The Raymond Benson CBn Interview (Part IV)
Today we conclude our in-depth series of interviews with author Raymond Benson. In Part I Raymond spoke candidly about what it was really like to be plucked from fandom and entrusted with James Bond’s literary license to kill. In Part II we discussed, in detail, Raymond’s work from 1984’s The James Bond Bedside Companion through 1999’s High Time To Kill. In Part III we continued our look at his specific works from “Midsummer Night’s Doom” to 2002’s The Man With The Red Tattoo. Today we look at another aspect of being a “continuation author”–the job of adapting the movies into novels; the “novelizations.” We’ll also catch up with Raymond’s post Bond work and discover that a healthy knowledge of James Bond can actually inspire a non-Bond career.
I saved your three movie novelizations for last so we could talk about these as a set.
To start, is “novelization” slang? Do the publishers use this word, or do they call these books “Movie tie-ins” or something else to that effect?
The UK publishers (and IFP) tend to call it a “book of the film.” My American publishers refer to them as “movie tie-ins.” And then everyone also refers to them as novelizations. Go figure.
John Gardner wrote two novelizations during his tenure (Licence To Kill and GoldenEye). Are novelization duties a requirement of the reigning “continuation author”, or is it a separate deal all its own?
It’s a separate deal, independent of the continuation novel contract. With the original novels, the writer is paid by royalties; with the novelizations, the writer is paid a flat fee. It’s really EON/DANJAQ’s baby–they pay for it. It’s considered one of the pieces of merchandise that is produced to promote the film. If IFP didn’t have the exclusive rights to create James Bond novels, then EON could shop the novelization around to anyone they wanted. But because of the complex deal arrangement, they have to go to IFP. Then, IFP gets the writer and finds the publisher. So far, IFP has simply gone with whoever’s currently doing the original books–John Gardner while he was aboard, and me when I was doing it. They certainly don’t have to do it that way. There’s nothing in the continuation novel contract that states that you’re going to get to do any novelizations.
Can you talk about the process of writing a novelization and differences between doing these and the original novels?
The time period is much, much shorter. I normally had about six to eight weeks to write a novelization, whereas I had a whole year for an original. With the novelization, you’re handed the plot, the dialogue, the settings, and you just have to flesh the script out in prose. Sometimes you have to embellish some scenes or even add some because if you just put into prose what’s in the script, you’d be about 30,000 words too short! There is still some research involved. For example, with Tomorrow Never Dies, I had to do some research on Vietnam, and with Die Another Day, I had to do some on Korea. I didn’t travel to locations. It was research that was done from books, the Internet, libraries, and what have you. I did, however, visit the sets in the UK for Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. I didn’t get to go for Die Another Day. Sometimes I ask for and receive design drawings from the film people.
You’ve said you sometimes picture actors as the characters you write… When you’re writing the noveliztions, do you picture the cast members?
It’s helpful. I’ve often asked for head shots of actors I didn’t know just to get a feel of what they look like.
Who do you picture as James Bond? Is it a different Bond from the one you picture when you write an original?
I should distinguish right here and now that I don’t consider my novelizations a part of my Bond “series.” In my novelizations, Bond is Pierce Brosnan. No question about it. The dialogue from the films is practically verbatim in the books. In my originals, I always pictured the shadowy guy I imagined when I first read the Fleming novels as a kid. I never pictured Sean Connery. He was more like the guy in the Daily Express comic strips.
Did you ever consult with the screenwriters?
Yes. I talked to Bruce Feirstein on TND and TWINE, and I communicated with Robert Wade on DAD. It was mainly asking the odd question to clarify something in the script. They were always very supportive of the work I was doing.
Does your novelization need to be approved by Eon and the studio? How involved is Glidrose (IFP)?
Everyone and their dogs approve it. First Glidrose/IFP certainly approves it from a book standpoint. Then EON has to approve it. I’m not sure exactly who it is at EON that approves it–I’m pretty sure that with DAD, Robert Wade saw the manuscript. Then, as with the originals, the British and American publishers get involved in the editorial process!
John Gardner attempted to keep continuity with the literary Bond in his novelizations, resulting in some awkward moments (Felix Leiter being feed to sharks–twice!). Did you feel you needed to keep continuity, or did you treat the movie Bond as separate a character altogether?
