A Conversation With Christopher Wood

Novelist and Screenplay Writer of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker 

 

Recently I had a chance to kidnap Mr. Christopher Wood and extract vital information from the darkest parts of his cranium.  Exposing to the entire world the secrets of his James Bond tenure.  Born in London in 1935, Christopher Wood has written over fifty books and forty movies.  His latest books Sincere Male Seeks Love and Someone To Wash His Underpants and California, Here I Am can be ordered through Twenty First Century Publishers.

Dr. Shatterhand:  Welcome to The Question Room, Mr. Wood.  Tell me, you dedicated your novel THE SPY WHO LOVED ME to film director Lewis Gilbert.  Can you elaborate how you got involved with Eon Productions?

Christopher Wood:  I wrote a movie for Lewis Gilbert (SEVEN NIGHTS IN JAPAN) and we got on well.  Out of the blue he rang me up and asked if I would like to write a Bond movie.  I thought he was joking.

 

Christopher Wood and Lewis Gilbert, director of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER.

 

DS:  THE SPY WHO LOVED ME had many different writers, from Richard Maibaum to Anthony Burgess, from Tom Mankiewicz to John Landis, all contributing ideas.  How much of the final script was contributed by you?

CW:  I was presented with a script when I got to London (from France) but had no idea that - apparently - so many writers had contributed to what I was given.  I would have been terrified had I known.  Even now you mention names that I have never heard associated with the project before.  Anthony Burgess?  Stirling Silliphant I do vaguely recall as a contender.

The script had Jaws and the sub-guzzler and, I seem to recall, we are talking twenty-five years ago, plus - Norwegian fjords and a bunch of young revolutionaries. I remember thinking that it was very distant from the Bonds that I had enjoyed and recommending back to basics.  Nearly everything in the movie was written by me, but in the course of many conferences with Lewis, Cubby and Michael Wilson - who was also a Bond debutante at that time.

I enjoyed writing the novelizations and went to great pains to reread Fleming.  It was a real challenge to integrate the extra-ordinary world of film Bond into the more prosaic, real life settings of the novels.

DS:  The villain in your novel is named Sigmund Stromberg, but in the film he is Karl Stromberg.  Why did his name change?

CW:  I suspect that the evil Christopher Wood had forgotten that the film Stromberg was named Karl.  

 

For years fans wondered why there were two first names for Stromberg.

 

DS:  In your novelization of The Spy Who Love Me, you wrote a scene where Bond fights an assassin and throws him over the ledge where he dies spread-eagled on top of a grand piano.  Obviously this was lifted and used in the film MOONRAKER.  Why was it not used in SPY?

 

This scene was originally written for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

 

CW:  I can’t remember the grand piano passage in ‘Spy’ but I do recall that in MOONRAKER I wanted a plunging bad guy to end up with his head buried in the piano keys and Bond to say; ‘Never knew he had an ear for music.’ Roger’s inspiration: ‘Play it again, Sam,’ did not please me.

 

DS:  There is a torture scene in your novel that is not in the film.  Where Bond’s genitals are attached to a battery.  Was this scene considered for the film or only for the novel, and if so, how did you to come up with that scene?

 

CW:  The battery torture scene was probably a ‘homage’ to Fleming’s first novel ‘Casino Royale’ where something like this happens.  Difficult to envisage something so teeth-grindingly unpleasant finding its way onto the screen in what is basically family entertainment.

 

DS:  Your style of writing is perhaps the closest to Ian Fleming’s than any other.  Was this deliberate on your part or do you share a similar style?

CW:  I tried hard to replicate Fleming’s style.  It seemed the natural thing to do. This was the guy who started it all.

DS:  You are the only screenplay writer for a Bond movie who also wrote the novelizations.  Did you find it difficult to write the novels while also being available to do rewrites for the films?

 

American paperback versions of the novelizations.

 

CW:  You must remember that the books came after the screenplay.  I probably wrote them while the film was being shot.  If I had a different or a better idea it was too late to incorporate it in the movie.

DS:  Your hardback novelization for MOONRAKER is worth several hundred pounds on Ebay and other collectible outlets.   How many hardback editions were printed and what is your opinion of this rare collectible?

CW:  I immediately checked my copies when I read that, according to you, my hardback novelisation of Moonraker is worth ‘several hundred pounds’.  Unfortunately, I only have one - though I have three The Spy Who Loved Me books.  I have just popped upstairs and signed them all! 

