John Glen knows his way around Her Majesty's Secret Service. The veteran English filmmaker has been a part of the James Bond franchise since 1969, when he directed the action sequences in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
He performed the same duties on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as well as editing both films. He then took the director's seat for the entirety of the 1980s, directing Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View To A Kill and Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill.
On Monday, Glen appears at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for an In Conversation With ... event tied to the ongoing Designing 007 exhibit. (He's also set to introduce TIFF's screening of Octopussy.) He made time for a transatlantic chat last month, just after Skyfall opened.
You've been associated with the Bond franchise for longer than most - and you directed all five of the Bond films released in the 1980s.
For Your Eyes Only was my first, but I had been an editor and second-unit director on three others: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
How do you land that sort of job?
Peter Hunt, who directed On Her Majesty's, and I were colleagues when I first started in the business as a lowly film editor. We were both assistants in the cutting room in the Third Man period, those films that were being made by Sir Alexander Korda at Shepperton Studios. [This would be the late 1940s and early 1950s.] We stayed friends, and then we hardly saw anything of each other for many years. I started to get credits as a second-unit director and Peter had become a very accomplished film editor, working on all the Bonds, and [producers] Harry Saltzman and then Cubby Broccoli gave him the opportunity to direct On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He'd set up in Switzerland, with a wonderful Fleming story - On Her Majesty's is one of the best - but got into a little bit of trouble with the scene they wanted to film.
It didn't have the snow they required, and they got behind schedule. He badly needed someone to shoot the bob run sequence, and I suddenly got called to Pinewood Studios. He was directing Diana Rigg and George Lazenby on the set when I arrived, and he opened up the script, showed me the [bobsled] sequence, asked me to read it and went back to directing the scene. And when he came back, he said "Would you like to direct the bob run sequence?" And within a couple of days, I found myself on a plane flying first class to Zurich, and a helicopter waiting for me. I got stuck into the bob run sequence, and made a success of it. I managed to [employ] some television techniques to peel some days back off the schedule. And with that, Peter gave me practically the rest of the action scenes to do. That was how I really got started with the Bond franchise.
People tend to play down On Her Majesty's Secret Service because it stars George Lazenby instead of Sean Connery, but it really is a solid action film. And of course there was no CGI in 1969; everything we see is real.
It's all live. In all my Bond films, everything you see there is fantastically real. We always had the best stuntmen and a lot of the technology we used was very early movie. I go back to the Keystone Kops, you know - foreground miniatures, smoke and mirrors. We used very old techniques, but they're still valid ... and they were a lot cheaper and more effective than the CGI. You know, I can sort of see that coming a mile away, quite honestly. [laughing] And when you see something that's done for real, there's no mistaking it.
And when Lewis Gilbert made The Spy Who Loved Me, he brought you on as editor and second-unit director.
Roger Moore was now the actor involved, and I think that was probably his best film as Bond. I was lucky enough to be working with Lewis in Paris when Cubby Broccoli came over to give him the job. And Cubby saw me and said, "Oh, you must get John to do the action stuff." The first shot that was done on that movie was the parachute jump, that was shot in June, and the film itself didn't really start to shoot until late August. But we had the shot in the can, and it was a wonderful thing to have, you know, because then we could build the sequence, and it was a good omen for the rest of the movie.
And this was the first Bond film in a while to bring back the idea of 007 traveling to exotic locations. You shot in Egypt, which not many productions were doing in the mid-70s.
The Egyptian setting was wonderful. The light in Egypt is so good for photography - I think it's all that dust in the air.
The Indian location work in Octopussy was a fairly big deal at the time, too.
It was kind of amazing how that happened, because India hadn't really been opened up for filming from foreign companies, because they had such financial restrictions there. We were very lucky, because I finally got permission to film there, but also because we were able to get a good discount on the exchange; it made our location [shoots] much more affordable. India was a fantastic location, and Udaipur, which was the main location, was absolutely perfect for us. We hadn't been there before, which was wonderful; we always tried to go somewhere new if we could.
When the Bond films started, people didn't travel quite as much as they do now; a lot of people had never been outside of their own country, and certainly sitting in the cinema and seeing these exotic locations - I mean, that movie did great things for India, for tourism. They were very wise to allow us to film there.
You also had the chance to start fresh with a new Bond when Timothy Dalton took over the role in 1987.
The Living Daylights. I shot that in Vienna, and a couple of locations in Austria where we did the skiing stuff. That was very, very good - a good location for us. I mean, I had to use all the Strauss waltzes and what-have-you that one expects when you go to Vienna. You know. I worked on The Third Man, which Carol Reed directed. I certainly bore that in mind when I was in Vienna shooting our stuff.
I had no idea. What did you do on The Third Man?
I was a junior editor, assistant editor. I had the distinction of actually doing the Foleys for the footsteps of Harry Lime in the tunnel, in the sewer. I was a young lad, and had a retentive memory; I used to watch the film in the theatre, then rush out to the stairwell, where it was echo-y, and then [record] the footsteps from memory. Because we didn't have the electronic stuff in those days; now we can just press a switch.
Which brings us back to that tactility we were discussing, working with practical effects.
I always found a great advantage to shooting the way we used to shoot. The great advantage is you see it the next morning. When you're working with digital [effects], you're adding lots of elements and you have to wait several months before you see the finished article. In a way, the director loses a lot of control; it's cost so much money to get all the additions, and those shots are very expensive and they take a long time to perfect.
I've attended festival screenings where the director has literally stepped off the plane with a hard drive under his arm. You could never cut things so close when you had to strike hundreds of 35mm prints.
We had a bit of that with Maurice Binder, with his title [sequences]. He used to leave it to the last moment ... he would keep on trying to perfect them. I remember being in Los Angeles for the opening of a film, probably Octopussy, and getting a phone call from Maurice: "I'm arriving tonight, an hour before the premiere - can you cut the new titles into the print?" And I said, "Absolutely not!" [laughing]
To get back to the Dalton films, I've always felt he was the first actor to really approach Fleming's conception of the character.
Yeah, absolutely. That was the intention. It was a definite ploy to go back to Fleming and try and be a harder type of Bond. The last one I did, Licence To Kill, I think was probably my best film - it had fantastic action, and I thought Dalton was extremely good. But I don't think Americans took to Dalton for some reason. It's strange, isn't it? They're very fickle. [laughing]
I think audiences wanted Roger Moore's lightness, and Dalton was more like Connery, at least in terms of tone.
Yeah, you might be right.
And then Pierce Brosnan came on, and he's much closer to Moore's Bond.
Yeah, he's light, like Moore was. This new chap's quite good; he's more like Dalton, isn't he? Very similar, I'd say.
Daniel Craig? Yes, very much - I think he might even be my favourite Bond now.
What they've done, I think, with Skyfall, they've brought some good humour back. It's quite subtle humour, but it's good. There's some nice moments. And they had a very good villain.
Can you sum up your own sensibility, as far as your Bond films?
My style was always to put the audience in the driving seat, so they feel they're a part of the action. And also to bring a lot of humour into the action. If it's not possible to get the humour into the actual situation, you know, with the dialogue and what have you, you can do an awful lot with the action to make people laugh. My style was really to try and excite the audience with the action, and then have something funny happen which makes them release all the tension. That produces the best reaction of all.
The Spy Who Loved Me was a very good example of that, with the parachute sequence - you have an exciting chase, and Bond's cornered, and he goes off a cliff and suddenly the Union Jack appears. That got a tremendous reaction from audiences. We did lots of things like that, in action - you know, one expects to see airplanes fly over cars, but you don't often see clouds fly over airplanes.