Some secrets about Her Majesty’s Secret Service have been exposed in the Sony Studios computer systems hack. Or more specifically, some secrets about the budget and screenplay for the next James Bond adventure, Spectre, which just started filming this past week.
CNNMoney, who had been sent a dump of emails hacked from the studio, is reporting that the budget for Spectre has inched considerably over the $300 million mark and executives are desperate to get it back down to what they feel is a more manageable $250 million. In a series of emails, MGM president Jonathan Glickman makes a number of suggestions to the Bond producers about cost-cutting adjustments that they could make to the film.
(Needless to say many spoilers, some major, follow.)
· Villa in Rome? It’s a nighttime scene, so try doing it in London instead.
· There’s fighting on a train! Again! But use fewer carriages — three instead of four.
· Forget the dramatic finale in the rain. It’ll lower the cost of visual/special effects.
· Earn an extra $6 million by showing “the more modern aspects” of Mexico to maximize “the Mexican incentive.” (The makers of Spectre are getting paid to film there.)
In one email Glickman defends his suggests by saying –
We recognize that this movie needs to build on the past few films – and there are expectations we must meet for the audience. Still, we must find further cuts… This is not about ‘nickel and diming’ the production.
Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli, daughter of franchise founder Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, defended the production budget’s expenditures, in part reply that they “cannot find the cemetery or villa in the UK” and refusing to cut down the number of trains cars required for the proposed sequence.
Other budgetary discussions revealed that Andrew Scott was cast over Chitewel Ejiofor for the role of C, one of Bond’s MI6 superiors because Scott’s services came with a price tag that was $1 million less than Ejiofor’s and that a product placement deal with Heineken beer also helped reduce the budget. Another email also confirmed that the iconic Bond villain Blofeld, the mastermind behind this film’s titular organization, will appear in the film, though there is no word as to whether it is the character that Christoph Waltz is playing, as has been rumored.
While this could be seen as the usual back-and-forth that goes on between studio execs, the emails do reveal on potentially troubling thing. (Emphasis mine.) After being appraised of the situation, Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal, sent an email directly to Glickman saying, “It’s insane and you know with no script this movie is gonna go overbudget.”
While CNNMoney’s reporting doesn’t follow up on this revelation, Gawker has revealed a series of emails that have flown back and forth between studio execs and Bond producers expressing concerns over the film’s screenplay, particularly its third act. The original draft of what would become known as Spectre was written by John Logan with Bond franchise veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade coming in to provide a polish. Even as recently as October, Jez Butterworth was working at a final polish before cameras rolled.
Throughout the rounds of notes we saw, executives seemed mostly happy with the movie’s first two acts (spoilers ahead, if you care): Bond, having destroyed part of Mexico City on a rogue operation, and facing forced retirement as MI-6 merges with its sister agency MI-5, escapes across Europe on a mission posthumously assigned to him by his late boss, M (played by Judi Dench). He seduces the wife (Monica Bellucci) of a man he assassinated, and, using information from her, attends a meeting of a sinister group of masked terrorists led by a man who knows Bond from his past. Meanwhile, Bond’s current boss, M (Ralph Fiennes), battles his likely successor and the head of MI-5, C (Andrew Scott), over the future of an intelligence sharing program called Nine Eyes. Bond witnesses the death of Mr. White, a villain from Casino Royale, and finds White’s daughter Madeiline Swann (Lea Seydoux) in Austria. The pair head to Morocco, get drunk, screw, have stilted conversations, take a train to the desert, and kill a henchman named Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista).
In two rounds of studio notes and dozens of emails critiquing the script, executives at Sony and MGM agree that the film is generally good up to around this point. “For what it’s worth, I think first 100 pages are fantastic,” writes Jonathan Glickman, the president of MGM’s film division, in an email dated October 9. “It’s fun, emotional and the major logic issues have been rectified. And the relationship with Madeline is terrific.”
It seems that the screenplays real problems rear their head in the third act. Gawker lists a number of storytelling issues, strictly separate from the budgetary concerns above. Not all of the emails quoted and paraphrased are attached to specific dates, but here seems to be a rough timeline of concerns over the scripts and how things evolved. According to Gawker –
The problems seem to start when Bond meets the villain, a mysterious man named Heinrich Stockmann, who also uses the alias Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. In an irritating expository monologue, Stockmann confesses over dinner that he is Bond’s older foster-brother and also the head of a terrorist organization named Spectre. Bond is tortured; and then for unclear reasons manages to bluff Stockmann into rushing back to London, where it has become clear that C has been working for Stockmann the entire time.
Bond, accompanied by Q, who was in the next cell the whole time, follows Stockmann to London, where he kills him.
