Celebrating 35 years of Eon-MGM dysfunction

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the uneasy alliance between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After all this time, the relationship doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.

In 1981, MGM acquired United Artists after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. threw up its hands, opting to get rid of UA and exit the movie business. UA had just dropped a big flop, Heaven’s Gate. Transamerica, which acquired UA in 1967, had enough.

Eon (and its parent company Danjaq) had a reasonably warm relationship with UA.

United Artists simply released the first nine Bond films made by Eon. The studio (which coughed up the money to actually make the movies) occasionally influenced the films. Most famously, it was UA that insisted on bringing Sean Connery back to play 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But for the most part, Eon had a pretty long leash.

The two sides grew closer after UA bought out Harry Saltzman’s stake in the 007 franchise in 1975 when the Danjaq-Eon co-founder ran into financial trouble. Still, UA executives thought a lot about Eon chief Albert R. Broccoli, including maintaining an office for him at UA headquarters in New York.

When MGM bought UA, things changed. The 2015 book Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury goes into some detail about this. Budgets tightened, as did studio oversight. There was a Danjaq-Eon lawsuit when MGM ownership changed at one point, a catalyst in the 1989-1995 hiatus in 007 film production.

Even after the lawsuit was settled, there was tension. Things were never as warm between Eon and MGM as when Broccoli and Saltzman cut their first deal with UA in 1961.

It didn’t help that MGM was long past its prime even in 1981, when it first got into the Bond business. By that point, MGM simply didn’t have the resources as other major studios.

By the mid-2000s, MGM was barely a studio. Sony Pictures actually released the last four James Bond movies, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s Columbia Pictures logo appeared with MGM’s Leo the Lion logo at the start of 007 films.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM was mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It financed a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval. But Barbara Broccoli, current co-boss of Eon, made clear in 2012 she had no plans to make Bond films that quickly.

MGM chief Gary Barber

MGM chief Gary Barber

Gary Barber, who became MGM chief during the bankruptcy, backed off. These days he doesn’t even mention that bankruptcy court business plan. Earlier this year, he said 007 films would come out on a “three-to-four-year cycle.”

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

Barber is trying to demonstrate that MGM is a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

This weekend, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

For now, Eon/Danjaq and MGM are more or less in the same place they were 35 years ago.

MGM needs Eon to make James Bond films, still the studio’s biggest asset. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli wants to make dramas that have nothing to do with James Bond.

At the same time, Eon/Danjaq can’t make James Bond films without doing business with MGM, as much as Eon/Danjaq might like to do so.

It’s a cliche, but true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

A few 007-related questions for this summer

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Here are some questions 007 fans perhaps should follow for the rest of the summer.

Let’s begin with this: Barbara Broccoli’s newest non-007 film, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, has started filming at Pinewood Studios. That was disclosed in a Pinewood press release.

Why is that something to watch? It’s a test of the ability of the Eon Productions co-boss to multi-task.

In this case, can Broccoli simultaneously produce the drama and gear up Bond 25?

Why do you say that? Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman was able to produce the Harry Palmer film series and The Battle of Britain without affecting the 007 film schedule.

Albert R. Broccoli, Barbara Broccoli’s father and the other Eon co-founder, produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in between Bond films.

Both Broccoli and Saltzman were involved with Call Me Bwana inbetween Dr. No and From From Russia With Love.

In the 21st century, Kevin Feige runs Marvel Studios, which produces two movies a year, with Feige getting the credit as producer.

So what should we watch for? If there are significant Bond 25 developments (writers hired, a director hired, etc.) while production of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is underway, then it would seem the Eon co-boss can handle multi-tasking just fine.

To be fair, Eon may be somewhat limited by the fact there’s no distributor yet for Bond 25. 007’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, isn’t big enough to release its own films.

But there are things Eon can do — especially lining up writers and a director — before MGM selects a distribution partner. Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its contract expired with SPECTRE.

And if there isn’t major Bond 25 news during that time? Maybe, just maybe, there won’t be any major Bond 25 news until the last part of 2016, or perhaps early 2017.

