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.

6 Responses

  1. Gee, and to think they would come out every year 62/65,four movies in four years,Iknow those days are gone..

  2. Not sure I understand entirely. You’re not proposing that they increase the frequency of films to every 3 years, but that they regard the release of each film as “events?” Don’t they do that already? Are you referring to continuity of the storylines such as potentially having each film be a reboot? Or are you referring to the way each film is promoted? All the recent Bond films received a fair amount of promotion to make it seem like an “event.” I appreciate all the work that went into the research of various EON interviews. I’m just trying to better understand what you are proposing. It was an interesting read so please don’t take this a troll or anything.

  3. The other option you haven’t considered (the most likely option, in fact) is that MGM will soften on their every-other-year stance and come in line with the other major franchises (most of which run on a once-every-three-years schedule. Indeed, there are signs of that happening already – MGM have come a long way since 2010

  4. Sorry if the previous post came off the wrong way. I meant no offense. I was confused by the notion that was brought up about treating Bond films as “events” when it’s about lessening the every 4 year gap, which I get now. I guess this sentence through me off: “Perhaps Eon should view its Bond films as “events,” with a gap of four years, maybe more, between movies, each a stand alone.” Then in the addendum, the agenda is that you want the frequency of films to increase so that the 4 year gap is lessened to a 3 year gap. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    Okay, so if EON and MGM get things together so we can have a release every three years instead of every 4, that should solve the problem, which there is some indication that that is their intention. Continuation novels I think are out of the question because it would involve negotiating pay with the authors. They could take elements from them but a straight adaptation is very unlikely. Plus, after some recent comments by Sabastian Faulks calling Skyfall distasteful, I doubt they want anything to do with him.

    Buying the Broccoli-Wilson family out is futile to hope for. I think Cubby’s legacy means too much to them. Plus, do you really want the movie studio to have full control? Just ask Star Trek fans what that’s like. Star Trek fans were lucky that Paramount hired JJ Abrams for the last 2 films, but prior to JJ Abrams, Paramount / CBS / Viacom just let the Star Trek franchise flounder by hiring the wrong people for the films and the last Star Trek TV series was cancelled because of poor development and creative choices. I’m not saying that the Broccoli-Wilson family have been perfect, but they at least care about getting Bond right even if they fail sometimes. In the sole hands of MGM/Sony Bond can be changed into whatever they think will sell tickets which will almost certainly alienate the fanbase.

    I think there are things they can do between releases to get fans and general audiences excited about Bond again. They could try doing graphic novels taking place between the films (say a series taking place in between the events of Quantum of Solace and Skyfall). With the popularity of comic book heroes and associated films, there’s every reason to believe that if done the right way, a Bond graphic novel series could be successful.

    They can also do more viral videos sort of in the vain of the Daniel Crag beer commercial or even Craig’s appearance at the Olympics with the Queen only changing the goal of it from being a commercial to some sort of interactive puzzle or campaign that approaches the fanbase in a different more innovative way, perhaps in a way that might offer some connection to the upcoming film as the release date gets closer.

    Anyway, whatever they decide to do, I’m sure they can’t satisfy everyone. I Just hope that we get quality entertainment when Bond 24 and future Bonds are released and that they find new and interesting ways to pay tribute to Bond’s rich history.

  5. I hate to say it, but I think James Bond died with Cubby. I enjoyed the Brosnan films but I am not enjoying the Craig era, and if there continue to be delays between films, I may be checking out for good.

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