Phase9 Entertainment

DIE ANOTHER DAY - Q&A with Lee Tamahori

You've just locked the picture and have just effects shots to come in. How do you feel?

Oh every day is a crisis. But it's been great really. I'm tired, but movies are all the same. You go into each one thinking it's going to be different from the last and they always end up being exactly the same, or even worse than the last one. Then a year later somehow you look on them with affection. 'Oh that wasn't so bad,' you think. You only remember the good bits and you've forgotten all the terrible turmoil and horrible situations that occur.

Such as?

Well, mostly it's to do with human frailty. People's egos and stupid decisions that are made without any thought, which affect vast numbers of people.

Being a movie director is often compared to being a general in the army...

Yeah, I'd pretty much say so. And we're subject to the whims of the kind of political structure that commands the army. While a lot of people seemingly want to get into this business because they want power - maybe they were nerds as teenagers - they soon find that it's not all that it's cracked up to be. Just because you're in charge, well you have a lot of responsibility but you have to eat a lot of shit as well. That's basically the deal. Some guy from the studio will come along and say 'Can we recut that scene so we can see more of her tits?' You've just cut a brilliant scene and now you have to recut it differently, and badly, because someone wants to see more of her tits. And if you don't do such a thing you'll get a black mark in the book and they may not support you in some future endeavour. Or they may fuck around with you in the publicity of your movie. It's that hard.

So movie making really is the "art of compromise"?

It's always a battle. It's about compromise, at least I find that. Some people don't. You hear these legendary stories about directors like Billy Friedkin in the 70s and 80s, these hard-nosed directors refusing to obey the studio. They have some basis in reality. I used to read about them in the trades and say 'oooh, I wonder what that's like?' Then you usually find out that there's no real excuse for that kind of behaviour. But I suppose they get to a point where you feel that being backed into one stupid decision, like 'show more tits', can ruin their reputation and the film that they're making and can fuck them up for the rest of their lives. So they will not do that. And they'll go to war over it. The rest of 'us' say 'oh well, it's not that big a deal and I might get another film from the studio if I do show more tits'. So you do have to weigh the consequences before you make the decision.

Has it been like that with Bond?

Happily no.

What's working with Pierce Brosnan like. He is Bond...

Pierce is very good guy. He has a very strong view about the story. He doesn't want a lame story that makes him look bad. His concerns are our concerns. We would never write a scene that makes Bond look bad anyhow. To illustrate that, there was a point brought up early on about Halle Berry's involvement in the movie. People said well let's make sure she doesn't overshadow Bond. I said that's not possible. It's a false fear. It's a Bond movie, he occupies every frame of the story. It's in our interest so that she almost steals the movie, but of course she can't. And then you've got a great character. So, working with someone like Pierce is a joy because he surrenders himself to us. He knows he's in good hands. The last three movies have made him look fucking good -I mean yes he can be a bit nervous about the new director, but the minute he sees that everything's in place and the man's not out of control he relaxes and you can do anything you want. I would often go to him and ask what he thought about things. He was really good on detail, on what Bond would do.

He knows the character better than anyone?

Yeah, he's got a really good sense of the character and his physicality. What's credible for Bond. It's his take on the character, not Moore, or Connery or Dalton. And I think that his take on the character is superb. It's very unfair to say this, for me it's always Connery because that's the Bond I grew up with. But now it's Connery and Brosnan. He's fantastic, he's different from Connery of course, Connery was a raw animal, a highly charged kind of sexual animal. But Pierce is something else, he has a sophistication and a smartness that even Connery didn't have. I think he's really grown into this role. When I look at GOLDENEYE he's almost like a little kid in it...

So he's becoming the quintessential Bond?

When you put him in the suit he's just stunning. His whole demeanour changes and the crew changes around him. It's amazing, and he knows it, he feels it and he plays the scene accordingly.

Was Halle Berry cast before she got her Oscar?

Yeah she was.

Did you beef her role up?

No, no changes at all. In fact it was my idea to put her in the movie in the first place. Originally we were looking for a kind of firey Latin spitfire type. A kind of cliche really. But as we went through casting sexpots from all over America and some very good actresses I became aware that the character only needed to be ethnic, not white if you will. And I came back and said look I'm afraid that we're just going to end up with a sexy kitten, and no-one whose got anything other than cotton wool between their ears. And this is a smart character so I think we need a good actress. I'd seen SWORDFISH and I thought 'Christ, she's fucking stunning' you know. So we've got to try and make a play for this woman whose a) a great actress and b) fucking drop dead gorgeous and see if we can get her into a Bond movie.