 

007 (or so) observations about Moonraker

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Wednesday, June 29, was the 37th anniversary of Moonraker’s U.S. debut. The 11th James Bond film doesn’t get much love from fans in the 21st century. Yet, it was a huge financial success in the 20th.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations about the film:

001: Drax’s disdain for Britain: This may reflect a few bits of Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel that made it into the movie.

The nationality of Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t specified but he clearly isn’t British. He keeps a British butler around, mostly to boss around.

The Moonraker villain also tells Bond that “afternoon tea” is the U.K.’s greatest contribution to Western civilization. Later (after Bond has investigated Drax’s Venice facilities), Drax makes a comment about not understanding British humor.

002: Bond’s physical stamina: As Bond (Roger Moore) agrees to take a ride in Drax’s centrifuge, Holly (Lois Chiles) says “even a 70-year-old” can take “three Gs” (the force of takeover). Holly says most people “pass out” at seven Gs. Bond withstands *13 Gs* before activating a device he got from Q to escape.

003: One of the best (unheralded) scenes of the movie: Bond further investigates Drax’s Venice facilities. For the Moore version of Bond, this represents one of his deadliest miscalculations.

Bond briefly observes two of Drax’s scientists at work. Visually, there are a number of things to catch the viewer’s eyes. When the scientists briefly walk away, 007 moves in further.

Unfortunately, Bond didn’t leave everything as he left it, and the two scientists die as a result. One of the best shots of the film is one of the scientists dying while Bond watches on the other side of a Plexiglass barrier.

Yes, this sequence included the joke that draws groans from hard-core Bond fans (the John Williams theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the entry code). Still, overall, the sequence is a mostly serious one for a very lighthearted movie.

004: The minister of defense (defence to our British friends) plays Bridge with Drax: Others have made this observation long ago, but it is one of the few direct references to Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel. So we thought we’d mention it here.

005: Bond is a cheapskate! No tip, James? You get to stay in the President’s Suite at an expensive hotel in Rio and you stiff the guy on the tip. In From Russia With Love, Bond (Sean Connery) stuffed his tip in the suitcoat pocket of the guy who took him to his Istanbul hotel room. He shows his contempt while *still* giving a tip.

But here? Come on, Bond! The guy is just trying to make a living!

006: Bond’s brief moment of compassion for a fellow MI6 agent: After almost getting killed by Jaws, the MI6 agent in Rio offers to still help bond. He declines, saying she should get some rest.

007: Bond’s cable car reaction: Only 007 would react to a stalled cable car by going to the car’s roof. Only a CIA agent (Holly in this case) would have a first reaction to grab the nearest chain. Also, how many cable cars have a chain laying around?

008: The special effects of the boat chase weren’t that good, even in 1979: Friend or foe of the movie, this was not a highlight.

Seriously, the Spy Commander saw the film five times in the theater and you can could discern what was real and was special effects.. But Albert R. Broccoli & Co. had the good sense to keep up the pace to get past that.

009: Bond momentarily loses his cool: It only lasts a few seconds, but Bond really is annoyed with Jaws (Richard Kiel) after the henchman fishes 007 out of Drax’s pool.

0010: Some of the walls of Drax’s space station seem to be made of cardboard: Ken Adam (1921-2016) was one of the greatest production designers in the history of film. But a few shots in the climatic space station fight indicate the budget was running low.

0011: John Barry deserves every compliment he’s ever gotten for this film: The veteran 007 composer improves almost every scene in the movie with his score. It might not be his best Bond score, but Barry elevates the film throughout.

0012: This film is unique in the 007 film series:  It’s the one time that Eon Productions founder Albert R. Broccoli more or less didn’t have to worry about the budget.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Eon had to confront whether the 007 film series could continue after Sean Connery left for good and after Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold his interest to United Artists.

In the 1980s (and beyond), Eon had to deal with budget issues after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired UA in the early part of the decade.

For Moonraker, Broccoli really had (almost) Carte Blanche for making a Bond movie. This really was “the money’s up on the screen.”

