Happy New Year 2021 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2021 for readers of The Spy Command. There’s actually going to be a James Bond film in the new year, so there will be plenty to discuss.

Of course, regarding that latter point, we said that a year ago and it didn’t work out. Hopefully, it will go better this time around.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve (even in a hunkered down, pandemic way).

Happy New Year, everyone.

Bond 25 questions: New year’s edition

No Time to Die poster (from spring 2020)

It’s almost a new year. But the never-ending saga of Bond 25, aka No Time to Die, continues. Naturally the blog has questions.

Will we finally get to see No Time to Die in 2021?

You’d think so. Vaccines for COVID-19 are being rolled out. By around mid-year or so, they should be available to a big chunk of the population.

Will we get to see No Time to Die in April?

That’s the more germane question. Right now, COVID-19 is causing havoc. Los Angeles-area hospitals are looking at rationing care because they are swamped with COVID cases. The U.K, in December imposed new lockdowns because of a new variant of the virus.

Can things actually improve enough three months from now to permit a traditional theater release (which is what Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli wants)?

Meanwhile, Universal (which is handling international distribution for No Time to Die) said Dec. 28 that it’s delaying the release of the animated film Boss Baby from March 26 to Sept. 17. That suggests Universal is nervous about a late March/early April release date.

Which will happen first: Theatrical release of No Time to Die, or an announced sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer?

MGM, Bond’s home studio, reportedly has put itself for sale. If No Time to Die really comes out in April, it might be tough to have a sale organized. If the 25th James Bond film (and its almost $290 million price tag) gets delayed again, a sale may happen first.

Happy New Year.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Happy holidays 2020 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

The accompanying graphic has been the blog’s annual Christmas/holiday season greeting since 2011. It’s a tradition and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a crummy year. The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the globe. It has caused many, many deaths and untold misery for even more. Other events have made people miserable. We could use a nice holiday season.

The graphic used in this post was designed by Paul Baack (1957-2017). It’s just one sample of his artistic handiwork. He designed it when the blog was part of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (1997-2014).

To the blog’s readers: Thanks for being here. If you’ve got some time off, enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

Bond 25 questions: MGM sale (?) edition

No Time to Die logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, home studio of James Bond, may be up for sale. This comes as No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, still (figuratively) sits on the shelf, unwatched.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How solid is this news?

It originated with The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. The business newspaper initially published a relatively short story early the evening of Dec. 21. Within a couple of hours, the Journal expanded the article. The audio version of the story went from 2 minutes to 6 minutes.

The Journal has published a number of MGM-related stories in recent years, including how MGM spent much of 2016 unsuccessfully negotiating a sale to Chinese investors and an October article about how MGM was under increasing pressure by investors to sell.

How far along are things? If a sale happens, how long will it take?

The Journal reported MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and that a sales process is underway. That suggests things are at an early stage but there’s no way to know for sure. Meanwhile, the sale of an entire company or substantial subsidiary can easily take months.

Why would MGM want to sell?

The studio is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. Hedge funds typically own an asset for a few years and then sell at a profit. The hedge fund owners of MGM have held on to the studio for a decade, longer than the norm.

Then, there’s the No Time to Die money pit.

Money pit?

The cost of the 25th James Bond film was approaching $300 million as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed No Time to Die’s release twice (April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021). MGM’s interest costs on its investment are running at a reported $1 million a month.

MGM normally would start to get its money back when the movie went into release. But, besides the delays, theater attendance is way down because of the pandemic.

Who are possible buyers?

The Journal said the studio is looking to non-traditional buyers. Certainly some familiar Hollywood names have their hands tied.

Walt Disney Co. still is digesting its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. The company’s theme park business also was hurt by the pandemic. Warner Bros. is part of AT&T, which is revamping its entertainment assets to build up its new HBO Max streaming service.

Tech company Apple Inc. is a possibility and it needs programming for its own streaming service. But Apple has lots of other ambitions, including getting into car production by 2024, according to Reuters. A deal with Apple isn’t a sure thing.

What does all this mean for the Bond franchise?

MGM and Danjaq LLC control the franchise. An MGM sales means, at the very least, that Danjaq will have to deal with yet another executive regime. Danjaq has had plenty of practice at that since 1981, when United Artists was bought by MGM.

There could be a bigger effect if an MGM buyer had a streaming operation, the way Apple does. Danjaq and its Eon Productions like to make a big movie every so often. Would Danjaq/Eon even be interested in doing streaming series, the way Disney Plus is doing with Marvel and Star Wars?

