50 years ago, film producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman produced their first film of British secret agent James Bond, based on a series of popular thriller novels written by Ian Fleming.
By 1975, Saltzman sold his share of the production rights and by 1996, Broccoli died, with his daughter Barbara and stepson Michael G. Wilson taking over as producers of the Bond franchise. Now the 70 year-old Wilson and 52 year-old Broccoli produce the 23rd entry in the 007 film franchise with Skyfall.
Aside from the film, the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise was marked with a documentary Everything Or Nothing that was produced and aired on the premium channel EPIX, which told the story of how the books were first made into films and the highs and lows in keeping the franchise alive.
“I’d say that it’s a part of history and it’s important to tell the history,” Michael says of it, “A lot of people have written about it and a lot of people have speculated and it was a chance to correct the record for the 50th anniversary. I don’t think there was any embarrassment about what came out. It was just the facts.”
“I think what it does show is the passion that these two men have,” Barbara says of it, “Well, the three men, obviously, Ian Fleming as well, the two partners, the passion they had for Bond and for the series. Sadly, the partnership went awry because I guess basically, Harry started getting interested in other things and Cubby just wanted to focus on Bond.”
“And I think we both feel Cubby’s passion was very infectious and got us in Bond,” she continues, “And that we kind of learned from that, not to take Bond for granted. And we very much inherited his work ethic about how, if you want to keep this series going, you got to be on it.”
What makes Everything Or Nothing particularly fascinating is how unusually frank it is compared to others on a Hollywood-related subject.
“I think, with Passion Pictures, they wanted to make a documentary and they wanted to tell the story and we agreed with that,” Wilson says of it, “We agreed with that philosophy that we would let the record speak for itself, let the people say what they thought who had firsthand knowledge about it and they could speculate and draw their own conclusions. It’s all those people who were involved that were the ones who could speak. I think if we sugarcoated it, what’s the point? We can always do a puff piece, but why?”
“It’s a very interesting story, isn’t it,” Broccoli interjects, “It says a lot about a lot of things.”
Broccoli about keeping the Bond franchise fresh for themselves.
“First of all, making movies is very exciting,” she believes, “And I think with each one, we get the most interesting, talented people and they infuse the cocktail with their own element and that’s what makes it exciting. People come to it, I mean, someone like Sam Mendes comes to it as a 12 year-old boy who went to see Live And Let Die, and Bond meant a lot to him in that time in his life and has been a Bond fan, but came to it with a fresh view.”
“And certainly, Daniel [Craig], reconceiving the character for the 21st century,” Barbara continues, “And that’s been very exciting and we have lots of people from the old team that always come to it with wanting to do better than before and wanting to make the best Bond film ever. So there’s a lot of passion and that’s the thing that I think keeps it fresh for us.”
Barbara and Michael’s company Eon Productions has almost exclusively made James Bond films. We asked them if they ever felt like making an animated family film instead one day.
“I think we’d like to do other things,” Wilson replies, “Barbara’s been doing a lot of plays lately and that’s been fun, too, to be involved with and making other films, of course, can be fun. But you get on a treadmill. Like Cubby used to say, ‘Grab a tiger by the tail and it kind of carries you along and you can’t let go.’ I think it would be fun to do other things.”
One thing that has made the Bond series far more traditional than most film franchises of the modern era is that they are still by and large self-contained films. We asked them if they ever considered making a more strongly continuous series of Bond films.
“I think we’ve tried to keep Bond as contemporary as possible,” Broccoli says, “And the world changes so fast and it’s tough enough trying to make a Bond film within a two or three or four year period to keep it feeling like it’s on the cutting edge, without having to kind of imagine out a decade, so I don’t know, never say never.”
“Everything is possible,” Michael says, “I think probably the last two, Casino Royale and Quantum [Of Solace], were more or less sequels. One started ten minutes after the other one ended, so they did have that element.”
While the Bond series has had a long tradition of employing elaborate gadgetry at the secret agent’s disposal, the Daniel Craig films, particularly the latest one Skyfall, have gone for a more realistic approach.