At the time, I felt that Glidrose/Eon considered the novelizations as just another merchandising tool and I have been pleased and flattered - and surprised - by the very positive reaction from James Bond fans over the years.  I was paid a flat sum for writing the books.  It would have been nice to have had a royalty.  I too would be interested in the print run.  Jonathan Cape published it under the auspices of Tom Maschler.  Perhaps they could tell you.  

 

The hardback version of Moonraker is worth several hundred pounds among Bond collectors.

 

DS:  What was the general reaction from Glidrose to your novelizations and were you ever considered to write the continuing series before they chose John Gardner?

CW:  I have never had a reaction from Glidrose to my novelizations.  I envy John Gardner the chance he had to start from scratch without the ‘baggage’ of the elaborate, larger-than-life movie story that was an obligatory ingredient in my books.

DS:  The characters of Gala Brand, Willy Krebs and Dr. Walters are from Fleming’s Moonraker novel.  Can you explain why these three characters were never used in the film?

CW:  The Bond films are usually hugely different from the books where the plots can seem dated and the stakes far too low.  It is not surprising that characters are sacrificed.

DS:  Were you the only writer on this screenplay?

CW:  I wouldn’t know if I was the only contributor to the writing of MOONRAKER. There is certainly the odd line, that I usually hate, that was not written by me. I have already commented on one contribution from Roger.  After a script has been written and green lighted there is usually a longish period when the movie is being cast, locations, etc.  During that time it is not unusual for the producers to try and ‘improve’ the script rather than leave it languishing in a drawer.  Actors and directors can also make their ‘input’ a condition of employment.

DS:  After the release of MOONRAKER, many hardcore Bond fans were disappointed in the direction the series took.  Some threw blame at you.  Can you elaborate on the development of the script and how many people had input?

CW:  I accept the criticism that MOONRAKER was too flip, too tongue in cheek. But it would be naïve - if flattering - to imagine that the writer on a Bond movie has total control over the script.

I was always trying to put Bond in a dangerous situation where the audience could empathise - e.g, in the glass factory I wanted him attacked with a white hot poker that would scorch, burn, mutilate objects within inches of Bond’s face.  We would see what would happen to his flesh should the poker made contact.  The scene was not shot like that.  All we got was the conventional mass destruction of precious objects.

As a detail, the bad guy in this, and many other sequences, was played by Michael Wilson’s kendo instructor who I found about as menacing as the skin on a rice pudding.

On reflection, I blame myself for writing too much for Roger’s style and personality - which I think worked well in Spy - and letting this overflow into the general tone of the film which needed harder framing.

DS:  Jaws’ girlfriend, ‘Dolly’, is not mentioned by name in your novelization, and the only time she is in the story is after Bond and Holly escape from the exploding space station.  Is she one of your characters?

CW:  Dolly was not my idea and I hated her. I also felt that Jaws, alas, had totally sacrificed credibility as a figure of menace - something that had started happening in Spy.

 

Jaws' girlfriend, Dolly,  was originally conceived by Cubby Broccoli, Michael Wilson and Richard Kiel.

 

DS:  In your book, there are several scenes onboard Drax’s space station, which is not in the film.  For example, the scenes where Bond and Holly discover 'The Love Chamber', as well as the scene where Bond goes outside the space station.  Were any of these scenes filmed?

 

The 'Love Chamber' scene was written and filmed but deleted from the final cut.

 

CW:  Any additional scenes in the book were probably written to pad out the narrative to novel length.

DS:  After the closing credits of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the audience is informed that the next film will be FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.  I am going to hazard a guess that you were already hard at work putting together a treatment for this film.  If so, can you tell us any details of that script?  Did any scenes from your treatment of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY end up in MOONRAKER?

CW:  I may be wrong but I think that the huge success of STAR WARS encouraged Cubby to change track and send Bond into space.  Hence FOR YOUR EYES ONLY went on the back burner.  I had nothing to do with it. I was always worried about space.  Space is slow.  I prefer Bond with open air action, interior sophistication.

DS:  Did any of your ideas end up in later Bond films such as OCTOPUSSY or A VIEW TO A KILL?

 

CW:  For MOONRAKER, I wrote a sequence in which Bond taxies a mini jet into a garage and says ‘Fill her up.’  This was used in OCTOPUSSY’s pre-credit sequence.

