Bond 25 questions: Miscellaneous edition

Denis Villeneuve, one-time contender to direct Bond 25

We (apparently) are on the cusp of Bond 25 production getting underway. Before that happens, the blog has a couple of questions (for entertainment purposes only).

Did anybody think Dune would start production before Bond 25? 

You may recall that director Denis Villeneuve said in November 2017 he’d been asked to direct Bond 25 but took a pass because he wanted to direct a new film version of Dune.

Dune was seen as a difficult, ambitious project and one that might take a long time to get going — if it could get started at all.

However, it got underway last week. See stories from UPI and Screen Rant for details. The film’s cast includes the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin among others.

Dune has a Nov. 20, 2020 release date, or more than seven months after Bond 25’s April 8, 2020 release date.

Speaking of Bond 25, what’s the state of its script? 

Scott Z. Burns was brought in to rework Bond 25’s script, The Playlist reported last month. He was scheduled to work four weeks.

After roughly four weeks, Burns wrapped up work, the same outlet said last week.

Easy peasy, right?

Not so fast. The more recent Playlist story also talked about cast members such as Ralph Fiennes saying they haven’t seen any script pages.

The writer, Rodrigo Perez, said “the screenplay seems to be a work in progress, and isn’t complete yet enough for producers to circulate it to the cast, despite being just weeks away from filming.” (emphasis added)

“Seems” is a long way from “knowing.” Still, that passage didn’t go unnoticed among 007 fans.

I suppose it should be remembered that Eon Production has always been loosey goosey when it comes to Bond scripts. Two extreme cases:

–Richard Maibaum was still at work during filming of From Russia With Love in 1963. It was after the start of filming that he got the idea of showing Red Grant shadow Bond in Istanbul. That was a move that caused the story to come into focus, according to the documentary Inside From Russia With Love.

–Bruce Feirstein was reworking Tomorrow Never Dies script during filming. He wrote the first draft, others had a go at it and then Feirstein was brought back. Supposedly, Feirstein was writing scenes shortly before they would be filmed.

With Fox deal, Disney gets some 007 action (for now)

Skyfall’s poster image

Walt Disney Co. apparently is now in the Bond business — until mid-2020, anyway.

Disney this week completed its $71.3 billion acquisition of most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio. One of the properties Disney picked up was Fox Home Entertainment, which handles home video releases of James Bond films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

That includes the 24-film Eon Productions series as well as the 1967 Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again. MGM and Fox last year reached a settlement in a lawsuit for not including those movies in a 007 box set marketed as containing “all” Bond films. Under the settlement the two studios distributed free digital copies of the non-Eon 007 films.

The following passage is from MGM’s third-quarter financial report for 2018.

Fox Home Entertainment (“Fox”) provides our physical home entertainment distribution on a worldwide basis (excluding certain territories) for a substantial number of our feature films and television series, including Spectre, Skyfall, Death Wish, RoboCop, Vikings, Get Shorty, The Handmaid’s Tale, Teen Wolf and other titles…Our agreement with Fox expires on June 30, 2020.

Disney had announced its Fox acquisition in December 2017. So MGM, when it issued its various 2018 financial reports, was aware that ownership of Fox Home Entertainment was likely to change.

Meanwhile, Bond 25 “physical” home video is spoken for by Universal, which is handling international distribution of the movie.

“Under this arrangement, MGM will retain digital and worldwide television distribution rights,” the studio said in a May 2018 press release about Bond 25. “Universal will also handle physical home entertainment distribution.”

It doesn’t take too much imagination to guess Universal may make a play for the other Bond films for “physical” home video after the current Fox deal expires.

Bond 25 is scheduled to be released in April 2020 and the home video products would be out in the second half of the year, after the Fox deal is over. It would make sense for a new marketing push for previous 007 films to accompany Bond 25 coming out on home video. That’d be easier if one entity handled it all.

Meanwhile, all of this is a footnote for Disney. The company currently is carrying out job cuts at Fox. Its Marvel Studios unit is making plans to use Marvel characters Fox had licensed.

Scott Z. Burns completes Bond 25 work, The Playlist says

Bond 25 writing update.

Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns has completed his work on a Bond 25 rewrite, The Playlist said.

