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Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - putting words in 007`s mouth

26-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

Neal Purvis is living every teenage boy's fantasy - his alter ego is James Bond. As the scriptwriter of the past four 007 movies, Mr Purvis gets to decide who the world's most popular secret agent kills and who he kisses - reports The Times.

The 46-year-old is one half, along with Robert Wade, of one of Britain's most successful screenwriting partnerships. “To write a 007 film is a dream come true,” he says.

Being a scriptwriter may not be as glamorous as other dream careers, such fighter pilot or brain surgeon - Mr Purvis writes most of his scripts on a laptop sitting alone in a café - but it is just as difficult to succeed. It took Mr Purvis and Mr Wade many years to attain their success.

Having studied film and photographic arts at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster), he and Mr Wade - a Kent University graduate - decided to pursue their screenwriting dreams.

“You couldn't even get hold of a script when we started out - and there were no screenwriting guides,” Mr Purvis says. He and Mr Wade wrote much of their first screenplay in a London café “selling the greasiest sausages you've ever seen” and, while the movie never got made, it did help them to get an agent - “a vital stepping stone if you want to make it as a screenwriter in the film industry”.

Over the next few years, the occasional scriptwriting job helped to make ends meet. “We were paid to adapt a Tony Parsons novel, Limelight Blues, and earned money coming up with storylines for pop videos,” he says. “We got £100 if our story was used. Nothing if it wasn't.” Unfortunately, none of the scripts they wrote at that time was made into a film, but being part of a team “helped us withstand the knocks . . . It was useful being in a partnership because you could bounce ideas off each other and discuss every scene. If someone's a friend, then there's no problem in speaking your mind.”

Eventually they got a break when they wrote a script about Derek Bentley, the teenager who was hanged after calling on an accomplice to let a policeman “have it” - the resulting gunshot killed the officer. The 1991 film Let Him Have It proved an arthouse hit. “Part of our success was down to sheer bloody-mindedness,” Mr Purvis says. “We refused to give up, were were determined to succeed.”

Their next big picture, Plunkett & Macleane - a £15million film starring Robert Carlyle based on the true story of two highwaymen - caught the eye of the 007 movie-makers, who invited them to write The World Is Not Enough. The film's blend of action, adventure and drama, laced with humorous quips, was just what Bond's controllers were looking for. So, after years struggling for recognition, the duo suddenly found themselves working on an £80million film.

“We half-expected someone to tell us there had been a mistake and send us packing,” Mr Purvis jokes. By now they had perfected their modus operandi: it involved hammering out a story, sharing the scriptwriting duties (writing alternate scenes), then pulling everything together and rewriting it.

They had also been in the industry long enough to know what to expect: “Working on a big-budget picture is a collaborative process,” Mr Purvis says. Three Bond movies - Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace - later, the pair are at the top of their game and have used their high profile to work on other films, including Johnny English, starring Rowan Atkinson, and projects such as their Brian Jones biopic Stoned.

“We're in a good place,” Mr Purvis says. “We've paid our dues, but now it's a case of trying to stay where we are - the most important thing is getting involved in good projects,.”

Yet for all their success, Mr Purvis is sanguine about what it takes to make it as a screenwriter. “There's no getting away from the fact that this is a competitive business,” he says, “but if our success proves anything it is this: that anyone, provided they have a passion for the movies, some literary ability and imagination, can come up with ideas and are prepared to work at it, can make it in the business. Provided they are bloody-minded enough.”

The lowdown

What it takes: Persistence, dedication, a love of film and an ability to take knocks. Getting an agent is vital - most producers will not look at your work if you don't have one

Qualifications: None required but literacy and an ability to write are important. Studying a film course at university can certainly be an advantage

Training: No formal training is needed. You learn on the job and hone your screenwriting skills over time

Attributes: a readiness to work on your own (being a screenwriter can be a solitary life), live frugally (at least in the early days), work hard (rewrites are part of the creative process) and share the writing credits with other writers

Earnings: The Writers' Guild of Great Britain specifies that a writer should be paid a minimum of £13,000 for a draft. A top screenwriter in the UK could hope to earn £600,000 a film in Britain and up to £3 million in the United States

Working life: 9am - 5pm (or as long as is needed)

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