What is Wilson’s role in the 007 franchise?

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Over the past year, a narrative has taken hold that it’s Barbara Broccoli who calls the shots for the James Bond franchise. Period. Full stop.

Perhaps the person most responsible for shaping that narrative is Sam Mendes, director of the past two 007 films, Skyfall and SPECTRE.

“It’s not the X Factor, it’s not the EU referendum, it’s not a public vote,” Mendes said in May at an event sponsored by The Telegraph, which ran a story about the director’s remarks. “Barbara Broccoli chooses who’s going to be the next Bond: end of story.”

The comments were picked up by the likes of Vanity Fair and the BBC, among others.

As a result, there’s the perception that Broccoli, 56, is the driving force of 007 land. Meanwhile, her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, 74, doesn’t get mentioned much, even though the half-siblings are supposed to be the co-bosses of Eon.

In December 2014, when it was announced SPECTRE would be the title of Bond 24, Broccoli was present with Mendes but Wilson wasn’t. However, when the production shifted to Mexico in early 2015, Wilson was involved in publicity.

This weekend, the tabloid Mirror ran a story saying Guy Ritchie was in talks with Eon to direct Bond 24. One element that caught the blog’s eye was how the Mirror said Ritchie supposedly was meeting with Wilson, rather than Broccoli. (Note: we slapped the Caveat Emptor label on it.)

It’s hard to tell how accurate, or significant, the Mirror story is. It’s simply interesting that Wilson is being depicted as a major decision maker after the way Mendes made it sound as if nobody’s opinion except Broccoli’s matters.

Of late, stories about the 007 franchise discuss Broccoli but don’t get around to Wilson.

Wilson, since the 1990s, have periodically complained about the grind of making James Bond movies. That’s something his step father, Albert R. Broccoli, never said publicly.

Wilson has spent longer than anybody else working on the 007 franchise, even co-founder Cubby Broccoli. If Wilson were to retire tomorrow, nobody could argue that he wasn’t a major figure in 007 movies.

Neither Wilson nor Barbara Broccoli revel in publicizing Bond movies the way Cubby Broccoli did. Eon is a very private outfit, not wanting to open the curtain very much on its operations.

Still, the Mirror story (whether it was accurate or not) was a reminder that Wilson is a big wheel in the 007 franchise. It would be interesting to know whether Mendes is indeed correct about Barbara Broccoli’s 007 status or if reality is more complicated.

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.


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.