John Glen - Renown British Director and Film-maker
Saturday 27th August 10am - 4pm
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26th - 29 August 2016 MMU Manchester, UK
It is no exaggeration to say that John Glen is one of the most important and influential figures in British film history. John has worked on a whopping eight James Bond movies, including helming five 007 outings; a figure that is still a record to this day.
Following editing and second unit work for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, during the 1980s Glen was the man tasked with directing fan-favourite Bond outings For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, and Licence to Kill, which saw him oversee Roger Moore in three outings before Timothy Dalton took over the famed mantle of Bond, James Bond for the following two movies.
If you saw an ‘80s Bond adventure, simply put, John Glen was the man behind it. In terms of legends of the UK film scene, there are very few who can stand toe-to-toe with this Sunbury-born icon.
As well as his legendary, revered work with Britain’s most beloved spy, Glen also worked on the likes of The Italian Job, Murphy’s War, Superman, and even Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct throughout his career, before finally bringing down the curtain on a glorious career with 2001’s Christopher Lambert-starring The Point Men.
Now happily retired from the film industry, it really is a treat for us to bring such a vital figure of British cinema history to the inaugural STARBUST International Film Festival, and the appearance of John Glen should prove to be one of the highlights of what promises to be a highlight-filled bank holiday weekend.
Written by Andrew Pollard
John Glen interviewed in 1981 by Starburst
John Glen is the man responsible for those moments in recent Bond movies that prompt the audience to burst in spontaneous applause - those moments that stick in your memory when the rest of the movie has faded. For instance. he shot the pre-credits sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me went skiing off the top of a cliff and seemed to fall thousands of feet before his back-pack unexpectedly blossomed into a Union Jack parachute. He also directed the opening scenes in Moonraker where Bond was pushed out of a plane without a parachute but saved himself by swiping one of his attacker's parachutes in mid-air...
Glen has been editor and 2nd unit director on three previous Bonds but with For Your Eyes OnlyFor Your Eyes Only he's been promoted by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli 'to overall director of the film. I spoke to him earlier this year shortly after the principal shooting had been completed and he was about to supervise the editing of the picture, though one unit was still in Northern Italy doing stunt work (tragically, on the very day I interviewed Glen, one of the Italian stuntmen was killed during filming).
Glen, a softly spoken man in his late forties, was obviously relieved that the bulk of the work had been completed and was looking forward to getting into the editing. I asked him how he had become involved with the Bond series in the first place.
"Peter Hunt, who directed On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 'discovered' me if you like. I'd been working on TV doing a lot of action direction in shows like Dangerman and Man in a Suitcase so Peter invited me to go out to Switzerland, mainly to do the bob-run sequence but after I'd been there a few weeks I inherited all the 2nd unit work. That was the first time I met Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. I didn't really work on another Bond film until The Spy Who Loved Me when the director, Lewis Gilbert, asked me to do a similar job ..."
I asked whether, in those days, he had been primarily an editor or a 2nd unit director. "Well, prior to this film I only used to take assignments where I was both the editor and the 2nd unit director. I edited On Her Majesty but Peter Hunt was an editor as welt so you can say we had plenty of editors on that one ..."
Having seen OHMSS on TV again recently I mentioned to Glen that the editing in that film seemed much faster than usual. "Yes, and on television it's almost too fast because that extra frame per second or whatever it is when they project films on tv seems to make a big difference. It's strange. The original reason for the fast pace was because we were breaking in a new Bond, George Lazenby, and the idea was to surround him with a lot of expensive action. The film was basically very long - it was one of the longest Bonds - so we felt obliged to speed it up where possible. People would ask: 'How long is it exactly?' and no one would ever tell the truth. There were arguments about just how long it was, with people timing it with stop watches, etc. We knew how long it was, of course - it was too long! Eventually, after the first release,' think they cut 10 minutes out of it."
How difficult was it, I asked, to come up with new ideas for the spectacular pre-credits sequences in the Bonds? "Very difficult because we've set such a high standard for ourselves - and I suppose I really got the chance to direct For Your Eyes Only mainly because of my opening title sequences. It's a challenge to think up something that's going to grip people and be original. There aren't too many sports or activities that you can utilize for these opening scenes which haven't already been done. And invariably an American tv movie will get there before you they may not be well done but they get into everything.
