Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall attended the Bradford International Film Festival in Bradford, England last week. Here is Lee Pfeiffer's first report:
For many years, we had heard about the exciting events that take place at the annual Bradford International Film Festival. The festival is held at the National Media Museum, which is a state-of-the-art showcase for the history of British film, TV, photography and new media. Over the last fifteen years, the festival has hosted world premieres, classic film screenings and internationally acclaimed interview sessions with actors and filmmakers. Although the festival has proven to be a popular attraction, Bradford's distance from London (several hours north) has kept many movie fans from attending. As most of our dealings are generally in London, we fall into that category ourselves.However, we learned that passing up on this festival is a major faux pas on
behalf of any serious movie lover. This year, we opted to attend one of the festival's most popular events, the Widescreen Weekend during which classic movies are screened in their original 70mm and Cinerama versions on the giant curved screen. The bait that lured us to attend was the fact that Cinema Retro had been asked to sponsor a rare 70mm screening of Where Eagles Dare. Since our readers know we're preparing a special edition of the magazine devoted exclusively to this Richard Burton-Clint Eastwood classic, it was an offer we couldn't refuse. For many years we had heard about this wonderful gathering of dedicated movie lovers and we had to wonder why it took until the 15th anniversary of the festival to finally attend.
I took a red-eye flight from Newark and landed in Heathrow last Thursday morning. It took over four hours for us to drive up to Bradford and settle in at The Midland Hotel, an old world venue that was rich in atmosphere. The hotel is a sponsor of the festival and we soon learned that the majority of attendees stay here so they can socialize at the pub and discuss the events of the day. This notion was reinforced when, after checking in, we stopped at the hotel pub for the first pint of the day, only to be introduced to David Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch the two most noted scholars on the Cinerama process and the creators of the fantastic documentary Cinerama Adventure. This is truly one of the greatest documentaries about classic filmmaking that has ever been conceived - an exhaustive and highly entertaining look at the short-lived but wonderful Cinerama process. Their documentary appears on MGM's recent deluxe DVD edition of How the West Was Won. Dave and Randy were with Tom March, who had scouted and documented the locations for that film as they appear today. (More about that later). Tom was also personally sponsoring the festival's big screen showing of Khartoum. (Talk about a true humanitarian!).We immediately fell into a prolonged discussion of classic filmmaking - a past-time that would be repeated every evening during our stay in Bradford.
Although the Widescreen Weekend had officially kicked off this day with a screening of The King and I, our first and only event on the day was to attend a separate event: producer Michael G. Wilson's "Master Class" on the making of James Bond movies which was held - appropriately enough - in the Museum's Cubby Broccoli Theatre. Wilson and Eon Productions have long been patrons of the Museum and the film festival, but this was his first participation in an actual event. Tony Earnshaw, the Artistic Director of the Museum, had tried for years to convince Wilson to sit down for a one-on-one interview, but the typically modest Wilson had to be convinced there was actually interest among the movie-going public to hear a discussion about the inner-workings of the Bond films. The rapt attention of the audience would immediately nullify those concerns.
Michael G. Wilson interviewed by Tony Earnshaw. (Photo copyright Jim Moran)
Earnshaw proved to be a most adept interviewer: every question was appropriate and intelligent (something I wish I could say for many chat show hosts on TV and radio). The program began with an amusing montage of all the cameo appearances Wilson has made in the Bond films over the decades. The Hitchcockian touch is considered a good luck charm by the cast and crew. Wilson is not known for being overly-verbose and tonight was no exception. However, he was comfortable, relaxed and in good spirits - and he spoke about the making of the Bond films with refreshing candor. Wilson related how he had been happily pursuing a career in law when the increasing legal difficulties between his stepfather Cubby Broccoli and his production partner necessitated his move into the Eon offices in order to work on legal matters. After Broccoli and Saltzman split, Cubby convinced Wilson to stay on and groomed him in the fine art of movie producing. He also noted that Wilson had a creative streak when it came to coming up with concepts for specific sequences in the films. Before long, Wilson was co-authoring scripts with long-time franchise screenwriter Richard Maibaum.Wilson related some amusing and occasionally harrowing stories from his early days on the series. He had seen a liquor ad with stuntman Rick Sylvester skiing off the face of a mountain and felt it should be used as the pre-credits sequence for The Spy Who Loved Me. It was only after Sylvester had been formally hired and the stunt budgeted and planned for, that Wilson learned the ski stunt never happened - it was all done with trick photography. Nevertheless, Sylvester assured Wilson that he could indeed do the stunt, if the crew were to film in a remote mountainous region of Canada where conditions were appropriate. The led to near disaster, as the cost of bringing a full crew to such an inhospitable area caused the budget to soar. The weather had to be perfect to enact the stunt, but nature wouldn't cooperate and the crew burned up $250,000 (a huge sum in 1976) with nary a single frame of film to show for it. Nervous United Artists executives demanded the unit return home - which probably would have put an end to Wilson's fledgling career as a future producer. However, in dramatic Hollywood fashion, there was a brief break in the weather and Sylvester managed to carry off the stunt. The idea of adding the Union Jack to Bond's parachute was literally done at the last minute to bring some levity to the sequence. Wilson revealed that, to this day, such late-in-the-day brainstorms are often incorporated into the films.
Wilson acknowledged that the production of each film is a frantic period and that Eon delivers the finished movie to the studio with relatively little wiggle room to make changes. He said this actually works in Eon's favor because it precludes studio brass from ordering wide-ranging alterations to the films, as there simply isn't enough time to enact them. On the other side of the coin, he expressed frustration that the tight deadlines have compromised Eon's influence over the title song. He said that in the past, the composer of the song worked in consultation with the filmmaking team. In recent years, however, Eon had little or no say over the song, which has been delivered so late in the process that the producers have to accept whatever is delivered. (Although Wilson did not mention any specific song titles, one would not be going out on a limb to assume it includes the dreadful Another Way to Die from Quantum Of Solace.) Wilson also explained why Eon tends to use writers and technicians who are veterans of the series. He said it is very time consuming to bring on new talent and wait for them to assimilate into understanding Eon's methods, as well as comprehend the company's philosophies of how the Bond character should be presented. He also said that he doesn't let fan or media bias deter his creative instincts. He acknowledged it was frustrating to read the widespread campaign against Daniel Craig after he was signed as Bond, but never wavered in his belief that the end result would be that the public and critics would embrace him. At the end of the session, Wilson took questions from the audience - which is often a recipe for disaster at fan events because seemingly every eccentric within ten miles is drawn to the microphone like a moth to a flame. However, in our first indication that Bradford draws serious and mature film fans, every question asked was appropriate and interesting. One in particular hit the mark when someone asked Wilson why he allowed the action sequences in Quantum to be edited with so many fast cuts that it robbed the scenes of any suspense. Wilson acknowledged that they were attempting to please modern audiences who are used to that style of editing but did not outwardly endorse the style. He said that Eon always experiments with different filmmaking styles that the director may favor - and that by the time the first edit is done, there is precious little time to make radical changes.The only news Wilson broke about the next Bond film is that there is no news at all. He said there had been no significant work done on the next entry.
At the end of the session, Wilson graciously stayed on to chat informally with fans and sign autographs. Although we've known Michael for many years on a personal basis, this was an enjoyable and rare opportunity for us to hear him discuss aspects of his career that we had not been aware of. More importantly, this highly enjoyable evening served as a teaser for the great weekend events that were to follow.