Was it a difficult sell to her?

She was very keen to do a Bond movie, which was surprising. They're not career killers but you don't usually advance your career as a woman in a Bond movie. But believe me this won't hurt her at all. And she has the intelligence to know what this genre is and embrace and enjoy it rather than be fearful of it - which she certainly did then everyone'll take it on board. The studio was really up for the idea so it was a done deal.

But you lucked out with the Oscar?

We were happy for her, but we never retailored the script. We intended to make her a smart character, almost an equal of Bond's, from the start. It's a Modesty Blaise character. I wanted Bond to look at her and have to decide am I going to fight this character or fuck them. It's much more than the walk-on bimbo.

The next key element is a spectacular villain...

Yeah, and that's tricky because they all want to take over the world and it's kind of the same old scenario. I decided to look for younger villains. It's tricky thing to say because Pierce is in his 40s now, and I wasn't doing it just because of that. But the villains seemed to be older guys from Donald Pleasance onwards. It seemed that everyone seemed to be older. I said why don't we have a cadre of younger uber-villains all in their late 20s or early 30s. Guys who are completely obsessed by themselves. 'Me generation' guys. There's four of them. I decided to change the ages of the guys that have already been written. I wanted new guys really. We were casting 'names' for a while but there was some very odd stuff going on because I felt that some of the people we looked at wanted to play Bond when Pierce retires. I'm convinced of it. That started me getting very worried about using those types of people so we moved off it into completely new territory. I think people will like the new villains. What I was looking for worldliness and sophistication. A kind of brash arrogance. I didn't want a world-weariness, tired kind of thing.

Weren't you worried that this is the world's biggest franchise, so your room for manoeuvre as a director is limited...

You know that going in, and you don't have any illusions. However, the one thing you do know - and it's not clearly spelled out but it's there - you are being hired because of what you have done previously. You're not being hired as a hack just because you're available at the moment and are going to toe the party line, because there's any number of those people out there. Now, what that means is that you go in with your eyes wide open. It's Bond, he's already cast. There will be cars and action and girls and gadgets. But they also want you to fuse that with something of your own creativity and your own drive. Because otherwise, if they just tell you what to do, then you will end up making them exactly as they were made in the Roger Moore era.

And they've really changed since then?

It's interesting when you look back. I mean Martin Campbell may have completely revolutionised Bond, the most revolutionary since the 60s certainly. It was partly the hi-tech nature of 90s film making plus Martin's style. It's arguable that both TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH have kind of followed in those footsteps. They have not blazed the same trail as Martin has. And it would be foolish of me to say that I've been as revolutionary as Martin, I certainly have not been. What I think I've done is carry on that tradition and pushed it further. I know I've pushed it further than perhaps the other two have. That's not an unfair comment.

Did you look at those in particular when you were planning DIE ANOTHER DAY?

Yes, looking at them I became aware that for whatever reason, and I didn't go too deeply into it, those two had looked like establishing another common look. In some way they were nailing the Bond genre much as the 80s look had. And I though that we needed to move it on from that. We really needed to wake it up. I would have loved to have been as revolutionary as Martin, but I think that was partly a product of the times. There hadn't been a movie for 6 years, and everyone turned around and said we really need to kick this back into high gear and there was a new actor playing Bond.

So you wanted to take the next step...

Yes. What you're not allowed to do, of course, is make a dog-muck Bond and you're not allowed to do it on a Super 8 Camera. But you can be subversive within it. If the producers and the studio see that you are doing a good job then they'll allow you to take more risks which is something we've done on this. Certainly the producers, Michael and Barbara, have been enormously supportive on everything I've wanted. They're very comfortable because they own the franchise, but they don't become dictatorial with it. They have final cut. Now that would send many directors running off to some dark corner in horror. But then there's hardly any director in the world who really has final cut. If you look at most contracts it's the studio that has it. I'd rather my producers had it than the studio.

So you can talk to them?

Yeah. Unless you're at loggerheads or at conflict with them, then that right it not going to get exercised. No one wants that kind of vicious hand to hand combat in the cutting room. They've been supportive of pretty much everything I've done, and I've done a couple of radical things for a Bond movie.

