Michael G. Wilson turns 80

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, during publicity for 2015’s SPECTRE

Michael G. Wilson, a producer and writer who worked longer on James Bond films than anyone else, celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Wilson, who has been involved with Bond for 50 years on a full-time basis, is the stepson of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the half-brother of 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took command of Eon in 1994 as GoldenEye was in pre-production and Cubby Broccoli suffered from ill health. The Wilson-Barbara Broccoli combination has produced every Bond film starting with GoldenEye.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli died in 1996, ending 35 years with the franchise.

Wilson’s mother, Dana, married Cubby Broccoli in 1959. She had earlier been married to actor Lewis Wilson, who had played Batman in a 1943 serial. The actor was the father of Michael Wilson.

Michael Wilson’s first involvement in the 007 series was as an extra on 1964’s Goldfinger, but that was a one-off. Starting in 1972, he joined Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

Michael G. Wilson’s first 007 on-screen credit in The Spy Who Loved Me

In those early years, Wilson, a lawyer who also had training in engineering, was involved in the separation between Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the latter facing financial troubles. Eventually, United Artists bought out Saltzman’s interest in the 007 franchise.

Wilson’s first on-screen credit was as “special assistant to producer” on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Wilson got a small title card, sharing the screen with other crew members. But that belied how Wilson’s influence on the series was growing following Saltzman’s departure.

A Poster Changes

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me, with a credit for “Mike Wilson.”

An early poster for Spy had the credit “Assistant to the Producer Mike Wilson.” It didn’t mention other notables such as production designer Ken Adam or associate producer William P. Cartlidge. Later versions didn’t include Wilson’s credits but Adam and Cartlidge still didn’t make the final poster.

For 1979’s Moonraker, Wilson was elevated to executive producer, a title which can be a little confusing. On television series, an executive producer is supposed to be the top producer or producers. For movies, it’s a secondary title to producer. This time, Wilson was included on the posters as were Adam and Cartlidge.

With 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Wilson doubled as a screenwriter, working in conjunction with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum. Wilson received a screenwriting credit on every 007 film made by Eon in the 1980s. Starting with 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was joint producer along with Cubby Broccoli.

While adding to his production resume, Wilson also began making cameo appearances in the Bond movies themselves. A 2015 story in the Daily Mail provided images of a few examples. The cameos varied from a quick glance (The World Is Not Enough) to getting several lines of dialogue (Tomorrow Never Dies, as a member of the board of directors working with the villain).

‘Particularly Hard’

After Cubby Broccoli’s death, Wilson in interviews began complaining about the work load of making Bond films. “It just seems that this one’s been particularly hard,” Wilson said in an interview with Richard Ashton on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Service website concerning The World Is Not Enough that’s archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

In an earlier Ashton interview, after production of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Wilson described the pressure he felt.

“There are a myriad of things every day,” Wilson told Ashton. “From the producer’s point of view they want to know the schedule, does the set need to be this big? Are we gonna shoot all this stuff in the action sequence? How much of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor? You’re putting the director under pressure to make decisions all the time – and he has a point of view he wants to put across.”

‘Desperately Afraid’

Dana Broccoli was an uncredited adviser on the Bond films during Cubby Broccoli’s reign. She became “the custodian of the James Bond franchise” after his death in 1996, according to a 2004 obituary of Dana Broccoli in The Telegraph.

With her passing, Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own. One of their first decisions was to move on from Pierce Brosnan, the last 007 actor selected by Albert R. Broccoli, and go in a new direction with Daniel Craig.

In an October 2005 story in The New York Times, Wilson described the process.

“I was desperately afraid, and Barbara was desperately afraid, we would go downhill,” said Michael G. Wilson, the producer of the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” with Ms. Broccoli. He even told that to Pierce Brosnan, the suave James Bond who had a successful run of four films, he said.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also began pursuing other interests, including plays as well as movies such as the drama The Silent Storm, where they were among 12 executive producers.

Wilson as P.T. Barnum

Wilson, to a degree, also was the Bond franchise’s equivalent of P.T. Barnum. In separate interviews and public appearances he said he hoped Daniel Craig would do more 007 films than Roger Moore even as the time between Bond films lengthened while later saying Bond actors shouldn’t be kept on too long.

