THE OTHER FELLOW

MATTHEW BAUER AND HIS BONDS, JAMES BONDS

INTERVIEW
By Connor Dalton
11th December 2022

Bond, James Bond.

So simple an introduction. Yet, when Sean Connery lit his cigarette at the baccarat table in 1962's 'Dr. No', a movie icon was instantly born. 60 years and 25 films later, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't know the name. Half of the world's population has seen a 'Bond' film, and even for those who haven't, the cultural osmosis has been inescapable. Everyone recognises the hallmarks of a 'Bond' film, whether it be the gadgets, the women or the cars. Everyone can remember the different faces of Bond, whether it be Craig, Brosnan or Moore. The fact of the matter is practically everyone knows James Bond.

But that's just the James Bond you and I know. Independent Australian filmmaker Matthew Bauer wants to introduce us to all the others. For the best part of a decade, Bauer has been travelling the world, meeting those who share their name with the world's most famous secret agent. And for those thinking there'd be nothing but upsides to having the same name as cinema's greatest hero, Bauer wants you to know you'd be sadly mistaken. His film, titled 'The Other Fellow', explores the stranger-than-fiction realities of having the name James Bond - a name that has been a blessing for some and a curse for many others.

To mark the film's Australian release, Bauer spoke with me about how he found all these Bonds, his history with the franchise, and creating a very specific community. All before deciding to flip the script and interview this interviewer about sharing their name with a famous Bond. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

CONNOR DALTON: In this film, we meet a lot of James Bonds, but we also meet Matthew Bauer. Could you tell me about your journey as a filmmaker leading up to this film?

MATTHEW BAUER: I grew up in Adelaide, Australia, and the 'James Bond' films were kind of the first things that really got me into cinema. I think it's the same for many kids, to be honest. I'm not an indie cinema kid, you know what I mean? It was the 'Bond' films that got me into that big high-gloss spectacle cinema. Then I think the big turning point for me was seeing 'The Usual Suspects' when I was about 12 years old. That was the first thing that really messed with my head and made me go, "Oh shit!" The ending of that film made me really go, "Oh my god!" I didn't know that something could do this to me. And I think that, weirdly, this film is kind of like a combination of those two influences in some ways. [It's] definitely related to the 'Bond' films, but [it's] also designed to have those kinds of twists and turns and rug pulls of something like a 'Usual Suspects' type of thriller.

In high school, I made a bunch of short films. My high school film was about an art heist from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which got into ARTEXPRESS, which convinced me that I was maybe okay at all of this. [Later] I attended the NYU Film School as their only Australian student in that intake. And this film, 'The Other Fellow', started as my short thesis project, which after completion, I decided to expand into the feature that [you've seen].

DALTON: What was your method for finding and approaching these people?

BAUER: I started on Facebook, and you'll see a shot in the film where [a] helicopter is searching for [a] murder suspect, and you'll see that one of the Facebook beacons says Jimmy Bond, and the other one says JB Bond. That's something slightly left over from something cut, which is that these guys can't be James Bond on social media because when you try and sign up for Facebook as James Bond, it flags you for using a false identity. I've actually tried to do it myself because I wanted to check what they were saying, and it's true. You can supply them with ID, documentation and things and prove that you are James Bond. But most people go the other route, which is to call themselves Bond James or Jimmy Bond or James with three S's. So once I figured out that syntax, I then looked at their families, and if they had other Bonds in their family, I went, "This probably actually is a James Bond."

So I then composed kind of a spam email that said, "Hey, I'm thinking about this as a film, have you guys got anything interesting to tell me?" And what I was expecting we tried to burn through in the first ten minutes of the film, which is all of the martini jokes, the, "Oh, I bet it's good at picking up women," all of that. But the first James Bond who wrote back to me - the final Bond you meet - told me his story and his family's story, and, weirdly enough, it was a little bit like the noticeboard in the police station at the end of 'The Usual Suspects'. After speaking with that James Bond and then the other Bonds you meet in the film, I saw a structure where you worked backwards from that ending. You meet a bunch of James Bonds who essentially spend the first hour of the film complaining about all of these problems of being named James Bond before [meeting] a character who kind of harnesses the dark side of the force, if you will. That gave me a structure that I could make a film around.

DALTON: Did some Bonds refuse participation, thinking you would add to the stigmas they already endure?

