‘Skyfall’ Writers on How They Came Up With the Movie’s Last-Minute Title and the Explosive Finale
“We all knew the script wasn’t right .”
After nearly 25 years of writing James Bond movies with screenwriter Robert Wade, Neal Purvis still recalls the worrying thoughts he and his writing partner shared when it came to scripting the challenging story for Bond 23, which would eventually be titled Skyfall. It’s easy for us to sympathize with the writers’ feelings. The huge production, which was Daniel Craig’s third Bond movie, was put on hold by MGM’s bankruptcy problems a few months into its development.
Industry press speculated with a series of doom-and gloom stories about whether this indefinite stoppage would mean the end for James Bond. Thankfully, Skyfall and its tuxedo-clad hero would survive this very public financial setback by opening number one at the North American box office on Nov. 9, 2012, with $88.4 million — the biggest debut yet for a Bond movie. Skyfall is also the most successful entry in the Craig era. It earned over a billion dollars, another Bond first. As Skyfall turns ten this week, Wade and Purvis celebrate the anniversary by taking The Hollywood Reporter behind-the-scenes of the making of one of the most iconic Bond films in the franchise’s 60-year history.
At the time of release, the Bond franchise was barreling toward its 50th anniversary. Purvis and Wade — along with longtime Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson — were very mindful of not only delivering a movie in time for the 50th, but also one that was worthy of that considerable milestone amongst the fans.
Peter Morgan was the first writer to join the project. After jettisoning most of his early treatment for Bond 23, which reportedly carried the temp title of Once Upon a Spy, Wade and Purvis worked with director Sam Mendes and Craig on fine-tuning the story, which would not only introduce Bond staples Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), but kill off Judi Dench’s M.
“[Killing m] was a given back Quantum of Solace ,” Purvis explains The Hollywood Reporter . “And I wouldn’t say it was a throwaway scene or anything [in Quantum] because it was still emotional — but it was a very sudden thing that happened roughly in the middle or two-thirds of the way into an early draft of that story.” The filmmakers on Quantum of Solace ultimately decided that if the movie was going to do something as massive as that, then it would have to be done “properly,” Purvis says, “with the right amount of emotional depth that that movie just didn’t seem to have the time or room for. It was a scene we did write, but it was cut.
In their first meeting with Mendes, Craig and Craig, the duo discussed M’s death and the aftermath. “When Sam and Daniel first met in New York, they talked about ‘what happens if she dies?’ We discussed the possibility of a new M taking over .'”
M’s departure — the first time Bond’s character was killed on-screen — opened the door to Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) as M. Purvis and Wade’s version of Fiennes M — originally called “Mallender” in the early script and at one time considered the film’s Big Bad –were also discussed at that New York story conference. It was also at this meeting where a key piece of Skyfall was put in place: The villain, Silva (Javier Bardem).
Purvis explains that Daniel wanted someone who was as good as Bond. Ironically, the writers were long fascinated by Bardem and wanted him to lend his unique acting talents in Bond’s world.
“When we wrote Jinx, the spinoff movie from Die Another Day [which would have featured Halle Berry reprising the title role], we called the main character ‘Javier’ in the hope that we could pitch to the actor,” Purvis remembers.
“Javier” was also the name of Skyfall‘s villain written in the early film treatments, as if to will the actor into accepting the role. Mendes knew Bardem personally, so the Oscar-winning actor was really the only person that the director ever considered for the spy-turned-cyberterrorist who used to work for M before she left him out in the cold. Purvis and Wade had to create a backstory in order to explain how and why a man with Spanish descent would be employed by M and Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Wade explains that most of this footage didn’t make it into the final movie. It’s very complex. However, we did discover that Silva was a spy working in the British’s favor. He was a British spy who was in Macau. It was all about M having agents or assets everywhere and being a web spinner [of information]. He was just one of her operatives in the field that she didn’t let get burned. He went beyond his brief and was arrested by the Chinese. M then sacrificed him for the greater good. His pain, all the hurt that comes from his choice, is almost part of his plan. In the movie .”
