The creator of some of these previous Bond special features talks about transferring the features into 1080p and much more.
John Cork has been a James Bond fan since the age of 11 and now he's one of the integral parts of bringing Bond into high definition. Cork, and his video production company Cloverland, has been one of the main producers of special features content on recent Bond offerings. Now that 007 is finally coming to Blu-ray, with the James Bond Blu-Ray Collection, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 both hitting the shelves in separate three-disc sets on October 21, Cork's task moved to transferring these older features into high-def gems for fans to enjoy. I had the chance to talk to Cork today over the phone, and here's what he had to say about this intriguing process and the Bond universe as a whole.
You've been quite the legendary Bond fan. How did you originally get started in Ian Flemming's world?
John Cork: I became a fan when I was 11 years old. A friend of mine rode our bicycles to see Live and Let Die at our local movie theater in Montgomery, Alabama. Probably about 8 months later, I had discovered Ian Flemming's books on some bookshelves and I started reading those, trying to make sure I could see the films when they came on television. Really, there was a group of us around our age who all became big fans at that point in time. I had memories of Bond earlier than that. The first film I had ever seen was From Russia with Love in a movie theater with my parents. It's sort of been in my blood for a long time but, at a certain point, I had started to work with the Bond film producers on those projects, so that was a great honor.
What exactly have you done for these six films on Blu-ray? Were these all featurettes you had produced?
John Cork: We had produced the original special features on the vast majority of the Bond films. I say we, I mean my company Cloverland or, previously, I had worked with a number of people who were very knowledgeable on Bond, a company called Twine Entertainment in the mid-90s. I had worked on a vast majority of the Bond films, whether it had been Laserdisc or DVD releases. Not all of them, there were some other producers who had come in and done wonderful work on them. Basically, what we did for this, was we said, OK, these are coming out on Blu-ray. These documentaries that were produced back in 1995 or 1999 or 2000, really were not produced for high-def. In fact, they were produced for a 4x3 world. What you would have is 4x3 interviews, intercut with letterboxed film clips, because that would preserve the original picture. As time moves forward, this was going to present a huge problem with keeping these films looking, these documentaries, looking as current as possible. For these documentaries, we had the opportunity to interview a number of people who we'll never have the opportunity to interview again and a great deal of time and effort was spent in creating and crafting and making up stories, behind-the-scenes profiles on some of the filmmakers. What we did was we came in and spoke with MGM/Fox and asked if we could, in essence, rebuild them in high-definition. The interview material is always going to be in standard def, but we can work with very sophisticated hardware, up-resing that interview material. Everywhere there was a film clip, we would replace it with a 16x9 film clip, so that, if you were looking at a beautiful plasma screen TV, you're seeing the film clip totally surrounded by a sea of black, letterboxed, not in a 4x3 so it doesn't just look terrible and blown up on your television screen. We can take it, with these brand new transfers, and they've never looked better. Plus, since we've worked on these films, the original documentaries, we can go back to the original photographs we had used for behind-the-scenes imagery in places. We could, in essence, rebuild these with higher resolution scans and rebuild those out to the 16x9 frames. We could do more complicated graphics than we've been able to do. We could, in places, where we've found images over the years, that better illustrated what we were trying to show, put those images in. We can take behind-the-scenes footage, taken by a 16mm or 35mm, we tele-sync that material at HD and incorporate that into these documentaries. It's not just like hitting a button that says, 'Turn it into high-def.' These are basically taking something that would've been probably cast aside, and rebuilding it so that it would have as long of a shelf life as possible and doing everything we could without changing the underlying content of the documentaries to make it a fresh viewing experience for anyone who hasn't seen it years ago.
So it's almost like all the features are restored and upconverted?
John Cork: We restored and upconverted, just to be clear, the upconversions that we did were on the core documentaries within the series, the 'Inside' documentaries. Inside Dr. No, Inside From Russia with Love, Inside Live and Let Die. Those documentaries were rebuilt. The supplemental documentaries for those, were also rebuilt so that we have a profile of Terrence Young, the director of four of the first Bond films, a profile of Harry Saltzman, we rebuilt that documentary. A documentary on the publicity juggernaut, or the release of the Thunderball phenomenon, that was totally rebuilt and one of the other little supplemental documentaries for Thunderball talking about the various different versions of the film released over the years. There were a number of featurettes that were done in 2005 for the Ultimate Edition. With those featurettes, most of those were done on a very high level of standard definition. We spoke with the people at Fox about that and decided that it was not appropriate, at this point, the small bit that you would gain from the upconversion or upgrading of that, was not worth the time and expense that we had to go into it. So, not every special feature is an HD special feature at this point, but the core legacy material, the material where if you really want to understand the history of the series, that's the stuff that we spent the time and effort to make sure that it was going to give people the best experience.
I haven't really heard of these kinds of lengths being taken for special features in high-def. With Blu-ray really exploding these days, do you think this is something that people are going to have to be paying attention to in the near future?
John Cork: Well, I think that right now, my company Cloverland, is literally eliminating our standard-def equipment. The future is high definition. The future is in that direction so we feel very strongly that those who understand how to play in a high definition world, those who know how to work with it appropriately, those are going to be the companies that move forward. We are exceedingly pleased at how Fox and MGM feel the exact same way, that it is worthwhile that home viewers are trying to come in and, when they have a high definition experience, they can also have that experience within the world of special features as well. They can see that the care is being placed all the way around and the experience they have has as much uniformity to it as possible.