At first I tried to. In Tomorrow Never Dies I made a reference to the fact that Bond had just been to Hong Kong (in Zero Minus Ten) but I gave up doing that with the other two. It’s just too complicated. The films are separate from the books–it’s like two parallel universes featuring the same character! There have also been things in the film series that contradicts what’s in the books, and vice versa. So it was best to simply think of the novelizations as what they were–books of the films. I wonder if anyone caught the reference I made in Tomorrow Never Dies to the discrepancy between the literary Bond’s early life and what the films have said about his early life? (Hint–it has to do with his education.)
As a matter of fact, I think I have! You explain why in the film You Only Live Twice Bond claims to have studied at Cambridge?
You got it!
Did you ever seek the advice of John Gardner–whether it be how to handle the novelizations or the Bond books in general?
No, it wasn’t necessary.
Tomorrow Never Dies
TND is famous for having a very short production schedule that put great pressure on the filmmakers. Did this effect you as well?
I don’t remember it being any different from the other ones–for me, that is. The script kept going through a lot of changes, even while I was writing, but at some point we “froze” the script I was working from because it would have been impossible to keep changing the novelization to keep up with the script. I think if you compare the final film with the novelization, there are more differences than in the other two I did. TND is by far the best of the three novelizations I wrote, in my opinion. I had more freedom with this one, I was able to expand scenes, add stuff, change dialogue–whatever I wanted, and nothing was ever a problem. I think it’s important that the novelization not be exactly the same as the film. Who wants to read a carbon copy of what is essentially a visual medium? The book should be an add-on, something to give fans of the film a little more background, something more to chew on. It should be a different experience within the same universe created by the original film. I think the novelization of TND accomplished this. The other two didn’t.
You flesh out, very effectively, Eliot Carver’s backstory. Can you recap for fans of the movie who may not have read the book, and tell us how you came up it?
I’m not going to recap it–just read the book! But to answer your question, I made it up. There were some clues in the dialogue that he was raised in Hong Kong and inherited the newspaper from a Lord Roverman… I really can’t remember what all was in the script that may have been cut. I made up all the stuff about Carver going after his father and hiring a man to blackmail him.
What about the other characters? You reveal that Stamper is impervious to pain, something that is all but missing from the finished film.
It was in the script I worked with. I was surprised when I saw the final film that all of that had been edited out! Ironically, the character of Renard inherited this trait in the next film.
Bond fan Johnny Oreskov asks: “I quite liked the idea of having Bond and Wai Lin speaking Danish to avoid being understood by their enemies in the stealth boat. An intelligent move by Bond, and a nice pay off to the linguistics joke from the beginning. Was this entirely your addition or did it come from the script?”
That was my addition. You’re right, it was a nice payoff.
In this same vein, I really enjoyed the chapter in which Wai Lin is given her mission, a sequence that isn’t in the film. Why did you feel this chapter was necessary?
As I said before, you have to expand the story to fill out a book. You’re given a word count that must be met, so you have to do something! It made sense to give some backstory to Wai Lin. How did she come to be at Carver’s party in Germany? What was she after? It’s kind of glossed over in the film so I gave her a reason to be there.
You said you visited the set. Did you sense any tension between the director, cast, and producers?
I visited the set but I didn’t see any filming. They were all away on location someplace. I went mainly to look at set designs, costumes, and gadgets. You remember that underwater drill thing the bad guys used to punch a hole in the ship? From the script it was impossible to visualize what it looked like. I especially wanted to see the drawings of that.
Henry asks: “Is it true that an early draft of the Tomorrow Never Dies script resembled your Zero Minus Ten, with a planned attack on the Hong Kong Handover?”
I’ve heard that but I’ve never seen it. I can’t confirm it. Perhaps Bruce Feirstein can!
Both Pierce Brosnan and the director Roger Spottiswoode have said that the movie was called “Tomorrow Never Lies” until an MGM typo changed it to Tomorrow Never Dies. Did this effect you? Is your original manuscript called “Tomorrow Never Lies?”
The one I worked from was always called “Tomorrow Never Dies.” I got it quite late, April 1997. I think filming wrapped in June if I’m not mistaken. The book had to be turned in by June as well.
What did you think of the finished film?
I enjoyed it but I’d really rather not comment on what I think of this film or that film, or these books or those books–for the same reason that I don’t update the Bedside Companion. I don’t feel as if I’m in a position anymore to be a critic on this stuff. Because I was involved in the creation of a tie-in product accompanying the film, it’s really not right for me to comment one way or the other. I will say that TND might be my favorite of the Brosnan films.