 

This scene from OCTOPUSSY was originally written by Christopher Wood.

 

DS:  Was Holly Goodhead your creation? 

CW:  Yes, I came up with Holly Goodhead.  It seemed in the style of Fleming’s Pussy Galore, etc.

DS:  The other Bond girl in the novel was Trudi Parker.  However this name was changed to Corinne Dufour in the film.  Trudi is blonde in the novel.  Before they cast Corrine Clery in the role, was there another actress considered for this part?

 

California blonde Trudi Parker transformed into French brunette Corinne Dufour.

 

CW:  I originally wrote the Corinne Clery part in MOONRAKER as a sassy Californian chick - then, for financial reasons, the movie was shot in Paris with French actors and crew and Clery was cast.  Had I been given the chance, I would have rewritten the part for a French actress.  It is another scene that distresses me - especially the terrible last line ‘I never learned to read’.  Not mine.

DS:  There was a rumour that Frank Sinatra or James Mason was considered for the role of Hugo Drax.  Is this true?

CW:  James Mason would have been great - apart from being an old Petrian. I have no knowledge of the casting choices considered. 

DS:  What was your relationship like with Cubby Broccoli?  Michael Wilson?  Richard Maibaum?

CW:  Once, Richard Maibaum was coming out of an office as I came in.  I cannot even remember if we were introduced.  That was the only time I saw him.  I am on Christmas card terms with Michael Wilson and his family and always found Cubby hospitable and good company.  The Bond movies remain my favourite filmic experiences.  The producers have always known how to get the best out of people by creating a team atmosphere and making everybody on the unit feel cosseted and part of something special.

DS:  Do you remember any humorous moments during the making of either film?

CW:  Too many humorous incidents to mention - with discretion.  I had a fabulous ride from Okinawa to Rio and beyond.

DS:  What is your opinion of the Pierce Brosnan films?

CW:  I think that Pierce has been a good Bond and that Clive Owen would be a great choice as his successor.  I was also very impressed by Gerard Butler of the forthcoming, and excellent, DEAR FRANKIE (he is also the lead in Phantom Of the Opera).  He could be good too.  DIE ANOTHER DAY worried me when the para-sailing stunt was obviously manufactured from CGI rather than life.  This could be the death of the franchise.  Nothing can beat the ski jump in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.  That was REAL!   If the ski had fouled the chute, the man would be dead - and we could see it.  Bond needs that.

DS:  Would you be interested if Eon Productions asked you to write the next screenplay?

CW:  I am more interested in Bond’s private life than in technology so I would love to polish a script with the brief of injecting as much wit and style as possible.

DS:  And finally, one last question pertaining to the film REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS.  This film (Directed by former Bond maestro Guy Hamilton) is pure tongue and cheek and a great deal of fun.  Unfortunately it seems I am in a small group when it comes to liking this film.  I was disappointed that the producers did not try to make a sequel.  Why did they stop with just one film?

CW:  There wasn’t a second REMO because the first one was a box office failure. I like Fred Ward but he is not a leading man. Ed Harris was up for the role. I think he might have made the difference. I had also written a slam bang action finale that was cut for budgetary reasons. That didn’t help.  

DS:  What have you been writing lately?

CW:  My latest book that, hopefully, will appeal to anybody interested in movies. I got the idea when my son, fresh down from university and contemplating a career in the movie industry, came out to stay with me when I was writing in L.A. Hence: 

CALIFORNIA, HERE I AM 

William Lock is in L.A. trying to use his boozy, womanising screenwriter father’s shrinking band of contacts to gain a foothold in the movie business. Not easy at the best of times but when a rental car disappears into a canyon and Will bumps into old English school chum, Hadiscomb, and loses his heart to beautiful, enigmatic Rashmi his life is never going to be the same again.

With Will and his dangerously unpredictable father we survive in Beverly Hills, attempt to hack it in Hollywood, party in salubrious Santa Barbara, hit the slopes in sophisticated Sun Valley and succumb to a date with destiny on a strange Caribbean isle where a dark secret from the past and a present mystery await their resolution.

Obviously, any resemblance between the novel and actual events is unfortunate.

DS:  Thank you Mr. Wood.  We will now take you back to your place of residency where you will not remember any part of this interrogation.

 

Special thanks to Fred Piechoczek of Twenty First Century Publishers for making this interview possible.

 

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