A few quirks in the development of No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

Every movie has its quirks on the way to the silver screen. No Time to Die certainly had its share. Here are a few.

The writing

July 2017: Eon Productions announces Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are writing Bond 25. At this point, Daniel Craig’s return as Bond hadn’t been announced yet.

December 2017: Eon boss Barbara Broccoli says on a Hollywood Reporter podcast that Purvis and Wade were “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

May 2018: John Hodge is announced as the sole writer of Bond 25, to be directed by Danny Boyle.

August 2018: Boyle departs Bond 25 over “creative differences.” Hodge leaves also. Purvis and Wade end up returning.

Boyle vs. Fukunaga

Spring 2020: Production designer Mark Tildesley worked under both Boyle and his replacement, Cary Fukunaga. Tildesley says during Boyle’s time on the project, the art department had built a 350-foot rocket and a Russian gulag set in Canada.

February 2019: The MI6 James Bond website says for most of the Hodge/Boyle script, Bond was imprisoned by the villain.

September 2021: Fukunaga tells The Hollywood Reporter that the Boyle-Hodge project was “more tongue-in-cheek and whimsical.”

Query: If all of this is correct, did Boyle want a “whimsical” story set in a Russian gulag? A sort of modern-day Hogan’s Heroes?

Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Introducing The Spy Command’s (sort of) podcast

Griffey the Griffin

In marketing, it’s called “extending the brand.” The Spy Command is adding a (sort of) podcast.

It consists of audio versions of Spy Command posts. No major investment of time is needed. All but one entry so far last less than four minutes.

This began as an experiment. The blog is hosted on WordPress and it offers an option to turn a post into a podcast.

I’ve held off until now. But I decided to give it a try, at least in baby steps. The first four used an auto-recorded. The problem with that is the auto voice “reads” photo captions as if they were regular text.

So I’ve started doing the recordings myself. That also enables me to place the proper emphasis on sentences.

You can see the podcast’s HOME PAGE ON SPOTIFY. Undoubtedly, there will be more changes ahead.

Bond 25 questions: The box office edition

No Time to Die has been out for a few weeks. Once a movie is released, entertainment-news outlets chew over the numbers. Fans then react to stories.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So how well is No Time to Die doing?

As of Oct. 17, it had an estimated box office take of $348.3 million internationally and $99.5 million in the U.S. for a grand total of $447.8 million.

That has been depicted as strong internationally, not so much in the U.S.

Why “not so much” in the U.S.?

Because as recently as Oct. 4, two weeks ago, there were some estimates No Time to Die’s U.S. opening weekend could be $100 million, according to CNBC.

The movie’s final U.S. opening weekend number was $55,225,007, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s nothing to sneeze at but obviously not $100 million.

And the 25th James Bond film’s U.S. opening weekend was below recent movies such as Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($75.4 million).

I see estimates it may take a global box office of more than $900 million for the movie to break even. How is that?

The studios split that box office with theaters. Precise figures vary, but a rule of thumb is studios get about 50 percent. In China, that’s only 25 percent. But that’s a huge market, so the studios want to be there.

No Time to Die also was very expensive. A U.K. regulatory filing last year indicated the production cost was nearing $300 million. There were also marketing costs, including a pricey Super Bowl ad, in February 2020. Pandemic-related delays may have boosted the marketing expenses.

The MI6 James Bond website published an analysis on Aug. 2. It said No Time to Die “needs to clear $928m at the box office to avoid losing money.” Other outlets have published similar figures. Variety, in an Oct. 11 story, said the film will need “to gross at least $800 million globally to get out of the red (probably closer to $900 million).”

To be clear, the accountants at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, and Universal, handing international distribution, know far more than fans and other outsiders.

Since the pandemic, what movie has had the highest box office?

F9: The Fast Saga at almost $716.6 million.

Can No Time to Die beat that?

The movie is to be released in additional markets. It remains to be seen.

No Time to Die falls 56% in its second U.S. weekend

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die’s U.S. box office is projected to fall 56 percent in its second U.S. weekend to $24 million, Exhibitor Relations Co. said on Twitter.

