MI6 looks back twenty years at Lee Goldberg's interview with the "A View To A Kill" screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson in 1985

Interview - Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson by Lee Goldberg
23rd May 2005

Computer genius Max Zorin, the psychopathic progeny of Nazi genetic experimentation, has a nasty scheme -- he'd like to trigger an earthquake that will plunge California, and its "Silicon Valley," into the sea. A monopoly on the world's microchip market will be his and, with it, a means to achieve global tyranny.

It's an ingenious, evil scheme that could only be hatched by a twisted, corrupt mind .. or born in the interaction between two inspired screenwriters like Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson. "We work together like two collaborators always work," Maibaum says. "We argue a lot."

Maibaum got his start writing stage plays before migrating west to Hollywood, where he wrote several Alan Ladd films, including The Great Gatsby and Captain Carey.

When Ladd was signed for three films by producer Albert R. Broccoli, Maibaum was asked to write them. When Broccoli acquired the rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, Maibaum was hired to do the adaptation.

Since then, he's written 11 James Bond adventures, including For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy with Wilson, Broccoli's stepson.

Richard Maibaum
James Bond Screenplays


For Maibaum, writing Bond films is " a case of Walter Mitty. I'm law-abiding and non-violent. My great kick comes from feeling that I'm a pro, that I know my job, and that I have enough experience that I can write a solid screenplay."

"Michael is very receptive and is the only man I've actually worked with on the Bonds," Maibaum says. "Other writers have come on before or after me, but never with me until Michael. He's very receptive, he has lots of ideas and I think we like each other, which always helps."

"Dick is very experienced in this field, he's written many Bond films over the years," Wilson says. "I find him a great collaborator. The actual writing we do separately, although we work together on revising the material. Sometimes he will lead off and write the first draft and I'll rewrite behind him or it's the other way around."

Wilson, who studied to be an electrical engineer, left the legal profession to join the Bond team as assistant producer on Spy Who Loved Me. He was upped to executive producer of Moonraker.

Both Maibaum and Wilson agree the hardest part of a Bond screenplay is devising the all-important, villainous scheme. They are limited by credibility -- and the evil dreams of past Bond baddies.

For instance, Auric Goldfinger tried to blow up Fort Knox with an atom bomb, thereby destabilizing the economy and driving up the value of his own gold. Ernst Stavro Blofeld stole two nuclear warheads and held the world ransom. Later, he threatened the world with a diamond laser satellite. Karl Stromberg envisioned an underwater dynasty of his own and nearly sparked global warfare to make it come true. Hugo Drax had similar dreams -- only his empire would be in space.

Maibaum and Wilson have to top the Bond films of yesteryear every time they sit at the typewriter to create their a new caper. "That's what drives us up the wall every time," Maibaum says. "It must be new and contemporary. It can't be small, it has to be of world-shattering proportions. It also must have a kind of underlying, sardonic humor to it."

The Ian Fleming tales aren't much help anymore. The producers depleted their supply of Bond novels with For Your Eyes Only and have been using Fleming's short-stories as starting points ever since. "For all practical purposes, we've been out of material for the last five films," Wilson says. "We still bring in occasional Fleming elements from the books that haven't yet been used in the films. But that's not much help when you get down to basic plotting."

Once Maibaum and Wilson, along with director John Glen and producer Broccoli, decided on devastating the Silicon Valley, they had to come up with a way to do it. Originally, they thought about "having Zorin manipulate Haley's Comet so it comes crashing down," Maibaum says, but opted instead for a more realistic approach.

"The Silicon Valley lies between the Hayward and San Andreas faults," Maibaum says. "Zorin decides to create an earthquake that will send the Silicon Valley into the Pacific." Wilson did some geological research and, mixing fiction with fact, worked with Maibaum to give Zorin the means to give California to the fishes.

"Our plots tend to be fairly realistic. We will never be believable, though. This is a fantasy film. We don't try to be realistic. But, within the terms of our genre, the reality that we deal in, we like them to be believable," Wilson says. "Zorin's plot is something that could almost happen."

Or, as Maibaum says, "like all Bonds, this is documented fantasy." A View to A Kill, like many of the Bond films before it, revolves around Bond's encounters with a megalomaniac bad guy. The film is replete with the classic Bond motifs -- the villain?s kinky and lethal henchman, the sacrifice of 007's assistant, the arctic and underwater scenes, the villain?s super base, and, of course, the future of the world lying in the balance. The similarities are not lost on Maibaum and Wilson. "The villains are megalomaniacs but you want characters that are intriguing and will work within the genre of a Bond picture," Wilson says. "We have to be what we are."

