Sam Mendes, speaking at a Films Without Borders event at Windsor Castle on Tuesday night, spoke about how the spirit of the London Olympics influenced the pro-British enthusiasm in the last James Bond film, Skyfall.
Mendes says he remembers thinking “I think this might be okay,” during the 2012 Olympics as he was editing Skyfall.
He recalls watching Mo Farah’s race with his son and father and being inspired by “80,000 people cheering for the same guy.” “There was a feeling around London and England that changed the way I cut the movie,” he says, “It fed into it in an interesting way.”
He says following up on Skyfall’s huge success “is a big challenge for me… I am just hammering it [the script] out now. It’s gruelling but it’s fun.”
After doing Skyfall, which was hailed as a more modern approach to Bond, he knew he wanted to do a follow-up film. “We had taken Bond where people aged and were getting old and dying. It had come out of this bubble of timelessness I felt. I thought I would need to say what happened next, in the next year or two.” He knew he would do the next film as soon as Daniel Craig also confirmed.
“I spent a long time doing movies that defied easy categorisation,” the director said. “But with Bond, it was very clear what was demanded. With Bond you have to know everything Bond has done before. You can’t repeat it. You’re not going to reinvent the wheel.”
Mendes recalled the formative experience of seeing Live And Let Die when he was 10. “It was adult sexuality, weird glamour, violence…it was really powerful.”
He says he loved that film releases like Bond back then felt like big-screen “special events” that “you don’t switch off or pause…to me is what Bond should still be.”
The huge success of Skyfall both at the box office and with critics “went way beyond what I imagined, it was a capturing-lightning-in-a-bottle moment,” Mendes said gratefully. He said that had happened once before in his career, with debut film American Beauty, which seemed to capture a unique moment in Clinton Era America.
He said of Alan Ball’s American Beauty script, “It remains to this day the best original screenplay I’ve read…it was a fluke of luck that I was given it [by no less than Steven Spielberg].” He noted that directors including Mike Nichols, Robert Zemeckis and Ron Howard had all turned it down and were generous with their praise of his film.
Mendes also spoke about one of his films that didn’t hit the zeitgeist. Jarhead “has the makings of a great movie” but he wasn’t happy with the film — he says one issue is that he was rushed to deliver it for a tight release date. “I can’t watch that movie, it frustrates me the possibilities that are still there.”
Asked about working across varied genres, “after the next one, I’m not going to do any more spy movies,” he said, with a smile that might have indicated that wasn’t a hard and fast rule.
Sitting on a gilded chair in Windsor Castle’s grand Waterloo Chamber and being interviewed by Films Without Borders longtime supporter Prince Edward, Mendes quipped, “I think this is the closest I’m ever going to get to sitting in a throne.”
Film Without Borders’ global work
Films Without Borders, founded and chaired by Jill Samuels, encourages filmmaking by young people living in challenging circumstances — past workshops have been held in Israel, Rwanda, Palestine and South Africa. The charity, now celebrating its fourth anniversary, shares an independent partnership with The Duke Of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation.
Films Without Borders’ new patron Nadja Swarovski also spoke at the event, saying “more than any other medium, film has the potential to inspire and engage young people.”
Lebanese film graduate Anthony Heneine, who was recently placed on an internship at SBS in Australia, called working with Films Without Borders “the turning point in my life.”
Samuels added: “We’ll learn as much on this journey as the young people.”
More information on Films Without Borders can be found at filmswithoutborders.org