It’s a dream for many people to go behind the scenes on a James Bond film. To meet their favourite actors preparing for a cool scene, seeing the director choose an angle with the photographer, or watching the stunt men being set on fire safely, or joining the prop masters working hard to get the gadgets done in time, and so on. There are many books and documentaries that show this type of behind the scenes stuff, so you won’t need to spend whole days watching people moving lights between short snippets of acting.
Going deeper than behind the scenes
But going behind the scenes of a film can also mean so much more. You’ve probably seen it in a featurette on a DVD how they show the process of storyboarding the action and maybe even, in a few instances, talk to the screenwriters about what the inspiration for the movie was.
Some of these things can be found in “regular” books about the behind-the-scenes work on the Bond films, such as Some Kind of Hero by Ajay Chowdhury and Matthew Field, or The James Bond Archives by Paul Duncan. If you’re interested in screenwriting and/or James Bond, as I am, this is often the closest you get to being inside the room(s) where the films were written.
To show some semblance of order books about the James Bond films divide the process into pre-production, filming and post-production, and maybe talk about ideas that were kicked around. These stories are often the same from book to book, and consist of short accounts, a few sentences long. Two such examples of stories they mention are how there were oh so many tries to get Kevin McClory’s remake of Thunderball off the ground before they finally made Never Say Never Again, and how there were talks of using Goldfinger’s twin brother as the main villain in Diamonds Are Forever.
I find that those type of stories are often more illuminating than the relatively “clean” stories about filming when it comes to actually understanding what works and doesn’t work.
Let’s go a step deeper still
Then there is those books that go a step further, and discuss not just how to write films (there are thousands and thousands of books that talk about act structure, creating compelling characters and writing the important ten first pages), but how the specific screenplays you like were written. How the various set pieces, action sequences and casino scenes were strung together. Like being in the room with the people who wrote the scenes that the actors acted the hell out of. These books are rare and far between.
One reason this part of the process is rare to document at all is that it shows how stressful screenwriting on a film is at best, and, more likely, chaotic and haphazard. This isn’t because the writers and producers are incompetent (they may be inexperienced) — but because the process of making film isn’t as clear-cut or orderly as some people would let you believe.
And this process is certainly under even more pressure on a tent-pole franchise such as the Bond films, where everybody and their brother have their own ideas on everything from the hair on the next Bond actor to the tone of the film. Imagine working under those conditions.
But it gets worse.
How deep is the rabbit hole?
If you ask any screenwriter about the best book on how films are made, my guess is that William Goldman’s 1983 book Adventures in the Screen Trade will be mentioned among the top five. But why is that?
The reason is that the book goes beyond the “rules” and “how-to” of screenwriting, and shows how the films were written. Including how they were rewritten — and rewritten again.
Many people will remember this quote from the book, about the film industry at large, or at least the first part of it: “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
That is true for writing the Bond films as well. I don’t mean that the screenwriters and producers don’t know their craft, but that nobody knows what the audience wants. One example from the Bond universe: In 1987, The Living Daylights hit the screens. Just two years later the Berlin wall had fallen and most of the map of Europe was different. The defector story of The Living Daylights became a story from history almost immediately, and as such less topical.
Another example that is not based on a film becoming out-of-date: I’m sure that it felt like a genius move, at least for someone, to make Blofeld Bond’s secret adoptive brother in Spectre. Originally it wasn’t like that. The character played by Christoph Waltz in the finished film was called Stockmann and was Bond’s adoptive brother. But he was not Blofeld.
And ever since Spectre came out, that has been a major criticism against the film, that by making Blofeld Bond’s brother, they changed the lore of the films too much, to try and create a sibling rivalry where none needed to exist.
I’m sure someone still thinks that this change was a good idea.
Again, nobody knows anything.
After almost 60 years, there’s bound to be lots of changes like that, in either direction — good ideas that was turned into bad or lukewarm scenes, and bad ideas that somehow was changed into something great.
Let’s go deeper still
Then there are the stories that could have been. Stories that have not even become part of the James Bond trivia universe: the lost stories.
That type of behind the scenes are as deep as you can go, and they are very rare indeed to see discussions about, and certainly not at any length.
When you go this deep, it’s like finding the lost adventures of Sherlock Holmes, that Dr Watson only hints at in his books, such as The Adventure of the Highgate Miracle.
