At a recent press event in New York, the cast and crew of the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall came to chat with press about the pressures of a 50th anniversary film, the joys of reaching into the past to serve the present, and what they hope to achieve with this all-new, with a splash of old, Bond.With little to no introduction, Director Sam Mendes took the dais and we started things off with an immediate question. "The most difficult thing with underwater was trying to tell a story, how they're sinking the entire time, it's getting darker and darker…" started Mendes when asked about directing challenges. They actually "pre-vis"ed the big action sequences, meaning they had them fully animated before actually shooting, something that Mendes said took almost as long as the shoot itself, but made it so much better.
"We didn't want to shoot in a handheld, throw-everything-at-it way," Mendes said when asked about how they shot. "We wanted it to be classic. We were careful and took a lot of time. A lot of times the studio asked why we were only shooting with one or two cameras, but you can control how the story runs much more precisely." Again discussing prep work, Mendes had a scale model of a building in Shanghai built, with all of the neon signs surrounding it so they could make sure they knew what the lighting and reflections would be doing throughout.
Mendes juggled the emotional tones, from comedy to deep drama and intense action, despite the "bit of a nightmare or MGM's bankruptcy. But in that time, we worked a lot on the script, particularly John Logan's work was phenomenal." They had the "first read through ever" of a Bond movie, and they took a lot of care for the inflection and nuance of each individual scene. Mendes also noted the "actors of highest calibre" that made things considerably easier. He was especially impressed by a 6-minute dialogue scene with Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig that seems almost like an action sequence.
Mendes tried to balance the references to the classic Bond movies and the new future of the series. "I felt about the homage elements that you have to earn them. If you put them in at the wrong time it will bring it to a halt." One such moment is "a relief after an intense 15 minute action sequence. It was very carefully placed there.
"In making a Bond movie, at least for me, you have to rediscover your 13 year old self. I had to get in touch with that part of myself that loved the DB-5, had that model growing up, like most boys of my generation."
They also wanted to address "what was the point of the Secret Service" outside of the cold war, and what was the point of the new and what was the point of Bond.
"I think the movie argues for honor, trust, friendship, courage. In a way it's deeply old fashioned in its values but I think they never go out of date. For me, that's the old in the movie, as embodied by the relationship between Bond and M."The director, while focused on doing a lot of prep work, still didn't think the early ideas should be followed "slavishly." He spoke of needing to be flexible when you're actually shooting.
With flexibility in mind, Mendes had an enormous amount of it from the studio and the Bond licensors. His cast additions were approved almost immediately, and he had a very specific idea for his villain, of making him the "lip-smacking" villain that hearkens back to older Bond films.
"I wanted to push the franchise into something that it had never been before," Mendes said of some of the larger changes, "obviously you want to do that, you don't want to just rehash. I saw in the films from around Moonraker on that Bond became sort of the celetape that just held all the gorgeous locations and supporting roles together. In Casino Royale he became the central character again, he had a real story arc. To find that personal weight in the movie was something very important to me."
While "if you read the beginning of Live and Let Die, it's not entirely racially sound," he consciously wanted to make this film diverse, and just cast the right actors for the job.
Avoiding the ever-present spoilers, Mendes said they were "just lucky! We were terrified the whole time that something would get out, but we seem to have got away with it." This conference was the first time he's ever talked about some of the bigger moments (which won't be spoiled here).
He does feel that "everything [he] wanted to do in a Bond movie, [he] put into this film," so he would have to be "convinced" to do another in the future.Finally, Newsarama asked why he spent a large portion of the film building up a real ensemble for Bond for the first time in several films. "MI-6 was the center of the story. It had always been the bedrock of the older movies, and that had been kind of lost in more recent films. The ensemble was in a way necessary for the story. While it may appear as an ensemble film, none of it can work without a great Bond in the center. Daniel played the role with such honesty, allowed himself to appear gaining and be told that by all the other characters. He's managed to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. That's the bedrock of the film, so yes, while all those other people are satelite-ing around it, that's him still at the center. And all of them are incredibly talented, and are real stars on their own. It's a tough job to be at the center of that and I think he's done it with incredible skill." Skyfall premieres October 26, 2012 in the UK and November 9, 2012 in the US