Wilson & Broccoli, an appreciation

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, are scheduled to get an award from the Producers Guild on Jan. 19. The half-siblings this week were featured in a write-up on Variety.com previewing the event.

Evaluations of second-generation business leaders (and running the Bond franchise qualifies as a business) can vary. Occasionally, the second-generation outshines the first (think Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM). Sometimes, the second generation’s ambitions are frustrated by the first (think Edsel Ford). Sometimes, the second generation can make its own mark that’s simply different than the first (think Richard D. Zanuck).

In any case, it can be a balancing act. In the case of the 007 franchise, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was a co-founder and a showman. His stepson and daughter succeeded him in the 1990s but had entirely different styles.

Wilson and Broccoli’s main accomplishment may have been to deal with changing executive regimes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman initially had the support of a firmly entrenched group of executives at United Artists, including Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin and David Picker. That began to change in the 1970s (and after Saltzman departed the series). MGM acquired UA in the early ’80s and changes in the executive suite accelerated.

Also, Wilson and Broccoli were handed the reins in the midst of a six-year hiatus that might have killed the series. In the 21st century, MGM went through bankruptcy, another time of uncertainty.

Wilson and Broccoli may not have the publicity flair that Albert R. Broccoli had. Wilson has his P.T. Barnum moments, where his statements don’t always square with each other. Barbara Broccoli can rely on a few catch phrases such as “the money’s on the screen.”

Still, the pair remain in charge of the Bond franchise, which will result in the start of production of Bond 24 later this year.

007’s P.T. Barnum

Michael G. Wilson, the co-boss of Eon Productions, which produces James Bond movies, is considerably lower key than Phineus Taylor Barnum, who, as Wikipedia notes, founded the circus that became Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Michael G. Wilson

Yet, at times, Wilson at times comes across as a kindred spirit of P.T. Barnum.

Wilson can go from saying he’d love for Daniel Craig to do another *FIVE* 007 movies in December to saying just months later it’s possible that, hypothetically, a Bond actor should be replaced quickly if merited.

While a general comment, it implies one shouldn’t pencil Craig, or any actor, in for a 16-year run as 007 (which Craig would have if he did eight movies *and* Eon could resume an every-other-year production pace). Of course, nobody was talking in those terms until Wilson raised the subject of Craig doing a total of eight movies so he could beat Roger Moore’s record in the Eon series.

Wilson can go from saying in November that “With Casino Royale, we started down a path, and we’re sticking with that path.” yet six weeks later state that with Skyfall, “The director Sam Mendes and Daniel are taking it back to a 60s feel – more Sean. I think that’s what the fans wanted. There’s a magical Goldfinger feel ­surrounding it all. That suggests, at least, a more escapist tone.

Nor is this new territory for Wilson. Back in 2008, he said that Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel sequence would “probably go back to the traditional style.” Except, of course, it didn’t. Quantum’s gunbarrel came at the end of the movie, instead of the traditional gunbarrel at the start.

Going further back to the 1980s, Wilson has declared that at least some of the 007 continuation novels “are not popular. They’re not mass media entertainment,” while approving scripts (as producer) for movies such as Die Another Day, which some fans think had mixed quality. He was also the lead writer on 1989’s Licence to Kill, which bombed in the U.S. (U.S. ticket sales fell by about a third compared with 1987’s The Living Daylights.)

But who really knows? Trying to fact check Wilson is like trying to fact check P.T. Barnum. By the time you’ve nailed down one conflict, the Eon co-boss is off on another talking point.

Also, you have to give the veteran producer credit: he can get fans talking. Back in December, pro-Daniel Craig fans were loving the talk of eight Craig 007 films. This week, some 007 fans wanting a change are practically beginning a countdown to a new Bond.

Never a dull moment. Maybe that’s the main thing Wilson has in common with Barnum.

UPDATE I: Here’s the talk Wilson gave this week in the U.K. Go to the 11:00 mark or so. Wilson’s comments were, indeed, more hypothetical about when it’s time to replace a Bond actor. “It’s important to get ahead of the curve, to change things before they start to taper off,” he says. “Bond is bigger than any actor who portrays him and no director, writer or producer is indispensable.”