A modest proposal for the post-Skyfall 007 film series

So what happens after Skyfall? The 23rd James Bond film is still filming, of course, but we got to thinking what happens in the future.

Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which co-owns the franchise with Eon Productions the Broccoli-Wilson family, wants the series to get back to an every-other-year schedule, something it said as part of its 2010 bankruptcy filing.

But MGM relies on Eon Productions to actually produce the films. Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon along with his half-sister Barbara Broccoli, has talked about how wearying making Bond movies are, including in 2009, (“Filming Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back to back took a lot out of time and energy so at the moment we are all just recharging our batteries.”) in 2005, (“We are running out of energy, mental energy…We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”) one in 2004 or 2005 (“It doesn’t give me a problem to do one in three years instead of two. The studio may feel different, but these are very hard to put together. They take over your life. When we’re working on the script and production, my wife will say, ‘Do you realize you’ve been working seven days a week?’ So I don’t mind doing something else; to me it’s fine.”) and in 1999 (“We don’t have any ideas at this point…It just seems that this one’s [The World Is Not Enough] been particularly hard.”).

So maybe it really is time to give up on the idea of James Bond films coming out at regular intervals.

To maintain an every-other-year schedule, around the time you have one filming coming out, the story for the next should at least be taking shape. MGM’s bankruptcy gets most of the blame for what will be a four-year gap between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. But there are signs the scripting of Skyfall has been a drawn-out affair regardless of MGM’s financial ills. For example:

–In January 2011, when it was announced that Bond 23 would be a go after MGM exited bankrupctcy, the script wasn’t done. John Logan, hired to rewrite drafts by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, said in a Feb. 17 interview with the BBC that he’s been working on Skyfall for “over a year.” That means he would have begun work on Skyfall around the time of the January 2011 announcement.

–Earlier, in August 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported the movie’s script “isn’t ready” and, at that point, not even sent to MGM for review. This, after Eon announced in June 2009, more than six months after Quantum of Solace debuted, that Purvis, Wade and Peter Morgan had been hired to write Bond 23. But the release also noted that Morgan wouldn’t start writing until he completed other scrips.

Eon has mined all of Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories. Wilson has ruled out, on multiple occasions, basing a film on any of the Bond continuation novels. (CLICK HERE FOR ONE EXAMPLE.) So Eon is pretty much on its own to develop stories.

Wilson’s stepfather, Albert R. Broccoli, lived to make 007 films and, after ending his partnership with Harry Saltzman in the mid-1970s, cranked out Bond films on an every-other-year schedule from 1977 through 1989. Wilson isn’t Broccoli. We take him at his word that he finds it a grind; he has said it for too long and on too many occasions to doubt it. He’s either 69 or 70 (different reference sources place his birth year as 1942 or 1943) and he’s been involved with the film series longer than Cubby Broccoli was.

So, maybe, Eon should follow the lead of Ian Fleming Publications. Starting in 1981, IFP (previously known as Glidrose) published 007 continuation novels mostly on an annual basis, first with John Gardner, later with Raymond Benson. That ended in 2002 as new management took over. Since then, IFP has come out with other projects such as the “Young Bond” novels. Meanwhile, its last two regular continuation novels, 2008’s Devil May Care and 2011’s Carte Blanche, were done more as “events” rather than part of a regularly published series. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks was done as a period piece, Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver featured a rebooted 21st Century Bond, who would have been born around 1980.

Perhaps Eon should view its Bond films as “events,” with a gap of four years, maybe more, between movies, each a stand alone. Studio marketers have hyped “the return of Bond!” before after a hiatus (1995’s GoldenEye and 2006’s Casino Royale).

In any event it’s clear Wilson & Co. aren’t enthusiastic about an every-other-year schedule. Skyfall had scripting delays that had nothing to do with MGM’s financial problems. As long as Eon controls half the 007 franchise, it’s going to be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for MGM to have Eon come out with 007 adventures every other year.

ADDENDUM (Feb. 20): Just to be clear, as a matter of personal preference, we’d like Bond movies to come out more often than called for above. We call this a “modest” proposal because it calls for no changes in the cast of characters.

To get Bond movies more often, one of the following is going to have to happen: 1) Eon agrees to use continuation novels (because you’d at least have a starting point, something that would save time in story development); 2) Michael G. Wilson retires (though that alone doesn’t guarantee it); 3) MGM, or Sony or somebody else buys out the Broccoli-Wilson family (something that would be unpopular with much of the fan base), causing a jump start in the frequency (again not guaranteed).

