RE-POST: a modest proposal for the post-Skyfall 007 series

Originally posted Feb. 19, 2012. Re-posted because, well, subsequent events make this post look even more interesting in hindsight. While it’s not official Bond 24 will be delayed so that Sam Mendes can direct, another four-year gap is looking like a possibility. The days of an every-other-year production schedule clearly seem to be in the past. Every third year looks like a stretch at this point. Perhaps the “Bond market” can only bear a movie every fourth year or so.

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 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, 2012): 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.

Sam Mendes’ Hamlet moment

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

To direct Bond 24 or not to direct
That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler to stay with the stage,
Or to have my cake and eat it, too

–With apologies to William Shakespeare

When Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, said he couldn’t direct Bond 24, one of the reasons he cited were stage commitments, including a new production of King Lear. But if A MAY 28 REPORT ON THE DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT WEB SITE is correct, Mendes will likely direct the next 007 film anyway. It’s as if Mendes were channeling a different Shakespeare character: Hamlet.

Deadline had a number of scoops about Skyfall — including that Mendes was in talks to direct the film — that turned out to be true. So did Baz Bagimboye of the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail who found himself chasing the U.S. entertainment Web site. In THIS STORY, Bagimboye wrote:

Just two weeks ago I was told Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson were in preliminary talks with Batman film-maker Chris Nolan. They well may have talked but he’s not doing it. Mendes is.
(snip)

The situation now is that the Bond family has told Mendes they will wait until all his theatre projects are out of the way and then he can commit to Bond 24 full-time. Mendes, unofficially, has agreed.
(snip)
I was told Mendes was back in talks just as my friends at Deadline Hollywood broke the news tonight.

Sources close to the 007 production confirmed to me tonight that ‘talks have re-opened’ with Mendes to make the next Bond picture.

As a result, it’s hard to pass all this off as mere rumor — especially after Barabra Broccoli DENIED THAT JOHN LOGAN HAD BEEN HIRED TO WRITE BOND 24 AND BOND 25 while Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer CEO Gary Barber CONFIRMED DAYS LATER THAT LOGAN HAD BEEN HIRED. Various news accounts WERE PROVEN TO BE TRUE despite denials.

Assuming Mendes is in talks to helm Bond 24, what changed? Maybe less than meets the eye. Broccoli and Wilson, in interviews, have consistently said they had wished Mendes would do an encore. Mendes? Despite saying of directing Bond 24 that, “The idea made me physically ill,” it’s hard to walk away when you’ve had a critical *and* box office success. It’s especially hard to walk away when you’ve gotten much of the credit.

What’s more, it would appear if Mendes actually signs a contract to direct Bond 24, he won’t begin until all of his stage commitments have been met. That likely means Bond 24 won’t come out until 2015 at the very earliest, perhaps 2016 given all the elaborate pre-production work. Skyfall was formally announced in January 2011 and didn’t start filming until 10 months later. Seven more months of filming followed.

Meanwhile, if you could do all the stage work you wanted *and* the producers and studios would wait on you, what would you do? Have your cake and eat it, too, indeed. The Guardian, another U.K. newspaper, proclaimed, Eon Productions…is absolutely right to wait for British director Sam Mendes to return for a second film in the wake of his spectacularly successful Skyfall last year.

For Sam Mendes, his Hamlet moment may pay off rather handsomely.

Henry Cavill in talks to star in U.N.C.L.E., Variety says

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill, star of the upcoming Man of Steel film, is in talks to star in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Variety reported.

Cavill, 30, was in the running to play James Bond when that film series was rebooted in 2006. He was passed over in favor of Daniel Craig, now 45.

Here’s an excerpt:

With the news coming out that Tom Cruise had fallen off “Man From U.N.C.L.E,” Warner Bros. has acted fast to find his replacement having entered talks with Henry Cavill to star.

He would co-star with Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander with Guy Ritchie helming.

Cavill is about the same age Robert Vaughn was when he was cast as U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo in the original 1964-68 series. (Vaughn turned 31 in November 1963 during filming of the pilot episode.)

Cavill is also considerably younger than either Cruise, who turns 51 in July, and George Clooney, now 52, who were under consideration to play Solo over the past two years. Man of Steel, which comes out June 14, is also a Warner Bros. project. If Warner Bros. really thinks U.N.C.L.E. could be a multi-film series, Cavill and Hammer, who turns 27 in August, could star in more than one film.

What’s more, Cavill is 6-foot-1, which would be easier to match up with the 6-foot-5 Hammer.

UPDATE: You can CLICK HERE to read a similar story in The Hollywood Reporter. Also CLICK HERE for a similar story by the Deadline entertainment news Web site. Also, CLICK HERE for a story from The Wrap Web site.

Sam Mendes in talks to direct Bond 24, Deadline says

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes, who had said he wouldn’t be back for Bond 24 after directing Skyfall, is in talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures to helm the next 007 movie.

An excerpt from THE STORY BY MIKE FLEMING JR.:

EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures and MGM have started talks for Sam Mendes to return and direct Daniel Craig in the next installment
(clip)
Recently, (Mendes) and the producers (Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson) got back in touch. While Mendes’ first love is theater, it became clear that the producers wanted him and he wanted to return, and the only thing standing in the way were these stage commitments that Mendes felt obligated to do. So, they’ve decided to wait for him to work through those other commitments, and he’s now making a deal to start production probably next year.

