Article by Steve Biodrowski
The man perhaps most responsible for overseeing the James Bond franchise (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) is Michael G. Wilson. Wilson has been a part of the 007 series since with THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977. Not only has he produced ten of the films; he also contributed to the scripts for five of them. Working first under the auspices of producer Albert Broccoli (Wilson’s stepfather, who launched the series, along with Harry Saltzman, back in 1962), Wilson helped revive interest in Bond’s exploits 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 with Roger Moore, back toward a more serious direction with Timothy Dalton. Since the death of Albert Broccoli, Wilson and Broccoli’s daughter Barbara have been carrying on the family tradition. In the 1990s they revived flagging interest in the series with the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s famous spy. Now in the new century, they are looking for a new Bond who will connect with younger viewers (much as Warner Brothers hopes to lure young viewers back to their Batman franchise with a new and younger caped crusader). In the following interview, Michael G. Wilson discusses his role in maintaining the super spy’s amazing longevity.
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 grandfather’s 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.
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.
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.
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’s 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 were 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.
FOR DECADES THE FILMS CAME OUT LIKE CLOCKWORK EVERY TWO YEARS. NOT ANY MORE.
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.
WHAT’S IT LIKE RELEASING A BOND FILM IN TODAY’S MARKET?
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.
THE PIERCE BROSNAN FILMS TRIED TO BALANCE DRAMA WITH 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.’
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.
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 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.
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 moves on to another question]
YOU HAVE GREAT DIVERSITY IN YOUR FILMS.
Well, you have to understand that our films our 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.
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 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.
WHAT KEEPS THE BOND FRANCHISE GOING?
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, the directors.
WHAT WOULD IAN FLEMING SAY TODAY?
I guess he’d say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it’s still going on.’
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