“Well, we knew we were going to reintroduce the Q character,” Barbara says, “But partly, one of the themes of the film is that technology vs. human endeavor, so it became part of the fabric of the telling of the story. People can use gadgets to help them in life, but they can’t replace human beings. You still need a hero. You need a man who’s willing to risk everything and put his life on the line to solve the problem.”
We mentioned to them that with this particular film, moments right before Bond jumps into action, he seems to wait person gets killed, then jumps into action.
“I think that is one of the themes,” Broccoli says, “Like with M, she was faced with a dilemma, does she save one person or does she save six other agents? Can she save one person? I think none of these decisions are easy in this world, where you are operating within the shadows, where you don’t know who the villain is, so you need to kind of make decisions that are very difficult.”
Another thing that makes Skyfall a break from Bond films of the past is the villain Raoul Silva, played by Oscar winning actor Javier Bardem. Silva’s sexuality is not defined and one particular scene that highlights this is a scene where Bond replies to Silva with the line, “Heaven, no, this isn’t my first time.”
“I think it was a duel of trying to psych each other out and so, how do you respond to something like that,” Wilson says, “You just hit him back an unsettling thing with something just as unsettling, so that was part of the duel.”
“There was some issue about whether that’s appropriate for our films or not, but I thought that was right on the nose of people and people seemed to love it,” he adds, “But Javier, we wrote the script with him in mind, not knowing or not if he was going to do it, of course. When he said yes, the fun began. He brought a lot to that character himself.”
But some things do remain the same and that is the incredible exotic locales you see in Bond films. Skyfall was filmed in Britain, Turkey, and China.
“Usually, what you see is Pinewood and comes out of Dennis Gasner’s imagination,” Barbara says.
“That’s the thing about that,” Michael adds, “You go out all over the world and you go to these places, and then you go back and build it. It’s a reference to the real world and things you’ve seen. I like to say we take people on a journey. It’s geographic, as well as emotional.”
Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to portray James Bond and the latest film is the third Bond film with him as the character. Broccoli and Wilson talks about how Craig has grown into his role as Bond.
“Well, I think it’s been very exciting,” Barbara believes, “He’s an extremely gifted actor and the thing about him is that he gives it 100%. That’s absolutely one of the things when we first met him. He was quite reluctant to take the role on and I think it’s because of the fact that he knows himself very well and he knows when he makes a commitment, he goes the whole hog, so he’s very determined, he’s very hard-working, and I think he’s taken the character emotionally to a new level and when you go back to the early books, all that inner conflict is very much what made Bond work.”
“And it’s very difficult to portray that cinematically because he doesn’t talk about how he feels, it’s all an internal dialogue,” she continues, “And I think he’s managed to translate that in a very exciting way. He’s been very brave in wanting to make the character very human and show the cracks and show the complexities and I think that’s what’s made it very contemporary. He’s brought humanity to the role, which I think is certainly exciting, but also probably a lot more appropriate for the time that we’re living, where we don’t want just heroes who don’t suffer and don’t have a conscience.”
We did mention to them that one scene that involves Bond jumping onto a train, having been shot and all messed up, the second he lands, he fixes his cuffs, being very much a classic move for him.
“It’s the little things,” Wilson says of it.
We asked Broccoli and Wilson if they find it hard to say no to original ideas, like one we pitched, a flying donkey being the next great superhero, considering their father and Saltzman had the idea of a James Bond movie passed by nearly every Hollywood studio.
“Now that one has some merit to it,” Michael says.
“I think we always basically say to people that nothing gets made unless you really have a lot of passion for it,” Barbara interjects. “And if you believe in something, you should go for it. I think that’s the kind of thing we were brought up to do and I think that’s a good lesson for anyone.”
The two were also asked what they would likely doing with their lives had their father had run say a bakery and not happen to be the producer of the James Bond franchise.
“I was making pizzas when Barbara said that,” Wilson says, “I think I’d actually make a pizza.”
“I always say that,” Broccoli says, “I always say, ‘I just wanted to be with my father.’ And if he had a pizzeria, I’d just be making pizzas today and that’s about it.”