5 studios seeking to release Bond 25, NYT reports

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Five studios are seeking to release Bond 25, The New York Times reported, citing five people familiar with the process it didn’t identify.

What’s more, according to the newspaper, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions are only offering a one-film deal. Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond films and its most recent two-picture agreement expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The studios identified by The Times are Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, “an ambitious upstart financed and led by the Oracle heiress Megan Ellison.” Neither Walt Disney Co. nor Paramount are involved, The Times said. None of the companies involved returned calls from The Times seeking comment.

Reporter Brooks Barnes described an elaborate presentation by Sony that involved Kazuo Hirai, the CEO of parent company Sony Corp.

“Casting for the franchise has not been discussed in the meetings, according to the people briefed on them, although producers hope Daniel Craig will play the lead for at least one more chapter,” Barnes wrote. “He has a gap on his docket, according to movie industry databases, that would allow for filming.”

Under the most recent distribution deal, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM emerged from a 2010 bankruptcy as a smaller company, without its own distribution operation. MGM mostly produces television shows. It relies on distribution deals with other studios for its small film slate.

Logan and Hugh Jackman’s longevity

Hugh Jackman in Logan's poster

Hugh Jackman in Logan’s poster

Recently, we ran a not completely serious post about the longevity of actors who had played “The Other Spies.”

But Logan, coming out this weekend, features the real thing when it comes to longevity: The final of nine appearances (including two cameos) over 17 years with Hugh Jackman as the X-Man.

It’s a physically demanding role and it’s understandable why Jackman, now 48, is hanging up his Adamantium claws after such a long run.

It’s hard to remember now, but in 2000, Marvel Comics characters had a so-so record in being adapted to other media. That year’s X-Men, made by 20th Century Fox, which licensed Marvel’s mutant characters, was a hit and Jackman was a big reason.

Jackman, taller than six feet, was about a foot taller than the character. But it didn’t matter. For fans, Jackman came across as Logan/Wolverine transplanted to movie screens.

So, with Logan, it’s the end of an era for the actor and character. It was a long run by any measure.

MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25 Part III

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a new year but there some leftover business from the old: What studio will end up releasing Bond 25?

The blog has twice (once in April and again in September) analyzed the possibilities. So here’s an updated look.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films but as of now has no new contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for future Bond movies.

Not a lot new since September. Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a success for Sony and isn’t likely to become a franchise. Sony is teaming up with Marvel Studios to get new Spider-Man movies going.

Sony may be sufficiently desperate to again accept a low-profit distribution deal for Bond 25. Most recently, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. It received less money than MGM and Danjaq, the parent group for Eon Productions.

However, there’s the possibility of a wild card.

The New York Post last month reported that its “Tokyo tipsters claim” that CBS chief Les Moonves was looking to acquire Sony Pictures from its parent company, Sony Corp. The story didn’t offer much in the way of details. Certainly, no actual deal materialized.

Paramount: CBS had been looking to merge with Viacom, parent company of ParamountBut that deal unraveled in December.

CBS and Viacom had once been together but then were split apart. The companies are controlled by the Redstone family. There had been a family soap opera in 2015 and 2016 which led to, among other things, a new leadership team at Paramount.

It remains to be seen how quickly Paramount recovers from all this and whether it’s in the position to make a Bond deal with MGM.

Warner Bros.: AT&T announced in October it agreed to acquire Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. The $85 billion deal isn’t forecast to be complete until the second half of this year.

That raises the question whether Warners can do a Bond 25 deal. The studio already is busy trying to establish its “shared universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Two big ones, Wonder Woman and Justice League, are coming out this year.

20th Century Fox and Universal: Neither studio has the issues confronting Sony, Paramount or Warner Bros. Either or both could make a play. But the question is whether either would be willing to take the kind of low profits Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Walt Disney Co.: This is strictly a guess but Disney doesn’t act like a company interested in doing a limited distribution deal for Bond. Disney likes to get out its checkbook and buy properties whole, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. If Disney were interested in 007, it’d be more likely to buy everybody else out.