BAUER: Surprisingly not. Generally, they said yes. I think they were happy that someone was finally telling their story, and I think specifically they appreciated that I was trying to tell their story in a feature film form. A lot of these guys have done little news articles and that kind of thing about their name. But I think they really dug that I was trying to make a movie movie that they could be in, in the sense that the 'James Bond' films - that are the bane of their existence - are also movie movies. I think they found that kind of cool.

'THE OTHER FELLOW' TEASER TRAILER

There is one guy who I couldn't get. In fact, given your last name, you may be aware. So you had Timothy Dalton, who was James Bond in 1987, and they were filming at Gibraltar at the army base there for the opening sequence of the film, and there was actually a James Bond in the British Army. [So] of course, they wheeled out this poor Lieutenant James Bond to get photos with Timothy Dalton, and I found these photos and went, "Oh God! I've got to get this guy in my film! [He's] the James Bond who met James Bond."

I kept sending him letters, and I couldn't get a response. So I actually drove to his house and knocked on his door, where his wife shooed me off the property and told me to leave their poor family alone. I never actually got to meet him. He was in the living room, and she wouldn't let me in. But once she eventually calmed down, she said, "We've actually had a lot of people like you over the years from the British press who've seen this photo and have wanted to do interviews with [my] husband," and they just didn't want to know about any of it. So he was the only one who said no, but the rest were really keen to do it. I didn't get much pushback.

DALTON: You do well to show how wide-ranging of an effect the name has. To some, James Bond is a thief; to others, he's a liberator. How important was it to present these different dimensions?

BAUER: It was really important because I think otherwise, this film could get repetitive really quickly. I think even when I said I was making a feature of this, some people had some scepticism about how [I] get 90 minutes out of this concept. And it was really important that, as I said, the opening of the film kind of burns through everything you're maybe expecting in quick succession. We wanted to constantly surprise the audience. [We wanted them to think] where the hell is this going to go next? So it was very important that the very first James Bond you meet in the film [we] suddenly cut to this aerial over the mountains of snowy Sweden, and suddenly everyone's speaking Swedish, and hopefully, you're [thinking] where the hell are we? What the hell is going on?

On the diversity [front], we didn't want to do diversity for diversity's sake, but it did come out that we were following homosexual and African American James Bonds, for instance. It may feel like we're trying to tick a diversity box, but it was more that [we were] dealing with people who are the opposite of what we see James Bond as being, which is this very white male stereotype. We wanted people who were as different to that as possible because it upped the drama. We wanted some who hated it, and definitely our gay New York James Bond, at least, claims to hate it. But then, in Sweden, where we find a man who's turned himself literally into James Bond, we wanted someone who absolutely loved it and embraced it as well.

We needed stuff that would constantly keep surprising the audience because, frankly, you couldn't make a film that was 90 minutes of the gay New York James Bond complaining. Trust me, we had 90 minutes of one-liners from him, but it needed to be more than that.

DALTON: How long did it take you to make this film? I spotted promotional material from three Daniel Craig films.

BAUER: Yeah, it was longer than expected, and you do see a lot of the CNN kind of news stories because the thing that haunts my characters is the news coverage, and what we call the 'James Bond' phenomena is a hell of a lot more than just the films. The plot of 'Skyfall' is somewhat immaterial to the characters in my film. The thing that gets them is the fact that 'James Bond' is on the side of buses and on TV and everywhere they go.

When we filmed the short version of this, that was in 2012 and 'Skyfall' was coming out, and then we ended up releasing the [feature] film kind of when 'No Time To Die' was being released. Weirdly enough, those three Daniel Craig films, which [were] the back half of the Daniel Craig tenure, oddly gave us a bit of a three-act structure to hang the film around. It opens with 'Skyfall' and ends with 'No Time To Die', and you do see the filming and release of 'Spectre' during the rest of the film. But we wanted to have that backbone of not just the 'James Bond' phenomena playing in the background, but quite specifically, what those films actually were at the time. We wanted to make sure it was all correct in a way that 'Bond' fans would be able to tell if you messed up. 'Bond' fans would know if you were looking at a 'No Time To Die' poster before you saw a 'Spectre' one. They'd [know] that's out of order. So we were very careful that when you see those things, they're correct. There's a point when you see Daniel Craig complaining about not wanting to be James Bond anymore, and that in the timeline is correct.

DALTON: So you spent the best part of a decade bringing this film to life. As an independent filmmaker, was that ever difficult financially?