The UK hardcover TND is fantastically rare and sells for $300 and up on eBay. Do you know why this is?
There weren’t many printed. I think less than 3,000.
Did you manage to put any real people in the book?
Yes. James McMahon makes an appearance as a naval captain, I believe, and a guy I know named Melvin Heckman appears as Bond’s mechanic! I also wanted to refer to “M” by the name I gave her in The Facts of Death, Barbara Mawdsley. I believe that was the only thing that EON wouldn’t let me do.
The World Is Not Enough
TWINE seems to be a bit more of a straightforward novelization than TND–we don’t get quite the same amount of character backstory and, from what I can remember, no additional scenes. Why is this?
There’s some, mostly in the explanation of Elektra’s fake kidnapping and her relationship with Renard. That’s all mine. Other than that, if I remember correctly the script didn’t leave much room for embellishment.
How did you approach the character of Elektra King? Psychologically she’s quite complex. Did she feel more like a “literary” character than, say, Christmas Jones?
I had a lot of trouble with her. I never could reconcile her motivations in the story. There were some ethnic/political aspects to the character in the very first draft of the script that I saw, but these were cut out and I wasn’t allowed to use them. I can’t really comment on what those were.
Did you have any trouble reconciling two such different “Bond Girl” character types in the same story?
Not really. When you think about it, it’s still the formulaic “good girl/bad girl” situation.
Fan Rory Congi asks, “Given the apparent underlying emotional themes in TWINE — particularly during the scene where Bond shoots Elektra — did you ever intend to go into a deeper depth in regards to how it effected Bond personally. If so, what stopped you?”
I don’t think so. It happens at the climax of the story so there’s not a lot of room left in a denouement to explore that.
I recall you saying that you visited the set of TWINE during your research tour for Doubleshot. Can you tell us about the experience?
Again, the unit was away on location. I had a long session with Peter Lamont, the production designer, so that I could understand all that nuclear reactor stuff worked in the submarine toward the end. I walked on the set of the underground mine. I saw the set that gets sawed up by the helicopters with the rotary blades. It was a visual reference research trip.
The title The World Is Not Enough was revealed quite early, but then there was a period when Eon started saying they weren’t certain this was going to be the actual title. What were you told the title of the film was going to be and did it ever change?
I don’t recall that. I seem to remember that as soon as I was involved with the novelization, that was the title.
There is a line missing at the end of the UK edition of TWINE. Any idea why this is?
Yes, and I’m still mystified by it. I had built in a recurring motif of a Turkish lullaby – in part to explain Elektra’s character. It worked very well. But for some strange reason, the British publisher didn’t care for the ending that referenced it. They cut it right out. The American publisher, however, liked it, and kept it in. That’s why I’ve always maintained that the American edition is my preferred “cut.”
Any real people’s names in the book?
Not this time.
Die Another Day
This 40th anniversary film features many “winks and nods” to Fleming and past films–you included a few that were not in the film. Where these in the script, or did you just get into the sprit of things and create your own?
The ones that were in the film were in the book, but it was actually IFP’s idea to include something from every film in the book, even if it didn’t appear in the script. I think I was able to do that. Some of the references are fairly obvious, but some may be a little obscure. I wonder if there are any fans out there that caught them all. I seem to remember at one point IFP was considering having a contest to see who could find them all, but that idea was dropped.
Wow! So you’re saying there’s a reference to EVERY Bond film in your novelization?
Well, there were when the manuscript was turned in. Four of them ended up being edited out… I guess that’s why there never was a contest!
Your book contains a terrific chapter with Bond in Seoul, Korea, something that was not in the film. Can you tell us about this?
That was one of my two contributions to the story. In the original script I worked from, that hospital scene (after Bond is released from prison) is in Korea. He escapes and suddenly he’s diving off a ship into Hong Kong Bay. How did he get there? I had to come up with an elaborate way for him to escape the hospital, find funds and clothes, and make his way to Hong Kong. I was surprised to see in the final film that they edited it to make it look like the hospital is on a British ship that’s already in Hong Kong Bay. That wasn’t in the original script at all.
Another terrific addition to the story is the chapter where you detail exactly how Moon survived the waterfall plunge and his backstory with Miranda Frost.
Again, I felt it was necessary to explain how a wanted Korean officer could suddenly become a Caucasian millionaire in less than a year.
Were there scenes or chapters that you wrote for this book, or any of the books for that matter, that you had to later cut because they were cut from the film?
