Bond 25 questions: Ginormous (?) premiere edition

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1 before another delay was announced.

U.K. tabloids The Sun and Mirror this month reported about supposed plans for big No Time to Die premiere plans this fall.

The Sun wrote that star Daniel Craig will conduct a “whirlwind tour” of personal appearances of No Time to Die premieres. The Mirror said the movie’s producers are planning for a 10-million-pound (almost $14 million) premiere event in London, possibly in a stadium.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How seriously should I take these accounts?

As usual, keep in mind U.K. tabloids have a reputation for cutting coners, overhyping things, etc. But that often doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And there are elements of the stories that pass the smell test.

How so?

Essentially, the two stories are talking about larger, but traditional, ways of promoting movies. Also, bear in mind that Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in 2015 that Eon does the heavy lifting in devising Bond film marketing (“We pretty much run the marketing ourselves.”) while studios merely execute it.

Eon is nothing if not traditional.

What do you mean?

Eon boss Barbara Broccoli has said she’s opposed to Bond spinoffs. “We want to make these theatrical films,” Broccoli told Total Film published in the outlet’s 2020 Preview issue published in December 2019. “We want to make them one at a time, and create an anticipation for them, and deliver films of a very high standard.”

The movie business is feeling a big impact from streaming. Netflix became a big thing, in some times acquiring movies from studios. Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. are stepping up stepping up streaming efforts.

For Eon, the tagline of 2012’s Skyfall (the old ways are the best) is a way of life.

If true, how practical are these plans?

No Time to Die has been delayed three times because of COVID-19. The current release date is the Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S. There are multiple COVID-19 vaccinations available.

By this fall, COVID-19 may be under control enough to permit these kinds of large gatherings. There certainly is “COVID fatigue.” One school of thought is there’s much pent-up demand we may see a new “Roaring Twenties” as COVID-19 gets under control.

It should be noted that COVID-19 progress isn’t taking place in a straight line. In the U.S., the current COVID hot spot is Michigan, where cases have skyrocketed since February. There may be more unexpected developments between now and the fall.

Bond 25: How we got to this point

No Time to Die poster

David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier and I chatted on a livestream on Feb. 19. We reviewed how No Time to Die arrived at its current point, a movie costing almost $290 million in a holding pattern.

This is mostly a summary of what we discussed. This also is my own phrasing and analysis. If you have objections, send them my way.

2016’s black hole: In 2016, there was a three-cornered game that would ensure a new James Bond movie wouldn’t happen quickly.

MGM, Bond’s home studio, was busy trying to sell itself to a Chinese buyer. That didn’t work out.

Barbara Broccoli, the leading force at Eon Productions, had other irons in the fire. Eon wanted to make movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Nancy and The Rhythm Section. None of the three would be popular successes.

Daniel Craig, the Bond star of record, wanted to do other projects. One of them was titled Kings (Halle Berry was the co-star) and set in 1992 Los Angeles. It wasn’t a hit. Craig also did a new play based on Shakespeare’s Othello.

–Le affaire de Danny Boyle: After the principals got all that out of their system, MGM, Eon and (apparently Craig) were wowed by a pitch by director Danny Boyle and one of his writers, John Hodge.

By early 2017, Eon Productions had hired Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. But the Boyle-Hodge team pitched a new idea. Supposedly this idea was so FANTASTIC, the Purvis-Wade effort was tossed aside in 2018.

In May 2018, the Boyle-Hodge effort was now the way to go. Until, a few months later, it wasn’t any more. “Creative differences” (as noted in a press release).

So long, Danny. Hello search for a new director. That would end up being Cary Fukunaga. Hello, more writers, including Fukunaga (who’d get a credit), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (ditto) and Scott Z. Burns (sorry, Scott).

Coronavirus: Some delays for No Time to Die have been due to COVID-19. But the bulk of delays stem from other reasons.

So it goes.

UPDATE (Feb. 20): Here’s a replay of most the livestream, at least after we got some technical issues out of the way.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Michael Apted, TWINE director, dies

Michael Apted

Michael Apted, the director of The World Is Not Enough, has died at 79, Variety reported.

Apted mostly was known for helming dramatic films such as Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist. He also worked on the “Up” series of documentaries that followed the lives of 14 people from the time they were 7 years old. Each installment took place in 7-year intervals.

When Apted was hired for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough it was a sign that Bond film series was in for changes.

Apted didn’t have experience with making action films. Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, wanted a director more attuned to making dramatic movies.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) would be fooled and betrayed by Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) in The World Is Not Enough.