The 25th James Bond film has generated about $99 million so far in the U.S., ERC said. Exhibitor Relations tracks box office data.

No Time to Die slipped to No. 2 in the U.S. behind Halloween Kills, which had an opening of $50.4 million despite also being shown on Comcast’s Peacock streaming service, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Halloween Kills was being shown on 3,705 screens this weekend in the U.S. No Time to Die, in its opening weekend, was shown on 4,400 screens where its first U.S. weekend was $55.2 million.

No Time to Die opened strongly in the U.K. and Europe, but not so well in the U.S.

The Bond movie’s global box office was more than $341.4 million as of Oct. 15, according to Box Office Mojo. No Time to Die cost almost $300 million to make with additional marketing expenses.

In the U.S., there are indications that No Time to Die drew an older audience. Matthew Beloni of Puck News, a former Hollywood Reporter editor, wrote the following in a newsletter last week:

Have you seen those exit numbers on No Time to Die? Just 20 percent of opening weekend audience was under 25, compared to 41 percent for Spectre in 2015. Yikes. This franchise will grow old and die unless young people are given a reason to care.

As usual, we’ll see.

UPDATE: No Time to Die’s global box office is now estimated, as of today, at $447.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE II: Final U.S. box office for the weekend was $23.8 million for Oct. 15-17. Global box office is $447.7 million.

Bond 26, etc.: The real question going forward

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

A Forbes.com article out today says that James Bond still is popular and relevant. That really isn’t the correct question.

The real question is whether the series can continue to grind out new entries at $300 million a pop.

There is certainly a market for James Bond films. Even if the audience is aging, fans turn out for Bond. But at what price?

In 2012, there was a market for a movie featuring John Carter (another character from the creator of Tarzan). But not one that cost $200 million or more to make. Walt Disney Co. had to report a big charge against earnings.

In 2013, there was a market for a Lone Ranger movie (even a Tonto-centric one). But not one that cost $240 million to make. With the Lone Ranger, the special effects budget should have mostly been for squibs to simulate gun shots. But the makers of the movie went way beyond that.

Back in the day, Cleopatra (1963) was a very popular film. Financially, not so much. As big as the audience was, 20th Century Fox couldn’t earn a profit on its theatrical release.

I’ve seen some fans say they have no personal stake in how No Time to Die does at the box office. So it doesn’t matter to them.

Maybe so. With No Time to Die, it’s doing better in the U.K. and Europe than in the U.S. The final numbers remain to be seen. But spending $300 million (or so) makes it harder to earn a profit.

The question facing Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the studio’s future owner, Amazon (assuming Amazon’s planned acquisition of MGM gets regulatory approval) is whether it’s time rethink and re-evaluate Bond film budgets.

Presumably, Bond 26’s leading man won’t be paid $25 million (Daniel Craig’s reported salary for No Time to Die). Perhaps Eon’s Barbara Broccoli will remember how her father did business and negotiate harder than she did with Craig. Presumably Bond 26 won’t have pandemic-related delays that added to the tab.

Perhaps. Presumably. We’ll see.

The blog’s final grade for No Time to Die

Spoilers. So stop reading if you’re spoiler averse.

I finally saw No Time to Die for a second time on Wednesday. It was at the biggest screen closest to me. It wasn’t IMAX, but the regional theater chain claims it’s the biggest screen in Michigan.

I have earlier said I was going back and forth between B-Plus and A-Minus. I’ll go with A-Minus. What I liked before (particularly Bond’s first meeting with M) I still liked. The main weaknesses I found I didn’t think about until after the movie was over.

With the latter, I thought about how SPECTRE went from, “We have people everywhere!” to how the organization could be wiped out with everyone gathered in one big room. But that’s more of a shrug than a big demerit.

As I said in a post a few days ago, No Time to Die is the latest version of “The Hero’s Last Stand.” For me, it was well executed. For others, probably not.