MGM (?): Sony emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a much smaller company without its own movie distribution operation.

MGM has been working toward an initial public offering of stock in a few years. However, if the pending AT&T acquisition causes a new round of media deals, MGM will face a decision.

Is the current strategy adequate? If not, does it get bigger (and re-establish distribution)? Or does it sell out and get acquired by someone else?

About Daniel Craig’s supposed big 007 offer

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig on the verge of a $150 million pay day?

Over the weekend, Radar Online reported that Daniel Craig, the ever-reluctant 007, is being offered $150 million to do two more James Bond films.

Naturally, this generated a lot of discussion among Bond fans.

On one 007 message board, a poster said the equivalent of, “Why are you guys so upset? It’s not your money.”

Here’s one way of thinking about it.

Michael Cimino (figuratively) thought the same thing when he was directing Heaven’s Gate. For sure, it wasn’t his money. It was United Artists’ money.

However, in the end, he spent so much of UA’s money — and his film generated so little box office — it spelled the end of UA as a separate studio. It’s parent company, Transamerica, threw in the towel. MGM bought UA.

Now some argue Cimino’s movie was better than the reviewers thought. And perhaps it was. Nevertheless, Heaven’s Gate doomed UA. MGM bought UA and merged it into its operations.

How many fewer movies were made because UA was no longer an actual studio? There’s no way to know, of course. But likely a decent number.

Leaving that issue aside, MGM absorbing UA still had an impact on the James Bond film series. The UA-Eon relationship was generally a good one. The MGM-Eon relationship, less so. The Heaven’s Gate situation clearly had a major impact on the Bond film series. It’s still being felt to this day.

Here’s another example for old timers.

In the U.S. market, Cleopatra (1963) sold about the same number of movie tickets (actually a little more) than Goldfinger. Cleopatra sold an estimated 67.2 million tickets, according to the Box Office Mojo website. Goldfinger sold 66.3 million

Goldfinger was a big fat success while Cleopatra almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

Why? Because Fox spent — squandered — so much money that Cleopatra couldn’t make a dime of profit despite being a popular success. Meanwhile, Goldfinger had a budget that ensured a huge profit.

Fox survived, but only because it’s television division sold a number of TV shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place) for the 1964-65 season.

Some fans will argue, “But this is James Bond! How can you say such a thing?”

Well, to cite a John Gardner 007 continuation novel title, “Nobody Lives Forever.”

Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions, once said something to the effect that James Bond is bigger than any actor who plays him. It took a while for him to be proven correct, but he eventually was.

If the Radar Oneline story is accurate (and that remains to be seen), the Cubby Broccoli approach is dead, once and for all.

Also, in the U.S. market, Skyfall had a per-day gross of $2.8 million ($304.4 million divided by 109 days of release) while SPECTRE had a per-day gross of $1.3 million ($200 million divided by 154 days of release).

Nothing is easy, or automatic, in the movie business. Just ask those folks who thought Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a cinch to have a billion-dollar global box office.

For a Bond movie, with its leading man getting $75 million, to make a profit, it would have to consist of said actor sitting on a stool doing a dramatic reading of the script — perhaps with ads running on the bottom of the screen.

Then again, it’s not my money. So why get upset?

UPDATE: After this post was published, the blog was asked how would other big actor pay days compare when adjusted for inflation. The INFLATION CALCULATOR of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a useful tool for such calculations.

Elizabeth Taylor was paid the then-regal sum of $1 million for 1963’s Cleopatra. That works out to $7.86 million in 2016 dollars. Sean Connery got what was seen as a staggering amount, $1.25 million, to do Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. That works out to be $7.43 million in 2016 dollars.

UPDATE II (7:30 p.m.) A website called Gossip Cop today HAD A POST where its unidentified source (“an individual involved in the James Bond franchise”) says Craig has received no such offer. In effect, Gossip Cop’s anonymous source is ragging on Radar Online’s anonymous sources. Caveat Emptor all around.

