I’m an unabashed James Bond fan. Any entertainment to last 50 years is pretty special, and 23 films is quite a milestone for UK movies.
I’ve been revisiting them thanks to the James Bonding podcast, where each of the films are watched by fans, plus some others who may not be very familiar (or familiar at all). It’s been a fun context to watch them all again, not only as someone who loves the genre, but with a little more critical eye than in a typical viewing. And it started making me think about how projects in VFX and similarly, in Themed Entertainment, are like James Bond films.
1) The job is bigger than any one star–6 James Bond actors over 23 films. Each brought their own angle to the films (well 2 never really got a good shot at making them their own) and in spite of different interpretations, different styles, different <b> decades</b>, the series has survived and flourished. Similarly, your project is bigger than any individual. If you’re not playing nice with others, your days are numbered. Even if you think you are the star. And it <b>should</b> be that way. The project is the focus; the team, not the individual.
2) If the core of your project is sound, it can adapt and last–Do we really want the super-misogynistic Bond of the 60s? Not me. Nor the homophobic stuff. Did we just have some of the best Bond films in the series, with a character that felt true? Yes. Even with a reboot of the character’s universe and timeline. Central, solid, story and character bits where kept, while plenty has been tweaked, added or discarded. If the foundation is good, the idea can be malleable over time. You don’t have to be scared of changes if the core is still true.
3) The farther you stray from the core Story, the less successful you’ll be–The Bond films least true to that Story of the super-spy traveling the globe and saving the world from incredible villains and their plots in action-packed set pieces, the more mixed reactions they have had. With few exceptions. Not many people were interested in Timothy Dalton in an outright revenge flick against drug lord as Bond. And while space might be the ultimate place for a villain base, the comical elements, and frankly slow and boring fight at the end of Moonraker were a downer. Bond has oscillated from too little to too much over the years, with predicable results. You should always compare your work versus the big Story and see how it measures up. As you get off the mark, it’s up to you and your team to figure out how to yet back to the core.
4) Plan for the long-haul–There were 12 original Bond novels and 2 books of short stories. Right from the start there was a treasure trove to start from, and with the success of the films, the books weren’t even a constraint. The structure of Bond was such you could go one for a long time. Heck, there are 29 post-Ian Fleming Bond novels and 18 videogames. Not all of that was planned from the start, but it was an idea that you could do a lot with. Your projects should strive for that long-term life.
I’d be remiss if I left out the lessons you can learn from James Bond himself, so let’s talk about those too.
1) Tech tricks only get you so far–Sure, who doesn’t love a gadget or a high-tech gimmick to get you out of a jam. A jet pack, a trick watch, or machine guns in the headlamps. But at best, in moderation. Fundamentals get you though most days, and “technolust” can get you into far worse jams than tried and true solutions. Not that you <b>shouldn’t</b> have a high-tech wizbang to deploy, but don’t consistently bet the farm on it. Brains ultimately get you farther. OK, punching not so much in themed entertainment versus Bond
2) The value of a calm head in a crisis cannot be overstated–I mean it should go without saying, but you still have to. If everything is blowing up and going to hell around you, composure is worth its weight in gold. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good decision made by someone running around like a chicken with their head cut off ever. And yet decisions in that circumstance get made all the time. Take a deep breath or two, get your brains together, and then move forward. Even if you have to find a quiet place in the volcanic lair to plot your next moves.
3) You should spend a good amount of time gathering your facts before going in for the kill–It’s the pre-production versus production argument. Lots of prep, reconnaissance and data gathering to be sure you’re making the right call and going in the right direction. All that work in advance will save you suffering when you’re deep into the job. If you jump right into the action, you’re probably getting yourself into trouble. (Though no matter how many times you get rid of Blofeld, he’ll probably be back.)
4) No one officially respects you until your second kill–OK, maybe this <b>doesn’t</b> really translate over to Themed Entertainment really well. (Actually…I’ll give it a shot. Your first success maybe will get you some notice, some praise, but once could be a fluke. If you want real a real positive reputation, keep doing good work over and over. You’ll need multiple successes to establish your reputation for quality. See!)
Am I stretching a bit? Sure! But the lessons are still worth repeating. And repeating until they become second nature. If you start seeing these lessons everywhere, then hopefully you’ve had them embedded enough to make them a part of your projects consistently. And while you wont always be the top of the top, with 00 status, your work will be better. Perhaps even great!
I’d do a similar thing for my favorite movie series, Star Wars, but maybe I’ll have to set the bar a little higher (What Ewoks can tell us about Themed Entertainment!).
Time to catch up on some more movies.