Yes. For some reason my hands were tied much more with Die Another Day than with the others. There were new people at DANJAQ involved with overseeing the licenses and merchandising, and there were new directors at IFP. The previously mentioned Seoul scene and the chapter explaining how Colonel Moon survived the waterfall, met Miranda Frost, and changed his identity were the only original things I was allowed to add. For this book I was sent daily updates on the script and had to change the text to mirror the new script pages up until the book was finally turned in. I wanted to add more to Jinx’s background and explain why she happened to be at the Cuban clinic, but it was thrown out.
Did you think that could have had something to do with the now aborted “Jinx Movie”?
No. This was way before that idea was even being floated.
In your novelization, Verity is clearly a lesbian and clearly not Madonna. Why is this?
That scene went through many versions, probably more than any other scene. In the original script she was clearly a lesbian but all that was cut when Madonna took the role. I thought all the references in the book were cut too but maybe some remained–or perhaps those changes came after the book was already at the publishers. I can’t remember.
Bond fan “Triton” asks; “I am interested to know if the Q in the novelization of Die Another Day is Major Geoffrey Boothroyd in the literary continuity or if he is another character?”
I’ve always thought that “Q” is Major Boothroyd–at least Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is him. In the films Dr. No and From Russia With Love the character is known as Boothroyd. It wasn’t until Goldfinger that the films started referring to him as “Q.” It’s still Boothroyd. Cleese is another matter. He inherited the “Q” title, but he’s not Boothroyd, just as Judi Dench’s “M” is not Sir Miles Messervy! However, I believe that Bernard Lee and Robert Brown played the same character. In my original novels, I more or less patterned my Boothroyd after Desmond’s characterization. Desmond was a friend, he supported my work, and I came to view the character and Desmond as indistinguishable.
The invisible car was very controversial–did you feel obligated to explain the technology in your novelization to make it more credible?
Did I really explain it? 🙂
The title of this film was revealed while the movie was deep in production. When did you learn the title? Did you ever hear it called by another title–“Cold Eternity” or “Beyond the Ice” perhaps?
Never. All those titles like “Beyond the Ice” are baloney. Those were rumors generated by fans or press and were never seriously considered. When I got the script it was called Die Another Day.
The cover art on Amazon.com is not the cover art that was used in the book. Any idea why?
No idea. I think it was because early poster art was submitted by the publishers and then they changed the cover afterwards.
Any real people in the book?
One. A local friend and Bond fan, Ed Werner, appears as “Mister Werner,” an employee at the ice palace.
Would you come back and write the novelization for Bond 21 if asked?
I suppose I would if I were asked. I guess it depends on what I’m doing at the time.
Let’s talk about your post-Bond work? Evil Hours was your first non-Bond thriller, correct?
That’s right. It was inspired by a true-life case that occurred in my hometown in West Texas when I was in high school. There was a serial killer going around abducting women and dumping their bodies in the oil fields. This was before the term “serial killer” had even been coined. It occupied the headlines for years during that time and I was always interested in exploring it for a story. In early 1998 I decided to spend the two to three months between Bonds to write it. The Facts of Death was completed and ready to be published, and I had outlined High Time to Kill. My research trip for HTTK wasn’t scheduled until March/April of 1998, so I had some time. I went back to Texas, contacted as many people I could find that were associated with the case, went through the case files at the sheriff’s department, and quickly decided that I couldn’t write a true-crime book. There were too many open-ended questions about the case. So I decided to create a novel out of some of the aspects of the case. I created a fictional town, made up a lot of situations and characters, and wrote a real story with a satisfying conclusion. I’ve always called the story something of a cross between Larry McMurtry (The Last Picture Show) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet). It’s really about the dark underbelly of what appears to be a safe small town. After I finished the book I didn’t do anything with it. I got busy with High Time to Kill and then suddenly I was into my busiest year as Bond author, 1999. In the year 2000 I met some people involved with a new online e-book company called Publishing Online Inc. They were interested in publishing the Bedside Companion as an e-book and print-on-demand book, which I was happy to let them do. They then commissioned from me a “serial novel” that they could put on their website to attract customers. I gave them Evil Hours and they were very pleased. It was sold as an e-book and print-on-demand book. Unfortunately, the company went out of business a year later! I got the rights back. Very recently, Twenty First Century Publishers have re-published it with a new (and better) cover. I also did some revisions here and there of the text. Evil Hours is better now than it was. I still have a limited handful of the original Publishing Online editions for sale through my website at a reduced price, but I also encourage fans to pick up the new edition.