Can you talk a little bit about the process of all this? When did you actually start work on all this?
John Cork: We started work in May of this year. That's when we got the go-ahead to start working on this and it was a wonderful but crazy process because we needed to go back to all the different places that had the original master tapes of the interviews. We're talking about over a 13-year period over which this original material was shot and some of the material was older than that, Legacy material that went back even farther than that. Fortunately, since we worked on a number of Bond projects, we knew where those bodies were buried. They were buried on the East Coast, they were buried at the Bond producers' archive there outside of London. They were buried with MGM. They had, obviously, gone through a couple of changes since those tapes were originally delivered back to them, so there was a lot of digging around and a lot of detective work to pull all the original materials out and find the best that we could. We also had to go back to a lot of the original stills, still archives. The greatest thing about this is that everybody - the Bond producers, everybody at MGM, everybody at Fox, could not have been more supportive and helpful. It was just like everybody saying, 'You need it? Great. Let's make this thing happen.' There was great help and great support there. It probably was, from start to finish, an eight-week process to gather all the material, to rebuild these things in high definition. It was a great collaboration all the way around and a wonderful team of people that I was fortunate enough to have working with me, who really put in a tremendous number of hours. We had teams working around the clock. It's just like Bond's Aston Martin, it has to be built by hand. We were working with a lot of computers, but everything has to be meshed up. There's no button on a computer that says, 'Sync this old film clip to the audio from the original film clip.' You have to go through and eyeball every bit of that. It's a complicated process. The time codes don't match, there's nothing there that's locked in. A lot of careful work went into this and, I think, for the people, they shouldn't care. They shouldn't have to worry about how much trouble we went through to make a documentary or to rebuild something in HD. They just think there's a 'Turn it to HD' button somewhere, but it was a great and challenging process.
So these are only the first two volumes of Bond on Blu-ray. Have you gotten the go-ahead to work on the next few volumes and do you know what films might be included in those?
John Cork: Those are questions that would be appropriate for the MGM/Fox people at the appropriate time, so I will defer to them to get with you and get the answers to that.
Fair enough. Do you have any thoughts on the new Bond coming up, Quantum of Solace?
John Cork: I'm incredibly excited about it. I was truly just bananas over Casino Royale. I had the honor to visit the set, go to the world premiere in London and it was a film that lived up to every bit of my hopes and expectations. It was the first Bond novel and there's a tremendous amount of history. I had read that book when I was 12 years old and I have read it a number of times since then. It's one of the most influential spy novels ever written, obviously, and to see it brought to screen, brought up to date, it had the core elements honored and respected by the filmmakers, it was a wonderful experience. This film supposedly starts a few minutes after Casino Royale ends, and I could not be more excited about it.
You've done some work in film production as well with some screenplays before. Have you ever thought about taking a crack at a Bond screenplay?
John Cork: The way I met the filmmakers is that I worked on - they had three writers to work on a treatment back in 1993, when they were sort of coming out of the clouds and wondering what was going to happen with Bond under its new ownership at MGM. Bond had been tied up in some legal wrangling at that stage. I got hired, along with another writer to work on a treatment for an upcoming Bond film, a writer named Michael France, who got the nod to work on the screenplay for Goldeneye. So I threw around a bunch of ideas with (producers) Barbara (Broccoli) and Michael (G. Wilson) at that point, for a number of months. One of the things I had realized at that point was that I was not the perfect guy to write the great Bond screenplay. What happened during that period, which is how I ended up doing the DVD's for them, was that they decided that I knew more about Bond than any sane or rational person needed to know, and I understood enough about filmmaking and storytelling, so when there came time for some documentaries to be done on Goldfinger and Thunderball for the Laserdisc and deluxe editions, they suggested that I be involved. Over the course of the next few years, I became more and more convinced that I enjoyed, other than writing screenplays, I enjoyed talking to real people other than imaginary people in my head. I decided that I got a great deal of creative satisfaction in working on documentaries, and really left screenwriting behind. My screenwriting career continues to linger around in certain ways. I'll get a call from a producer who will say, 'I found this old screenplay of yours. Can I option it or show it to somebody?' or things of that nature. But I've never thought about going back to Barbara and Michael and going, 'Hey. Let me pitch you an idea for the next Bond film.' I feel like they really have very good, solid relationships with who they need to work with on these things and there are a lot of great screenwriters that are better qualified than I to work with something like that.
Finally, with these first six on Blu-ray and hopefully the rest of the series to come, do you think this is pretty much the ultimate viewing experience for these films?
John Cork: I had the opportunity to go in with the Lowry DTS team when they were working on the restorations of these and be able to see the work they were doing, and help them with some questions that they didn't know the answers to. I was blown away by their restoration process. The additional bits of work that had been done, to make sure that these things will last on Blu-ray, there's nothing like this, short of having gotten to watch it at the premiere, in a premiere night, the first time it's going through a projector. It's really a spectacular viewing experience and I think that it's a real tribute to MGM and Fox and the tremendous amount of effort to make sure that these things really were at the top tier quality.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, John. Thanks so much for your time today.
John Cork: You're certainly welcome. Thank you.
You can check out all these amazing special features, finally in 1080p, on the James Bond Blu-Ray Collection, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, which both hit the shelves on October 21.