Istanbul, Turkey, 14:00.
The square in front of Istanbul's Yeni Camii mosque is bustling with locals and tourists. As people trek across walkways and bridges, more pedestrians leak out of the nearby Spice Market — an equally dense and colorful strip of shops. Above the energized foot traffic, the spires of the mosque tower over the scene. Behind them, glistening blue waters of the Bosphorus river make the scene even more vivid. This is the location for the opening sequence of Skyfall, the 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, a rich, tangible setting for what might be the franchise's most intricate stunt to date. Receiving the invite to join the cast and crew of the movie on set for a day, I hop aboard a jet ready to do my own spy work. What were Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes up to in Turkey?
Espionage, gadgets, beautiful women — all important staples of the James Bond franchise. But at the core of the successful spy series, what gives the 22 existing films their scope and exotic flair are the worldwide locations. From the first film to today, there's no place 007 won't go to get the job done, and in turn, there's no place the cast and crew won't go to better bring the cinematic spy to life. In 1963, director Terence Young brought a youthful Sean Connery to Istanbul to shoot a sequence for From Russia with Love. In 2012, the globetrotting tradition continues, bringing Bond back to Istanbul for another go at Turkey's sprawling metropolis.
"[Istanbul] is the most magnificent place," Mendes told press the day of my visit. "It is an incredible city. Obviously the goal is, in a relatively short sequence, try to capture the essence of the country, both old and new. Both its traditions and its modernity." Istanbul is a city overflowing with culture, from its religious roots to culinary expertise to historical integrity to its friendly population — but it hasn't always been accurately portrayed in Hollywood. Mendes' hope is to reverse any fictional ideas of Turkey, by capturing "the spirit of the country without resorting to easy cliches."
Designing the opening sequence of the movie — which Mendes thinks may clock in at four minutes after four weeks of shooting — to capitalize on the diverse locations of Turkey is certainly a step in the right direction. The scene is a multi-layered chase [prepare for minor spoilers] with Bond and his new partner Eve (Naomie Harris), hunting down the elusive Patrice (Ola Rapace). Bond pursues Patrice's Audi A5 in his own clunky Land Rover, cornering him in the chaos of the market. Then he moves to the top of the roofs of Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar (while on motorcycles) before wrapping things up in a high-speed train foot chase. Behind them at all times are the Turkish police, ready to incarcerate both reckless drivers. If you thought nothing could rival the Madagascar construction chase in Casino Royale, Skyfall is ready to give it a shot.
While the Skyfall set isn't completely immersed into the real Spice Market and the shopping public, the market setting is entirely recreated around the Yeni Camii mosque. The square is even embellished by the art department with towering fountains (although the masses of pigeons are just a lucky, John Woo-esque treat). Entering the shooting space, it's clear the Skyfall team went to great lengths bringing authenticity to the market set — the only thing missing is a guy selling leeches by the pound for a few Turkish lira (yes, that's a thing) — even if the fantastic, detailed work would soon be toppled over by a flipped Audi and James Bond's skillful sharpshooting.
Myself and a handful of journalists made our way through the faux-market to the video monitors to witness Mendes and Craig working their magic. Pulling the strings behind the camera is the legendary Roger Deakins, best known for his work with the Coen brothers and his two previous films with Mendes, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. To capture this sliver of the sequence — Bond ducking for cover behind an orange cart while keeping up with Patrice and simultaneously hiding out from the incoming biker police — Deakins employs four giant digital cameras (the Alexa, for you techies), all shooting the action from different perspectives. The crew moves like clockwork, while Mendes orchestrates the scene with the actors, stunt doubles and stand-ins. There's too many people working to count, but a movie at this scale requires hundreds of heads all working in specific roles with time always of the essence. Joining us behind the madness was a special guest, Craig's wife Rachel Weisz, who stopped by to chat with producer Michael G. Wilson and watch her husband kick butt.
As a life-long Bond fan, there's a distinct difference in watching 007 on the big screen and watching him in real life. The former has plenty of adrenaline-pumping, but standing on set with Daniel Craig as he jumps into the role head on, firing his handgun straight at you — well, that's something else entirely. Craig is a serious performer, giving it his all even in the shortest shot. That's impressive, especially considering we were witnessing Day 103 of the Skyfall shoot (with another 30 left to go). With the blazing sun of Turkey creeping through the sparse clouds, the rejuvenated James Bond was as on as ever.
My time on the set of Skyfall was short and sweet, but the promises made up for it. Mendes is aiming to craft an old-school thriller with his Bond entry, kicking things off with a bang to open up potential for a character-driven story in its wake. After Bond knocks down a few oranges, he'll take off for an epic bike chase that will actually be shot on the roofs of Istanbul. The sequence will then be spliced into footage that's already in the can, the train portion of the opening that had the crew shooting in the Turkish city of Andana to film.
