Sony passed on chance to buy MGM, WSJ says

Sony Pictures at one time passed on a chance to outright buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of James Bond, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal doesn’t specify exactly when this occurred. But, based on the story by Ben Fritz, it was before MGM reorganized during a 2010 bankruptcy. Here’s the key excerpt:

Sony Pictures executives discussed buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose James Bond movies Sony had distributed for years. Instead MGM reorganized itself into an independent venture. Other potential acquisitions targets for Sony included DreamWorks Animation and pay-cable network Starz, according to employees. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ended up buying the network.

“There was a cautious business philosophy where we did not want to take big swings,” said a former Sony Pictures executive.

The story concerns both Sony Pictures and Paramount described as “Hollywood’s two worst-performing movie studios” by the Journal.

Paramount missed its own opportunity. It initially released movies produced by Marvel Studios. But Walt Disney Co. moved in and bought Marvel.

Sony has released the past four James Bond films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 distribution deal expired with SPECTRE. Under that contract, Sony co-financed the films but only got 25 percent of the profits.

The Journal recently reported that MGM’s attempts to sell itself to a Chinese buyer fell apart last year.

Regardless, MGM has no distribution agreement for Bond 25. The studio and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) control the Bond franchise.

Tomorrow Never Dies’s 20th: Jigsaw puzzle

Tomorrow Never Dies poster

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Tomorrow Never Dies, a jigsaw puzzle of a production.

Just when the pieces seemed to be coming together one way, they had to be disassembled and put together another.

That condition certainly applied to the script. Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli initially employed Donald E. Westlake. That effort was dropped.

Next up, Bruce Feirstein, who had penned the later drafts of GoldenEye, started a new story line. Other scribes worked on the project before Feirstein returned, doing rewrites on the fly while filming was underway.

Locations ended up being a puzzle as well. Much of the story was set in Vietnam. But the Asian country abruptly revoked permission to film there. The Eon Productions crew had to quickly go to Thailand as a substitute.

The score from composer David Arnold would also be a jigsaw puzzle. The newcomer scored the movie in thirds. (He explained the process in detail in an audio interview with journalist Jon Burlingame that was released on a later expanded soundtrack release.) There would be next to no time for normal post-production work.

Principal photography didn’t begin until April 1, 1997, and production would extend into early September for a movie slated to open just before Christmas.

It was star Pierce Brosnan’s second turn as 007. In the documentary Everything or Nothing, he said his Bond films other than GoldenEye were all a blur. That blur began with this production.

Also, during the film’s buildup, the publicity machine emphasized how Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, a Chinese agent, was Bond’s equal. This wasn’t exactly a new development. Barbara Bach’s Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me was “his equal in every way,” according to that movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. Nor would Tomorrow Never Dies be the last time “Bond’s equal” would come up in marketing.

In some ways, Tomorrow Never Dies was the end of an era.

It was the last opportunity to have John Barry return to score a Bond film. He declined when told he wouldn’t be permitted to write the title song. That opened up the door for Arnold, who’d score the next four 007 movies.

This would also be the final time a Bond movie was released under the United Artists banner. UA was a division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1997. Two years later, MGM decided to release The World is Not Enough under its own name.

The movie, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, generated global box office of $339.5 million. That was lower than GoldenEye’s $356.4 million. Still, it was more than ample to keep the series, and its Brosnan era, going.

20th anniversary of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant

Paul Baack, co-founder of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, left, along with some doofus, circa 2013.

Next month is the 20th anniversary of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant fan website.

This blog, which debuted in 2008, was a spinoff of the site.

HMSS was founded by Paul Baack and Tom Zielinski in April 1997 as a James Bond “e-magazine.”

HMSS churned out issues that included contributions from Raymond Benson, the 007 novel continuation novel author from 1997 to 2002.

HMSS’ final issue was in the fall of 2011 and it went offline in 2014.

Still, for those of us (such as the Spy Commander) who contributed articles it was mostly an enjoyable time. In any creative endeavor, there are different points of views. But the end product was always worth it.

The highlight of every issue were the graphics that Paul Baack designed. If an article was OK, his graphics made it good. If the article was good, his graphics made it excellent. He always had exciting ideas to bring articles to life.

A personal note: I’ve always admired Paul’s energy and ideas. Not to belabor the point (and not to go into details), but he’s had health difficulties for a long time. I cannot personally imagine what he’s gone through.

So, with this post, the Spy Commander (figuratively) raises a glass to a special time. Those of us who contributed ot the site will never forget it.

Helicopter bought by Eon may not be for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Eon Productions’ recent purchase of a helicopter may not be for Bond 25, according to the Twitter feed of the MI6 James Bond website.

The helicopter is to be used for a non-Bond “historical war film” that Eon is co-producing, the website said on Twitter. The movie is to be filmed late this year, the website said.

Eon’s purchase of the helicopter from a museum, first reported last month, spurred fan interest whether it might be for Bond 25.