Sometimes, you get an idea for an action sequence when you go on a recce before you start shooting. The actual terrain itself gives you an idea. For this film we went to Corfu on a recce and it gave us all sorts of ideas - for a car chase, for instance. I wanted to do another car chase in this film and had a lot of opposition to it because people said: 'Oh, not another one! Everything that can be done with cars has been done.' Yet there will always be car chases in movies and there will always be original ones. So when we went to Corfu and looked at the locations, various ideas struck us and before we knew it we had another car chase ... and an original one." stunning pre-credits sequence in Moonraker. "Well, I knew very little about free- falls until I worked on The Wild Geese and directed a free-fall sequence, which gave me an indication of what one could do. And then, when the Moonraker idea came up, we got in touch with an outfit called Big Sky and it was quite amazing what these blokes could do using a specially-made camera stuck on a helmet...
"The technical problem was to work out a way of opening the cameraman's chute without breaking his neck because of the extra weight on his head. If you're falling head-first and you suddenly hit the chute, as they do, you suddenly get whipped round with an extra 7 pound weight on your head - which is what the camera weighed - and that can be a terrific strain on your neck muscles. So the cameraman had to have a reefing line fixed to his chute so that his chute would open very, very slowly. It used to horrify me to see him tying this great piece of rope over his chute to stop it opening properly but he knew what he was doing.
"The whole sequence took basically a little over 3 weeks to shoot. It turned out to be one of our most economical units it was a small one and very well organised. We had projection facilities at the aerodome because we were never sure what we'd shot in the air until we saw it on a screen, then we'd program our retakes into the schedule. The retakes were a constant process. I went down to 'San Francisco one weekend and cut a lot of footage together to see how we were going because I was beginning to forget what we'd shot and what we hadn't shot...
Putting it together was a great help because it encouraged everybody in the unit to see what we'd achieved so far .. Glen confirmed that, of course, the stunt men had worn parachutes under their jackets (there is a limit to what stuntmen are prepared to do, even on a Bond film) and agreed with me that the scene where Bond puts his hands by his sides and starts to swoop down on the other man is a marvellous moment. "But funnily enough," he said, "it was one of our easier shots to do because that's how the free• fall parachutists normally accelerate - by putting their hands back - and decelerate by putting their hands forward, but it's a lovely scene, particularly when you've got the Bond theme in the background. It's very Bondian."
I asked what they'd done for the pre- credits sequence in For Your Eyes Only. "We've got a spectacular helicopter sequence which is different from any other helicopter sequence you've seen before. What makes it different I can't tell you - it would spoil the surprise but every school boy is going to love it, I'm sure. We shot it in a huge derelict gasworks area in London's East End and in one scene we actually flew a helicopter through one of the huge Purification Sheds."
At what point, I asked, did he become involved with the development of For Your Eyes Only? "Very early on. I first arrived on the scene in the middle of May 1980 when I had a series of meetings with Cubby. He didn't specifically say I was going to direct it but he said he hoped I'd be associated with it in my usual capacity. I started with the film on the 1st of June, 1980, at which stage all they had was a 4 page synopsis. I was lucky to be in on it that early - it's very, very important to be involved with the scripting of a movie if you're the director because then you feel freer to adapt it as you're filming."
Where had the basic idea come from? "I think it was an idea worked out by Michael Wilson, the executive producer, and Cubby Broccoli, and I think Richard Maibaum was brought in fairly early, and then this 4 page synopsis was then developed into a full script. The basic plot is based on the one short story actually titled For Your Eves Only. It's a very well-written story about this girl out for revenge. It's one of the strongest themes we've ever had for a Bond film, particularly from the woman's point of view.. The other two main characters, Columbo and Kristatos, come from the short story Risico which was set in Greece and was about drug smuggling. We incorporated incidents from both stories as well as incidents that we've not been able to film in the past. For instance, we've got the keel-hauling sequence from the novel of Live And Let Die which wasn't used in the film version."
For Your Eyes Only was obviously very different in approach from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker - was this a deliberate policy on their part? "Yes, we wanted the film to be more on the form of the earlier Bonds, when they were straight Fleming thrillers. I hope it will approach From Russia With Love in style - which is a particular favourite of mine. Moonraker was really about as far as Bond could have gone in that direction -the hardware direction. The Bonds have always prided themselves on being the originators of certain styles in the cinema and at the time we were making Moonraker the big idea was to coincide with the launch of the American space shuttle. The whole film was in fact geared to be released at the same time as the launch but we got here before the Americans. In fact the shuttle still hasn't been launched, but that was the whole thought behind Moonraker.