 

For Your Eyes Only’s 35th: Back to Fleming

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Audiences got something in June 1981 they hadn’t seen in a while — a James Bond film with much of the proceedings actually based on Ian Fleming stories.

For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, even included some dialogue here and there taken from 007’s creator.

At this point, there hadn’t been so much Fleming material in a Bond movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the death of Bond’s wife Tracy.

That movie was referenced at the very start of the pre-titles sequence when Bond visits Tracy’s grave. Her year of death was listed on her headstone as 1969 and her epitaph read, “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Following two Bond spectacles, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, the 1981 pre-titles sequence immediately signaled a change in tone.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson ended up using chunks of the For Your Eyes Only and Risico short stories while fashioning a plot line to tie the two Fleming tales together.

It was also one time where Eon Productions and producer Albert R. Broccoli varied from their usual strategy of “tailoring” a movie to its leading man.

Roger Moore, making his fifth 007 film appearance, was called upon in the Maibaum-Wilson script to kick a car containing a killer in the employ of the movie’s villain off a cliff. Earlier in the story, Bond’s opponent was responsible for the death of an MI6 agent.

There were multiple accounts at the time that Moore hesitated but that first-time director John Glen (who had been promoted by Broccoli from second unit director) stuck to his guns.

It was a harder Bond than Moore normally played and it worked for the story. This was a case of writing Bond first and having the actor play to that.

For Your Eyes Only still added big set pieces, including a wheelchair-bound Blofeld (originally it wasn’t officially supposed to be the villain, but that got “re-conned” many years later as part of an official home video promotion) controlling a helicopter with Bond inside. There were also chases, with Bond in a small car for a change and on skis being menaced by various killers.

However, For Your Eyes Only stayed very much earth-bound compared with Moonraker, where Bond had gone into space. On more than one occasion, Moore’s Bond is forced to use his wits to survive.

During the summer of 1981, Bond still drew audiences amid heightened box office competition, such as Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a huge hit with global box office of almost $390 million.

For Your Eyes Only generated global box office of $195.3 million. While a bit down from Moonraker’s $210.3 million, the change in direction was accepted by the general public.

Moreover, fans of Fleming’s original novels and short stories took note. It would not be until 2006’s Casino Royale that audiences would get as much Fleming content in a 007 film. For Your Eyes also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

FROM 2011: For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

 

Remembering Cubby Broccoli’s racehorse

Brocco (foaled 1991)

Brocco (foaled 1991)

Saturday was the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby, which got us to thinking about the time James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli had a horse in the race.

That horse was Brocco, foaled in 1991. The stallion raced in the 1994 Derby, finishing fourth, or just out of the money.

Previously, Brocco had won the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 1994 Santa Anita Derby. His parents were Kris S. and Anytime Ms.

At the time, the co-founder of Eon Productions had more visibility in his horse racing endeavors. No Bond film had come out since 1989’s Licence to Kill.

Broccoli had been in a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which in turn was mired in financial problems. The two sides eventually reached a settlement. However, a new 007 film was still some time from becoming reality when Brocco competed in the 1994 Derby.

Later than year, Eon Productions secured the services of actor Pierce Brosnan, Cubby Broccoli’s final Bond actor choice, as the new 007. Pre-production geared up on GoldenEye, which came out in the fall of 1995.

Like most racehorses, Brocco retired from racing to be a stud horse.

UPDATE: Here’s a video of the 1994 Santa Anita Derby, won by Brocco. After the win, ABC broadcaster Jim McKay notes that Albert R. Broccoli had just celebrated his 85th birthday.

A footnote about two of Wilson & Broccoli’s non-007 films

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

We read a debate on a 007-related message board about the non-Bond films of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Supporters of the Eon Productions co-bosses said it was great they were involved with other projects, it would keep them fresh and invigorated. Skeptics wondered whether this would adversely affect the Bond series.

This post doesn’t take a side in the debate. Rather, it’s to provide additional information. We’ll take it step-by-step.

–Broccoli and Wilson are listed as executive producers on two independent films, Radiator and The Silent Storm.