Legal fights between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired United Artists in 1981) caused a six-year hiatus in Bond films between 1989 and 1995. When production resumed with GoldenEye, Wilson no longer was a credited screenwriter.

Cubby Broccoli had benefited from a long relationship with Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who ended up contributing to 13 of the first 16 Bond movies. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli seemed to search for their own Maibaum.

At first, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein seemed to fit the bill. He received a writing credit on three movies, starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World Is Not Enough.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011 Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011.

Later, the producing duo seemed to settle on scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who received credits on six consecutive 007 epics. They ran began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and ran through 2015’s SPECTRE. They were hired in 2017 to work on a 007th film, No Time to Die, released in 2021. Director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among the other writers on the script.

Still, it wasn’t the same. After 2012’s Skyfall, Purvis and Wade weren’t supposed to return, with writer John Logan (who’d done Skyfall’s later drafts) set to script two movies in a row.

It didn’t work out that way. With SPECTRE, the followup to Skyfall, Logan did the earlier drafts but Purvis and Wade were summoned back. Eventually, Logan, Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth would get a credit.

Changing Role?

Cubby Broccoli seemed to live to make James Bond movies. Wilson  not as much, as he pursued other interests, including photography. By the 2010s, it appeared to outsiders that Barbara Broccoli had become the primary force at Eon.

In December, 2014, at the announcement of the title for SPECTRE, Wilson was absent. Director Sam Mendes acted as master of ceremonies with Barbara Broccoli at his side. Wilson showed up in later months for SPECTRE-related publicity events.

Nevertheless, Wilson devoted the majority of his life to the film series.

Making movies is never easy. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment is helping — in a major way — to keeping the 007 series in production. He was not a founding father of the Bond film series. But he was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures for the film Bond beginning in the 1970s.

“When you go around the world you see how many people are so anxious, in every country, ‘Oh, when’s the next Bond film coming out?'” Wilson told Ashton after production of Tomorrow Never Dies. “You realize that there’s a huge audience and I guess you don’t want to come out with a film that’s going to somehow disappoint them.”

On 007’s 60th, will Harry Saltzman be the forgotten man?

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Adapted from a 2012 post.

The 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, is gearing up. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has come out with an MGM logo noting the anniversary. No Time to Die is making a return to Imax theaters.

All of this is a reason to remind everyone about Harry Saltzman, the co-founder of Eon Productions, who played a key role in getting Agent 007 to the screen.

When Saltzman’s name comes up today, the image is of a cranky, volatile man who almost axed the classic Goldfinger title song, ordered elephant shoes for a movie (The Man With the Golden Gun) that didn’t have any elephants in it, etc., etc. At least one film historian, Adrian Turner, took a different view in his 1998 book, Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“To begin with, Saltzman took the responsibility for the scripts” of the early 007 films, Turner wrote. “Having worked with John Osborne, it’s clear he thought that Richard Maibaum — Broccoli’s man — was little more than a hack.”

Obviously, that’s hardly a unanimous opinion of Maibaum. Still, Maibaum is quoted on page 100 in author James Chapman’s 2000 book Licence to Thrill as saying that Saltzman did bring in U.K. screenwriter Paul Dehn to do the later drafts of Goldfinger (the notes section of the book says the quote is from page 285 of a book called Backstory.)

Saltzman’s contributions extended beyond being an eccentric crank.

The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership wasn’t an easy one. Eventually, the pair largely alternated producing the films while both were listed as producers. Saltzman primarily responsible for Live And Let Die (though Broccoli did visit the set in Louisiana and posed for a photograph with Saltzman and star Roger Moore) while The Man With the Golden Gun was Broccoli’s picture.

Saltzman had ambitions beyond the Bond films. He produced the Harry Palmer movies based on Len Deighton’s novels. He also produced (with S. Benjamin Fisz) Battle of Britain, a big, sprawling movie about Britain’s darkest hour. Saltzman’s three Palmer films employed the services of Bond crew members including Ken Adam, John Barry, Guy Hamilton and Maurice Binder.

The Broccoli-Wilson clan, now headed by Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, has supervised the 007 series since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nobody is suggesting that Cubby Broccoli wasn’t a master showman, who deserves a lot of credit for launching Bond on the screen. Still, it would be a shame if Saltzman ends up being the forgotten man as fans look back on 60 years of 007 films.