Stockmann is not a particularly compelling villain; his motivations are never made particularly clear; his connection with Bond completely forced. The plot, once Stockmann arrives, becomes difficult to follow, and, honestly, kind of boring. Stockmann, we ought to note, also has an attractive womanservant who has the hots for Swann.
As a result, the film has a boring and uneventful third act that, according to some executives, barely even makes sense.
This was a concern as far back as the end of the summer, as a script notes memo dated August 25 quotes an unnamed exec critiquing –
ALSO, THERE NEEDS TO BE SOME KIND OF A TWIST RATHER THAN A SERIES OF WATERY CHASES WITH GUNS. THIS IS BLOFELD AFTER ALL. WHAT DOES HE HAVE UP HIS SLEEVE?
It was also suggested that the screenplay could possibly be trimmed by 20 pages and one action setpiece. A follow-up memo from August 26 re-emphasizes the need for a surprise reveal in the third act by requesting, “Can we plot out what details Bond uncovers and what he thinks he’s found so that the end truly feels like a twist?”
(Side note – Gawker states that the name Blofeld does not appear anywhere in the actual screenplay they received released with the emails. There is some speculation that Waltz’s character will be revealed to be the iconic villain, and some execs seem to be referring to Waltz’s character with the Blofeld name.)
Six weeks later a revised draft had been turned in, but in an October 9th email Glickman is still not happy with the film’s planned climax.
We’ve already witnessed many horrible acts of terrorism, the finale should be about the biggest one yet that allows SPECTRE to profit the most. They should need the combined resources of all the intelligence agencies to pull it off. Surely there is something more pressing than suppressing one document.
Another executive, Hannah Minghella, co-president of production at Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures had an even harsher critique on October 12th, addressed to the story links that will connect Spectre with the previous films in franchise since it was rebooted with 2006’s Casino Royale.
If this is the movie that resolves the last three films then the emotional significance of that idea for Bond seems only lightly served at best. He finds the Vesper tape but never watches it. He appears to fall in love again for the first time since Vesper but there’s no real emotional vulnerability there – why this girl? Why now? When he leaves with her at the end of the movie and throws his gun in the river has he gone for good or is this just a well earned vacation as is so often the ending of a Bond film. Does he feel some sense of completion that he finished the last mission M/Judy left for him? It’s hard to know what significance any of these final gestures carry.
Elizabeth Cantillon, a former-Columbia executive who now as an exclusive production deal with Sony chimed in to criticize how Bond dispatches the film’s villain – “and the killing of blofeld with a final shot to the head? i dont’ know. seems brutal even for bond.” – while calling the finale of the film “overblown and familiar.”
the “meanwhile” action for bond is simply fighting henchmen in many overblown and familiar sequences – helicopter, elevator shaft, netting. he’s trying to save the girl but there must be a more dynamic set piece to come up with that doesn’t involve myriad henchmen and irma while BLOFELD is in another location.
Almost two weeks later, on October 21st, Glickman was still adamant that Spectre’s third act needed work, particular in making sure that the tension is well established for the audience.
I agree- third act needs a bit more set up so audience understands what is at stake and what is “supposed” to go down before Bond disrupts it.
The following day, another story notes document circulated with an entire section devoted to the film’s third act issues recommending “We should surgically review the scene- setting in the lead up to the finale so the events of the third act are clearer.”
As October gave way to November and the production drew closer to getting in front of cameras, Glickman was not any closer to being happy with the film’s final third than he was before, and was anxious to see if Broccoli had gotten the problems fixed. In a November 7 email titles “Act 3 Treatment” he asked “Just following up – I believe you said we would get a treatment for new act three. Do you expect we will get this weekend?”
Apparently, the answer he got back eased Glickman’s mind somewhat, but he was still hoping for some further tweaks, but this time with an eye on the film’s budget.
Just as we are thrilled with the creative changes made in the last outline, it feels like there will be some streamlining in the new structure that should help reduce the number.
All of this tinkering with the script so close to the commencement of filming last week is indeed troubling. Ideally, shooting wouldn’t begin until the screenplay was ready to go, but with a film like a James Bond franchise installment, there are many moving parts that have to be in alignment for the production to happen. Actors and key production personal schedules all have to be clear at the same time and Sony had already held off their start date on Spectre in order to accommodate director Sam Mendes. If they had pushed off the shooting until all the bumps were ironed out of the script, than they might have lost Mendes and other key actors and crew, who probably already have other projects set for after Spectre finishes. Furthermore, there is the business dictates that demand the film come out in November next year, so shooting had to begin now.
But Quantum Of Solace, the 2008 Bond film that most agree is the least of the post-franchise reboot films, was also rushed into production with script problems. There, however, the issues were caused by the Writers Guild strike, leaving that films director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig to reportedly try and figure out things while on set. At least in this current case, there’s nothing stopping any writer that Mendes and the execs want on set working on tweaking the film towards a better end product.