MI6 got to attend "The Orange Word" Screen Writers Season 2004, and can bring you the full transcript from the interview. In this in depth talk Neal Purvis and Robert Wade discuss Bond, their careers, loves and pet hates of film...

Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 1)
17th March 2004

MI6 got to attend "The Orange Word" Screen Writers Season 2004, and can bring you the full transcript from the interview. In this in depth talk Neal Purvis and Robert Wade discuss Bond, their careers, loves and pets hates of film...

Good evening to you and welcome Neal Purvis and Rob Wade...

Peter Florence (Chair): These two have been writing together and we've counted 31 films together. They are possibly one of the most successful writing partnerships currently working in the cinema.

You will probably know them from the film with which they started their incredibly successful screen career, Let him have it, which we're going to show a clip of in a minute, but before doing that I'd just like to ask you both the obvious question of how you met.

Left to right: Peter Florence, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade.

Neal Purvis: Rob...

Robert Wade: Well we were students at the University of Kent and both of us had applied to live out and...

Neal Purvis: … and if you had to live in would you be prepared to share…

Robert Wade: … and we both said no and so we found ourselves in these bunk beds, which were the only, I think there were four bunk beds in the whole university so they were quite sought after and neither of us wanted to be in them but …

Neal Purvis: … so you get to know someone quite well when you're in a bunk bed.

Peter Florence: And were you writing together?

Neal Purvis: Eh no, no …

Robert Wade: We were close together but not 'right-in' together. Yeah but eh you left very quickly didn't you?

Neal Purvis: Yes, I wasn't happy with that situation and I went and did a film and photographic BA at what was the Polytechnic of Central London and is now a University of some sort.


'… so you get to know someone quite well when you're in a bunk bed.'

Robert Wade: And I was doing a film theory degree which was, you know, very theoretical and I watched …

Neal Purvis: You're an expert of pre-1905?

Robert Wade: No, 1906 actually. Pre-1906 cinema and so that was completely useful and … but we formed a band when we were in that bunk bed and then we added a drummer.

Peter Florence: Who slept where?

Robert Wade: Well I think I was on top most of the time.

Neal Purvis: I thought we switched quite a lot actually but um, yeah and it was the music really that kept us together.

Peter Florence: When did you start writing down things that were either for music or for comedy or for screen?

Robert Wade: What you mean sort of attempting to write...

Peter Florence: Attempting to tell stories.

Robert Wade: Well the band wasn't going very well and I sort of started to write a script and it was actually 20 years ago that Neal, I actually remember where we were when we decided to sort of re-write together because it was the night that Tommy Cooper died.

Above: Neal Purvis

'Well I give Rob friendship, which is difficult, isn't it?'

Neal Purvis: I think everyone remembers where they were when Tommy Cooper died.

Robert Wade: Well we do anyway, so it was 20 years ago because I think these Olympics are going to be actually the anniversary of us starting to write together.

Peter Florence: What was it or what is it that you now feel you contribute to each other, as a partnership, in writing terms?

Neal Purvis: Well I give Rob friendship, which is difficult isn't it?

Robert Wade: Yes. I mean no, I get to stand next to Neal, you know.

Neal Purvis: I think that eh, it's very difficult writing on your own, I should imagine that's what I've learnt from writing stuff. I mean we have never written separately so we don't quite know what it's like but the writers that you do meet that write on their own tend to be slightly eh, 'bonkers' and eh…

'...I mean I like Moonraker, but The Man With The Golden Gun...'

Peter Florence: And you guys aren't, clearly.

Neal Purvis: Yeah, no we don't have any problems.

Robert Wade: Well I think we'd be worse if we worked separately. It's very difficult, the rejection and all of that.

Peter Florence: I've seen the Bond DVDs, when indeed you can actually break into them, and I've seen the bits where you say that you sit in cafés on either side of West London and you email each other and you don't seem to sort of sit together on either side of a partners desk. I mean I presume that at some point you hunker down and talk about a story and then you go away and do the transcription bit do you?

Robert Wade: Yes we do a thing called a 'beat sheet', when we're starting to think of an idea for a story or whatever we sort of spend the morning separately drinking coffee and then we meet in the afternoons and have to have alcohol because we've had so much coffee and within, somewhere between the second and the third pint is a window of ideas and …

Neal Purvis: Mm, after that.

Robert Wade: … if you can write it down and read the handwriting afterwards it might be good so we sort of work that way when we're in the nascent stage of a project.

Peter Florence: And then what, do you both go and write up what you think you've talked about?

Robert Wade: Yes, I think.

Peter Florence: And then compare drafts?

Neal Purvis: Mm no.

Robert Wade: Oh no what we do is we sort of … that process goes on for a long time and eh only when we have sort of, really think that it's quite good…

Neal Purvis: It's just putting together a structure eh and I mean we, early on we over did it on the structure once didn't we?