There's a ton we still don't know about Skyfall and Craig, Mendes, Harris, and the rest of the gang made sure to keep mum about the specifics. How does Javier Bardem or Ralph Fiennes fit into the big picture? What is Skyfall anyway? The mysteries remain, but in the world of Bond, that's exactly what you want.
Daniel Craig, Sam Mendes and More: How Skyfall Regenerates James Bond
Bond Video Blog: 'Skyfall' Director on Daniel Craig's Sean Connery-ness
Bond 23 Is Officially 'Skyfall,' Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes Confirmed
"Hannibal" bit off much more at the box office than anyone thought it could chew, opening to a record-setting $58 million.
The R-rated thriller presented by MGM and Universal in association with Dino De Laurentiis captured first place with a head-spinning estimated $58.0 million at 3,230 theaters ($17,800 per theater).
"It is far and away the biggest R-rated opening ever -- beating $42.3 million on 'Scary Movie' (which opened via Miramax's Dimension Films last July 7-9)," MGM worldwide distribution president Larry Gleason said Sunday morning.
"It's the third biggest three days of all time. It's behind the three days of 'Lost World: Jurassic Park,' but that was a four-day weekend. That was $72 million. The next one was 'Star Wars: Episode One' (which did $64.8 million via 20th Century Fox the weekend of May 21-23, 1999). That was a three-day weekend. So we came in number two as far as three day weekends are concerned. Spectacular."
"Hannibal" also went into the record books as the biggest non-summer opening ever and as MGM's biggest opening.
Gleason pointed out that "Hannibal" is also off and running very successfully abroad. "It opened in Italy and is doing the same (terrific) business there," he said. "It's going to do about seven billion lira, which is about 8% of the U.S. (business). It's just really amazing -- almost $4 million. So the first two places, the U.S. and Italy, are opening to these record breaking numbers."
Asked where "Hannibal" could wind up domestically having opened so well, Gleason replied, "Well over $200 million. I mean, it can't do worse than that. It looks like it could do half a billion dollars worldwide."
The film's success will impact on both MGM and Universal, which is distributing it abroad. "It's a co-production. We have domestic. They have international. And it all goes into a single pot, so we split all of the profits from both places. It's a big benefit to MGM because we have domestic. Look, Universal (which supervised the film during production) gave us something good to work with. They've taken our campaign (created by MGM worldwide marketing president Gerry Rich and his team) and they're using the campaign around the world. It's a great compliment to MGM that both the foreign distributors and UIP that's distributing in the rest of the (foreign territories) are using the same campaign."
The blockbuster opening for "Hannibal" kicks off a much more active year for MGM than the studio has seen in a long time. "We're going to have almost 20 films in 2001, which is the biggest since the early '80s as far as numbers," Gleason noted.
Insiders had anticipated a $35-40 million launch for "Hannibal" with $37.5 million being the most widely circulated projection around town. The most venturesome Hollywood handicappers were whispering that, maybe, it would hit $40-45 million. If anyone was thinking $55 million-plus, they kept the thought to themselves. Clearly, MGM's marketing efforts made it this weekend's must-see movie for audiences across the country.
"Hannibal" will wind up doing significantly more box office business than its 1991 predecessor film "The Silence of the Lambs." "Lambs" grossed $130.7 million in its domestic release via Orion Pictures and did about $142 million in international theaters.
"Silence" won Oscars for best picture, director (Jonathan Demme), actor (Anthony Hopkins), actress (Jodie Foster) and adapted screenplay (Ted Tally).
Not surprisingly, "Hannibal" had the highest per-theater average for any film playing last weekend. Its estimated $58 million in ticket sales represents about 47% of the weekend's estimated $122.4 million total for key films (those grossing $500,000 or more).
Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and Ridley Scott, "Hannibal" stars Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore. Its screenplay by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian is based on the novel by Thomas Harris.
Columbia and Intermedia Films' PG-13-rated romantic comedy "The Wedding Planner" fell one peg to second place in its third week with a still attractive estimated $7.8 million (-26%) at 2,726 theaters (-59 theaters; $2,861 per theater). Its cume is approximately $38.0 million.
"We had three of the top five," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning, pointing to Columbia's "Wedding" and "Saving Silverman" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
"'Wedding Planner' had a great hold," Blake pointed out. "It just keeps getting better. I think we'll get a Valentine's Day boost and a holiday weekend boost. This is starting to look like (it will have a domestic theatrical gross of) $60 million rather than what was already a profitable $50 million."
Directed by Adam Shankman, "Planner" stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.
Columbia's PG-13-rated comedy "Saving Silverman" from Village Roadshow Pictures in association with NPV Entertainment opened in third place to an okay estimated $7.4 million at 2,467 theaters ($3,000 per theater).
"'Saving Silverman' survived the onslaught (of 'Hannibal') pretty well," Sony's Blake said Sunday morning.
