American Film


Michael Apted, the British director and president of the Directors Guild of America from 2003 to 2009, conducted a Harold Lloyd Master Seminar at the AFI Conservatory on March 26, 2008. For part of the seminar, the subject was Bond. James Bond. Apted, known for such films as COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (1980) and GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988) as well as many landmark documentaries, directed THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999) starring Pierce Brosnan as Bond. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond movies and mark the release of its latest installment, SKYFALL, on November 9, here’s the inside story of agent 007 from one director’s perspective. The question: What is it like working on a James Bond film?

“I wondered what I was getting into. But it wasn’t like that. They’re really good at running it and keeping it…a non-elitist group of people. What’s tough about it for a director is there are certain rules to it. You know, there’s a certain formula to it – no, that’s the wrong word, not a formula as to how you make it, but there are just certain details about it. You would suggest something at a script meeting and [Producer] Michael Wilson would say, ‘Bond wouldn’t say that’ and you would say, ‘Why?’ and he would say, ‘He just wouldn’t say it.’ So you would have to say, ‘Oh.’ In a sense, you would have to trust that, and it was incredibly annoying because every director wants to kind of leave a fingerprint and every director is hired for a reason.

I was hired to do one because they were very worried that women weren’t remotely interested in it, so they wanted to do one that was female-spun, as it were. The villain was a woman and there were bigger parts for Judi Dench in it and they wanted a director who had worked successfully with women, so that’s why I was asked to do it. And again, you’re dealing with a very sexist character, a misogynistic character, so there was something counter-intuitive about it with me trying to put in the feminine point of view and the family trying to protect the misogynist Bond.

In a sense, you have to get over it and deal with it. You can make it move a bit when you get a new Bond. That’s a different matter; that helps. I didn’t have a new Bond. I did Pierce’s third of the four he did. But it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. It could have been very difficult indeed, but they are genuinely decent people and generally caring people. Nonetheless, at a certain level, you have to do what you’re told, which is kind of irritating.”

Later on, Apted commented on his relationship with writers:

“I’m married to a writer, for a start. I’m very respectful of them. I mean I enjoy working with them very much…But…when that relationship goes wrong it can be very difficult. And when you do a thing like a Bond there’s almost the expectation that you’re going to change writers because writers bring in different skills. There were three changes of writers on the Bond I did, which is the first time that had ever happened, but it wasn’t like it was painful. It was expected that the first guys came in to do the story, and then because there were going to be a lot of women in the film they brought someone in to write the women and then they brought someone else in to write the jokes, to Bondize it, as you know. It all seems odd, looking back on it, but it seemed as organic as having one person.”