Apted handled the dramatic end while second unit director Vic Armstrong oversaw the action sequences. Dana Stevens, then Apted’s wife, did an uncredited rewrite of the script to improve the depiction of women characters. The final screenplay credit went to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein.

“I didn’t understand why they picked me to do (The World Is Not Enough),” Apted told The Hollywood Reporter in an October 2018 interview.

“It turned out, they were trying to get more women to come and see it,” Apted said. “So, we really wanted to do a Bond with a lot of women in it. I was right person because I’d done a lot of successful films with women in them. But they didn’t tell me that until right before we started. When I found out, I finally understood.”

The World Is Not Enough would be Apted’s only Bond film.

He continued the Up series with 2019’s 63 Up. Apted’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 79 directing credits going back to 1967.

The official Twitter feed of Eon Productions posted a tribute to Apted.

UPDATE: A number of obits for Apted are online, including the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and the CBC.

Also, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out this tweet.

Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

GoldenEye’s 25th: Bond’s revival

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster

Expanded and revised from a 2015 post.

GoldenEye, the 17th James Bond film, had a lot riding on it, not the least of which was the future of the 007 franchise.

It had been six years since the previous Bond film, Licence to Kill. A legal fight between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had kept 007 out of movie theaters. In 1990, Danjaq, the holding company for Eon, was put up for sale, although it never changed hands.

After the dispute was settled came the business of resuming production of the James Bond film series.

Timothy Dalton ended up exiting the Bond role so a search for a replacement began. Eon boss Albert R. Broccoli selected Pierce Brosnan — originally chosen for The Living Daylights but who lost the part when NBC ordered additional episodes of the Remington Steele series the network had canceled.

Brosnan’s selection would be one of Broccoli’s last major moves. The producer, well into his 80s, underwent heart surgery in the summer of 1994 and turned over the producing duties to his daughter and stepson, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Broccoli himself would only take a presenting credit in the final film.

Various writers were considered. The production team opted to begin pre-production on a story devised by Michael France.

His 1994 first draft was considerably different than the final film. France’s villain was Augustus Trevelyan, former head of MI6 who had defected to the Soviet Union years earlier. Bond also had a personal grudge against Trevelyan.

Other writers — Jeffrey Caine, Kevin Wade, and Bruce Feirstein — were called in to rework the story.  The villain became Alec Trevelyan, formerly 006, and now head of the Janus crime syndicate in the post-Cold War Russia. In addition, the final script included a new M (Judi Dench), giving Bond a woman superior. Caine and Feirstein would get the screenplay credit while France only received a “story by” credit.

In the 21st century, many Bond fans assume 007 will always be a financial success. In the mid-1990s, those working behind the scenes didn’t take success for granted.

“Wilson and (Barbara) Broccoli already knew that GoldenEye was a one-shot chance to reintroduce Bond,” John Cork and Bruce Scivally wrote in the 2002 book James Bond: The Legacy. “After Cubby’s operation, they also knew the fate of the film — and James Bond — rested on their shoulders.”

GoldenEye’s crew had new faces to the 007 series. Martin Campbell assumed duties as the movie’s director. Daniel Kleinman became the new title designer. His predecessor, Maurice Binder, had died in 1991. Eric Serra was brought on as composer, delivering a score unlike the John Barry style.

One familiar face, special effects and miniatures expert Derek Meddings, returned. He hadn’t worked on a Bond since 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. GoldenEye would be his last 007 contribution. He died in September 1995, before the film’s release.

In the end, GoldenEye came through, delivering worldwide box office of $352.2 million. Bruce Feirstein, who had done the final rewrites of the script, was hired to write the next installment. Bond was back.

GoldenEye would inspire a video game still well remembered today. A few days before the U.S. premiere was the second, and final, official James Bond fan convention, held in New York City.

For some Bond fans, GoldenEye is one of the best of the 007 films. For others, not so much.

Regardless, GoldenEye was a major event in the history of the Bond film series. Bond had survived a major behind-the-scenes drama. The gentleman agent was ready to take on a new century.

Variety says NTTD’s budget was $301 million

Not that the blog is jumping to conclusions or anything…

No Time to Die’s “net” budget — even taking into account the value of product placement deals and tax breaks — was $301 million, Variety said.

The figure, if accurate, would make the 25th James Bond film the most expensive in the series produced by Eon Productions.

The raw spending on 2015’s SPECTRE exceeded $300 million, according to documents that became public in 2014 after Sony Corp. documents were hacked. But that was before product placement and tax breaks were factored in. The “net” figure for SPECTRE was $245 million.

For months, entertainment outlets have reported No Time to Die’s final budget at $250 million, only slightly more than SPECTRE.