The stage commitments are Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and King Lear. While Deadline says Bond 24 would probably start next year, Mendes previously TOLD EMPIRE MAGAZINE that his stage productions would “need my complete focus over the next year and beyond.” It’s also not clear from the Deadline story whether a 2014 start would mean a 2014 or 2015 release. Still, Deadline was the first major entertainment site to report that Mendes was involved in Bond 23, which became Skyfall.

The Deadline report came after two entertainment Web sites reported a number of directors, including Ang Lee, who won as Oscar for directing Life of Pi, are under consideration to direct Bond 24.

Ang Lee

Ang Lee

First up was a REPORT IN FIRSTSHOWING.NET saying Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is in the running. Writer Alex Billington said he had been “tipped from a trustworthy source” (no specifics how the source knows this or if the source has direct knowledge) that the director “Refn has been connected to the new Bond.” Refn didn’t answer when asked by Billington about it at the Cannes Film Festival. A video of Refn not answering was provided with the story.

Next up was A STORY IN VARIETY. It cited the Firstshowing story and went one better by saying Lee; Shane Black, director of Iron Man Three; Tom Hooper, who helmed The King’s Speech and Les Miserables; and David Yates, director of four Harry Potter films, were also on the shopping list of Eon Productions.

The Variety story had this word of caution:

Sources tell Variety it could still be some time until a decision is made — not only because they are still meeting with helmers, but also because the details of (Daniel) Craig’s deal are still being worked out. Given how successful the franchise has been with Craig as the star, especially the last pic, the star’s deal is expected to be very lucrative and probably also involves director approval.

Deadline, meanwhile, had a jab at its competitors. “It is a moot point, because Mendes will be the director of the next Bond.” Mendes brought John Logan aboard to rewrite Skyfall and the scribe got hired to do the screenplays for Bond 24 and Bond 25. If Deadline is right, Mendes already has one trusted associate on board.

RE-POST: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Originally published May 2. Reposted today, May 28, the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s letter saying he wanted to pull out of the Solo television project.

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

Octopussy’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Thirty years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work. Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more that normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

JUNE 2011 POST: OCTOPUSSY, A REAPPRAISAL.

The men who would be Napoleon Solo

"I'm ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille."

“I’m ready for my comeback, Mr. DeMille.”


In 35 years or so of ATTEMPTED REVIVALS OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., one recurring problem has been who to cast as Napoleon Solo, the title character.

Solo was created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming and developed by Sam Rolfe, who created most everything else about the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, it’s a pivotal role. Here’s a look at a partial list.

The original, Robert Vaughn: Around 1976-77, producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts enlisted Sam Rolfe to write a TV-movie that would bring back U.N.C.L.E. Rolfe’s script, called The Malthusian Affair, had a somewhat older, but still active, Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The plan was to bring back Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, working with some new agents. The project never got further than the script stage.

A few years later, in the early 1980s, Danny Biederman and Robert Short attempted a theatrical movie version. Their plan, also, was to have the original stars. But the producers ultimately couldn’t convince a studio. Vaughn and McCallum did reprise the roles in a 1983 made-for-television movie, The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., that deliberately depicted Solo as retired and straining to regain his old form. Vaughn turned 50 during filming.

George Clooney: In 2010-11, George Clooney appeared to be the choice of director Steven Soderbergh, who said he had committed to a new U.N.C.L.E. movie. It was easy to understand. The pair had worked a number of times together. Eventually, though, Clooney, owing to health issues, took his name out of the running. By this point, Clooney was the same age as Vaughn was in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Bradley Cooper: The actor, transitioning from movies such as The Hangover to more serious fare such as Silver Linings Playbook, was reported to be the new Solo for a time after Clooney’s departure. Looking back, it’s hard to determine whether this was really happening or an attempt by agents and/or publicists to gain their client attention. Regardless, Cooper was soon out and his career has been on the rise since.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender


Michael Fassbender: Soderbergh reportedly proposed Michael Fassbender to Warner Bros. as a Solo contender. Fassbender had shown flashes of a James Bond while playing a young Magneto in a 2011 X-Men movie. Soderbergh had also cast Fassbender in a spy movie called Haywire.

According to various accounts, Warner Bros. didn’t like the choice because of Fassbender’s lack of star power. Almost immediately, Fassbender’s star power began to rise but it was too late.

Channing Tatum: Soderbergh took a look at Channing Tatum, another actor he had worked with (both Haywire and Magic Mike, a film about male strippers). His football player build was considerably different than the 1964-68 original television series. Soderbergh exited the project before anything could happen Solo-wise with Tatum. Tatum, meanwhile, also sees his star power rise. The actor also ended up working with Soderbergh one more time in Side Effects, a 2013 movie.

Tom Cruise: At the end of 2011, Warner Bros. assigned U.N.C.L.E. to director Guy Ritchie after Soderbergh’s departure. Cruise’s name didn’t emerge as a potential Solo until early in 2013. Like Clooney, a Cruise Solo would be notably older than the original version of Solo. According to the Deadline entertainment news Web site, Cruise exited U.N.C.L.E. negotiations to concentrate on a fifth Mission: Impossible movie.

It remains to be seen who will show up on this list next.

UPDATE (June 8): It didn’t take long to wait. On May 28, Variety reported that Henry Cavill, star of Man of Steel, was in talks to play Solo. Cavill, while promoting the 2013 Superman movie, said in early June during interviews that he had committed to playing the U.N.C.L.E. ace agent for his next project. Meanwhile, actor Armie Hammer, while promoting Walt Disney Co.’s The Lone Ranger, said on Australian television he’d be working with Cavill on the movie.