Then in 2020, American journalist Mark Edlitz published a book on just that topic, The Lost Adventures of James Bond, where he interviews some of the most exciting people involved in lost Bond stories: not just a third Timothy Dalton Bond film, but a fourth film as well.
The book is excellent and Edlitz manages even to discover some new angles on the Bond phenomena, which is impressive after so many years. Read more about the book here.
I got in contact with Edlitz and made an interview with him after reading the book. Here’s that interview:
Interview with Mark Edlitz
After doing all of this research, what are your own main lessons as a writer? Do you, for instance, think that there are some lessons in here that a screenwriter for the next Bond film should take to heart?
In the book THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND, I look at the process of writing Bond movies. I look at various drafts of Timothy Dalton’s third Bond film. There were two different versions of his third film. One was a thriller and the other was an action-comedy. In the action-comedy version, Bond was feeling that he was no longer at the top of his profession.
In it, Bond felt that he had missed a step. The story was about Bond finding his confidence again.
I also discovered that there was a treatment for Dalton’s fourth Bond film which would have been called Reunion with Death. Reunion with Death would have taken Bond to Japan. It would have also featured Loelia Ponsonby, Bond’s secretary from the novels. I also look at an alternative first Bond movie for Dalton; it was a James Bond origin story and it was set before the events of Dr. No.
Writing a Bond movie is a unique process. The producers are not waiting around for the writer to complete a draft, send it to them, and they will shoot whatever the writer wrote down. Writing a Bond movie is a collaborative process. Richard Maibaum, who wrote thirteen Bond movies, says that everyone is invited to collaborate. Maibaum had creative meetings with the producers, the director, the editor, and even the production designer. In fact, Maibaum welcomed creative disagreements and exchanging ideas. Maibaum thought that the unique writing process led to a better movie.
In addition to the movies, the book also looks at the creative process of making Bond novels, comics, video games, radio dramas, and even an unproduced Bond play that was written by Bond author Raymond Benson.
Are there some subjects that you did consider writing about but for some reason decided against? Are there some topics you’re thinking about writing more about in a third book?
I’m not sure what the future will bring. For now, I’m just trying to get the word out about THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND. It takes years to write a book, so I hope readers will embrace this. At over 400 pages, I hope readers don’t focus on what I didn’t write and that they enjoy all the topics that I did cover.
There are several Bond comics whose runs were unceremoniously cut short and whose storyline was never finished. So I contacted those writers and discovered all these unfinished and unpublished Bond comics.
I also write about James Bond Jr, the animated series about 007’s nephew. I interviewed the show’s co-creator, the co-director, and many of the show’s writers. I also spoke to the lyricist who wrote the theme song. I also interviewed the writer of novelizations. For better or worse, THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND contains the most comprehensive look at James Bond Jr to date.
This book is of course not the first reference book about Bond. What are some of your inspirations? Are there some you actively have tried to avoid being too similar to?
There are so many great books on Bond. I’ve loved Raymond Benson’s The James Bond Bedside Companion, James Chapman’s Licence to Thrill, Mark O’Connell’s Catching Bullets, and Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury’s Some Kind of Hero.
If you want to write a new Bond book, you have to offer something new to the reader. I’ve written two Bond books and they are both different and I hope readers think that they provide something new to Bondology.
My first book THE MANY LIVES OF JAMES BOND is a collection of interviews with actors who have played Bond. But it’s not always the actors you suspect. I interviewed a couple of movie Bonds but I also interviewed actors who played 007 in film, television, radio, audiobooks, and video games. That book is also a look at Bond’s character, as told by the creators of the super spy.
This new book THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND is about unmade, lost, and forgotten James Bond projects. I look at Dalton’s third and fourth unmade Bond films. I also take a deep dive into James Bond Jr. the animated series, as well as lost Bond movies, books, and comic books. I interviewed Raymond Benson about his lost Bond play and I spoke to Toby Stephens about playing Bond on the radio eight times. Toby Stephens hasn’t spoken about playing Bond before so I was thrilled to be able to speak with him. I also solved the mystery of who wrote The Adventures of James Bond Junior: 003 ½. For over 50 years, no one knew the author’s identity. But I tracked them down and reveal the author’s identity in the book.
Other Bond writers and the Bond fan community continue to inform and inspire me and my work. I think that THE LOST ADVENTURES OF JAMES BOND offers something for every Bond fan, from the casual ones to the hardcore ones.