Marvel Studios and the Cubby Broccoli playbook

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Ben Fritz, takes a look at how Marvel Studios operates. While it doesn’t come up in the story, it sounds like Marvel has read the old Albert R. Broccoli playbook.

Like James Bond movies produced by Broccoli, Marvel makes big, sprawling movies. But, like the Eon Productions co-founder, Marvel doesn’t spend top dollar for everything. Here’s a key excerpt:

But no company has eschewed A-list talent as consistently and effectively in the modern age as Marvel. All but one of its 10 films released so far have been hits, a record rivaled only by Pixar Animation Studios. And none have featured a major star or established action director.

Money is a key reason, say people who have done business with Marvel. The Disney subsidiary’s chief executive, Ike Perlmutter, is notoriously frugal and doesn’t believe that the millions rivals like Warner Bros. spend to get big-name stars like Ben Affleck and Will Smith are worth it.

“They are in the business of hiring the guy who hasn’t had a big success, because they don’t have to pay that guy very much,” said Mr. Whedon, adding that he made more money on his self-produced Internet series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” than he did directing the first “Avengers,” which cost $230 million to produce and grossed $1.5 billion world-wide.

When Broccoli (first with Harry Saltzman and then on his own) produced 007 films, a formula eventually emerged where the actor playing James Bond would be paid well but Eon didn’t usually pay for A-list actors for other roles. “Regulars” such as Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn were paid relatively modestly.

As directors, Eon would hire journeymen such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Or, with John Glen, promote from within, elevating him to the director’s chair from the second unit.

Marvel isn’t exactly the same, but there are similarities. The Journal describes how Marvel’s approach to talent is to seek out actors on their way up (who don’t cost top dollar yet) or are making a comeback (such as Robert Downey Jr.). There’s a similar strategy with directors, including Joss Whedon (referenced in the excerpt above) and Joe and Anthony Russo.

As we’ve written before, Eon’s strategy has evolved since the Cubby Broccoli days. Bond movies employ more auteur directors (Sam Mendes, Marc Forster) and more expensive actors for at least some roles (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes).  Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-leaders of Eon, have been putting their own stamp on the series.

In any case, if you want to read the entire Journal story about Marvel, CLICK HERE.

 

The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

How did SPECTRE’s budget get so high?

SPECTRE LOGO

Many entertainment websites (including this blog) have written about how the Mexican government may have helped shape a sequence in SPECTRE in return for $20 million in incentives, something the TAX ANALYSTS WEBSITE REPORTED EARLIER THIS MONTH.

The Cinema Blend website in its story on the subject added a question about SPECTRE’s $300 million-plus budget: “Why is the budget that high to begin with?” Skyfall had a reported budget of $200 million.

Sam Mendes, at the Dec. 4 media event for SPECTRE said the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios was “where budgets go to die.” The comment took on a whole new meaning after hacking of internal Sony Pictures emails revealed the budget was on pace to exceed $300 million, making the 24th James Bond movie once of the most expensive of all time.

Cinema Blend poses a good question. Here’s an attempt at a partial answer. What follows is by no means definitive or comprehensive.

More locations: With 2012’s Skyfall, the first unit only went to one location: Turkey. The second unit went to Shanghai to film exteriors but the first unit used Pinewood Studios and U.K. locations in place of the Chinese business center.

With SPECTRE, the crew is traveling more. The OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE said, “The locations for SPECTRE include Pinewood London, Mexico City, Rome, Tangier and Erfoud, Morocco. Bond is also back in the snow, this time in Sölden, Austria as well as Obertilliach and Lake Altaussee.” Already, there has been filming in Rome and Austria.

Some of the principals probably got a big raise: In November 2012, as Skyfall was on its way to a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion, THE INDEPENDENT reported star Daniel Craig would be paid 31 million pounds (or almost $46 million at current exchange rates) to play 007 in Bond 24 (now SPECTRE) and Bond 25 combined.

According to that article, Craig received 1.9 million pounds for Casino Royale, 4.4 million pounds for Quantum of Solace and 10.7 million pounds for Skyfall.

Meanwhile, Skyfall director Mendes initially said the thought of directing another Bond movie made him “physically ill.”

Nevertheless, Eon Productions wanted Mendes back, to the point of being willing to push back production so the director could participate in some stage projects. With Skyfall’s box office, it’s likely he got a big raise also. Money has a way of calming upset stomachs.

Bond movies now have pricier casts: Under Albert R. Broccoli, Eon was willing to pay big money for its Bond but supporting actors — particularly those with the M, Moneypenny and Q roles — were paid modestly.