Hard to say. Barbara Broccoli of Danjaq/Eon said last year she was resisting the idea of spinoffs. Then again, things can change. We might get The Adventures of Bill Tanner or Loelia! as streaming shows.

MGM explores a sale, WSJ reports

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is looking into selling itself, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter the paper didn’t identify.

MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and Lion Tree LLC to assist with a sale, according to the financial newspaper.

The studio is looking to its film library, which includes the Bond movies, Rocky films and Pink Panther productions, to generate interest. MGM also has television shows such as Fargo and The Handmaid’s Tale.

MGM and Danjaq LLC, parent firm of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise.

The studio reportedly spent much of 2016 exploring a sale to Chinese investors before talks broke off late that year. In recent years, MGM has described itself as the leading independent studio in Hollywood.

MGM is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. The hedge funds took control after MGM exited from bankruptcy in 2010.

The studio explored selling a one-year lease on No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, to streaming service Apple Plus, according to multiple news accounts this fall. The Hollywood Reporter said in October that MGM didn’t consult with Danjaq/Eon, which generated displeasure from boss Barbara Broccoli.

Release of No Time to Die has been held up by the COVID-19 pandemic and the movie currently has an April 2021 release date. The film cost almost $288 million to make as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing.

Assuming the Journal report is accurate, a new chapter in the troubled MGM-Danjaq relationship may be about to unfold. MGM would provide a lot of programming for streaming services.

About a possible ‘in memoriam’ title card for NTTD

No Time to Die poster

For a long time, James Bond fans have debated whether No Time to Die should have some kind of “in memoriam” title card for Roger Moore (1927-2017), the first film Bond in the Eon series to pass away.

In the past year, Father Time has caught up with the 007 film series. Sean Connery, the first film Bond, died in October. Before that, actresses who played the lead female characters in the Eon series (Claudine Auger, Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg) all passed away.

And this week, news came of the death of a major contributor, art department stalwart Peter Lamont, who worked on 18 Eon-made Bond films, at age 91.

That’s just for openers. Ken Adam, whose set designs on 007 Bond films established the look of 007 movies, died in 2016 at the age of 95.

So should No Time to Die have some kind of major “in memoriam” title card?

The Bond film series doesn’t do this very often. The end titles of GoldenEye noted the passing of special effects wizard Derek Meddings, who had worked on that film. But it didn’t note the deaths of Richard Maibaum (a 13-time Bond screenwriter) or Maurice Binder, who designed many Bond main titles.

1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies noted the death of Albert R. Broccoli, who co-founded Eon.

What would a big “in memoriam” title card look like?

Here in the U.S., there was a long-running Western series titled Gunsmoke (1955-75). In 1987, there was a reunion TV movie called Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. In the end titles, there was a mammoth “in memoriam” title card noting key crew and cast members who had died in the intervening years.

Would such a thing even be a possibility for No Time to Die? Hard to say. It hasn’t been that much of an issue until now.

Peter Lamont, 007 art department mainstay, dies

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of 18 James Bond films, has died. He was 91.

Reuben Wakeman, a Bond collector, in response to an inquiry by me, said on Twitter he had been informed directly by Gareth Owen of Bondstars LLP, who was also a friend of Lamont’s. Owen also assisted Roger Moore on his memoirs.

Lamont began on the Bond series as a draftsman on 1964’s Goldfinger.

One of his first assignments was to make blueprints for the Ken Adam-designed replica of the exterior of Fort Knox’s depository building.

“There were no measurements, just odd bits of information from the little bits of paperwork that Fort Knox” provided to Adam, Lamont said in the home video documentary Designing Bond: Peter Lamont.

He rose through the ranks to become a set decorator, art director and, beginning with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only as production designer.

“I never got bored of the Bond films,” Lamont said in a special issue of MI6 Confidential magazine in 2019.

“They’re fun, action-packaged adventures, they’ll offer challenges for even the most experienced filmmakers and they never take themselves too seriously.” The issue provided Lamont commentary about working on the last film in his career, 2006’s Casino Royale.

Octopussy set

A Peter Lamont-designed set in Octopussy

Working on Bond films also provided Lamont with other surprises.

“I was sitting in the office one day and the phone went,” Lamont said for the 1995 home video documentary The Thunderball Phenomenon. “A voice said he was Captain So-and-So from the Royal Engineers and did I know anything about Thunderball.”

The inquiry concerned a supposed miniature underwater breathing device used by Sean Connery in the 1965 film. The caller wanted to know how much of an air supply it had.