 

UPDATED: MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Back in April, the blog took a look at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s potential studio partners for Bond 25.

Well, no decision has been reached (or at least announced) since then, but there have been developments among the studios. So here’s an updated look at the studios that may co-finance and distribute the next James Bond film.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films but its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

Sony’s share of the Bond profits were paltry the past two films. New leadership took over the studio and Amy Pascal, the executive who negotiated that deal, is gone.

Still, it may be the case that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sony this summer tried to revive Ghostbusters, this time featuring four women ghostbusters. (Pascal was one of the producers.) The Hollywood Reporter said in an August story that the new film is on track to lose $70 million and that a sequel is unlikely.

Sony and Marvel Studios are working together on a new Spider-Man movie (with Marvel in creative control). But Sony remains in need of a movie “franchise.”

Radar Online, an entertainment and gossip website, this weekend RAN A POST saying that Sony “should be announcing any day that the studio is re-upping the distribution rights for the Bond series.” Further, it says Sony (it doesn’t mention MGM) is offering Daniel Craig, 48, $150 million to do two more Bond movies.

We’ll slap the Caveat Emptor label on that. One of Sony’s problems with the last two 007 movies is, while they generated $2 billion in worldwide box office, the studio was third in line (behind MGM and Eon Productions) in getting money despite putting up half of the large production budgets.

Paying your leading man $75 million per movie isn’t going to help studio profitability. But we’ll see what happens. Regardless, Sony’s interest in Bond likely remains high, especially after this summer’s Ghostbusters movie.

Warner Bros.: The studio has its hands full with its slate of movies featuring DC Comics characters.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the No. 5 movie worldwide so far this year at $872.7 million. Another DC-based movie, Suicide Squad, featuring villains forced to work for the government, is No. 8 worldwide at $643.4 million.

Most studios would love such a result, but “Mr. Warner” was hoping for more than $1 billion for Batman v Superman. Rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co., is No. 1 for 2016 at $1.15 billion for Captain America: Civil War.

Still, the studio isn’t backing down, with a movie version of the Justice League in the works for 2017, picking up where Batman v Superman left off. Does the studio have the bandwidth to also co-finance Bond films?

Paramount: When last we looked in on Paramount, there was a lot of turmoil at its parent company, Viacom.

Well, that soap opera reached a resolution last month, including the forced departure of Paramount chief Philippe Dauman. That raises the question whether new leadership at the studio can mount an effort to strike a deal with MGM.

Paramount co-financed and released MGM’s Ben-Hur remake, which reached theaters last month. The movie bombed, apparently the answer to a question audiences weren’t asking.

20th Century Fox: Not much has changed here. Fox has a deal with MGM to handle home video distribution of Bond movies.

 

Michael Cimino and the art vs. commerce conflict

Heaven's Gate poster

Heaven’s Gate poster

Director Michael Cimino died over the weekend at the age of 77, as noted in obituaries by various outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. In death, as in life, Cimino was a reminder of the age old movie conflict of art vs. commerce.

Cimino’s third movie, 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, lost a lot of money for United Artists. The director, coming off an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, had a lot of clout. He used it, with Heaven’s Gate running over budget and over schedule as the perfectionist director pursued his vision of a Western that addressed broader social issues.

The project lost so much that UA’s parent firm, Transamerica Corp., threw in the towel and sold off the studio. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, itself a financially struggling entity. That had a big impact on the James Bond franchise, beginning an era of tension between MGM and Eon Productions.

With Cimino’s passing, memories broke into two camps.

The first was that of unjustly punished artist, whose career never recovered. (This article in The Guardian is an example.)

Second, that an of an out-of-control director who helped wreck a studio, a view popularized by Final Cut, the 1985 book by the late Steven Bach, one of the UA executives unable to bring Cimino’s spending under control.

What this debate overlooks is Cimino and Heaven’s Gate were just one of a long line of directors whose projects got caught up in art vs. commerce. It wasn’t even the first time for United Artists.

In 1965, UA, then headed by Arthur Krim and his lieutenants (the same bunch smart enough to do a deal to get 007 films made), were in the same boat as their eventual successors at UA were with Cimino.

