as impressive as any Bond stunt.
Glen was also promoted to second unit director on The Spy Who Loved Me, to shoot Bond’s most iconic pre-title sequence – the Union Jack parachute ski jump. Getting the footage meant a Bond-style mission to the top of the 2,100m Mount Asgard in northwest Canada, along with stuntman Rick Sylvester.
“It was a very inaccessible place,” recalls Glen. “I was there for three or four weeks with a small crew. It was right on the Arctic circle – the weather was atrocious. We didn’t have room for hair, makeup, or wardrobe, just a small crew and two helicopters. It was costing us a fortune.”
When there was a small break in the bad weather, Sylvester – who’d been so anxious he was secretly willing the bad weather on – finally did the jump. “I think from that moment Cubby had earmarked me as a future director,” says Glen. “You could say when Rick Sylvester went off the precipice he took my career with him!”
Glen later braved the top of the Golden Gate Bridge for the climatic fight in A View To A Kill.
You only live twice … or maybe three times
Lewis Gilbert was arguably the most accomplished director of all the early Bonds, with a 50-year career that also included Sink The Bismarck, Alfie and Educating Rita. He was reluctant to direct Connery’s fifth film, You Only Live Twice – “I’d be like Elizabeth Taylor’s fifth husband,” he joked in his autobiography. “I’d know what to do but I wouldn’t know how to make it any different” – but Gilbert ultimately directed three Bonds.
He recalled that he “thoroughly enjoyed” making You Only Live Twice, but it wasn’t without incident: the Japanese press mercilessly hounded Connery; Gilbert found himself being piloted by a doddery old kamikaze pilot while scouting out Blofeld’s volcano base; a Bond girl threatened suicide after losing her part in the film because she couldn’t speak English (they let her keep the role); Donald Pleasance was cast as Blofeld only days before his scenes were shot; and a cameraman lost his foot in a helicopter blade accident.
Gilbert returned to direct Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, guiding the series towards Moore’s naturally comedic persona.
The search for a new 007 can be gamble …
One stress Cary Fukunaga won’t have to worry about is finding a new Bond actor. Not yet, at least. Recasting Bond is always an unknown quantity. Remember the manufactured backlash against Daniel Craig’s casting? All because he was a bit too blond.
But when John Glen landed the director’s gig on For Your Eyes Only – his first of a record five films in the director’s chair – he was charged with finding a new Bond to replace Roger Moore.
What he didn’t know was that Cubby Broccoli and Moore were locked in a high stakes game, with Moore keeping a poker face (with added raised eyebrow, naturally) to drive up his fee before signing on again. “And they were both good gamblers!” laughs Glen.
Moore ended up staying on for another three films, all directed by Glen – For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View To A Kill.
“I spent several weeks touring around the world interviewing different actors,” says Glen. “I went off with every good intention of finding a new James Bond, which didn’t endear me initially to Roger!”
… but a new Bond is licence to, er, do something new
After a false start recasting the part, Glen eventually helmed the transition from Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton.
Pierce Brosnan was almost cast, but Remington Steele was renewed for another season at the last second (“Of course, Cubby wouldn’t accept Pierce playing James Bond and Remington Steele!” says Glen), so Dalton, a previous forerunner, got the part.
“We were in an advanced stage of preparation,” says Glen. “We had very little time to find a replacement. We were in a bit of a jam really, because we were aiming for a release date”.
It wasn’t just a change of face – it was a change of tone, style and formula too. The Craig films are given credit for rebooting the series, but Dalton’s films – The Living Daylights in 1987 and Licence To Kill in 1989 – steered the franchise into darker territory years earlier.
“Timothy said he wanted to make it harder and more true to the Fleming books,” says Glen, “so we adjusted the script to make it harder and fit him. I think it was a good decision.
“Tim was handsome and a good actor. Physically he was very good. He did some fantastic stunts … though I did what I could to dissuade him!” Unfortunately, a 15 rating and tough competition from summer blockbusters hurt Licence To Kill at the box office.
It’s a battle to invent new action scenes
The Union Jack parachute jump is just one of many classic set pieces. There’s the 213m bungee jump from the Contra Dam in Goldeneye; Daniel Craig’s nerve-shredding crane-top punch-up in Casino Royale; Dalton’s truck chase in Licence To Kill; and Roger Moore skydiving in Moonraker (OK, it might not actually be Rodge).