“‘I can tell you exactly,'” Lamont said, recalling the conversation. “‘As long as you can hold your breath.’ I can imagine this poor fellow going white.”

Lamont was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for 1998’s Titantic, directed by James Cameron. That movie caused him to step aside as production designer for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Lamont also was nominated for another three BAFTA awards.

Martin Campbell, director of GoldenEye and Casino Royale, praised Lamont in a forward to the 2019 MI6 Confidential issue.

“Peter designed both my Bond films and made my life so simple,” Campbell wrote. “I loved his concepts and, apart from maybe a few technical adjustments, I left him alone.”

The art department of the Bond series was a family affair for Lamont. His younger brother, Michael (who died in 2007), also worked on the series as did his son, Neil.

Peter Lamont’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists credits going back to 1950.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m., New York time): Eon Productions put out a statement on social media.

UPDATE II ( 4:40 p.m. New York time): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out a tribute to Peter Lamont:

John Glen: Behind the scenes of Octopussy

John Glen

MI6 Confidential is out with a new publication, John Glen: All Time High. It’s a behind the scenes look at Octopussy, the 13th James Bond film made by Eon Productions.

What was different, my from perspective, is I had the chance to work on it.

Not to give too much away, but it was a chance to get a better look at the making of an important James Bond film. Octopussy was up against a competing Bond project, Never Say Never Again. The latter had Sean Connery returning to the role of James Bond. Eon brought back Roger Moore for his sixth Bond outing with Octopussy.

The focus on the new publication was always going to be on director John Glen. He helmed all five of Eon’s 007 movies in the 1980s. A lot was riding on Octopussy.

A personal highlight, for me, was the chance to interview Glen earlier this year. It took place by phone in June. I had a detailed list of follow-up questions to an earlier session.

Interviews are as much art as science. The interviewer needs to be prepared. At the same time, a good interviewer has to press for details at certain times while backing off at other times and let the subject provide their point of view.

Because of the time differences involved, I would be calling in early in the morning my time. I was preoccupied with mechanics, making sure the interview would be recorded properly.

Also, as the interview unfolded, I had to go with the flow. I had to make sure all the questions were asked. But I didn’t want to cut the director off. This was also going to be an important interview for the publication.

It wasn’t until hours after I had completed the interview, I had a chance to reflect on the experience. Yes, I had directed a five-time Bond director. It wasn’t until then I could take a deep breath about the experience.

In any event, I was just a cog in this production. For more information, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 and 20 euros, plus shipping.

Tom Cruise exposes an entertainment fault line

Tom Cruise, who probably not smiling when he yelled at the MI:7 crew

This week, the U.K. tabloid The Sun came out with a story about how Mission: Impossible 7 star-producer Tom Cruise yelled at crew members concerning how they didn’t take proper precautions for COVID-19.

Cruise’s language (including “motherfuckers”) got most of the attention. But Cruise’s other comments probably were more far-reaching.

Hollywood, Cruise said, is “making movies right now because of us,” the actor said. “I’m on the phone with every fucking studio at night, insurance companies, producers, and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies.”

Mission: Impossible 7, being made back-to-back with Mission: Impossible 8, is one of the biggest movie projects being filmed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. M:I 7 already has had COVID delays.

Millions of dollars are stake. Also, the movie industry is in flux because of streaming services. Warner Bros., now owned by AT&T, is going all in on streaming. Warner Bros. entire 2021 film slate will debut in the U.S. on HBO Max while also showing on theaters.

As a result, M:I 7 has even more riding on its shoulders.

“Do you understand the responsibility that you have?” Cruise told crew members, according to a recording of Cruise obtained by The Sun. “Because I will deal with your reason. And if you can’t be reasonable and I can’t deal with your logic, you’re fired.”

M:I 7 isn’t the only major movie project affected by COVID-19. The Batman incurred delays after its star, Robert Pattinson, came down with the virus.

Still, Cruise as a star-producer, has gravitas on the subject. He’s the closest thing to an old-time movie star in the 21st century. At 58, his days as a leading man may be running out. His M:I film series has been underway since 1996.

What’s more, COVID-19 continues to ravage many regions around the globe. Many people don’t believe the virus is real, or isn’t that serious. It’s probably not what Cruise intended. But his sharply worded comments go beyond the entertainment world.

UPDATE (Dec. 17): The Sun is out with another story saying that five crew members quit Mission: Impossible 7 after Cruise yelled at the crew about the need to meet COVID-19 safety procedures.