In ’65, UA was backing another perfectionist director, George Stevens. The main difference between Stevens and Cimino is that the former had a long track record, including such films as Gunga Din, Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank.

No matter. Stevens was far over budget and over schedule on The Greatest Story Ever Told, the director’s film about Jesus Christ. Ex-UA executive David Picker goes into detail in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers how studio management couldn’t bring Stevens under control.

Greatest Story bombed big time for UA, coming out as audience interest in Biblical movies faded. The Krim management group, however had a life line: Thunderball (released at the peak of 1960s Bondmania) and movies featuring The Beatles (which had low budgets and high profits).

While UA made it through the crisis, the same couldn’t be said of Stevens. He’d only make one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

20th Century Fox faced a similar crisis a couple of years earlier with Cleopatra. It actually was popular at the box office, but its mammoth budget meant a lot of red ink.

Fox leaned on its television division, headed by William Self, to recover from the financial crisis. The TV unit was able to sell small-screen versions of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place in time for the 1964-65 season.

Meanwhile, like Stevens, Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s career also suffered after his big flop. Going further back, the likes of D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim, among others, ran into the art vs. commerce buzzsaw.

In short, Cimino wasn’t unique. He was, however, a colorful example of a conflict that continues to shape the film industry.

Just another wacky week for James Bond fans

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

It’s only Wednesday but it’s already been a weird week for the serious 007 fan. Let’s get to it.

CRAIG WHIPLASH: Early Tuesday, the LIVERPOOL ECHO ran a short story Tuesday about actor Daniel Craig that had the following quote about playing James Bond again:

Speaking to the TV Times the Wirral actor said: “I have no thoughts about it. What the future holds, I don’t know. That’s the honest truth.”

Some Bond fans spotted that and viewed it as a sign that the four-time 007 might still be available for Bond 25. However, reader James Page (who saw this post when it was first published) advises the quote is from 2015.

Later on Tuesday, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported Craig was in talks to star with Halle Berry in a drama set during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Other entertainment websites, such as VARIETY, quickly confirmed the development.

The possible project for Craig comes on top of a Steven Soderbergh heist movie (filming this fall), an off-Broadway play (to occur during the 2016-17 season) and a 20-episode limited series to be produced in 2017 to run on the Showtime premium cable channel in 2017 and 2018.

Never say never, the saying goes. Still, Craig’s schedule is getting full.

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

REDDIT, YOUR SOURCE FOR 007 NEWS: So it’s come to this: James Bond fans are so starved for news, an anonymous Reddit post this week about 007 film gossip in London generated buzz.

Citing “the world around London,” the post said Bond 25 pre-production “has officially begun,” that Steven Knight is writing the script and that Daniel Craig hasn’t made a decision about returning as Bond. The post also references three directors — Joe Wright, Yann Demange and Paul McGuigan — who have been rumored to have met with producer Barbara Broccoli.

It also says Sony Pictures will distribute Bond 25. That’s interesting because Sony executive Tom Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter this month that Sony hasn’t even started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about a new Bond distribution deal.

Regardless, news-starved fans like a thread on message board of the MI6 James Bond website and social media such as Facebook were linking and commenting about it in detail.

Early Tuesday, the original poster posted a follow-up comment. For what it’s worth:

The British film community is surprisingly small in London. This was the ‘news’ I was hearing over the last week.

EON had been more involved in distributing the long delayed ‘The Silent Storm’ and making ‘Film Stars’. Pre-production for B25 has just begun in earnest.

I’ve heard plenty of other directors mentioned (all with varying degrees of credibility), but those three come up the most often.

The other film often being discussed around Soho VFX houses is ‘Rogue One’ which is said to be in more turmoil than imaginable. People love to gossip.

Your mileage may vary. For the moment, caveat emptor.

ACTUAL NEWS: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Monday extended its contract with 20th Century Fox to distribute MGM productions via home video, including the Bond films, though June 2020, according to a press release.