Broccoli: No steps toward selecting new Bond

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli spoke to The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast in an episode posted this week. The Eon Productions boss celebrated Daniel Craig’s long run as James Bond and again said she’s not in a hurry to pick his sucessor.

“To be honest, we’re not looking right now. We’re not in the conversation right now,” she said toward the end of a 30-minute interview. “We are living in the present moment and it’s a joyful moment, it’s a celebratory moment. We’re celebrating Daniel’s extraordinary achievement over 16 years.”

“We want to live in this moment for as long as possible and really applaud Daniel and really enjoy it. At some point later, we’ll sit down and think about the future. Right now, I want to live in the present and it’s a very happy place to be right now.”

The podcast also featured an interview with Craig of about an hour.

No Time to Die was released last year following five delays, three related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 25th Bond film made by Eon had a global theatrical run of $774 million and is now available on home video.

Bond’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, last year agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion. That deal hasn’t closed yet. It’s uncertain whether Amazon will make major changes at MGM. Broccoli has repeatedly said she’s not interested in streaming show spinoffs related to Bond.

Bond 25 questions: Final box office edition

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, has more or less reached the end of its theatrical release. Naturally, the blog has questions.

What are the final numbers? It’s not final, but it appears No Time to Die will come in globally at No. 2 among non-Chinese movies ($774 million) while No. 007 in the U.S. ($160.8 million), behind Spider-Man No Way Home, Shang-Chi, and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Black Widow, F9: The Fast Saga, and Eternals.

Behind the Eternals? Really? Eternals was commonly viewed as a weak entry (box office wise) since Marvel began making its own movies with 2008’s Iron Man. But, yes, Eternals came a bit ahead, in the U.S., of No Time to Die.

How do you explain the difference for No Time to Die globally vs. the U.S.?

Beats me.

Eon Productions, for years (at least since 2015), says it controls the marketing of Bond films and studios merely execute those plans.

Since at least 1997, Eon talking points include how women characters in Bond newer films are much stronger than characters in classic Bond films. (Honey Rider, Tatiana Romonva, Pussy Galore, Domino, et. al.)

By now, it’s routine for Bond actresses to proclaim their characters are much stronger than earlier Bond women characters.

In 2012, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli told The Evening Standard, ““Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over.”

More recently, No Time to Die director Cary Funkunaga said the Sean Connery version of Bond was “basically” a rapist.

Also, Daniel Craig, in the midst of a 15-year as Bond, said the character was a misogynist. (Definition: “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.”) When your star calls the character he’s playing that way, it’s hard to argue the point.

That’s especially true when Barbara Broccoli considers Craig the best Bond ever.

Is it time to revamp U.S. Bond film marketing in the U.S.?

Perhaps. Until now, nobody has ever called Eon on its U.S. marketing strategy.

Does anything change in the future?

We’ll see once Amazon completes its acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. Maybe there will be changes. Maybe not.

Bond questions: The New Year edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Happy New Year! You would think things would be quiet on the James Bond front at least in early 2022. But there are signs things might not be that quiet.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What’s the top priority for the Bond film franchise?

Seeing whether Amazon’s $8.45 billion acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is completed.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions. have been lobbying on behalf of two current MGM film executives, Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. The fate of De Luca and Abdy likely won’t be known until Amazon finishes the deal.

What’s more, the Eon duo has repeatedly said they’re not interested in Bond streaming spinoffs.

Former Bond Daniel Craig joined in the public lobbying via an interview with The Sun.

Once Amazon takes possession of MGM, we go from hypothetical to the very real. Amazon runs Amazon Prime, one of the leading streaming services. It also has Amazon Studios. Does Amazon merge MGM into Amazon Studios? Or does Amazon maintain MGM as a separate operation like Marvel and Pixar at Walt Disney Co.?

Finally, the search for a new actor to replace Daniel Craig can’t really get very far until the issues above are addressed.

What happens if regulators don’t permit the Amazon acquisition to go through?

MGM possibly goes into crisis mode. Bond’s home studio had been working toward a sale for years. For MGM, everything goes back to square one. That type of uncertainty isn’t good for the orderly development of Bond 26.

What happens if the Amazon deal gets completed?

Wilson and Broccoli familiarize themselves, yet again, with a new set of executives. Eon has done this for 40 years, ever since MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio.

