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Marc Forster was hesitant.
The director of low-budget hits like 2004’s “Finding Neverland” and 2001’s “Monster’s Ball” had never been asked to helm anything with a studio-size budget, let alone a James Bond film, when he was approached to take on the 22nd outing in the franchise.
And then he remembered Orson Welles.
“There was a quote he made at the end of his life,” the Swiss-born Forster says. “His biggest regret was that he never made a ‘commercial movie’ or a ‘mainstream movie.’ So I thought I would like to make a movie more people will see than any of the six films I have done put together.”
That was the beginning of a massive adventure involving 23 weeks of shooting (13 on location); scenes with 1,500 or more extras; work in places as far afield as the Piazza del Campo in Florence, the Paranal Observatory in Chile and the Kornmart Theatre in Bregenz, Austria; and a budget estimated at $230 million.
Had “Quantum” been merely another entry in the Bond series, Forster might not have been on the shortlist to direct. But producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson wanted a helmer who could handle the emotional aspects of the film.
That’s because longtime Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade intended a multifilm arc that could play across the five films for which Daniel Craig was contracted.
“We realized that we’d left Bond in a very interesting place emotionally,” says Wilson, referring to the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), in the previous Bond film, 2006’s “Casino Royale.” “There was still story left to be told. His relationship with Vesper was so intense that to suddenly forget about it wouldn’t have done the first (film) justice.”
In attempting to humanize Bond, Purvis and Wade found themselves racing against the clock, with the WGA strike imminent. Oscar winner Paul Haggis was brought in to tweak the screenplay and wrapped just in time to avoid the work stoppage, which began in November 2007.
“The timing was excellent,” Purvis says. “They’d have been in real trouble otherwise.”
With the screenplay in place, discussion turned to the movie’s somewhat unlikely title. “Quantum of Solace” was the name of a short story by Bond creator Ian Fleming — though the story has nothing to do with film’s plot.
Studio executives at MGM and Columbia (MGM is a 50-50 partner in financing and has some distribution rights) had their doubts.
“It’s not the stickiest title,” acknowledges Columbia president Doug Belgrad, who says his colleagues were won over when they realized Bond’s 007 number could be inserted graphically into the title.
“With the title treatment and the graphics, people would know exactly what we needed them to know,” he says, “which is: This is the next installment of the Bond franchise.”
A crucial part of that franchise was finding the right supporting cast.
Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, a Ukrainian model-turned-actress now based in Paris, auditioned three times before she was chosen for the part — twice in France and once in London with Craig, spread out over almost three months. After the third audition, she had to wait three weeks before she learned she had the role. Then she endured a grueling period of training, with four hours a day of fighting and additional work in a wind tunnel outside London, learning how to skydive.
She was joined by fellow France-based actor Mathieu Amalric (2007’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) as the villain.
“Being able to hire leading actors and actresses from other countries in the world to play the
roles and not just go for Hollywood actors — that’s one of the exciting things about these movies,” Broccoli says.
Shooting started on Jan. 7 at Pinewood Studios in the U.K. From the beginning, Forster was determined to give the film a different look and sound from other Bonds.
“He said, ‘I don’t want it to sound like a Bond film,'” supervising sound editor Eddy Joseph recalls.
Forster adds, “I’ve tried to photograph this film as more of an art house film, not as a typical Bond.”
Belgrad disputes reports that the movie got off to a late start.
“Historically, the Broccolis have always started in January, shot through to the early to mid part of summer, released around Thanksgiving,” he says. “That’s the normal rhythm of things.”
Despite a U.K. tax credit, the filmmakers had to watch their costs. Forster recalls that a “fabulous” and “romantic” location in Peru had to be scrapped for budgetary reasons. He also nearly lost a key rooftop chase in Siena, Italy.
“Originally, the rooftops were supposed to be built in the studio,” he says, “but they were too expensive. They said, ‘Why don’t you cut the whole sequence?’ and I said, ‘Why don’t we shoot it on the real roofs?’ “
In staging sequences like these, Forster had to deal with a lead actor who wanted to do his own stunts — and subsequently sustained injuries to his finger and face, in addition to aggravating an existing shoulder problem.
“Daniel’s a very physical actor,” Forster notes. “It’s great for the director, because you can get an honesty and intensity. But there’s a certain amount of danger involved.”
That danger became palpable when an accident took place during filming. While a stuntman was taking part in a car chase on a winding lakeside road near Italy’s Lake Garda, two vehicles collided and the stuntman had to be taken to a nearby hospital and have surgery for head injuries. The car accident came one day after another accident in which Bond’s Aston Martin crashed into a lake.
Events like these gave Forster a taste of press attention that he had never had to contend with before. “It’s much nicer to work under the radar,” he admits. “To be constantly scrutinized and under such microscopic observation is really not so much a pleasure.”
Despite that, Forster says shooting went “very smoothly.”
But when second-unit filming was over on June 12, Forster had just six weeks to cut the movie — a fraction of the months-long period usually consecrated to postproduction. “There was just way too little time (for post),” he says. “That kind of stress, I’m not really used to. I don’t ever want to do that again.”
With an Oct. 30 premiere in London, he had no choice. Bond isn’t just a movie industry franchise: There are at least seven major relationships with corporate partners, says Wilson, including Smirnoff, Omega watches, Avon and Sony Ericsson. All have schedules to keep. “At the time we release the picture, they agree to spend a certain amount to advertise the film, along with whatever their products are,” Wilson says. That spend can often total tens of millions of dollars.
The rush paid off. In its first three days in three overseas markets, “Quantum” earned $38.6 million — $25.3 million of which came from the U.K., a three-day record.
Interestingly, the movie opened in India on Nov. 7, a full week before it makes it to U.S. theaters.
“Unlike many other films, on a relative basis its American performance doesn’t drive international performance,” Belgrad notes. “Bond is a worldwide franchise.”
Now that it’s over, he adds, “It’s sad to say goodbye. We feel like we added our own little piece to the franchise.”
Whether Forster feels the same way is debatable.
“When you do a movie of this size, it has an incredibly strong impact,” he reflects. “I would do a movie of this size again, but not right away. Doing films of this size back-to-back, I wouldn’t recommend.”
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