–What does that mean? “Executive producer” in movies is a secondary, supportive-type title to the producer or producers. On television, executive producer is the title used by the top producer or producers of a show.

On SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film, Broccoli and Wilson were producers (the top producers, naturally) and Callum McDougall was executive producer. McDougall also doubled as unit production manager.

–Put another way, Broccoli and Wilson aren’t the primary producers on either Radiator or The Silent Storm, the same way Callum McDougall wasn’t the primary producer on SPECTRE.

Broccoli and Wilson are among 12 executive producers on The Silent Storm and among eight executive producers on Radiator.

The lead producers of Radiator were Tom Browne and Genevieve Stevens. The lead producers of The Silent Storm was Nicky Bentham.

As for the debate on the message board, the real question is how well Broccoli and Wilson are at multi-tasking.

In the 1960s, there was a tension between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli (Barbara Broccoli’s father and Michael G. Wilson’s stepson) and Harry Saltzman.

Saltzman pursued a number of non-Bond projects while Albert R. Broccoli (aside from Call Me Bwana and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the latter based on another Ian Fleming novel) concentrated on the 007 series.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, meanwhile, are pursuing the Saltzman model. Besides the independent films, they’re also involved in plays and television projects.

Guy Hamilton, Goldfinger director, dies

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton, director of the first 007 mega-hit, Goldfinger, died at 93, according to an OBITUARY BY THE BBC.

Hamilton directed four Bond films, with Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun being the others. He initially agreed to direct The Spy Who Loved Me, but bowed out after agreeing to direct Superman. He ended up not directing that movie either, paving the way for Richard Donner to helm Christopher Reeve’s debut as the Man of Steel.

Hamilton also was offered the opportunity to direct Dr. No, the first 007 film produced by Eon Productions. He refused, with Terence Young eventually getting the job. After Young turned down Goldfinger, Hamilton didn’t say no to Bond a second time.

Hamilton was no rookie in the film industry when he got the Goldfinger job. He had been assistant director on The Third Man (1949) and The African Queen (1951). In the early 1950s, he graduated to the director’s chair on a series of films.

In the 1990s, Hamilton was interviewed by the British writer and film historian Adrian Turner for the book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger. Some highlights:

–On Eon Productions founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman: “Harry had the subtlety of an ape and he made Sean (Connery) feel like a complete gorilla…I could work happily with Harry and happily with Cubby, but when they were together it was a nightmare.”

— On Pussy Galore being gay in Ian Fleming’s original novel: “We had to glide over it. And you had to be wary of the censor who played a very big part in Bond.”

— On how a skeleton crew shot at the real Fort Knox: “It was just (Director of photography) Ted (Moore), Cubby ( producer Albert R. Broccoli) and me, and we did more shooting the next day than I think I’ve ever done in my life.”

–On taking over from Terence Young’s crew on Dr. No and From Russia With Love: “They were obviously surprised by the success of Dr. No and Russia so they were a bit lazy and arrogant…It was part of my job to put a big boot up all their arses.”

–On Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun: “I regret doing the two with Roger (Moore)…They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

–On how Hamilton though Burt Reynolds would be a good James Bond: “I was in America and found the perfect Bond, who was Burt Reynolds. He had all Sean’s (Connery’s) qualities, a nice wit, but he moved like a dream. But UA (United Artists) said forget it, he’s just a stuntman.”

In the 21st century, some fans view Hamilton as being lucky with getting the Goldfinger job, while his three following 007 films didn’t come close to meeting the same standard.

Regardless, Hamilton was in the director’s chair for the first Bond film that made 007 a worldwide phenomenon. His record also includes directing a Harry Palmer film for Harry Saltzman (Funeral in Berlin) as well as the producer’s Battle of Britain movie.

With Hamilton’s passing, only Lewis Gilbert (b. 1920) remains among the directors of the first 11 Bond films. Terence Young died in 1994 and Peter Hunt died in 2002.

Roger Moore took to Twitter to write about Hamilton.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 256 other followers