The $301 million figure provides more evidence that No Time to Die may be a financial disaster for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

No Time to Die has been delayed repeatedly. The movie was set to be released in April but was delayed to November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the Bond film was delayed again to April 2021.

The Hollywood Reporter carried an Oct. 27 story with behind-the-scenes details of how MGM had talks with Apple Inc. about a one-year lease for No Time to Die to show on Apple’s streaming service. But Apple only offered $350 million to $400 million. MGM wanted $650 million to $750 million or more, THR said.

The THR report said the No Time to Die delay is costing MGM $1 million a month in interest costs. The Variety story carries the same figure.

In addition, according to Variety, star Daniel Craig “and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who control the rights to the series, have generous backend and profit participation deals, limiting the amount of money MGM is able to make on the movie.”

As stated before, No Time to Die was a pre-pandemic movie financed and filmed before COVID-19. But the Bond movie is to come out in the middle of a pandemic which has reduced theater availability.

Nothing exceeds like excess. No Time to Die might be the best James Bond movie ever and still be a financial disaster for MGM.

THR: Apple didn’t offer MGM enough for NTTD

Apple Inc. didn’t offer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer enough to license No Time to Die to show on streaming, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Apple considered an offer of $350 million to $400 million one a one-year license, the entertainment news outlet reported. MGM was looking for $650 million to $700 million or more, THR said.

MGM’s demands were a “nonstarter” for other streaming such as Netflix, according to THR. Meanwhile, MGM — which controls half the Bond film franchise — is incurring $1 million in interest a month for loans to finance the $250 million No Time to Die, THR said.

No Time to Die has had a series of release dates. It had been set to come out in April but was delayed until November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s set to come out in April 2021 but that’s uncertain as the pandemic continues.

Finally, Danjaq LLC — which controls the other half of the Bond franchise — and its Eon Productions unit wasn’t initially told by MGM about the talks. Danjaq/Eon boss Barbara Broccoli opposed the idea, THR said.

Here’s an excerpt from the THR story:

Broccoli is seen as a staunch traditionalist who is very much in support of the theatrical experience. Furthermore, Bond is a franchise connected to luxury and scarcity, and by going to a streamer there could be a brand hit in her eyes, according to one insider. “It’s a dip into a pool you won’t be able to get out of,” says the source.

Broccoli acknowledges NTTD is Craig’s last Bond

No Time to Die poster

In the first episode of the new official No Time to Die podcast, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli acknowledges No Time to Die is Daniel Craig’s last James Bond movie.

“It is the fifth and final one that Daniel Craig is going to be doing,” Broccoli says around the 6:35 mark. “It’s a culmination of everything his portryal of the character has been through and it does tie up all the story lines.”

This is not exactly a big news flash. Craig has said this would be his last outing. But Broccoli, who chose Craig for the part in th 2000s, has been hesitant to say that.

“I’m in total denial,” Broccoli told Variety in a Jan. 15 story. “I’ve accepted what Daniel has said, but I’m still in denial. It’s too traumatic for me.”

The podcast includes comments from Eon’s Michael G. Wilson, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, director Cary Fukunaga and other cast members.h/t to @Stingray_travel on Twitter who embedded the podcast in a response to a question from me.

Halle Berry provides a Jinx footnote

Die Another Day poster

Variety is out with an interview with Halle Berry where she describes her efforts to become a director. Her debut as a director, in a film titled Bruised, is being shown at the Toronto Film Festival.

The story also provides a kind of footnote to the proposed spinoff based on her Jinx character from Die Another Day.

Here’s the key excerpt:

After the success of “Die Another Day,” “Bond” producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson lobbied for Jinx to get her own spinoff, an idea that thrilled Berry. But MGM balked at the $80 million price tag. “It was very disappointing,” Berry says. “It was ahead of its time. Nobody was ready to sink that kind of money into a Black female action star. They just weren’t sure of its value. That’s where we were then.”

At the time, Berry had appeared in X-Men (2000), a 20th Century Fox adaptation of the Marvel comic book. But that was an ensemble project and it was dominated by the debut of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Jinx, on the other hand, would have highlighted Berry. According to Variety, when the Jinx spinoff didn’t happen, that spurred Berry to star in Catwoman (2004), a movie that didn’t work out so well.

Meanwhile, this was an odd period for Eon Productions as well.

Dana Broccoli, the widow of Eon-co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the mother of Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, died in 2004. Eventually, “the kids” decided to start the James Bond film series over with 2006’s Casino Royale. Barbara Broccoli was the force behind the casting of Daniel Craig in the series reboot.