BAUER: I'd say no because it's where I've fallen in love with documentary. I never planned on being a documentarian - it was just that this film obviously required the documentary form. But where I grew to love documentary [films] is that you can make a documentary in a series of one hundred $500 shoots over the years.

I'll say when I finished film school, the biggest thing they said to us was do not make a feature straight away. I did see some of my classmates go out of the gate, and some of them would spend a hundred grand, half a million, even up to a million making a first feature. I think some of them I saw doing it a bit too quickly because the problem is once you shoot for 30 days, you're really stuck with what you have in the can. And, trust me, the cuts of this film up until two years ago were terrible. I mean, they weren't terrible, but we were able to get a rough cut together many years ago, and, from that, go okay, we need to go and shoot this, this part's working, this part's not working.

So as a first feature, it meant that I could slowly put something together until I thought it was good enough to send off to film festivals. It's definitely a way of working that I like because, in a way, [similar to] how they do reshoots on the Marvel films, in a documentary, you're almost constantly on a reshoot. I'd say it was just made in a lot of very small instalments.

I think they were happy that someone was finally telling their story, and I think specifically they appreciated that I was trying to tell their story in a feature film form.

DALTON: In making this film, you've created a support group for these James Bonds. How has it felt to give these people a community?

BAUER: In terms of support groups, I personally went through a lot of struggles with alcohol addiction years ago, so I went to a lot of support groups and meetings. That's what really helped me get through that experience. So definitely, when I was making this film, you'll see there's a line where one of them says this experience has been like therapy because [they] got to meet all these other James Bonds, [which] actually hadn't occurred to me at that point. We had our Facebook page, and they were all members of it, and they started talking to each other on there. But from that, it encouraged me to get some of them together in person in a real proper kind of support group setting. Then, during the pandemic, when all of these support groups moved to Zoom, I was like, "Oh, I can actually get them on Zoom [laughs] and sort of do that there to show that support group environment."

This is a very specific psychological condition that we're exploring in this film. I mean, a very specific, rare psychological condition. But it is talking to other people who have the same problem [as] you that often constitutes therapy of that problem. In that sense, I don't think being named James Bond is [that] different to a lot of the psychological problems that people would go to a support group for. And I think for a lot of them, they've actually really enjoyed the experience, and it's made them much cooler being named James Bond.

We just premiered the film at the Austin Film Festival in Texas, where we got the Texas family of Bonds together, and they're the ones who are the most chill about being named James Bond. They don't have a problem with it, and it occurred to me there that it was because they all had each other. They [always] had each other to talk to, so it wasn't this very isolating experience for them, which for the rest of the characters in my film, it really was. So I think it has been helpful for them in a lot of ways.

DALTON: For the amount of time you've spent on this project, has it felt odd to now be moving on from 'James Bond'?

BAUER: I definitely would say I'm a slightly worn-down 'James Bond' fan. We did make it for a while, but I want to stress this film isn't like 'Boyhood' or something. We aren't following these characters over ten years. We're following a lot of different characters over ten years if that makes sense [laughs]. But definitely, I have heard the name James Bond every day in a crazy sort of way for a while. The address book on my phone, once you get to B, is a very strange place. I know hundreds more than the ones we have in the film, and also their families.

But it's nice bringing it to an end. For my next film, I know how to make a film now, and I do know the whole process of it and sales and all [that] kind of thing. So for my next project, we're aiming for three years. Look, they do say with documentaries, on average, [they] take about seven years to make, apparently. And I do understand that now because I think for a lot of people, it takes longer for their first one, but then from what they've learnt, they can do it a lot quicker the next time.

DALTON: You won't meet a bigger 'James Bond' fan than me, and if we're talking 'Bond', I must ask, who is your favourite 'Bond' actor and what is your favourite 'Bond' film?

BAUER: Sure. My favourite 'Bond' actor is unequivocally Roger Moore, and it's because he was my first. I was growing up in Adelaide, I was nine years old, and I walked in [to see] my dad watching 'Moonraker'. I remember I just sat down, and I was like, "This is great!" and I didn't realise there were more of them at that stage. Then [sometime later] a family friend was having a dinner party, and [they] put on a VHS, and it was 'The Spy Who Loved Me', which oddly was the film before 'Moonraker' and also had Jaws. So suddenly, there were two of these movies, and they had the same guy. [So] at that stage, I thought, Oh, every one of these films must be James Bond versus the guy with the big teeth. Then at the video store, I finally saw the rack, and [I] was like, "Oh shit! There's a lot of these things." It's pre-internet, this is just before 'Goldeneye', and I do miss those fun days where you had to piece together the order of the 'Bond' films from that [title card] at the end that said "James Bond will return in...", and through the Roman numerals [laughs] on the VHS covers. It was cool. But I think it's Roger Moore because everything after Roger Moore was a comparison to [him].