"It managed to do reasonably well in the face of such a huge opening. I think the long-term benefit for the picture is certainly there because hopefully we'll do close to the same next weekend with the holiday and it will certainly add up to another profitable picture for us. $22 million is what the picture cost, so I would certainly hope we'd have a chance to get to $30 million (in domestic theaters).
"We haven't necessarily made the headlines, but we've had a nice string of profitable pictures here with 'Wedding Planner,' 'Finding Forrester,' 'Snatch' and now 'Saving Silverman.' Hopefully, it'll keep going."
Directed by Dennis Dugan, "Silverman" stars Jason Biggs, Steve Zahn, Jack Black and Amanda Peet.
Sony Pictures Classics continued the very successful widening of its critically-acclaimed, PG-13-rated action adventure "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "Tiger" rose one peg to fourth place in its 10th week with a still hot estimated $5.12 million (-25%) at 1,204 theaters (+41 theaters; $4,252 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.1 million.
"Tiger," which won Golden Globes for best director (Ang Lee, who also received a DGA nomination) and best foreign language film, is considered a major contender for Oscar nominations when they are announced Tuesday morning (Feb. 13).
Directed by Ang Lee, "Dragon" stars Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat.
"We just surpassed one milestone," Sony Pictures Classics vice president, sales Tom Prassis said Sunday morning. "We broke the box office record for a foreign language film (beating Miramax's record of $57.6 million for 'Life Is Beautiful'). Now we're open for good things on Tuesday and we'll shoot for some more records."
Asked where "Tiger" could go in domestic theaters if it does as well Tuesday as some Hollywood handicappers think it will, Prassis replied, "I'd hate to speculate (but) the sky is the limit."
20th Century Fox's PG-13-rated drama "Cast Away" slid two rungs to fifth place in its eighth week with a still lively estimated $5.04 million (-33%) at 2,354 theaters (-292 theaters; $2,139 per theater). Its cume is approximately $209.7 million. "Tuesday (with its Oscar nominations) will be very important," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning. "Without (anything happening for the picture on) Tuesday, it looks like $225 million, and with (some major nominations on) Tuesday -- can't tell!"
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" stars Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.
Paramount's PG-13-rated teen appeal drama "Save the Last Dance" from MTV Films dropped two slots to s xth place in its fifth week with a slower estimated $4.8 million (-33%) at 2,506 theaters (-64 theaters; $1,914 per theater). Its cume is approximately $74.5 million.
Directed by Thomas Carter, "Dance" stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas.
USA Films' R-rated Oscar contender drama "Traffic" fell one peg to seventh place in its seventh week with a still-promising estimated $4.43 million (-30%) at 1,740 theaters (+160 theaters; $2,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $71.0 million.
"Traffic," which won Golden Globes for best screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and best supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro), is considered a likely contender in the Oscar race. Its director, Steven Soderbergh, is a Directors Guild nominee for both "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich."
"We'll know better Tuesday, but we still have our sights set on the $90-100 million range with the right nominations," USA distribution president Jack Foley said Sunday morning.
"I'm going to try to add more prints this week, too. We added some prints this past week. I've got more theaters ready to go this week, and I think once we get the nominations under our belts, more exhibitors will come forth. I'd like to add as many (theaters) as I can."
Noting the importance of the upcoming Oscar nominations even in this weekend's ticket sales, Foley said, "Look at the top ten drops and then the drops below the top ten, and you'll see that the ones that are in play for the Academy are dropping in the 30%s for the weekend. Last year it was (only) in the 20%s and in the teens (but) 'Hannibal' cut into the market considerably. The others are (down) in the 40%s and more. So there is a bit of interest in the Academy stuff going on, and this week we should whittle down these drops even further."
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow's R-rated horror film "Valentine" plunged sixth notches to eighth place in its second week with a calm estimated $3.82 million (-62%) at 2,310 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,654 per theater). Its cume is approximately $15.8 million.
Directed by Jamie Blanks, "Valentine" stars Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton and Katherine Heigl.
Miramax's PG-13-rated romantic comedy drama "Chocolat," a contender for Oscar nominations, rose one notch in its ninth week with an encouraging estimated $3.1 million (-15%) at 1,148 theaters (-25 theaters; $2,700 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp.
Rounding out the Top Ten this week was Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13-rated dark comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" up one rung in its eighth week with an okay estimated $3.0 million (-18%) at 835 theaters (+26 theaters; $3,593 per theater). Its cume is approximately $20.8 million.
Directed by Joel Coen and written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and John Goodman.
OTHER OPENINGS There were no other significant openings this weekend.
SNEAK PREVIEWS There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
EXPANSIONS On the expansion front, this weekend saw no significant activity.
WEEKEND COMPARISONS Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the three days -- took in approximately $122.44 million, up about 43.88% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $85.1 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 26.36% from the previous weekend this year when key films grossed $96.9 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' second week of "Scream 3" was first with $16.32 million at 3,467 theaters ($4,707 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of "The Beach" was second with $15.28 million at 2,547 theaters ($5,998 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $31.6 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $65.8 million.