Robert Wade: Mm.

Neal Purvis: Well we did this thing of we got some bits of paper and we wrote down the scenes as a one line thing for each scene and then we cellotaped the bits of paper together and it was 15ft long and something happened and it got covered in fish so we had to bin that structure and it was probably the best thing that ever happened.

Robert Wade: It's the only script we never finished.

Neal Purvis: Yeah that's true.

Robert Wade: So yeah when you're happy with the breakdown of it all…

Peter Florence: Then who gets to write the first draft of dialogue? Physically, on their computer and email it to the other one?

Robert Wade: Well what we sort of say is you take that bit and I'll take that bit.

Peter Florence: What different scenes?

Neal Purvis: Yeah about five pages each.

'...also got The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis), which is a very good film...'

Robert Wade: Yes and then I re-write what Neal did.

Neal Purvis: And I chuck away what he did.

Peter Florence: Okay, when you were in your band, you presumably at that age …

Robert Wade: We're still in the band actually and we still harbour hopes of getting somewhere.

Peter Florence: What you and Steven King and Matt groaning altogether, what a dreadful thought. When you were in the band and you were students you presumably already had 10, 15, even 20 years of cinema lore already that was yours, what were you loving and did you think at that time that you wanted to write, because I read somewhere you wanted to write for the movies and not for television and you knew that from a very early age?


Above: The Nutty Professor (1963)

Neal Purvis: Well we, I mean I don't know about knowing but I mean we really liked going to the cinema and TV tends to borrow more from the cinema and we, we just stuck to our guns and didn't do … I mean there's nothing wrong with writing The Bill, but we never did any TV that came our way when we weren't earning any money and so we just kept writing films. Then at least people know that that's what you do, you're a film writer. The film industry was in a terrible state when we state when we started.

Robert Wade: I think we went into the wrong business and we should have done other things because you learn more by actually getting something made and then seeing how bad it is. Unfortunately, you know, it's difficult to get things made in the cinema so you don't learn very much until it's too late.

Peter Florence: Turn it around and tell me what your great aspirations were towards; what are the movies that you've most admired and why?

Robert Wade: I mean I always liked Westerns and their ability to tell stories that were about something else but within a kind of a genre…

Neal Purvis: …a Star Trek.

Robert Wade: Yes and but so I suppose that's what I've always aspired to and unfortunately we haven't managed to make a Western yet, or even write one but. It's a dead genre.

Neal Purvis: I thought you were going to say Withnail and I.

Robert Wade: Well no but that's a movie that I really love but that wasn't a film that made me want to write movies. I think probably It's a Wonderful Life was a film that I thought was incredibly powerful emotionally and very clever and made me feel good so that was an inspiration.

Neal Purvis: BBC 2 used to show some good foreign films when we were about 15 …

Robert Wade: Yep

Above: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

'BBC 2 used to show some good foreign films when we were about 15'

Neal Purvis: … and there was someone called Bertram Blier who was very good, who did Les Valseuses and there was (I'm going to come onto lighter things in a second) La Grande Bouffe

Robert Wade: Marco Ferreri

Neal Purvis: That's right, but then you've also got The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis), which is a very good film and actually Grease is a very good film, but I liked Sweet Smell of Success probably most of all.

Peter Florence: We've got a clip from that. Would you like, between you, as I now discover that your sentences are formed, to introduce what it is we're going to see and why you wanted to show it?

Robert Wade: Neal?

Neal Purvis: Well this is, it's about 20 minutes into the film and you haven't seen J.J. Hunsecker (played by Burt Lancaster) who's this top gossip columnist in New York and Tony Curtis is in a lot of trouble and you don't you know why and he's a film publicist and you don't really understand what that job is and it's just when they first meet.

Peter Florence: Okay, can we see the clip?

[Clip of Sweet Smell of Success shown] Click to see the trailer

Peter Florence: It's fantastic dialogue isn't it?

Neal Purvis: Well I think that that, you know there's respect for the 'word' in that film, which you don't get quite as much nowadays.

Robert Wade: No. I mean you know, it's amazing you've got this rococo dialogue and it's very false but it works in terms of a movie and also that scene is giving you this sort of exposition about what a press agent is and everything but it's all dressed up within the dynamics of the characters so it's…

Neal Purvis: And for it's day, that little camera movement that he does, this one's touting this one is like a Scorsese thing. I think it's like Shakespeare that film.

Robert Wade: The whole film is like that. You could take any sort of four minute clip, but you can't really take any less than four minutes.

Related Articles:
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 2)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 3)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 4)
Interview - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Part 5)
MI6 "The World is Not Enough" Coverage
MI6 "Die Another Day" Coverage

Many thanks to Peter Florence, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Ellie Ward, The Orange Word and The British Library. Transcript courtesy The Orange Word. Image courtesy Amazon Associates and The Orange Word