But I found that cool as well. I worked my way through the Roger Moores and then, of course, through all of the Sean Connerys. Then my last three were getting to the other two guys - Dalton and [George] Lazenby - and that was cool because I loved the Dalton films. I love Dalton. We'll get to you in a second, Connor. But I love the Dalton films; they're awesome. Then weirdly, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' was my last one, which, probably if you held a gun to my head, I think is the best 'Bond' film. I always think if Sean Connery was in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', it would unequivocally be the best film. But it's hard to pick a favourite. It's either 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service', 'Licence to Kill', 'Goldeneye', or 'Casino Royale'. It's one of those four.

Weirdly, Roger Moore is my favourite Bond, but I don't think he actually makes that absolute top-tier list. I think with 'Bond', it's often the outliers that are the special ones. But I'm really curious how you've gone with [having the last name] Dalton. Obviously, Dalton is not the same as being called Connery, but does this ever come up [for] you?

DALTON: It's funny. I was in year three of primary school when 'Casino Royale' came out. So my generation grew up with Craig, and when my school friends would delve into the older films, it was Connery, Moore, and [Pierce] Brosnan. So I didn't really get any flack because a lot of people looked past Dalton and Lazenby. If anything, throughout the years, I would pester people to watch the Dalton films because these were self-proclaimed 'Bond' fanatics, and yet, they hadn't seen 'The Living Daylights' or 'Licence To Kill'. So I would push them to watch the Dalton ones; he's great! With these actors, my favourite is Connery, but some days I think it's Dalton. So, really, it's me trying to get the word out to watch him. I got to fly the flag.

BAUER: Timothy Dalton, you could very much argue, is the best. I mean, 'Licence To Kill' is just the best movie ever. But obviously, I've spent a lot of time making this film, and I've met people on the road who are like, "I know a guy called Sean Connery." But I think if you're going to have a 'Bond'-adjacent name, Dalton probably isn't going to jinx things as much as others.

DALTON: You would probably get more attention with Lazenby because more people remember his story. He's the Aussie car salesman turned model who got a suit and haircut like Sean Connery and got the job to replace him. But Dalton was superb, and I wish he did more 'Bond' films than he ultimately did.

BAUER: I wish those stories of the third potential Dalton film [came into fruition], and in the 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' world that we're in, you could still make the third. They do shit like this these days. I'll tell you a funny story. With the marketing of our film, we had to be really careful. The big thing we [had] to be really careful of is that no one in the world would mistake us for a 'James Bond' film. I don't know if you saw our poster, but it's got these guys standing in front of the 'Bond' [silhouette], and we wanted the tagline to be "Bonds, James Bonds". But the concern was that in the marketplace, you could almost confuse that poster for some kind of 'James Bond' team-up 'Avengers'-style film where you have all of the James Bonds. It sounds crazy, [but] we wanted to make sure that people didn't think it was something like that, which is why the tagline is just a film about men named James Bond, so that's clear.

But with the stuff that's happening these days, [you could do a new film] with Dalton or Brosnan. Brosnan's having this crazy renaissance [and] Dalton has suddenly become really big again recently. I still slightly hold out that it [could happen]. I would give it like a 3% chance of happening [laughs], but you never know. I understand a lot of people who've met Timothy Dalton actually say he is a really [regular] person. You can see that in interviews with him. But there's something in Dalton that always reminds me of my father. I don't mean that as an insult, but he's kind of your dad if that makes sense. I wouldn't say [he's humourless]. There's something relatable about him.

DALTON: It has been great chatting, but my free Zoom account is telling me we have to wrap it up. Congratulations on the film; I really enjoyed it.

BAUER: Obviously, we're not 'Bond 25 and a Half' or anything like that, but we're not another 'Never Say Never Again'. I do hope you got a kick out of it. As a 'Bond' fan, [I hope you enjoyed seeing] a feature about these people whose lives exist in the noise of the 'Bond' phenomena. I hope people get a kick out of it because we put a lot of work into it.

'The Other Fellow' is now available to stream for free on SBS On Demand.

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