Everyone knows that since Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan has been the face of James Bond. But you're probably less familiar with the men who are the voice of Bond--that is, the writers. Bruce Feirstein is the top-credited screenwriter on every Brosnan 007 picture--that's Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World is Not Enough (or TWINE) which opens this week.
Besides being a screenwriter, Feirstein has written several successful humor books including Real Men Don't Eat Quiche and Real Men Don't Bond. He contributes to a zillion different publications like Playboy, The New Republic, The Times . . . and lots of others, including a monthly gig for the Observer. He's even directed some television.
Recently I threw a few questions his way about 007, "Real Man" stuff, and other goodies. Here's what we talked about:
Kerry Douglas Dye: Describe to me the process of writing a James Bond film. Obviously with a franchise that venerable and valuable, the producers probably assert a lot of control. Is it a pleasure? A trial?
Bruce Feirstein: Writing Bond films is a combination of things: They're terrifying, (how am I going to top what's been done?) aggravating (you can't please everyone), collaborative (the producers are involved with every line, on every page) and, also, tremendous, exhilarating fun. (Hey, how often in your life to you get to sit at the computer and write "The name is Bond. James Bond," for real?)
The basic drill on the films is that the first writer (or writers, the case of The World Is Not Enough, Rob Wade and Neal Purvis) starts work in January, comes up with the story and the first draft with the producers by June or July. Then the director is hired. And--alas--the first writer(s) are replaced. This never has anything to do with the quality of their work . . . But it is the way things go in Hollywood. Mike France did the first draft of GoldenEye, and was replaced by Jeff Caine. I did the first draft of Tomorrow Never Dies, and was replaced by (among others) Dan Petrie. Neal and Rob started TWINE, and were replaced by Dana Stevens.
I hasten to point out here that I think all of these writers did wonderful work, and I am lucky to have been associated with them.
But getting back to the narrative: The new writer usually appears sometime in the fall, and then even the second writer may (or may not) be replaced. On Goldeneye, Kevin Wade (Working Girl) did a draft; on TND, Nick Meyer and David Wilson (no relation to Michael Wilson) also did drafts--which are a collaboration with Barbara Broccoli, Michael Wilson, and the director.
It's a long, grueling process, filled with moments of absolutely astonishing joy.
KD: You must feel a lot of pressure from the fans to be true to their beloved hero . . . How do you handle that?
BF: In all three Bond films that I've worked on, you want to try to remain true to the character: A British Secret Service Agent, with double-oh clearance. You try to keep in mind that this is a man who faces death every day.
So far as 'pleasing' the fans, yes, you obviously keep this in mind: They want the wit, the women, the action. But you also have to remember that it's impossible to please everyone. Some think the Connery films are the best; others love Dalton; for another generation, Moore is the authentic Bond. And still others long for the more severe Fleming Bond, or the Lazenby Variation. It is simply impossible to win with that many constituencies.
Personally, (pre-Pierce, of course,) my own taste runs to the Connery Bonds--and the larger than life villains. I love From Russia With Love. And I think you can do a film with that tone and smaller scope, occasionally. But stuck on a desert island (Desert Island Bond,) I'd go for Goldfinger, and Thunderball.
KD: So that answered my next question. You're a Connery man?
BF: I saw Connery first. So he became the benchmark for me. My cousin saw Moore first. That's her Bond. My godchild knows only Pierce, and sits, wide-eyed at his James Bond. Who's right? Who's wrong? Who cares? (And, lest my words be misinterpreted here: I think Pierce is an amazing Bond. I love his performance in TWINE. I'd love to say he's the best Bond--but it would only sound like hype.)
KD: How about all the great names for the Bond girls? For the pictures you wrote, did you come up with those?
BF: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Xenia Onatopp was mine--because I wanted to do a throwback to the old days of Pussy Galore, etc. Although, at the same time, I also wanted it to sound slightly plausible . . . As opposed to the total reject names that we've kidded around about: A henchman named Manuel Hung; a Bond girl named Lucious Bush. And I don't know if it's ever come out, but the original joke name for the Michelle Yeoh character (Wai Lin) in TND was: Mi Lei Hue.
Anyway, I'm glad you brought this up, as I've taken a lot of heat for the Dr. Warmflash character name in TWINE. The story behind this name is that the character was supposed to be called Greatrex. But the night before shooting, the lawyers called, and insisted we change it. There was a store we'd pass on the way to the studio-- Warmflash Pharmacy (or something, I honestly forget)--and it stayed with me, as I'd gone to high school with a kid named Warmflash. (Similarly, on our way out to the TND studio, we'd pass a Gupta Bakery, which became the name of Ricky Jay's character.) In any case, knowing the name would never be uttered, it seemed a good, fast choice--as opposed to doing what was done with the Cigar Girl: namely, calling her "Cigar Girl." So for those who think I committed some kind of capital crime with the name "Warmflash," my advice is to get a life.