Such as...

Well for the first time ever in a Bond movie I've put source music in. There's music outside the usual. Music that's not been scored by John Barry or David Arnold or whatever. It's a much beloved piece of British music from the 80s and I put it in. It's a little, minor triumph.

Isn't there a danger that by modernising Bond you taker it towards the hyper-real action movies like Armageddon?

There is a danger. My style of action's different anyway. It is a worry because I don't like to hand over my action to other people, but on the Bond movies you have to. When you hand your action over to alternative units you have to be very careful that they are doing exactly what you're talking about. The "let's just blow everything in sight to pieces and shoot it on 17 cameras" kind of thing. Unfortunately that's what they do - that's the nature of it. A storyboard artist cynically said one day "well how can you fail if you put 17 cameras on something you're always going to turn up with a shot that's good". But the danger is that you start to see what you see in everybody else's action pictures. I'm very, very opposed to that. I like my style of action whatever anyone else thinks of it.

Did it work out the way you wanted?

Yeah, looking at it I'm very happy with the action because I framed it all and constructed it all myself and then had to farm it out. I tried to keep a tight reign on it. But even then some of it got away from me and you can see that there are some things I would rather not have done and some shots I would rather not have had to use, but I've had to use them.

But action isn't the main ingredient for you?

No, we spent months getting a story - even though I spent months on action and making sure it's right. I think there's an inherent danger. I think if we become absurdist we're lost. As the DIE HARD franchise wore itself out it was becoming obvious that by two or three I couldn't watch them any more. People were falling 200 feet off bridges onto the decks of steel containers on ships passing below them and just going "ooof!" you know. This is beyond any kind of credibility even for an action picture. Even Batman didn't do that and that was a high fantasy. So I've been at great pains to make sure that we never do that. I mean we have outlandish action sequences in this - but they're never tongue in cheek. There is one major action sequence that people will be knocked out by the scale of it. But it still has credibility and plausibility because we've set it up that way. It is the nature of Bond that you will buy that he can do it but not just because we say he can like he's Superman. With some of the sequences I've just said he couldn't do that, it's bullshit and we re-engineer it. I hate this wall of action that just washes over an audience and numbs everybody.

Were you worried about XXX and AUSTIN POWERS, both of which rip off Bond in various ways?

I'll tell you why it does put me in a difficult position, it's because they've come out first. I know what we've got in our movie and I know what they've got in theirs and it's unfortunate that, much like many of these things, they've got things in their film and we have similar sequences happening. Ours is going to come out last and they're going to say "oh they copied AUSTIN POWERS or XXX. It's only because they're out first. But they were lifting much loved sequences from other Bond movies and amping them up, or changing them. What we've done is that we've just borrowed from the genre, which is ours anyway. But the problem, which no one will perceive, is that because this is the 20 th movie and the 40 th anniversary I was using some element as homage. And I worry that perhaps people won't see that and will think, 'oh they're doing things that they've done before because they've run out of ideas'. That would be a pity, but I have no way of countering that because now the die is cast. If we'd come out first then that would not happen. So that's what concerns me personally.

Have you seen them?

Yeah, I love AUSTIN POWERS. I think it's really funny - I enjoy the more crass, teenage elements of the movie.

Is it going to appeal to that teenage audience? Isn't a Brit. secret agent a bit of a hard sell these days?

It's odd you say that because I was showing this film to a group of older teenagers last week. And I talked to them afterwards about AUSTIN POWERS. I asked about the joke about the mole on a character's face and whether they got it. They said yeah, but in fact, without exception, they thought it was just a joke about a physical deformity. None of them got the idea of a "mole' in spy terms because they're all young and the cold-war is over. Nor were they really expected to get it, whereas us, an older audience, would get that. And I suddenly I realised that there's this massive shift occurring now. I've got stuff in here about sleeper agents and no-one's going to get it unless you've read Le Carre and been around a few years. That's the nature of the shifting sands. I haven't seen XXX but from what I understand it's a ripper of an action movie in a high-tech fashion. But there's always room for Bond. I think it's going to be pretty hard to put XXX into operation for 5 or 6 movies. They might get away with two or three - that's the nature of it.

But isn't Bond a quintessentially 60s figure?