Much of the public lobbying Wilson and Broccoli have done is laying the groundwork for subsequent behind-closed-doors meetings. That’s where many issues will be hashed out.

Things like the 60th anniversary of the Bond film franchise will probably have to wait.

Bond questions: 2022 (and beyond?)

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There are still a few weeks before the end of the year. Still, the natural temptation is to shut things down sooner than later.

Questions about the future of the James Bond film franchise remain. Of course, the blog has questions.

When will we know the next Bond film actor?

Fans tend to expect major announcements on Oct. 5 (when Dr. No debuted in 1962). Sometimes it works out that way, sometimes not. Don’t assume one way or the other.

What should we look out for?

Amazon agreed earlier this year to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. That deal hasn’t closed yet. Assuming it passes regulatory review, the acquisition might change things.

How?

That remains to be seen. Amazon has agreed to spend $8.45 billion (cash and assumption of MGM debt). You don’t spend that kind of money to leave things exactly as they’ve been.

Any signs of tension?

Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli has done multiple interviews where she and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson say they aren’t interested in Bond spinoffs. (Even though Wilson was deeply involved in the 1990s James Bond Jr. cartoon show.)

It appears to have to look of Eon drawing a line in the sand. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Still, on the surface, something seems to be up.

Anything else?

Eon has said repeatedly that 2021 was the year of celebrating the end of Daniel’s Craig’s 15-year run as Bond.

However, Craig’s theatrical run is ending. We’re into the No Time to Die digital release. We’re within days of DVD/Blu Ray/other physical media release.

A new era of Bond is on the horizon. It will begin sooner than later.

Official NTTD podcast takes a victory lap

No Time to Die poster

Spoilers for No Time to Die (final warning for the blog regarding No Time to Die) If you haven’t seen the movie by now, too bad.

No Time to Die’s official podcast released a new episode this week. It was part of the 25th James Bond film taking a victory lap.

No Time to Die is the biggest box office movie of 2021 among non-Chinese movies. As of Dec. 10, its global box office figure is $765.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Some highlights from the official podcast episode:

-Special effects wizard Chris Corbould: “You need to bring new blood and new energy” into the franchise. Corbould says the scene with the demise of Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) was done at Pinewood Studios.

– Eon’s Michael G. Wilson: “It’s quite flattering this” movie got people back into cinema.

–Director Cary Fukunaga: “It’s surreal…the way people got out for repeat viewings. It’s pretty amazing.”

–Eon’s Barbara Broccoli: “We wanted this film to be really an homage to the films that have come before…The emotional context of this film is deeply imbued with the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

— Director Fukunaga: The director says he hadn’t seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) until he was hired to direct No Time to Die.

–Fukunaga (again): Says the You Only Live Twice novel was “a big influence.”

–Co-screenwriter Robert Wade:, re: how Nomi was the new 007: “It was Barbara’s (Broccoli) idea to make it was a female 007, as far as I remember.”

-Daniel Craig about the movie’s ending: “We knew where we wanted to get to.”

–Corbould (again) about the ending: “I still shed a tear…The music really got me….It was the end of an era, really.”

–Fukunaga (again): about filming Craig’s final scenes “It was very much a closed set.”

-Eon’s Wilson (again) about Bond’s demise: “A lot of us (were) thinking that was the right way to go….It seemed like it was a situation we could tackle for the first time in the Bond series.”

–Eon’s Broccoli: “We’ve been trying to work the poison garden (from the You Only Live Twice novel) into the story for so many movies.”

–Broccoli: “I think it was Michael who came up with the idea of the DNA-targeted weapon.”

-Broccoli (yet again): “Daniel’s performance is extraordinary.”

-Wilson (talking about Eon’s co-founder Albert R. Broccoli): “I think he would have been very happy with Daniel as the Bond.”

Bond 26 questions: Bond’s return

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Spoiler for No Time to Die

At a recent event sponsored by the Deadline entertainment news site, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli said Eon has yet to figure out how James Bond will return after the events of No Time to Die.

By the end of the 25th Bond film, Bond has been blown to smithereens and other characters are in mourning. Yet, in the end titles, it says “James Bond Will Return.”

“We’ll figure that one out, but he will be back,” Broccoli said. “You can rest assured James Bond will be back.”

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Another reboot?