The story was part of a broader Bond 25 piece. But, toward the end, there was this passage:

More soon, but the latest I’ve heard is Scott Z. Burns handed in his draft and but then had to leave to direct an episode of “The Loudest Voice,” the Roger Aisles mini-series starring Russell Crowe as the former Fox mogul. What’s next for the spy film? I’m told there’s more work to be done still, but Burns is booked and had a tight deadline to begin with.

The article was penned by Rodrigo Perez, who broke the news in February that Burns had been hired to revamp the script. Perez’s original story cast the Burns rewrite as a major overhaul and not just tweaking dialogue.

What’s next? Nobody really knows. Perez’s new story is a slightly broader look at the film but doesn’t have a lot of hard details.

So far, multiple scribes — including Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Hodge and others — have had a turn on Bond 25.

Boyle-Eon: The lack of due diligence

Danny Boyle

Last August, the blog asked whether Danny Boyle and Eon Productions did proper due diligence before Eon decided to hire Boyle to direct Bond 25.

Boyle, seemingly, has confirmed the answer was no.

Empire magazine has a feature story about Boyle in its May issue. The story isn’t online, but Boyle comments about Bond 25 have been summarized, including a story at the MI6 James Bond website.

There’s a passage where Boyle says he left Bond 25 after Eon wanted to bring in other writers to rework what John Hodge had done. (Cary Fukunaga would be hired to replace Boyle.)

“We were working very, very well, but they didn’t want to go down that route,” Empire quotes Boyle as saying. “What John Hodge and I were doing, I thought, was really good. It wasn’t finished, but it could have been really good.

“You have to believe in your process and part of that is the partnership I have with a writer. It’s like saying ‘Hey, we are going to give you a different editor…’ Those fundamental partnerships are vital.”

It sounds like Boyle learned his lesson the hard way. If he had done a little research, maybe a half-hour using Google, he’d have discovered Eon often brings in multiple writers to work on Bond films. In some cases, the more the merrier. 

To be fair, Boyle would not be the first auteur director to have difficulties working in a blockbuster film environment. The 2015 Marvel Studios film Ant-Man originated with Edgar Wright. But, in the end, Wright bowed out while retaining a screenplay credit.

Nevertheless, Eon had plenty of chances to check Boyle out. Boyle and Hodge reportedly pitched their idea. How did they think Boyle would react after telling him Hodge’s work needed to be reworked by other scribes?

“Oh sure, Barbara. Whatever you say.” Not likely. They call it auteur for a reason.

This whole affair likely is more complicated. Regardless, neither side did their proper due diligence. And both sides are to blame. That’s as obvious as how the sun rises in the East.

UPDATE (March 21, 2019): Empire has posted an online excerpt of its Danny Boyle story that contains his comments about Bond 25.

MGM looks to expand film-based consumer products

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wants to expand consumer products based on its films, including James Bond, Variety reported.

The home studio of the 007 film series hired Robert Marick as executive vice president of global consumer products and experiences, the entertainment news outlet said. Marick has worked at various studios prior to joining MGM.

Marick will supervise “expansion of MGM’s traditional merchandise, interactive and consumer products business,” Variety said. Besides Bond, the executive will deal with film franchises and TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Pink Panther and Legally Blonde.

In recent years, Bond-related merchandise has been mostly high-end, such as a Lego Aston Martin DB5 and replica DB5s made by Aston that cost 2.75 million British pounds each and aren’t street legal.

The 007 series was once an active generator of video games but that’s fallen off. In the 1960s, Bond-related merchandise included lunch boxes, puzzles, liquor and clothing. The official Eon James Bond site has a section that includes various goods.

About that 007 driving an EV thing

Powertrain of an Aston Martin Raptide E

The British tabloid The Sun caused a stir this week with a story saying that James Bond will drive an all-electric Aston Marton Raptide E in Bond 25

Being a tabloid, the phrasing was provocative.

The £250,000 Rapide E is the Brit motor manufacturer’s first electric vehicle and only 155 are being built.

An insider said: “The decision was spearheaded by the film’s new director, who’s a total tree-hugger.

“He is working directly with Aston Martin to get one of their electric cars ready for its big close-up.he £250,000 Rapide E is the Brit motor manufacturer’s first electric vehicle and only 155 are being built.

(snip)
“Everybody is afraid of Bond getting labelled ‘too PC’ but they all felt the time was right to put him in a zero emission vehicle.” (emphasis added)

The thing is, if you’re going to keep “timeshifting” a character created in the early 1950s by Ian Fleming, Bond has to confront the world the way it is now. Needless to say the world has changed when Fleming was writing Casino Royale in early 1952 in Jamaica.