I feel that if we hadn't done Moonraker when we did we wouldn't have gone in that direction at all because there were so many Star Wars type movies coming out by the time Moonraker was released and the whole space thing had become over-exposed. "There are no science fiction elements in For Your Eyes Only -the emphasis is on the people and their characters. We haven't got the grand sets just for the sake of making peoples' eyes pop out. We purposely haven't gone that way. We don't have Jaws either. We had him in two films and very successful he was too..."
On the subject of Jaws I asked Glen if he and the other Bond people accepted the criticism that the humour in Moonraker had at times gone over the top? "Yes, I think there is a danger with the Bond humour because it's a very finely balanced thing and you're never quite sure whether you're going a little too far in one direction_ One hopes for humour that is 'Bondian' humour and not 'Carry On' humour but sometimes the liM is very thin and you have to pull back from a situation where you think -well, that's a little too bizarre. On the other hand, life itself is bizarre.
"Roger Moore is, of course, the great mainstay of the Bonds, and I think he's on very good form in this one. His humour is different to Connery's though-no one would disagree with that. We haven't got that many one-liners in the film this time. We've got several but not that many. That's not to say there aren't a lot of laughs in it but the humour is in the action. And sometimes the laughs aren't planned at all when you get them..."
Knowing of the legal wrangle that's prevented the use of either Spectre or Ernst Stravo Blofeld in recent Bonds (Blofeld was last seen being bounced up and down in his mini•sub on the end of a crane in Diamonds Are Forever 10 years ago) I was very curious to know if Bond's arch-opponent would ever make a reappearance. "Well, Blofeld is still loitering around. He's sort of in For Your Eyes Only in a funny kind of way. He's sort of in the opening -the presence is there. We've kept him alive because no doubt he will rear his ugly head one of these days in another Bond. I remember when we were making The Spy Who Loved Me we had armies of lawyers down there watching every bit of film we shot preparing themselves in case there was any trouble but I don't believe that's a problem any more. I think it's been brushed under the carpet. I certainly wasn't aware of it this time..."
Is Spectre actually mentioned in For Your Eyes Only? "No. Blofeld isn't even mentioned by name. It's just by a suggestion,”
I asked how Glen had found being responsible for the direction of the whole picture instead of just the 2nd unit. "I found it all fascinating. The most difficult part was the preparation before we started shooting. I've always suspected that that is where your film is basically made -in the construction of the script, the casting and the organisation of the shooting schedule. The shooting itself is important, of course, but if you've got good preparation then the shooting becomes very pleasurable. I was very, very relaxed on the floor during For Your Eyes Only apart from possibly the first week when I went a couple of days behind schedule. But overall I was surprised at how relaxed I was..."
Did he miss doing the 2nd unit work? "Yes. I think it's true to say that 2nd unit work is very exciting and I love doing action work. One of the reasons I like it is that you only have the responsibility for a particular sequence but you don't have overall responsibility for the whole picture and it's very nice at the end of the day -if the sequence has worked well to get a pat on the back from the director."
Did he want to continue working as a director? "Well, yes, obviously my ambition is to remain a director from now on, if anyone will hire me. Everything depends on the outcome of this film which is why it's so important to me. I haven't thought any further than this film at the moment." Would he, I asked, be prepared to direct another Bond? "Oh yes. They're very pleasurable films to make -they're a lot of fun -but I wouldn't want to work on just Bonds alone. I'd like to direct other types of films as well but I'd certainly direct another Bond if I had the chance."
Are there any plans for the next one yet? "Oh, I'm sure there are. I don't know if they've decided on a title yet but there will certainly be another Bond. Several, t would hope. There's still Octopussy to do and then, of course, you could start remaking them if you wanted to. You could have Dr Yes ... laughs. I'm sure James Bond is going to be around for a long time to come." And one hopes that John Glen will be too. From what I've seen of For Your Eyes Only so far it looks as if it's going to be one of the best Bonds in years. In which case Mr Glen's future is assured... and we wish him every success.
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