'Sir Sean did a little jig for me' - Film-maker recalls shooting ‘lost’ James Bond documentary on Diamonds Are Forever set with Sean Connery
As Sir Sean danced a little jig on the set of Diamonds Are Forever just for his camera, 17-year-old film-maker Danny Biederman sported the widest smile ever. Five decades on, the author and screenwriter still smiles when he recalls that day.
"At one point, while I was filming him between takes, he looked straight at me, into my camera lens, and broke into a dramatic and amusing little tap dance, performing just for me and my camera. Needless to say, it was unexpected and left me with a big smile on my face," reveals Biederman from his him in South California.
The passing of Sir Sean in October brought memories of that day in 1971 flooding back for the 66-year-old, leading him to pen a tribute to the star entitled, To Sean Connery, With Love. In it, he records how the Edinburgh actor inspired him as a young filmmaker, both on and off screen.
He writes, 'During his life, Sean Connery brought joy to people the world over with his performances... but in this little story, he also brought joy to a young kid. I have been a James Bond fan nearly my entire life. I discovered the film series as a child, when the third Bond movie, Goldfinger, premiered in late 1964. The following year I caught up with the two previous entries, Dr No and From Russia with Love, when they were re-released on a double bill. These movies, as well as the several that followed that decade, were a key factor in setting the course of my life, so inspired was I by these groundbreaking thrillers. Connery’s portrayal of the character was central to the effect that the Bond movies had on me.'
Suitably inspired by his hero, Biederman started producing his own films at the age of 14, making more than 50 short productions by the age of 21, but it’s one in particular that stands out from the rest, A Spy For All Seasons, his behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of Diamond’s Are Forever.
Recalling the “long and winding road" to get access to the set from United Artists, Biederman says, "For reasons unknown, the studio was dead set against allowing me to do it. I pulled it off by being persistent and never taking no for an answer. I think I must have worn them down. I’d been a huge James Bond fan since I was 10 years old, and Sean Connery was something of a hero to me. Mr Connery and those films triggered the trajectory of my life’s career. So this project was like a dream come true. The most exciting part was walking onto that set and seeing him in person for the first time.”
Standing behind the blockbuster’s cameras and crew, trying to get the best shots for his documentary, the young Biederman set to work.
"Film making was my passion, so to be able to wield my handheld 16mm camera and film Connery as he played this world famous screen character was tremendous. And then for him to graciously take the time to speak to me, a 17-year-old teenage filmmaker, to engage in an interview about the Bond movies and his return to the role, was the biggest thrill of my life."
He adds, “The sequence I witnessed being filmed was James Bond’s covert meeting with his CIA contact, Felix Leiter, at Los Angeles International Airport. Connery played the scene with actor Norman Burton (Felix). Actress Jill St John, who co-stars as Tiffany Case, was also on the set for a scene in which she and Connery deboard their plane. Guy Hamilton, who had directed the hit Bond movie Goldfinger was there directing Connery’s comeback 007 film."
Of course, the high point of the day was the interview with Sir Sean himself.
"He was a major star who was neither arrogant nor full of himself, which is a wonderful quality to find, especially when it’s someone whom you look up to and are so inspired by," says the writer, who co-produced Discovery Channel’s Hollywood Spytek and is author of The Incredible World of SPY-Fi.
He continues, "Several years later I met up with Connery again. I was attending an advance screening of his 1975 movie The Man Who Would Be King, and he was there in person to answer audience questions following the screening. I approached him at the end of the event and we had a short but delightful chat."
Sadly, fans of Sir Sean hoping to find Biederman's film online are for a disappointment, currently A Spy For All Seasons only exists as a six-minute 16mm sound film.
The filmmaker explains, "The original documentary was a half-hour film that currently no longer exists in that form. The good news is that it’s possible to recreate the original longer version, as the unedited master footage still exists, requiring its reconstruction based on the notes I made for that purpose nearly half a century ago. I’ve had many requests from Bond fans over the years to release it - in one form or another - which I hope to do at some point.”
In his tribute to Sir Sean, Biederman ends by writing, 'For a teenager like me, who was so dedicated to building his career in the movie industry, it meant the world to be treated with such kindness, interest and encouragement from this man whose own phenomenal success had been built on playing a character he originated when he was a relative unknown.'I share this little tale because I want it to be known, from my own experience, the kind of person Sean Connery was, his calibre of character... and, upon his passing, to say, “Thank you” to him for the small amount of kindness he offered, which was in fact, to me, so very enormous.'
Fitting words for Edinburgh’s favourite son.
The Incredible World of SPY-Fi, by Danny Biederman, is available from [email protected]
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