You also wrote a book about the rock band Jethro Tull. Like The James Bond Beside Companion, was this another labor of love?
Yes. I know the band personally and I’ve always been a big fan, since the very early days even before Aqualung! Being a child of the sixties and someone that was in high school in the very early seventies, I was greatly influenced by the so-called “progressive rock” movement. My tastes in music are very eclectic but if I had to pick a particular style that I’m most enamored with, it would be prog-rock. Tull was into that genre for a little while in the seventies, although they’re really a band that has gone through a number of changes and styles. They’re still touring, selling out concerts, and putting out albums. Actually, here’s an interesting story–there’s a James Bond connection to Jethro Tull. The early band that evolved into Jethro Tull was originally called “The Blades”–named after none other than the card club that Bond frequents in the Fleming novels. Ian Anderson was and still is a huge Bond/Fleming fan. That’s how we got to know each other! Last year when the band was in Chicago, the Ian Fleming Foundation presented to Ian a large framed piece of art that Dave Reinhardt, one of the foundation’s directors, put together, in appreciation of the Tull/Bond connection. It showed facsimiles of the Moonraker first edition cover, the first page of text that mentions Blades, the Die Another Day novelization cover and first page of text that mentions the fencing club of Blades, and miniature reproductions of the bridge card hands from Moonraker and the two swords used in the film!
Are Jethro Tull fans as opinionated as James Bond fans?
Of course! 🙂
Speaking of music, you’re an accomplished pianist and composer. Many Bond fans have heard you perform a Bond “suite” on the piano. Didn’t you do this recently for John Barry?
Yes! It was in June 2002, at the Ian Fleming Celebrity Golf Tournament at Stoke Poges in the UK. The Ian Fleming Foundation puts this on as a fund-raising event. The Foundation tries to give a “Goldeneye” Award every year to an individual that has contributed something significant to the world of Bond. That year the award went to John Barry so the evening became something of a Barry tribute. John was there with his wife and young son, David Arnold was there to introduce him and give the award. Other EON people were there–Michael Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Lee Tamahori, Rosamund Pike, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, and others. I played a 12-minute “suite” of John Barry-Bond music, solo, in front of that elite crowd and Barry himself. I was very nervous. But it went over well and Barry gave me a big hug on stage. It was truly a gratifying moment in my life, as I’ve always had great respect for him.
Face Blind is your most recent book. Can your tell us a bit about the book and how you discovered the unusual condition “prosopagnoisa”?
Again, through a Bond connection! John Cleese hosted a four-part documentary on BBC television called The Human Face. Guest stars included Pierce Brosnan and Elizabeth Hurley. One segment talked about things that could go wrong with faces and face recognition. “Face blindness” is a real condition–albeit very rare. As soon as I saw that show, I thought it would be a great premise for a character. I did some research and found a couple of people that actually have prosopagnosia and interviewed them. I do hope everyone gives Face Blind a shot–I feel it’s my best published book.
[Read CBn’s review of Face Blindhere. Purchase Face Blind at Amazon.com].
You’ve written a new thriller… Can you tease us with a few details?
Until I’ve sold it, it’s best not to talk about it. Suffice it to say that it’s another suspense thriller in the Benson mold with twisted characters and a complex plot. I’m also in the process of developing a new mystery/suspense series of my own.
Will any of your post-Bond work be turned into movies?
That would certainly be nice. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
During this series the most frequently asked question from the fans was whether you’ve read any of the James Bond fan faction on the web, and if you have, what are your general impressions?
I have not, not because of any prejudice or anything like that. When I was actually writing the Bonds, I wasn’t allowed to read anything about Bond that a fan had written. Sometimes a person wrote to me with a Bond “idea.” Once I realized that it was someone’s idea, I had to stop reading it. This was a contractual and legal obligation. I usually had to forward those things to IFP.
On behalf of everyone at CBn, I want to THANK YOU for giving us so much of your valuable time and for being so open and so candid with your answers.
And thank you to all the fans that have supported me over the years. I love you all.
Raymond Benson with CBn members John Cox (zencat), Athena Stamos (Athena007), Ryan Provencher (Ry), and Charlie Axworthy (Bryce 003) at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 24, 2004.
To keep up with Raymond Benson’s latest work, future appearances, and to purchase his books, visit Raymond Benson.com.
To discuss this interview visit this thread in the CBn Forums.