Having said this, there is one last thing about the names that I love, which goes back to [writer] Dick Maibaum, who for me, is the real unsung hero of the early films. One of my favorite lines is when Bond asks Tiffany Case how she got her first name, and Tiffany explains that she was born in the store, when her mother was looking for a wedding ring. And Bond replies: Lucky for you she wasn't shopping at Van Cleef and Arpels.
For me, that's truly amazing writing: First, it's incredibly witty. But at the same time, in the context of a joke, Maibaum manages to build an entire backstory for Tiffany: illegitimate child, mother who shopped at Tiffany's, etc. etc. Maibaum was the master of these kind of smart strokes.
KD: On the subject of non-Bond movies, your book Nice Guys Sleep Alone was just adapted as a movie with Morgan Fairchild. Is the picture any good?
BF: I haven't seen the final cut. But the director showed incredible taste in optioning the material and recognizing its genius in the first place. But seriously--I think it comes out next year. And from friends who've seen it on the independent film circuit, I hear it's highly enjoyable.
KD: Your books Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, Nice Guys Sleep Alone and Real Men Don't Bond covered the plight of masculinity before it was fashionable to do so. Where do men as a gender stand at the turn of the millennium, or have Susan Faludi and Fight Club said everything there is to be said?
BF: For me, Fight Club said nothing. Ditto for Susan Faludi. When I wrote Real Men Don't Eat Quiche (and the later Real Men Don't Bond) I had one core belief: That a Real Man has a moral compass that points true north. He doesn't need to get beaten up to prove his masculinity; he loves women; he doesn't go into the forest to bang on drums to find his inner self; he doesn't become a porn star because he can't deal with women's sexuality; he isn't threatened by a female boss, minorities, or "consumer values" (whatever that means. Faludi failed to explain it in her book.) I truly believe that for 99.9999 of men, this stuff isn't an issue. Real Men was an ironic look at all of this new-age stuff. When I said things like "A real man knows you can never accomplish with words what you can accomplish with a flame thrower," it was tongue in cheek. In much the same way, I began the Quiche book with the sentence: "In the old days, it was easy to be a real man: All you had to do was abuse women, steal land from the Indians, and find someplace to hide the toxic waste." My point was that men change with the times; they're not threatened by change, but rather, adapt, and adopt. (A real man, by the way, would not have to read any of this. He just knows it.)
KD: So, can we eat quiche now?
BF: Today? I'm not sure if it's sufficient to provide the strength needed to grapple with, and thrive, in the Internet economy. Perhaps if it were fortified with caffeine, and called "quiche.com."
KD: What about the 90's James Bond? Is he still a real man?
BF: Obviously. But I sort of take offense at the accusation that Bond has gone soft, and is now too politically correct. We live in a world where women run corporations; where sex comes with a risk; where we all know there's a price to be paid for excessive drink, smoke, and drugs. Bond operates in this "real world." (Albeit, one with megalomaniacs, hell-bent on global world wide domination.) My point is that a contemporary 00 agent probably wouldn't smoke; wouldn't go running amuck in a Thai brothel; and certainly wouldn't be filling himself with Benzedrine before a mission, the way the Fleming Bond did. Bond isn't politically correct; but he accepts (and succeeds) in the reality of the world around him.
KD: One last question, just because I'm curious: You directed an episode of "Monsters," which was one of my favorite shows as a teenager. What was the story of that episode, and how was the experience?
BF: I loved doing "Monsters". It was great fun. First, you wrote a script that could be about anything, so long as it had a Monster in it. Then you had to cast "names"--sort of like the stars you'd find in the third story on "Love Boat". In mine, I cast Laura Brannigan (remember the disco song, Gloria?) and Morton Downey Junior, as an obnoxious radio announcer. (There's a stretch, huh?) Actually, Mort was great to work with. He was very funny,
smart, and self deprecating.
So . . . All the "Monsters" were shot in four days and edited in one. But here's some trivia that I'm sure you didn't know:
- The first Assistant Director was Ted Hope, who went on to found Good Machine, and make the Ang Lee movies.
- My score was done by Joe Taylor, the well known new age guy.
- We shot at a sound stage in Queens, which had previously been Pink Floyd's rehearsal hall--and started life as the film sound stage for the Amos and Andy TV show in the '50's.
KD: Awesome. Bruce, that's all I have to ask you. I appreciate your time, and I look forward to seeing The World is Not Enough when it opens next week.