Specifically, it’s not just “tree huggers” who are causing the auto industry to develop electric vehicles.

China, the world’s largest automotive market and a country with severe pollution problems, is more or less forcing the industry to make more electric vehicles. Here’s the opening to a 2018 story published by Bloomberg Businessweek:

The world’s biggest market for electric vehicles wants to get even bigger, so it’s giving automakers what amounts to an ultimatum. Starting in January, all major manufacturers operating in China—from global giants Toyota Motor and General Motors to domestic players BYD and BAIC Motor—have to meet minimum requirements there for producing new-energy vehicles, or NEVs (plug-in hybrids, pure-battery electrics, and fuel-cell autos). A complex government equation requires that a sizable portion of their production or imports must be green in 2019, with escalating goals thereafter.

In other words, if you want to sell cars and trucks in China, you’d better have electric offerings. Regulators in Europe are also pushing “cleaner” vehicles. The U.S. is the one major market where the government want to ease up fuel-economy and vehicle-emission standards.

To be sure, it’s unclear how fast EV expansion will happen. Regardless, EVs are a fact of life. So it’s not crazy that Bond 25 would reflect this. This post isn’t an endorsement of The Sun’s story. It remains to be seen how accurate that story is.

However, Bond driving a fast EV in the 21st century isn’t a fantasy. We’ll see what happens.

George M. Lehr, key U.N.C.L.E. lieutenant, dies

The shadow of George M. Lehr, who at the time had the title of assistant to the producer, as part of a main title sequence during the first season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

George M. Lehr, a key lieutenant in the production of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., has died, according to family members and fans of the show posting on social media. He was 87.

Lehr’s initial title on U.N.C.L.E. was assistant to producer. In the capacity, he was a jack of all trades.

Lehr was, “for all intents and purposes, the third member of the (Norman) Felton-(Sam) Rolfe team,” Jon Heitland wrote in his 1987 book about U.N.C.L.E. “He undertook a myriad of duties on the show, including all postproduction work.”

That covers quite a bit of ground, from film editing to music scoring. That meant that Lehr touched a lot of bases with accomplished professionals.

U.N.C.L.E. was produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where John Dunning (1916-1991), who won an Oscar for Ben-Hur, was the supervising editor. Franklin Milton (1907-1985), another Ben-Hur Oscar winner, was the recording supervisor.

Lehr even appeared on-screen, in a fashion. Starting with the eighth episode, The Double Affair, the main titles began with the shadow of an attacker inside U.N.C.L.E. headquarters who fires a gun at Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). This would last through the end of the first season. Lehr provided that shadow.

During the second half of the show’s second season, Lehr got a promotion to associate producer (which meant a bigger credit in the end titles), a recognition of his contributions. For the 1966-67 season, he held the same title at The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (sharing it with Max Hodge).

After that series was canceled following its only season, he rejoined Man’s crew for its final campaign for the 1967-68 season, again with the title of associate producer. Lehr was around for the entire development of U.N.C.L.E.

“(H)e also helped to create the…”whip pan” by inserting blurred images between scenes,” Cynthia W. Walker wrote in Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The “whip pan” was used as a transition and a key part of the show’s look.

George M. Lehr’s title card (shared with Irv Pearlberg) in a fourth-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Lehr’s silhouette from U.N.C.L.E.’s first season has surfaced on the cover of the Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mini-series published by DC Comics. The silhouette is altered slightly to make it appear that of an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Post-U.N.C.L.E., Lehr worked on series includes Bracken’s World (a drama about a movie studio), Police Woman and Masquerade. The latter, created by Glen Larson, combined elements of U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible.

Lehr also attended The Golden Anniversary Affair, a 2014 fan gathering in Southern California to mark U.N.C.L.E.’s 50th anniversary.

On a more personal note, Lehr sent me this 2011 note via Facebook (it was a direct message). He had seen my website, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide.

“Reading your site, I now recall you as the individual who established one of the original internet sites. After all these years still amazed there are UNCLE fans out there almost as old as Norman (Felton) and I are. I would guess that’s probably because fans like you are still out there “beating the bushes”! And we are all grateful.”

UPDATE (March 17): An obituary listing for George Lehr is online. You can view it by CLICKING HERE.