Something has to got to give in the MGM/Eon dynamic: either MGM backs off an every-other-year schedule or Eon accelerates the pace of movie development or some combination of both. Maybe every third year, but *no* backsliding (Casino Royale was originally supposed to be released in 2005, but was delayed a year). The modest proposal above is a compromise that could occur without taking more far-reaching steps. Essentially the “modest proposal” is more or less the status quo of the past decade, simply recognizing it for what it is.

12 Responses

  1. While Wilson undoubtably has had an impact on the films, I’m not sure how much of it has been positive. And as you rightly point out, if he doesn’t live and breathe cinema, why does he keep on doing it? If he wants to sit the next one out I’d do it for him for a very reduced fee (not that I have any movie experience).

    Regarding the relationship between EON and MGM, surely MGM owns half of EON rather than “merely” controlling half the franchise. From memory Harry Saltzman sold his half of Danjaq to United Artists; MGM would now have that 50%, which gives them half of EON. I’ve tried to clarify this ownership without success, I wondered if you knew any better ( or whether my logic is flawed). And it probably makes no difference at all, other than perhaps the question of succession at EON; maybe the only reason for Wilson to stay on is to keep the family’s hands on what they see as their own business.

  2. @M: You’re correct, MGM owns half of the franchise, inheriting that stake when it acquired United Artists.

  3. EON and Danjaq are two separate entities:

    EON is the production company
    Danjaq holds the intellectual property of the franchise

    EON and MGM both own 50% of Danjaq.

    Pretty simple.

  4. The only “Bob” I know of is J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, upon whose teachings the Church of the SubGenius is based.

    By the way, put me in the camp that is absolutely hates the idea of James Bond movies as “special events” with irregular, twice-a-decade appearances. If I was Emperor, there’d be a new 007 picture every 18 months, the summer releases being more fun action/adventure escapades and winter releases being more “serious,” character-driven spy stories.

  5. I’ve always been in favor of the idea of the James Bond movies has factory-built product. If I was running the joint, Eon would have a small (just several people) advance team whose job it would be to think about locations, actors, equipment (including gadgets), logistics and budget. Assuming the Gardner and Benson books are off-limits, I’d have Purvis & Wade always thinking about the next film – plot, characters, and initial stabs at a title. (This would probably be easier than it sounds; I suspect they don’t have a lot to do once filming actually begins – that’s the work of the third-party hired gun writer. Say what you will about their screenwriting abilities, they’ve certainly proven adept at constructing authentically Bondian scenarios and interesting characters.) I’d go for five movies every 18 months, with principal actors contracted for that particular series – with the usual bailout clauses, of course, but also with an opportunity to renegotiate on a film-by-film basis afterward, depending on how the Bond actor is aging (hell, if we could get seven pictures from a popular – and good – screen James Bond, that would be great). I’d go for no more than 12 months total production time, script through in-the-can; if it’s taking longer than a year, you’re not making James Bond, you’re making Star Wars. That leaves the principal production people a nice eight months off between rounds of a job that they should love doing.

  6. @bob According to Wikipedia at least, EON Productions is a subsidiary of Danjaq, not the other way round.

  7. Wikipedia is wrong. Here is the official boiler plate:

    About Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions

    EON Productions Limited and Danjaq LLC are wholly owned and controlled by the Broccoli/Wilson family. Danjaq is the US based company that co-owns, with MGM, the copyright in the existing James Bond films and controls the right to produce future James Bond films as well as all worldwide merchandising. EON Productions, an affiliate of Danjaq, is the UK based production company which makes the James Bond films. The 007 franchise is the longest running in film history with twenty-two films produced since 1962. Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took over the franchise from Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli in 1995 and have produced some of the most successful Bond films ever including CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE.

  8. Ah yes, it does pay to go to the horses mouth. Thanks for clarifying.

  9. […] Bond film unless Eon makes one. This is the same Eon Productions whose co-boss, Michael G. Wilson, has complained for years about the rigors of makes James Bond […]

  10. […] to do Bond 24, will they? Let’s see if Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson complains yet again about how exhausting it is to make James Bond movies. If a new set of Wilson quotes along this line surfaces late this year or […]

  11. It seems Daniel Craig had a lot of involvement in QOS and SF could he be groomed into become a producer. I don’t remember reading any of the previous Bond actors having such a big part in the production of the film such as directors and so forth.

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