This would be the easiest route. With 2006’s Casino Royale, Eon started things over. Eon finally had its hands on the rights to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So one continuity ended after Eon dismissed Pierce Brosnan, another began after it brought on Daniel Craig.

Having multiple continuities is not unprecedented. Look at Warner Bros. and its various Batman movies.

Four movies from 1989 through 1997 were one continuity (multiple actors played Batman but all four had the same actors as Alfred the butler and Commissioner Gordon). Films from 2005 through 2012 were another continuity. And various films with Ben Affleck as Batman comprise yet another continuity. Now, yet another continuity is in works with Robert Pattinson as Batman.

If you’re a fan of Daniel Craig’s Bond films, you can’t complain about reboots. Yes, Eon fudged things at times, primarily with the Aston Martin DB5. But a new reboot may be the way to go.

What about the “code name theory”?

That would be another way to go.

For the uninitiated, the “code name theory” is a way of explaining all the different actors who’ve played Bond in the Eon series. Under this scenario, “James Bond” is a code name assigned to different people.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have said there’s only one Bond, just played by different actors. Besides, 007 is Bond’s code number. Why does he need a code name on top of that?

Nevertheless the “code name theory” refuses to die. It traces its origins to the development of the 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. The original James Bond (David Niven) orders all British agents to be named “James Bond” to confuse enemies. This notion may be the 1967 movie’s legacy.

You’re not serious, are you?

To be clear, I am NOT advocating for it. However, “code name theory” would be one way to retain Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Rory Kinnear as Tanner.

What would be the drawbacks?

A new Bond actor would be burdened by the Craig continuity. Remember, Craig’s Bond was burned out from Skyfall on. Personally, I would start fresh with a reboot. You DO NOT have to another Bond origin story. Just introduce your new Bond and go from there.

Sean Connery’s Bond never had an origin story. That worked out pretty well.

Bond questions: The Wrap edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions granted an interview to the entertainment news website The Wrap. The half-siblings proclaimed they’re not interested in Bond film spinoffs. However, some questions appear not to have been asked.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

You say you’re not interested in spinoffs. But what about the James Bond Jr. cartoon show or that attempted Jinx spinoff movie?

Apparently, that was a different era. James Bond Jr. was made during Eon’s 1989-1995 hiatus from making James Bond films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually pulled the plug on the Jinx movie.

What about all those non-Bond movies you’ve worked on?

You mean Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) ? Which had a global box office of $4 million? Or Nancy, which had a worldwide box office of $92,000. Or, The Rhythm Section with a global box office just shy of $6 million.

Yes, that’s what I mean.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy were small, dramatic films. The Rhythm Section was an espionage-themed film that sought a larger audience and, for whatever reason, didn’t achieve it. It happens that way sometimes.

What is the bottom line?

Eon’s record outside of the Bond film series is rather mixed. Compared to Nancy, Call Me Bwana (1963), the Bob Hope comedy Eon made between Dr. No and From Russia With Love, is a blockbuster. (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on an Ian Fleming’s children story and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, was not made under the Eon banner.)

Clearly, Eon wants to do other things besides Bond films. But Bond still is its major asset. Eon’s leadership needs to evaluate its future. We’ll see how that goes.

Broccoli & Wilson say (yet again) no Bond spinoffs

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions have, yet again, said they’re not interested in television spinoffs of the James Bond film franchise.

The half-siblings spoke to the entertainment news website, The Wrap.

“From our point of view, we try to focus on making good James Bond pictures and that takes a lot of time and thought — it takes a couple of years working on the script with a director,” Wilson told The Wrap. “If we had to make a TV series on top of that and put that same amount of energy into 10 or 20 hours of content, that’s a big commitment. So, we’d have to delegate. And we’ve been very reluctant to delegate.”

“We’re not a factory,” Barbara Broccoli told the website. “Our movies are all hand-made. We’ve always been a family business and it will remain a family business, so long as we keep breathing.”

Eon previously was involved with the syndicated cartoon series James Bond Jr. in the 1990s. Wilson shared a “developed by” credit on that show. The cartoon featured Bond’s nephew who encountered classic Bond villains as well as new adversaries. It was produced during the 1989-1995 hiatus in Eon’s film series.

The home studio of the Bond series is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It has agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion. The deal still is under regulatory review.