I do think Eon Productions should lighten up on being so self-referential. The DB5 is the main example, Having purpose-built stunt cars is a necessity if you want to keep flogging the DB5, originally built in the early 1960s.

The original DB5s didn’t have carbon fiber bodies or BMW engines. In real life, a DB5 driven by George Lazenby in The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was in the shop constantly. The next Bond actor should have his own “spy car.” Roger Moore got that with the Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.

Bond used to illustrate issue of facial differences

1A, a talk show produced by public radio station WAMU in Washington, on Oct. 12 had a segment about facial differences and how popular entertainment often has villains with scars.

Understandably, No Time to Die, the new James Bond film, figured into much of the conversation.

As noted in a summary on 1A’s website:

Indeed, the main villain in the new Bond film, Safin, has scars covering his face. Many past Bond villains also have facial differences, including Le Chiffre, Jaws, Emilio Largo, Alec Trevelyan, Zao, and Raoul Silva.

(snip)

People with facial differences are speaking up about the harmful impact of being vilified on screen.

The WAMU summary also includes this video posted by a group called Changing Faces UK. It includes a Bond image toward the end.

About No Time to Die’s box office prospects

No Time to Die logo

After two weekends globally and one weekend in the U.S., No Time to Die’s global box office prospects are starting to take shape.

Matthew Belloni of Puck News, a former entertainment lawyer and editor at The Hollywood Reporter, summarized the 25th James Bond film’s performance so far.

Global is still pretty strong, with $145 million for the weekend and $313 million total. Given the costs, there’s almost no path to profitability now (Forbes is predicting about $700 million all-in), but it won’t be a colossal disaster.  

After all the hopes and dreams, No Time to Die opened to just $56 million in the U.S., a solid pandemic showing but nowhere near last weekend’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) or even 2015’s Spectre ($70.4 million), let alone the hyperbolic $100 million floated by some. 

This again comes down to how expensive No Time to Die was to make (approaching $300 million) and market (multiple waves of ads before it finally came out in late September and early October).

Obviously, there is a market for a James Bond movie, even during a pandemic. The question is the size of that market especially when COVID-19 still is a reality.

The blog has stated this before but it’s still the case. No Time to Die was conceived and produced during an era of expensive “tentpole” movies intended to draw customers to movie theaters. Billion-dollar box office movies became almost a necessity.

No Time to Die came out after COVID-19 coupled with streaming changed everything.

Only the number crunchers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, will know the full story once No Time to Die completes its theatrical run. But the possibility of a popular hit that’s a financial disappointment remains.

NTTD opens in the U.S. with good news, not-so-good news

BOND: Harumpf!

First the good news: No Time to Die is projected to be the No. 1 movie in the U.S. this weekend.

Not-so-good news: The 25th James Bond film’s estimated weekend take (including Thursday night preview showings) is estimated at $56 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which track movie box office data.

That’s behind the U.S. opening of Skyfall ($88.4 million), SPECTRE ($70.4 million), and Quantum of Solace ($67.5 million). In U.S. terms, No Time to Die’s opening is the lowest since 2006’s Casino Royale ($40.8 million), when movie ticket prices were a lot cheaper.

The U.S. results for No Time to Die compare with an international opening of $121 million last week. That, of course, included the U.K., where going to a Bond movie is part of national pride.

Some context: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a Spider-Man related movie) had an opening of $90 million last weekend.

To be sure: Comparing No Time to Die (released during the midst of a long pandemic) to earlier Bond films is dicey. No Time to Die’s release was delayed three times because of COVID-19.

On the other hand: U.S. audiences are turning out for movies. For whatever reason, in the U.S., Venom trumps Bond. I never thought I’d type that in a sentence.

I suspect Bond 26, whenever that comes out, will be shoved toward the end of the release dates. (joke/sarcasm)

UPDATE: Deadline: Hollywood reports that No Time to Die’s global box office is $313.7 million including this weekend’s U.S. results.

Not surprisingly, the U.K. paced the international results. Here’s the take from Exhibitor Relations Co.