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The Secrets of SPECTRE

At another point, a contrasting re-imagination of the Blofeld character as an African warlord or dictator, with Oscar nominated British-Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor apparently linked to the part, was mooted. Ultimately this idea was also rejected, although Ejiofor was also seemingly considered for the new character of ‘C’, a part which on Mendes’ suggestion was eventually filled by Andrew Scott (Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock) on a lower wage than Ejiofor would have earned. Other Blofeld-related titbits from the Sony leaks revealed that the character of Irma Bunt was also included in some drafts of the script, while the title ‘The Death Collector’, a direct reference to Blofeld from the novel YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was also considered.

The most worrying fact to emerge from the Sony leaks fiasco, though, was that the scriptwriting process for ‘BOND 24’ appeared to be unusually fraught. In March 2014, for example, Sony Pictures’ influential chief Amy Pascal complained that Logan’s storyline for the film didn’t “build from one idea to the next”, while the following month executive Elizabeth Cantillon complained of the latest draft that she had seen that Blofeld was an “ugly lesbian” and Bond “a pussy.” She added that a recent meeting with EON, which Barbara Broccoli had missed through illness, had not been helped by the “unwillingness to put a positive spin on anything” of “Michael” (presumably Michael G. Wilson).

By the summer it was clear that Sony execs felt the script was a “mess” and in June rumours were rife that Mendes was about to quit. By this stage Logan was being described as having “bombed out”, hence the emergency return of Purvis and Wade to see what could be salvaged from the savaged remnants of their predecessor’s work. Cantillon was sufficiently unhappy to dismiss Logan as “a bit of a fraud” while Broccoli was said to be “beside herself” and a “wreck” such was the parlous state of the script.

The screenplay was thrown into further disarray when a plan to make Ralph Fiennes’ new M character a traitor was summarily rejected by the actor himself who declared he did “not want to be a bad guy”. The idea of a surprise traitor operating within MI6 would be a common theme in many future drafts, at one stage this role was filled by Rory Kinnear’s Tanner and at another stage Scott’s new character ‘C’. It’s an idea that may, or may not, have survived in the film’s final screenplay. It also emerged that securing the casting of Waltz and Seydoux was a key bargaining chip in keeping a jittery Mendes happy.

By August, the screenplay seemed to be progressing in a more positive direction, as the creative team wrestled with how to integrate the back-story from Bond’s childhood and the introduction of SPECTRE and possibly Blofeld, while also reconciling all these story beats with threads from the previous three Craig Bond films.

Christoph Waltz
Ralph Fiennes as M

As well as the tortuous process of developing a coherent storyline and screenplay for the film, it also became clear that Sony were deeply concerned that the shift in Spectre’s production schedule to accommodate Mendes’ involvement was going to have a dramatic effect on the film’s commercial prospects. To Sony’s chagrin, an October release date was ruled as being simply too tight, meaning the film would only hit cinema screens in November and therefore miss the lucrative mid-Autumn holiday period in the UK and the USA. This scheduling caused Sony executives grave concern, as proven by exchanges of emails in October 2014, when one executive estimated that a November opening, as opposed to Sony‘s preferred release date of 23 October, would lose the film fifteen percent of its revenue, particularly as it placed Spectre in closer proximity to the release of the fourth and final Hunger Games film on 20 November, as well as the hugely anticipated  Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens in December which Sony feared would damage their “usually lucrative tail end” box office receipts.

SPECTRE behind-the-scenes

In truth, even were it to be released earlier, Spectre could probably not hope to match Skyfall’s box office success, although given the intrigue factor surrounding the return of SPECTRE and the possible return of Blofeld the film has a decent chance of reaching the magic $1billion mark. Even if it does not, it is worth bearing in mind that any gross in excess of $600 million would ensure the film surpassed the box office tallies of Craig’s first two Bond films. Revealingly, Sony, in November 2014, set a target for the film of a $200 million gross in the US and $500 million internationally, a tally which looks well within the film’s reach.

Monlca Bellucci and Daniel Craig in SPECTRE (2015)

In terms of publicity, it should be remembered that the cinematic stars were perfectly aligned for Skyfall’s release in 2012 – as demonstrated by the film’s proximity to the London Olympics, which created the opportunity for Craig’s 007 to participate in the opening ceremony alongside Queen Elizabeth II, a publicity stunt the worldwide value of which is unlikely to ever be topped. (Amusingly, Pascal’s desire for a big stunt that could do for Spectre “what the Olympics did” for Skyfall earned internal mockery at Sony, with head of international release Steve O’Dell joking that the only way to top the Olympics 2012 stunt was to get every former Bond actor together with the Royal family and perform an ice bucket challenge, with the actor cast as the new villain releasing the water and ice).

Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann and Stephanie Sigman as Estrella in SPECTRE (2015)

Financial considerations to one side, Spectre’s artistic prospects are harder to gauge. One would hope that the filmmakers would not waste the golden opportunity to reintegrate 007’s most famous foes, although, truth be told, the franchise’s track record in successfully utilising SPECTRE and casting Blofeld is decidedly mixed. On the plus side, the teaser trailers for Spectre certainly look suitably moody and atmospheric, as is Mendes’ specialty, and we should probably read little into the script chaos revealed by the Sony leaks – after all, Richard Maibaum’s archive of Bond script material at the University of Iowa has proved that the screenwriting process for many Bond films has been troublesome and contained countless terrible ideas (including the infamous plan to have Gert Frobe return to the Bond series to play Goldfinger’s brother in Diamonds Are Forever). Besides which, by October 2014, thanks to Purvis and Wade’s efforts and the presence of Jez Butterworth as a further script doctor, the Spectre screenplay finally seemed to be coming together, with exec Hannah Minghella reporting the latest draft was “by far the best” she’d read, an assessment with which 007 MAGAZINE can concur having seen various drafts and scene outlines.

Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Rory Kinnear as Tanner with Daniel Craig as James Bond in SPECTRE (2015)

Ultimately, all the off-screen drama (which reached a peak when Pascal lost her job in February 2015) has probably only raised anticipation for Spectre. Besides which, with the writing process for the film going right to the wire as the film entered production, and re-writes and re-jigging of the storyline said to also be occurring on set, the final shape of the storyline remains to be confirmed. The key unanswered question remains whether Waltz’s Oberhauser will definitely be revealed as Blofeld, and whether he will become a recurring villain in the series.

Even more important, though, when considering the prospect of Spectre matching Skyfall in artistic terms, is whether the screenplay, direction and performances can successfully combine to provide a plausible psychological texture which convincingly links the film to the entire Craig canon.

Granted, it’s not quite the uncertainty of days gone by, but at least in this spoiler-filled world we don’t know everything about Spectre before those cinema lights dim – and we don’t want to!

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