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.

 

Craig’s Purity television series will be completed in 2017

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

Daniel Craig’s Purity limited television series on Showtime will complete production in 2017, according to the DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD entertainment news website.

The site quotes Showtime CEO David Nevins as saying Purity “will largely be completed during the course of 2017.” As a result, Nevins said, the series doesn’t preclude Craig, 48, from doing another 007 film depending on “when they do the next James Bond movie.”

Craig is the star and an executive producer of Purity. The series will run for 20 episodes, to be telecast in 2017 and 2018.

Purity is the most time-intensive of Craig’s current non-007 projects. He’s a cast member of Logan Lucky, a heist movie directed by Steven Soderbergh that begins filming in the fall. He also is in the cast of an off-Broadway production of Othello, which runs Dec. 5 through Jan. 15.

As for Bond 25, no schedule has been announced as Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli produces non-007 films.

About the SPECTRE gunbarrel logo

RIP classic 007 gunbarrel (1962-2002)

Original gunbarrel as seen from Dr. No through Goldfinger.

Back in 2012, this blog ran a post that raised the question whether the gunbarrel logo would ever begin a James Bond movie again.

In 2015, the answer, finally was yes with SPECTRE.

At the time, this blog didn’t comment much. After all, it doesn’t seem like good form to complain about getting something you wanted.

Since then, we’ve been reminded there were a few oddities about SPECTRE’s gunbarrel. For example, the Being James Bond website, IN THIS VIDEO, noted that Daniel Craig’s 007 wildly swings his right arm so that you can see Bond openly is carrying a gun. Not exactly an inconspicuous wielding of a firearm by a secret agent.

The website also noted that the three-dimensional gunbarrel effect that began with GoldenEye wasn’t used in SPECTRE.

Something else to consider: The SPECTRE gunbarrel uses a different musical arrangement from previous Bond movies. There’s a soft arrangement of The James Bond Theme that plays under the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures/Sony logos.

Back in the “old days,” there was no music over studio logos. Music didn’t begin until the white dots began moving across the screen.

With SPECTRE, the music with the studio logs is followed by the start of gunbarrel music per se. But there’s a delay between the start of the white dots going across the screen and the time the last dot opens up to reveal Bond on the right side of the screen.

On the Being James Bond video, there’s speculation that the filmmakers really didn’t want to put the gunbarrel at the start of the film.

We guess Being James Bond is correct. With Skyfall, there was a song and dance about how a gunbarrel at the beginning just wouldn’t, couldn’t, etc. work. IN A 2012 INTERVIEW, Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli clearly was NOT promising the gunbarrel would be at the start of the next movie. “It will vary from film to film,” she said at the time.

As an aside, it should be noted that Daniel Craig is the only Bond to get to film a different gunbarrel for each 007 film he did.

Prior to Craig:

–Stuntman Bob Simmons’ gunbarrel was used for the first three Bond films.

–The same Sean Connery gunbarrel was used for three movies (Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever).

–George Lazenby only did one, naturally. (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

–Roger Moore did two (one for Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, the other for his other five 007 films)

–Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan only had one on-screen gunbarrel in their films (although Brosnan got another for a trailer only).

Regardless, the SPECTRE gunbarrel will have to do. It doesn’t appear we’ll be seeing another version anytime soon.

Eon’s new normal, the sequel

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Almost three years ago, this blog had a post titled Eon’s new normal which said, “The new normal: A Bond film maybe every third year (Bond 24, the next movie is scheduled for the fall of 2015), with various other projects in-between.”

In March of this year, Gary Barber, the CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in effect confirmed that was the case concerning Eon, the company that makes 007 films and is a partner with MGM in the Bond franchise.

The 007 films have “been on a cycle of every three to hour years and I anticipate it will be on that same three-to-four year cycle,” Barber said on a conference call with investors and analysts. (MGM reported second-quarter 2016 results on Wednesday but had no 007 news.)

Essentially, Eon can’t make Bond films without MGM and vice versa. This goes back to the early 1980s when MGM acquired United Artists. UA, in turn, had acquired Harry Saltzman’s share of the 007 franchise in the mid-1970s.

Since our 2013 post, it has become evident that Eon, and its co-boss Barbara Broccoli, do not want to be rushed into making James Bond films. Eon’s current production is Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a drama about American actress Gloria Grahame.

In the “old days,” Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, the Eon co-founders, pursued non-Bond projects while cranking out classic 007 films on a regular schedule.

In the second decade of the 21st century, not so much. There was a four-year gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale (2002-2006). Quantum of Solace came just two years later. But another four-year gap followed, mostly because of an MGM bankruptcy (2008-2012) between Quantum of and Skyfall.

Skyfall was a huge hit, and the first (and so far only) Bond to crack the $1 billion club. An executive of Sony (which released the movie for MGM) said the next film would be out in two years. However, Broccoli and star Daniel Craig told Collider.com in 2012, in effect, that exec didn’t know what he was talking about.

Broccoli won out. SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, came out three years later, in 2015.