, he explains why he does what he does.
What Silva does is force Bond undercover and throughout London to chase him. This culminates in an intricate, explosive third act that takes Bond back to his childhood home, a dark, isolated estate called Skyfall in Scotland. In an early draft, Gilly was named Kincade, Skyfall’s elderly gamekeeper. He was played by the late Albert Finney. Wade was the original one to suggest Bond’s abandoned homestead for the creative finale. Instead of Bond fighting the villain at their volcano lair or base Bond lures him onto his turf.
This location was chosen for the third act’s climactic finale. It also caused some anxiety among the writers, especially since the scenes at Skyfall were a last-minute addition.
Wade says that it came out of our process at the eleventh hour. “We had been working together with Sam for nine to ten months and that idea wasn’t yet in the film. We knew that we had two to three weeks before we had the script submitted to MGM. Although all the work was done, we didn’t have the [key part] at that time. This idea was not available to anyone until very late in the project.
Purvis says: “Rob had the idea to make it kind of like a western where the hero draws the baddies to him and you have a sort of final shootout. It was the perfect place for the character’s story. We wrote that whole part of the movie in maybe two weeks — starting with Bond taking M to his lockup [garage] in London, and taking the [Aston Martin] DB5 to the loch in Scotland.” (Purvis and Wade originally scripted that the DB5 would have a small arsenal in the trunk, or boot, and it was Mendes who desired that the car have an ejector seat, machine-gun headlights, and be more like the tricked-out, gadget-filled car that Sean Connery’s Bond drove in Goldfinger. )
It wasn’t until Purvis and Wade homed in on Skyfall‘s third act addition that the script began to form a solid foundation for the final movie.
Purvis admits that there was a consensus, perhaps unstated among us, that the script wasn’t quite right. “Michael was very helpful [with us] when it came to the ending. To their credit, Sam and Barbara said that Michael was very helpful when we were having trouble with the ending.
Wade was also the one who first came up with the title of the film, another idea that was conceived at the last moment.
Purvis recalls that “we were just about to hand over the script, at like eight o’clock in the morning or something like this,” Purvis said. “And we are talking to each other .”
Wade says, “We came up the name of our house, it was always called Skyfall. One of our ideas was to name the house Green Mantel or Mandalay. I was actually looking out of the window. It was snowing outside. There was just snow falling and desolation, and I said on the phone: ‘I was thinking of calling the movie Skyfall.'”
Purvis states, “And I thought that sounds about right.” “Later, Michael and Barbara told us they were going to call it Skyfall. It wasn’t until many years later that I saw the BBC’s Glastonbury and saw everyone singing the song with Adele. This is when you can see how last-minute decisions have such an impact on the world .”
Wade and Purvis’ impact on nearly the last quarter-century of Bond movies is not lost on them, especially given that their films starring Craig have upended and reinvented so much of 007’s mythos. “The Craig-aissance”, their inspired creative choices, do not reflect a desire to spice things up for the sake of it. Rather, Broccoli’s and Wilson’s desire are to find the best services for the franchise. The producers’ approach is not as rigid as critics and fans have hoped.
Wade insists that “that’s a totally unearned fame that some have cultivated around them,” Wade says. “They are not stingy .”
Purvis says, “We sit down with them talking about ideas for ages.” “And they want ideas that will challenge them, and the character, and they will come up things that also challenge them. A director is incredibly supportive of the person’s desire to do things .”
According to the writers, the process is about pushing Bond and the franchise forward. And whether or not the writers will be there to push the franchise further following the game-changing events of No Time to Die (RIP Craig’s Bond) remains to be seen. The screenwriters tell THR that neither Wilson nor Broccoli have tapped them yet to convene on next steps for another turning point in the franchise that they have arguably been the unsung heroes of since 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.
But wherever 007 goes, with or without Purvis and Wade, they are quite satisfied with where they took him in Skyfall.
Wade states, “It’s an extremely emotional story.” “We are extremely proud of this movie. Barbara and Michael are so successful with the series due to taking swings such as this .”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.