Skyfall: 10th Anniversary of Bond Movie

Director Mendes Recalls How Shutting Down the Movie Led to Its Ultimate Success

The film faced an uphill battle–including studio MGM going bankrupt and headlines declaring the end of 007–before long hiatus put it on the path to $1 billion at the box office.

 

In April 2010, Skyfall received a blessing in disguise when it was shut down.

With parent studio MGM spiraling toward bankruptcy at the time, Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond was put on indefinite pause by producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

MGM’s financial situation hobbled both the production and the franchise, with the latter sorely in need of a hit.

The movie had already been in development for a year and a half, after the mixed critical and box office response to 2008’s noble misfire, Quantum of Solace.

It looked like Bond’s DNR would be a lengthy one, with the press worrying it would be similar to the six-year gap between 1989’s License to Kill and the release of GoldenEye in 1995 that was brought on by legal troubles.

Sam Mendes

The cover story at Entertainment Weekly at the time read: ‘Is James Bond Dead?’” recalls Oscar winning director Mendes, who spoke on the eve of Skyfall’s 10th anniversary how challenging it seemed then for the movie to ever reach such a milestone.

Mendes and his collaborators used the downtime as opportunity to creatively resuscitate the film’s storyline. In doing so, they dealt with the same themes of resurrection in real life that Bond would struggle with as the movie rocketed toward its November 9 release date in the U.S.–in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

As Skyfall turns 10, Mendes reveals how he and collaborators pulled off one of the biggest Bond movies ever — the first, and only, 007 adventure to gross $1 billion at the box office.

“People forget these things very quickly, but MGM went bankrupt and the thought among the town at that time was: ‘Oh, it’s all over. They can’t afford it, that’s the end of Bond,’” Mendes explains. For roughly 10 months, production was shut down. And while technically no one was allowed to work on the script during that time because of legal reasons, there wasn’t anything stopping Mendes and his writers–Bond vets Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with a rewrite from John Logan–from addressing script concerns once the movie was back on its feet.

Death of M: Played by Oscar Winner Judi Dench

“At early stage, there was a treatment that ended with the death of M. And that was one of the things that hooked me in,” Mendes recalls. “Everyone was feeling that that one decision, in a sense, changed the entire franchise. It acknowledged the passage of time, arguably for the first time ever, in the series. It acknowledged they are mortal, that they are going to age and probably die.”

Craig’s Bond would do exactly that, another first, in 2021’s No Time to Die.

Judi Dench as M in Skyfall

Silva played by Javier Bardem

Bardem, the No Country for Old Men Oscar winner was Mendes’ primary choice for the villain, who is former operative of M’s that she burned and left out in the cold.

In Skyfall, Silva hacks MI6, blows a hole in the heart of their office, and leads Bond on a chase through and under London in an effort to get revenge. While that storyline sounds exciting on paper, and looks even more so on the screen, it did cause Mendes to experience difficulties while filming it.

But the shoot wasn’t all hardship.  The director fondly recalls making two of his favorite scenes–both scripted during the rewrite by Logan. The first is Skyfall’s famous “word association” scene, which was the centerpiece of the movie’s teaser trailer. Bond–recovering from injuries while in the middle of rigorous physical tests to re-certify him for field duty–answers an MI-6 psychologist’s prompts with very telling one-word responses.

“One of the ideas Logan and I threw around was: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if when they were testing Bond, they did a word association scene?’ And John went: ‘Oh, yes.’ And he wrote a fantastic scene.’”

M: “Orphans Always Make the Best Recruits”

The second of Mendes’ favorites is Bond and M in the classic DB5 Aston Martin en route to Bond’s childhood home in Scotland. While pulled off on a deserted road, under a steel-gray sky, M and Bond have exchange that Mendes calls “almost a haiku” about Bond’s past where M says Mendes’ favorite line from the film: “Orphans always make the best recruits.”

Also excising was one of the more problematic story threads from early drafts: A team-up between Silva and Bond.

“They teamed up in the middle of the movie, in a kind of uneasy truce. And it didn’t work because Bond works alone. Yes, he might have a woman at his side or partner with one along the way [in some of the other Bond movies], but it didn’t feel right to be paired with another alpha male. [Bond] needs someone to fight against, and those scenes lasted for as long as it took to write them. And I read it and thought: ‘No, that doesn’t work.’”

Skyfall
Daniel Craig (left) and Javier Badrem in Skyfall EVERETT

The team got the sense that Skyfall would be as good as all involved hoped it would be, despite the dark cloud that hung over it. It was a realization Mendes had, ironically, at the end of production, while filming that which usually opens a Bond movie but instead closes out Skyfall: The iconic gun barrel sequence.

Shooting the gun barrel sequence: Mendes remembers Craig was focused on getting the minutiae of it right.

“It’s the first time I can recall Daniel ever coming back behind the monitor to check a shot, to see how it turned out. And obviously you understand why it’s so important to him,” Mendes says. “You start asking yourself: ‘Where should the gun Bond holds be? Is it hiding behind your leg? When do you let the camera or the audience see it as you walk? Do you let them see it at all until the final moment?’”

If there’s anything Mendes would change about Skyfall it would be the reliance on its London locale.

“I would think twice about having Bond stand on the rooftops of Whitehall, with the Union Jack flags in the breeze, given the last 10 years of serial incompetence from London’s conservative government,” Mendes says. “We look back at that time as sort of a bizarre golden era. And Skyfall was very much of its time as a movie, and very influenced by the fact that there was a genuine national pride about the country at that point. And it was also the 50th anniversary of Bond — there was Bond jumping out of a helicopter with the queen at the Olympics that year.  I think that pride, and the excitement around that, filtered and found its way into the movie.”

“These movies are difficult to write. Those 10 months of downtime, that’s when the script really turned around, because we had the time to go down blind alleys and try things like the Bond/Silva team-up. And that time was not afforded to me when we made Spectre. And you can see the difference in the script,” says Mendes. “With Spectre, I felt there was some pressure. Barbara and Michael exerted some pressure on me and Daniel to make the next one, so that makes a big difference. People saying: ‘We want you to do it,’ and passionately wooing me to do it, was a big thing.”

But the biggest, or most important, thing to come out of the movie for Mendes is how well it was received: “The experience of shooting Skyfall was trying, but the response to it, in terms of how many people went to see it, was immensely gratifying.”