"We do the same thing but change it enough so the audience doesn't object. I think it amuses the audiences," Maibaum says. "For example, there's a scene I like with Zorin when he presents his caper to the other microchip producers in his blimp. One of the men objects and is, ah, taken care of. It's like a scene in Goldfinger, It has a family resemblance yet it's altogether different." The audiences don't seem to mind. Each Bond film is a bigger success than the one that preceded it.

"Well, you know, after fourteen, what can I say. We are in the same position as the members of the US House of Representatives, every two years they come up fro re- election," Wilson says. "Every two years we come out with a new Bond film. People go to the box-office and vote. We are either voted back in or we are not." The Bond production team hasn't let success lull them into complacency. Bond has adapted to the times -- and the competition posed by heroic gents like Indiana Jones and Superman.

"Bond has changed with the times," Wilson says. "There is more heart to him, and his attitude toward women is different. In Spy Who Loved Me, he even met a woman who could rival him for the first time. In For Your Eyes Only, we had to convince Roger Moore to be more ruthless than he, as an actor, feels comfortable being."

They have made a conscious effort in A View to a Kill, and other Bond films in recent years, to downplay the fantasy elements and gadgetry in favor of emphasizing Bond's wiles. "You try to go different ways and I think we went in that direction as far as we could with Moonraker," Wilson says. "The Bonds are more down-to-earth now. I think there is a consensus now to be less fantasy oriented."

"I don't like gadgets. We've seen too many. I think those are always a cheat," he continues. "Usually, you set up a gadget that can only be used in a very unique situation that wouldn't apply generally. I like it best when you set up a situation that the gadget is perfect for and Bond really needs it. Just as he takes it out of his pocket it's knocked from his hand and plummets nine stories down to the ground."

"We don't want to make a non-action film, but there are different ways to be exciting," he adds. "We've kept gadgets to a minimum and put Bond in situations where he has to use his own resources to survive."

As an example, Maibaum refers to a scene in A View to a Kill where Bond is knocked unconscious and put into a car which is dropped into a lake. He awakens shortly after going underwater but can't swim away -- or the baddies standing on the shore watching his apparent demise will really kill him.

"In Thunderball we gave Bond a little gadget that gave him five minutes of air," Maibaum recalls. "This time he uses what's available. He breathes the air from one of the tires."

While Bond's methods have changed, the amazing stunts the 007 films are famous for are still as abundant and wild as ever. Bond's faces certain death many times in A View to a Kill -- he faces it in a fight to the death on the Golden Gate Bridge's towering spires, racing down the streets of San Francisco in a stolen fire truck, leaping ice-flows in the frozen tundra, and braving raging sea water in abandoned mines deep in California's fragile crust.


Michael G. Wilson


"We do try for the spectacular, and I think that's part of what people look for in the Bond films. I don't think a really, well done, honest-to-goodness stunt is ever bad," Wilson says. "We only have two or three that are really, really breath-taking. But it's "We do try for the spectacular, and I think that's part of what people look for in the Bond films. I don't think a really, well done, honest-to-goodness stunt is ever bad,"

Wilson says. "We only have two or three that are really, really breath-taking. But it's one thing to think the stunts up and another to think how to do them. I won't write anything unless I've already figured out how it an be done safely and not be a cheat."

Above: Lee Goldberg


"Sometimes we've had stunts rattling in the back of our minds that we never got around to doing because they weren't suitable to the plot," Wilson says. "The Eiffel Tower stunt in this film is a good example. It was originally in an early Moonraker script."

Bond meets a contact on the Eiffel Tower. Before the man can talk, he's killed by an assassin who makes her escape by parachuting off the tower. A breathless chase ensues through the streets and waterways of Paris.

"I think John Glen, who also did For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, is the best action adventure director in the world today," Maibaum says.

"He always has something startling, new and unexpected in his chases and stunts. He keeps up a frantic pace. He has a fertile imagination for stunts and has the ideas and the ability to photograph them."

James Bond is the most successful continuing hero in motion picture history. There have been many imitations -- from Matt Helm to Flint to a rival 007, yet the James Bond saga endures. But after two decades and 14 films, how much longer can James Bond go on? "There's no reason the Bonds can't go on forever," Maibaum says. "Some characters are immortal -- Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes . . . and now James Bond."

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MI6 "A View to a Kill" Coverage

Interview republished courtesy of Lee Goldberg, images courtesy of Amazon associates and MovieMarket.co.uk