I don't think he's perceived like that any more. It's only us, the die-hard fans who've always loved it whatever the bizarre permutations with Roger Moore brought on. I, with this film, was always enamoured of the idea of doing a massive homage to all the movies that had come before without seeming to be slavish. If you look back at DR NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - my favourite - if you look at the first three, the top three, they set the tone by being thrillers -but thrillers with a cheeky new guy, who was suave and sophisticated at the helm. But they were thrillers first and then they became something else after that. Sexy, smart urbane - call them what you will. So we decided to use the 60s models, to make it a thriller and then lay everything else on top of it. All the stuff that is familiar and expected and that people want. Now if Michael Apted and Roger Spottiswoode and I were in the same room we'd probably all be saying the same thing. "Hey but I said that on my one!" But the only evidence I have is looking at the movies.

So it was plot first?

Yes, story first and then lay everything else on top. Double entendres, gadgets and so on on top of that, because otherwise you're in danger of getting lost. In some recent Bond movies I've found myself scratching my head, thinking what's going on? Why is that happening? I've lost my way.

But all the other directors say they're going to do something different and the movies turn out pretty much the same...

Well, we all try. You have to fight the machine and the machine fights back. By that I mean that you come out here to Pinewood and the art department and the action unit have all done these a million times before and you've got to push them into some different direction or sometimes they will 'just turn up'. It's not their fault. But hey, this is nearly $90 million and that's before you've spent a dime on actors. This is all going on the screen. There's Aston Martins and giant sets that have to explode. There's no such thing as a small set on a Bond movie. It's a massive exercise. And you think well no wonder these things are starting to look the same because they have these demands thrown at you...

And you can't change that?

Well the only thing you could do is be like Fellini and throw it all away and shot it in a corner with a long lens. Well you'll get chopped down for that. So it's a bit tricky. I just took it on - I wanted to be different, but not revolutionary about it. But I did want to put my stamp on it as a director. It is a much beloved genre and I love it too. I don't want to be the one to fuck it up.

So you serve it rather than it serving you?

Yes, and in serving it I'm determined to make it a damn good Bond movie. And one that will be memorable, and I believe I've done that. I'm very happy with it. I mean I sit down here and I enjoy watching it every day...

So no problems at all?

Of course there're a couple of weak scenes and one scene I don't like at all but you have to live with that. We've ramped it up just a little to bring it into the 21st century. It will, in some ways, be a template for what comes later.

You don't seem to be boasting about the amount of digital special effects work that has gone into it...

Yeah, Michael and Barbara and I were having a discussion about that just yesterday. There is a view that we should be promoting that element, but I'm of the view that we shouldn't. If you promote it as being part of the digital revolution in movies I think you're behind the 8-Ball. I think you're following rather than staying up with what's going on. You run the risk of panicking and looking like you have to enter the digital age because you're afraid of falling behind. I say nothing could be further from the truth. This is a genre that has prided itself on doing things for real - real stunts, real action. But I countered that by saying hey, it's all fake anyway. Not one frame of film is real in anybody's film, whatever they say. If it all is illusion then let's use what we have to ramp up what people expect from a Bond movie which is big action -and we can make it even bigger. Look there is a sequence I invented for this movie and when I went through it with the action unit we found that it was impossible to do for real. I said 'if you guys can show me how to do this for real then I'll do it - but I'm telling you there are things in this that no stuntman will allow himself to do. You'll kill people'. So we made a policy decision to do this full blown digital exercise costing millions and it's nerve wracking for everybody involved here because this is the first time they've done something like this.

Big digital work?

Yeah. But I didn't want to publicise that because if you do people will be looking for it and not only that, they'll be super-critical. They'll be saying 'well it's not as good as LORD OF THE RINGS' or 'it's not as good as HARRY POTTER', who have got 4 to 5 times the digital effects budgets because that's what they are. We have a similar budget overall but ours is predominantly going into live action and big stuff. I'd like to hide the digital effects. I want people to believe that it's real.

What are you most unhappy with?

