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DiCaprio's bond with Ian Fleming

The actor's company will produce a biopic that aims to capture 'the real James Bond.'

May 14, 2008|Jay A. Fernandez | Special to The Times

Leonardo DiCaprio may one day be able to add Ian Fleming to the list of real historical figures that he's impersonated on screen.

The Oscar-nominated actor's Appian Way company recently came on as producer of "Fleming," an original screenplay written by Damian Stevenson about the life of the British author and journalist who created James Bond.

"It's going to be very different from the Bond films," says producer Andrew Lazar ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Get Smart"), who first championed the project. "There are a lot of different ways to crack biopics, but we're not trying to emulate a Bond movie . . . The idea that this guy's life informed the James Bond character is pretty fascinating."

In fall 2005, just before the lucrative Bond franchise rebooted with Daniel Craig, Stevenson made his first script sale to Warner Bros. He then spent months mollifying the WB legal department about the historical accuracy of the Fleming story and worked through dozens of drafts with Lazar.

"It's the real James Bond," says the 35-year-old Stevenson, who previously worked as a development executive at Kopelson Entertainment and DreamWorks. "In England, Ian Fleming's exploits are much better well known. Talking to people out here, no one had any idea that M was based on a real person, Miss Moneypenny was based on a real person."

The London native scoured the underground stacks of the University of Oxford's centuries-old Bodleian Library for out-of-print Fleming biographies.

His latest version of the screenplay begins on the eve of Fleming's Jamaica wedding in 1952, just before his first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," was published (a wedding present to his new wife).

It then flashes back to Fleming's years as a Reuters journalist stationed in Moscow and then a Commander of Naval Intelligence (MI6 code name "17F") during World War II who devised innovative spying plots.

Fleming later drew from his own playboy life and his espionage contemporaries' to invent one of literature and film's most enduring characters.

During the writers' strike, DiCaprio showed interest in Fleming and his world, but he's looking to take the script in a different direction with a new writer.

The next Bond film, titled "Quantum of Solace" after a Fleming short story, will be released by MGM on Nov. 7.


Fade to black

"Fade to black." For screenwriters, finally typing those words triggers the kind of magnificent satisfaction marathon runners feel when they break the tape.

In this case, it also comes with a twinge of sadness.

After 88 columns, Scriptland is moving off the Times stage. It's been massively satisfying to have so many people read and respond to the column (special mention goes to writer-director Scott Coffey for early on bemoaning the "turgid snark" of my prose).

But more importantly, readers seemed to rediscover the obvious: that the lives, work and minds of this town's writers are endlessly rich and insightful.

If there's a legacy here, I hope it's theirs -- that they receive due respect for being the miraculous cultivators not just of their own imaginations, but of ours as well.

Over the last 21 months, I've had the good fortune to speak with a lot of smart, savvy people in the TV and film world -- agents, managers, producers, executives and, especially, screenwriters.

Many shared hard-won wisdom about a profession that can often be more frustrating than fulfilling.

One of these was Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects"), a real student of the game who once offhandedly provided the most succinct explanation for the gummed-up, 10th-circle-of-hell runaround of the film business that I've ever heard. Here it is, for your morbid pleasure:

"Scripts don't get movies made, directors do," McQuarrie e-mailed. "(You can argue that actors do, but the first question the actor asks is 'who is directing?') The list of directors that supply the necessary confidence is exceedingly small. So even if directors were choosing projects based solely on the quality of the writing (which is not always the case, obviously) a writer's chances are slim.

"Next, is your spec script based on a bestseller, a comic book, a graphic novel? Is an actor attached? What makes it worth investing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars? If your answer is story, you should be writing books.

"So what about the scripts written for a studio? The purpose of studio development is getting the script to a place where it is suitable to attract a director from the aforementioned short list. The common belief is that directors will only read a script once and will be less likely to accept a script some other director has passed on. Thus, no one wants to show the script to a director until it's ready to make. And, as we've established, a script isn't ready to make until a director says it is.

"Welcome to turnaround."


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