Exclusive Interview: Nobody Does It Better Co-Writer Mark A. Altman

 

When No Time To Die is released on April 10th, it will not only mark the fifth and final time Daniel Craig plays the British gentleman spy, but also the twenty-fifth time James Bond saves the world. Twenty-seventh if you count the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again and the 1967 screwball comedy version of Casino Royale. For those looking for insight into how this movie franchise came together, and keeps going, there’s the new book Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History Of James Bond (hardcover, Kindle), an exhaustive tome by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross. In the following email interview, Altman (who was my boss when I wrote for Geek magazine) discusses how this book came together, and why he and Gross prefer oral histories and a lack of authorization.

Mark A. Altman Nobody Does It Better Edward Gross

Mark. A Altman (left); Edward Gross (right)

 

It’s pretty clear from the subtitle what this book is about. What I’m curious about is why you did this book as an oral history, as opposed to some other format?

Ever since reading the oral histories of MTV [I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum] and Saturday Night Live [Live From New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales], I fell in love with oral histories as a format for telling pop culture stories. It’s a way to address the Rashomon like aspect of making films and TV without having to offer an objective truth which doesn’t really exist in our business. After the success of our Trek books, both critically and in terms of sales, there was no question that James Bond could be ideally explored in this format, which is like being at a dinner party with 500 people who worked on the movies and just being a fly on the wall. That’s why the oral histories work so well and was uniquely suited for Bond.

So did you do interviews for this book or did you get old interviews from somewhere else?

99% of the interviews are new interviews we did or interviews we did in the past like Tom Mankiewicz. Everyone from Jane Seymour to Bruce Feirstein to Woody Allen were brand new. Due to the amount of people who are deceased, it was necessary to supplement a few parts with older interviews thanks to the largesse of people in the Bond community like Richard Schenkman who shared some of his material like Kevin McClory with us which proved immensely helpful in filling out the story.

In a similar vein, why did you assemble Nobody Does It Better without the consent and participation of the Broccoli family, who oversee the Bond franchise?

I’ve never been a fan of authorized books. They always feel like warmed over pablum. We like to tell the real story for posterity without being gossipy, so it never occurred to us to have the Broccolis sanction the book, which also covers not only the Bond films but spymania in general like the Feldman Casino Royale and the Flint films, among others.

Also, they are so tightly controlling of their narrative, it wouldn’t have resulted in a very compelling history, particularly where more critical insights are offered. It’d be a very different book and a less informative and honest one.

I’m also curious — given that they’re still making James Bond books, movies, and so on — why you decided to make Nobody Does It Better about the series as a whole, as opposed to what you did with your Star Trek books,The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History Of Star Trek: Volume One and The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation To J. J. Abrams: The Complete, Uncensored, And Unauthorized Oral History Of Star Trek.

Star Trek is a unique beast. We had never intended for it to be two books but when we wrote it the manuscript was so long we had no choice but to suggest to our editor to split it into two books (which agreed to after reading it) and 25 years seemed a good place to cleave it at the end of the Original Series era and the beginning of the TNG one, although we played a little fast and loose with the exact beginning of that.

Bond could certainly have warranted an equally voluminous tome, but we felt given how many great Bond books there are out there, this was a real opportunity for us to do something different than what had been done before. If you’re strictly are interested in the making of them, I think Some Kind Of Hero [by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury] is a remarkable book for that, and I grew up on Steve Rubin’s The James Bond Films and Raymond Benson’s Bedside Companion, which were spiritual antecedents of what we did, but clearly we approached this book differently than any other Bond books combining insights from cast and crew with commentators which I think is what makes it so much fun. And thankfully there are a lot of Bond stories no one’s heard before much as we unearthed some incredible history for Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

Of course, James Bond — like Star Trek — isn’t just a movie series, there are books and video games and other fun stuff. Does Nobody Does It Better cover that stuff as well, or is it just about the movies?

We don’t really get into the books and video games. It didn’t feel essential in the way something like James Bond Jr. was. And yes, that’s a joke. I’m glad we got to touch on these as much as we did, but it wasn’t a priority. There was too much fertile ground to cover with the movies and, of course, the movies that weren’t like Timothy Dalton’s third Bond film and Warhead.

In putting Nobody Does It Better together, did you learn anything about the James Bond franchise that either really surprised you or really made you laugh?

I think despite the fact I’ve read virtually every major book ever published on the James Bond films, I think we still have quite a bit of new information and stories which is amazing when you think of the exquisite job John Cork did on the James Bond DVD documentaries, which is probably some of the best special features ever done for home video alongside Charlie De Lauzirika’s Blade Runner and Alien work.

And were there any instances like the ones in the Motley Crue uncensored oral history The Dirt where someone said they pulled something over on someone else and then, in the next quote, that someone else said they knew the whole time?

Absolutely. That’s the fun of the oral history format. It almost feels conversational…or that you’re at the greatest James Bond convention ever.

This is the fourth book you’ve co-written with Edward Gross. You previously did Slayers & Vampires: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History Of Buffy And Angel, So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History Of Battlestar Galactica, and the two Star Trek ones. What did you learn doing those earlier books that, you think, made Nobody Does It Better a better book?

I just think that a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily be willing to talk again about this subject — or haven’t before, like Woody Allen on Casino Royale ’67 — were willing to speak with us because they knew our approach from the success of our previous books, which were scholarly, informative, and fun. I was very gratified that we got so much access to writers, directors, producers, and more over the course of writing this. I think what we did learn from the other books is find a new way into subject matter that’s been explored so many times before but do in a fresh way. That’s the reason that our Star Trek book was so successful and probably the best books ever written about Trek since Gene Roddenberry and Whitfield wrote The Making Of Star Trek back in 1968.

And did you do anything in Nobody Does It Better that made you wish you could go back and fix something in any of those earlier books?

I always wish I could go back and make changes in the previous books. I have so much more Trek stuff I could use, especially after hosting the “Inglorious Treksperts” podcast for the last year. Amazing stories no one’s ever heard. Ed and I begged the editors of the paperback editions to let us revise the books, but they wouldn’t let us.

We also learned a lot on the BSG book. I was very proud that after my first pass, I threw out the chapter I wrote on Galactica 1980 and started all over again, doing new interviews and completely re-writing it. I felt no one else would ever cover it, so I better make it the best chapter on Galactica 1980 ever written, and it is. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written. Just a hoot. Ed’s coverage of the Ron Moore BSG is extraordinary although even there we’d like to add more on Caprica and have the paperbacks be separated into classic and Moore BSG as separate books. But who knows? No one listens to us about this stuff.

So what’s the next franchise that’s getting a complete, uncensored, unauthorized oral history from you and Mr. Gross?

We have one more book in our contract and then I think I’m done. These are too much work and too time consuming and I just don’t have the time nor the interest. After Trek, Bond, and BSG, I’ll be kind of finished. Not much that means as much to me as those franchise other than one which will probably be our last together. Although I expect Ed will continue and they’ll probably get better without me dragging him down. Then again as Ed says, Never Say Never Again…

Mark A. Altman Nobody Does It Better Edward Gross

Finally, if someone enjoys Nobody Does It Better, which of your other complete, uncensored, unauthorized oral histories would you suggest someone read next and why that one?

I don’t think they could go wrong with any of them. One of the things that was most gratifying was how many people raved about the books even if they weren’t fans. Even if you’re just interested in knowing how Hollywood works and how the proverbial sausage is made, you should find all these volumes pretty compelling regardless. I would say the two Trek volumes were my favorites until now with BSG a close second, but now James Bond is definitely my favorite of our books together. Because after all, nobody does it better.

 

 

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