There has been little official news about the next installment of the 007 film series.

MGM said nothing about the project on a call with investors last week to discuss 2016 financial results. Daily News writer Baz Bamigboye reported last week that screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were being brought back to work on Bond 25’s story but there was no official comment from Eon.

Bamigboye had a number of scoops proven correct about Skyfall and SPECTRE, the last two Bond films.

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UPDATE (March 13): The MI6 James Bond website now has a FULL STORY on the subject.

 

More Bond 25 questions after P&W’s return

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

With the apparent return of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to script Bond 25, naturally there are more questions.

No Bond 25 story yet? After all this time?

According to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, Purvis and Wade are the first writers to be hired.

Given Bamigboye’s record with scoops proven correct about Skyfall and SPECTRE, you have to take him seriously.

But the first to be hired 16 months after SPECTRE debuted? We’re not talking a first draft or a treatment (story outline). We’re talking about turning on the old word processor and confronting a blank screen.

By contrast, MGM announced in November 2012 — while Skyfall was still in theaters — that John Logan had been hired to write the next two installments. Eventually, that was changed to one, but the studio wanted everyone to know things were full speed ahead.

Purvis & Wade again? This will be their seventh (or 007th if you like puns) consecutive Bond film effort.

To put that in perspective consider this: Richard Maibaum had 13 Bond writing credits. But his longest streak was five (all 1980s Eon Productions efforts).

Also, the hiring comes less than two months after Purvis told The Telegraph, “I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now.” Evidently, something came up.

To be clear, this blog has not bashed the writing duo. But their hiring for Bond 25 begs the question whether Eon casts a very wide net. Are there really so few writers suitable for the job?

On the other hand, it is a tough job as the likes of John Logan, Paul Haggis, Bruce Feirstein and others have found out over time.

John Logan and Jez Butterworth, who also worked on the last two 007 films (Logan credited both times, Butterworth only once) were brought in by director Same Mendes.

What does this say about when Bond 25 eventually comes out? 

As noted above, Logan was on board to write Bond 24 (later titled SPECTRE) in November 2012. He didn’t submit his first draft until March 2014.

If indeed Purvis and Wade are just getting started, 2019 seems a stronger possibility than 2018. Once a first draft is delivered, months of rewrites usually ensue. If, say, a script is hammered out in early 2018, there’s still casting and numerous other details.

“In any event, no camera will roll on Bond 25 until next autumn at the earliest,” Bamigboye wrote in his story.

And, for now, there’s no confirmed James Bond and no studio to distribute the movie.

Purvis & Wade hired to write Bond 25, Baz Bamigboye says

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis. (Paul Baack illustration)

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been hired to write a story for Bond 25, Baz Bamigboye wrote on Twitter.

The Daily Mail scribe, who had a number of Skyfall and SPECTRE scoops proven correct, also said actor Daniel Craig is “still deciding whether he will do it.

Bamigboye didn’t say anything else. His tweet went out around around 7:15 p.m. New York time.

If Bamigboye is correct, it would be the pair’s seventh consecutive James Bond film assignment.

Purvis, while promoting SS-GB in January, said, “I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now,” in an interview with The Telegraph.

Bamigboye hasn’t written about Bond on a regular basis since the fall of 2014.

UPDATE (12: 20 a.m., March 10): Bamigboye followed up his tweet with a STORY IN THE DAILY MAIL.

Highlights: Purvis and Wade are doing the first draft of the story. That’s how most of their Bond movies have gone, except for SPECTRE, where they were summoned to revamp John Logan’s first draft.

Also, Bamigboye wrote that while Craig is undecided, “I hear he’s keener to do it than not.”

Bamigboye also writes the following about possible post-Craig Bonds.

However, when I was in Los Angeles, an executive at a studio close to the Bond franchise told me that while (Barbara) Broccoli is keen on (Jack) Huston, she is also ‘absolutely keen on having a black actor playing Bond’.

Here’s Bamigboye’s original tweet:

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MGM says nothing about Bond 25 on conference call

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said nothing about Bond 25 during a 24-minute conference call to discuss 2016 earnings.

CEO Gary Barber didn’t mention Bond 25 in prepared remarks. Shareholders asked no questions despite recent reports last month in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal that MGM had been shopping itself to an unidentified Chinese buyer. The deal came undone late last year, the Journal said.

MGM instead highlighted remakes it has in production or planned, including Tomb Raider, Death Wish and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The company also said it plans to increase its “content spend” this year to $400 million to $440 million from $218 million in 2016.

In March 2016, Barber said on an investor call that Bond movies would come out on a three- to four-year cycle. There has been no significant news from the studio about Bond 25 since.

MGM isn’t big enough to release films on its own and cuts deals with other studios to distribute and co-finance movies. MGM doesn’t have a distribution deal for Bond 25. The last four 007 films have been distributed by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture Bond deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The latest conference call is archived on MGM’s investor relations page of its website.