The thing that disappointed me was the inability to move fast on this. I come from a world of television commercials and so on and I move fast. My first movie, ONCE WERE WARRIORS, was made very fast, in 6 weeks on no budget. I like that speed because it generates a kind of ferocity in the performances. When I went to America and made 3 movies over there I felt myself being hauled back into a slower style of production but I could still work reasonably fast. But this is just a monster. We've been shooting for 6 months. I was warned that I would be worn out on this movie. That it would exhaust me and wring me out like a dishrag. They were absolutely accurate. So I see that as a failure of my ability. You know we went over budget - not by anything more than anyone else has. But I hate to run over-budget, it's in my nature to make things on time and on-budget.

And you have a tight release date. It can't go back...

It's more important than anything. But I just don't like to see things blow out of control and planning go wrong. If you lose your way it costs you a lot of money. I guess I'm unhappy with some of the stuff that got away from us, some plotting which we had to drop on the run. But I'm most happy that the thing that we planned got made pretty much what we wanted to. I'm a little unhappy with some of the models and some of the stunt work. I think the days of that may be over. This is not a reflection on the technicians that do this stuff. It is just that now I look at some of the stuff that Peter did on LORD OF THE RINGS and I can't tell what's a model and what is not. Or you look at STAR WARS, where the story is bereft and woeful, but the effects are just the fucking best stuff around. It's truly frightening where you can go.

And Bond isn't at that level?

No. If you look at the budget for say MINORITY REPORT they went to ILM with a shit load of money. Most of our money has gone where it usually goes. Giant units, a 6-month shoot, enormous amounts of people, huge sets and real action. We had a visual effects budget of somewhere approaching $5 million. To give you some idea, the last Bond movie had $500,000. That's how little digital effects they do. Ours is still modest to small scale. But I imagine that this will set the bar.

It must have been a worry when Pierce Brosnan got injured?

Yeah it was, and that was mostly because of the schedule. He had a leg injury before. He twisted his leg when we were doing some mild action. He had to have it operated on and that took 10 days out of our shooting schedule. Even though we were insured it cost us time. But the worst thing was that we had to change the schedule completely around because Halle Berry had a stop date to do X-MEN. Everybody is very nervous about stop dates, and usually you don't hire actors with them because you might run over. But I had said she was worth it. We had guaranteed Twentieth Century Fox that she would be available on a certain date. So then we had to pull the entire schedule apart to pull Halle's stuff up. We were shooting out of sequence and all over the place. It drove me and the assistant directors nuts. I wouldn't like to do it like that again.

XXX had a tragedy when a stuntman died during the shoot. Did that affect your attitude to stunt-work over here?

I'm a little more brazen than most directors would like to say. I've found in the past that sometimes safety is used as an excuse to be lazy and a slacker and to do substandard work. You push people to do something and they say 'well if I run down that street I might trip over the kerb and fall and hurt my knee. So I want this road to be cleared of any trash, I want a little ramp from the kerb to the gutter.' I said "Fuck off you lazy fuck!" You know, "go and run down the street and bloody do your job. You're a stuntman, it's what you're employed to do. And if you don't do it I'll get someone else". And they say oh he doesn't care about safety. Well that's bullshit you know. When it comes to the high-end stuff that we do we hire stunt coordinators, stunt supervisors - guys who are not going to put their guys or their reputations at risk. In the Bond movies we have a huge reputation for safety. What am I going to do? Walk to the stunt coordinator and say no I don't want him on a wire, I want his to jump off for real . . . they're going to tell me to fuck off. So occasionally I'd talk things over with Vic and say, 'well Vic, it looks a bit naff. I don't want to put him at risk but can't we make it look a bit more exciting?' And usually it was 'OK we'll do this.' So we push the envelope. But I do understand why people get killed - how that happens. People get slack. It's like the John Landis situation on TWILIGHT ZONE. A director will yell I want it done like this, I want it faster, usually it's faster and then someone rushes into things and a safety protocol is breached and then it fucks up. But usually there are a lot of safety mechanisms in place. Assistant Directors, my ADs wouldn't allow me to do that. I don't know how the John Landis thing happened. The ADs and stunt coordinators would not have done what they know instinctively was dangerous. But it's my responsibility to push the envelope and give the audience what they want.

What would your advice be to the next guy to direct one of these?

I would say get plenty of sleep before you start. I mean basically it's a marathon and you've got to know that going in. You've got to know how big these pictures are. And you're going to have to hand over huge amounts of it, so you'd better be happy with what you're handing over. Then it's just a matter of getting through the thing.

Question and Answer Text Copyright Twentieth Century Fox.