“Cubby hated to repeat himself or do an action scene that copied anyone else,” says John Glen. “We had to be unique. But it’s tough to find something new every time.”
John Glen and screenwriter-turned-producer Michael G Wilson would trawl through the Fleming books and old scripts to find set pieces that hadn’t yet been used.
“We’d also invite in world champions from various sports and listen to them pitch what they could do,” says Glen, “then figure out how we could incorporate that into an action sequence. We used to sit around a table and work out how we’d do the action scenes. We’d have illustrators storyboard them, like a strip cartoon, and look at each frame and say: ‘How we can do this?’ Everyone would contribute ideas. I’d have these storyboards all around my room.
“As you get older you have to bang your head against a wall to be more original,” says Glen. “It gets harder. That’s why you have to change directors every now and again. You need that new enthusiasm and fresh ideas. I was mentally exhausted by the time I’d finished my fifth film.”
You’re only one gadget away from disaster
New Zealand director Martin Campbell made the most significant contribution to the Brosnan era when he revived the series with GoldenEye in 1995.
Fellow Kiwi Lee Tamahori made some less popular contributions in Brosnan’s final outing, Die Another Day, in 2002: Bond driving an invisible car and kite surfing a CGI tidal wave, both things the director added into the script himself.
As recalled in the book Some Kind of Hero, MGM hadn’t wanted Tamahori in the first place (“To be fair to MGM, I wouldn’t have wanted me either,” he said) and execs were rightly nervous that the CGI surfing would look dreadful, and betray Bond’s tradition of practical effects.
But MGM execs were also willing to throw money at the film for added spectacle, to compete with contemporary Hollywood actioners.
The film’s opening gambit, a bold creative move that sees 007 captured and tortured for a year in North Korea, before the film descends into campy nonsense, is far closer to what Bond should have been doing in the grittier post-9/11 era.
Tamahori told Sight & Sound that he, Roger Spottiswoode and Michael Apted – who had directed Brosnan’s films between Campbell and Tamahori – had just been “marking time” after Campbell’s GoldenEye. “When the next person comes along someone will have the opportunity to push it to the next level,” he said. Ironically, that person would be Martin Campbell himself, when he rebooted the series once again with Casino Royale in 2006.
There’s no solace without a script
German director Marc Forster had the unenviable task of following Casino Royale, and ended up delivering the underappreciated but also strangely un-Bond-like Quantum of Solace.
The film had major problems thanks to the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007-08. Screenwriter Paul Haggis handed in his draft just hours before the strike began, and the production couldn’t hire anyone to rewrite or polish. Shooting had to begin without a complete story.
“I wanted to pull out,” Forster told Collider in 2016. “But everyone said: ‘No, no, we need to make a movie, the strike will be over shortly so you can start shooting what we have.’”
It left Forster and Daniel Craig trying to rewrite scenes during production. “A writer I am not!” said Craig.
“You are under incredible pressure,” said Forster, “especially doing a Bond film, and especially doing the follow up Bond film to Casino Royale, which is the best book Ian Fleming ever wrote. Ultimately, you are the follow up with an incomplete script, based on no book, and you have to deliver.”
With a release date already locked in, Forster then had just six weeks to edit the movie.
“So while you’re shooting you’re also editing and you’re trying to figure out if the story works,” he said. “Ultimately I was actually pleased with the movie.”
Making it hard for yourself? Nobody does it better
Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes was a major coup for Bond, helming the phenomenally successful (but divisive among fans) Skyfall and Spectre.
Pre-production on Skyfall was suspended when MGM went bankrupt. It gave Mendes and his screenwriters nine months to get the script right.
“In retrospect it was a stroke of luck; at the time it was a pain in the neck” said Mendes at a Bafta Q&A. “One of the things I found frustrating about Spectre was that I didn’t quite have the amount of time I wanted.”
Indeed, production on Spectre was far less breezy, as Mendes had to wrap a globetrotting, action-packed film – which included a head-spinning helicopter set-piece and cinema’s biggest ever explosion – in just a year. Like Marc Forster, Mendes found himself editing while he was still shooting.
He described the complexity of making the film: while he was in Mexico City shooting two helicopters, his second unit was in the Alps shooting a chase, which he was supervising via iPad. Meanwhile, three sets were being built at Pinewood, and an aerial unit was in a different part of Mexico shooting extra helicopter stunts.
It’s enough to leave any director shaken, if not stirred.
- ©The Daily Telegraph