In the 21st century, the likes of Ralph Fiennes (a two-time Oscar nominee), Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are paid better adjusted for inflation than Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn. Meanwhile, Skyfall had an Oscar winning actor (Javier Bardem as Silva) and SPECTRE has another (Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser).

All of this is, at best, a partial explanation. SPECTRE’s budget exceeds the estimated outlays of Marvel’s The Avengers ($220 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($250 million), movies with extensive special effects.

Blast from the past: The Spy Who Loved Me (1975)

Bond collector Gary Firuta forwarded the following trade advertisement dated May 1975 in a publication called Cinema TV Today. It’s for The Spy Who Loved Me.

Of interest is that Harry Saltzman is still onboard at Eon Productions along with Albert R. Broccoli. Both are listed as presenting the movie. Also, at the time of the advertisement, Guy Hamilton was still slated to be director — with a 1976 release date.

Finally, in the 1975 ad, it says, “Ian Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me.” In the film, it said Roger Moore was playing “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in The Spy Who Loved Me.” The final film with “Ian Fleming’s” affixed to the title was Moonraker.

There would be many twists and turns between this advertisement and the release of the movie in the summer of 1977. The biggest twist would be Saltzman’s exit from Eon, selling out his interest to United Artists, a development that still affects the franchise today. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picked up UA’s interest in 007 when it acquired UA in 1981. Hamilton would also exit the project, to be replaced by Lewis Gilbert.

UPDATE: Back in September 2011, we had a post about THE ORIGINAL POSTER for The Spy Who Loved Me and how it differed from the final version.

SPY - AD CINEMA 1975

Evolution of a meme: Helm to 007 to Kingsman

The Year of the Spy (in the United States, anyway) shifts into another gear this month with the debut of Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The movie, directed by Matthew Vaughn, strives for a return of the escapist spy film in a century known mostly for the grim and gritty, first popularized by Jason Bourne and then by a rebooted James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig.

Kingsman’s emphasis on escapism even extends to the movie’s ad campaign, which involves a meme that’s been around for decades.

In the ads, members of the Kingsman’s cast, including star Colin Firth, are depicted striding toward a woman with prosthetic feet (a character in the film) who’s holding a drink and a rifle.

kingsman ad

The image evokes the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, in which Roger Moore’s Bond is standing before a swimsuit-wearing Melina, holding a crossbow.

FYEO ad

But 007 wasn’t the first spy character to use such an image.

Fifteen years earlier, The Silencers — produced by Irving Allen, former partner of co-founding 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli — had an illustration of a woman in a similar pose. Matt Helm (Dean Martin) isn’t standing in front of her but his presence is noted regardless.

silencers ad

In any case, Kingsman already is out in Europe. The R-rated movies arrives in U.S. theaters on Feb. 13.

007 Tweets of note from Jeremy Duns, Anthony Horowitz

On Sunday, Jan. 25, two rather interesting posts on Twitter emerged related to the world of James Bond.

The first was from journalist and author Jeremy Duns. He came across a 1963 story in the Daily Express indicating that, at one time, Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman was interesting in having actor-playwright Robert Shaw script a 007 film.

Shaw, of course, played Red Grant in 1963’s From Russia With Love. There are no details about what Bond project this might have been for.

Generally speaking, screenwriter Richard Maibaum was close to Albert R. Broccoli, the other Bond co-producer. Saltzman was always on the lookout for other scribes, including Len Deighton (who did uncredited work on From Russia With Love), Paul Dehn (Goldfinger) and John Hopkins (Thunderball).

Duns previously has detailed the work screenwriter Ben Hecht did for producer Charles K. Feldman’s ill-fated 1967 Casino Royale film. Duns researched how Hecht had a more serious take in mind. Duns has a e-book on the subject, ROGUE ROYALE.

The other Tweet came from Anthony Horwitz, writer of the next James Bond continuation novel coming out this fall.

The author, as it turns out, was watching the 1974 movie on television. On Jan. 15, HE TWEETED he had delivered his Bond novel. On Jan. 22, HE TWEETED that he had seen the cover, calling it “perfect.”

UPDATE: Horowitz later engaged in a dialogue with other Twitter users.

One commented to Horowitz that the Golden Gun novel isn’t one of Fleming’s best novels. Horowitz’s reply: “True. But that rubber nipple? Oh dear.” In a separate response, he said of the 1974 movie’s car jump: “Great stunt. But the sound and the sheriff? Oh dear.”

He was then informed by freelance writer and author Jeffrey Westhoff, “Slide whistle was John Barry’s choice, which he later regretted. But director, etc. could have nixed it.” Horowitz’s reply: “That’s a very interest piece of movie trivia!”

Majesty’s 45th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

Six years later, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 45 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and a first time director Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.

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