Some fans, to this day, insist that three-year gap was because Eon was waiting on Sam Mendes to direct another film. But it’s very clear that Barbara Broccoli does not want to resume an every-other-year schedule, including comments she made in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

On internet message boards, 007 fans debate whether Daniel Craig will come back or not for another Bond film. The real debate is whether Bond movies will come out three times a decade, or just twice.

A related question: Is the 007 fan base growing or static? Skyfall, in a way, was helped by its four-year gap. Fans were anxious to finally see another James Bond film. Is that the right approach for the future?

Regardless, as we said three years ago, there’s a new normal for Eon. The details are still being hammered out.

 

Eon vs. Marvel by the numbers, 2006 to present

Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

“James Bond?” Tony Stark asked. “Who’s that?”

With no actual James Bond news to report, we take another look, via statistics, at the family model (Eon) vs. the corporate model (Marvel).

Appearances by your most popular actor, 2006-present

Eon:  Daniel Craig, four (4), Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, SPECTRE. Note: You could say five (5) if you count this 2011 public service announcement for International Women’s Day produced by Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions.

Update: The James Bond Dossier asks whether we should up the count to six (6) by including Craig’s appearance in the opening ceremonies  of the 2012 Summer Olympics. That was part of a television show.

That was also similar to how Roger Moore played James Bond in a 1964 variety show, years before he became the actual film Bond. Doing that would raise Sir Roger’s 007 count to eight (8). Though the Spy Commander knows some Bond fans (who really, really don’t like Moore in the role) who’d argue it should be zero (0).

Meanwhile, the organizers of the 2011 public service announcement said their spot said was “the first film featuring Bond to be directed by a woman.” (Sam Taylor-Wood). Is a commercial considered a “film”? Details, details.

Marvel: Robert Downey Jr., seven (7):  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk (cameo),  Iron Man II, Marvel’s The Avengers, Iron Man Three, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War.

Biggest box office movie: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), $1.5 billion (worldwide); Skyfall (2012), $1.11 billion (worldwide).

Next movie to be released in theaters: Dr. Strange (Marvel), Nov. 4, 2016 (U.S. and Canada). Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Eon), 2017. Bond 25 (Eon), who knows?

Trivia: Bond 22, aka Quantum of Solace, was originally scheduled to be released on May 2, 2008, in the U.S. and Canada. After that movie was delayed to November, Iron Man got the May 2 release date.

 

Two 007 facts amid the speculation

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

What follows are two 007-related facts. They don’t necessarily connect to one another.

On the other hand, you see so much on social media, we thought we’d mention them, for what they’re worth.

–It’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s choice, not Eon Productions’, what studio will distribute Bond 25.

That’s not this blog talking. It’s Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss. He gave an interview late last year portions of which are on YouTube.

“It’s not primarily our decision,” Wilson said. “MGM will…it’s their responsibility.” Wilson said, at the time. He also said that Eon had met with studios (he didn’t specify which ones) which were interested in releasing Bond 25 for MGM.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE.

–Barbara Broccoli’s current non-Bond film has a relatively short filming schedule. 

According to the Screen Daily website, the Eon co-boss’ drama, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, is scheduled to wrap filming on Aug. 8. Principal photography began in late June and is based at stages that are part of an expansion at Pinewood Studios.

A producer’s job, of course, doesn’t end with filming. A producer oversees various post-production tasks — editing, sound work, music, etc.

Meanwhile, Screen Daily also refers to the movie as a “passion project” of Broccoli’s. The movie is based upon the memoirs of British actor Peter Turner, who had a relationship with American actress Gloria Grahame. Broccoli acquired the film rights more than 20 years ago, according to Screen Daily.

At the same time, Eon has various other pending non-007 projects. So, there’s no telling how many will take up Broccoli’s time before she turns her attention to Bond 25.

 

Tabloid says Broccoli in no rush to make Bond 25

Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli and current 007 star Daniel Craig

Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli and current 007 star Daniel Craig

The Sun, the U.K. tabloid, said in a gossip column that Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli isn’t hurrying to make Bond 25 and still hopes to convince Daniel Craig, 48, to return as James Bond.

The tabloid quotes a source it didn’t identify as saying the following: “Barbara is not going to be rushed into a Bond and wants to work on two other film projects next year. It will give her time to work out a script and try to convince Daniel to maybe return.”

The producer currently is overseeing a drama called Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

Before we proceed further, here’s a caveat: The Sun has a trashy reputation.

But on at least one aspect, this story has the ring of truth. Barbara Broccoli has repeatedly made clear she wants to do things other than 007 films and wants more time between Bond movies.

Reminder No. 1: In November 2012, Broccoli made the following comment to the Los Angeles Times:

“Sometimes there are external pressures from a studio who want you to make it in a certain time frame or for their own benefit, and sometimes we’ve given into that,” Broccoli said. “But following what we hope will be a tremendous success with ‘Skyfall,’ we have to try to keep the deadlines within our own time limits and not cave in to external pressures.”

Reminder No. 2: Earlier in 2012, Broccoli and Craig, in an interview with the Collider website, publicly slapped down a Sony executive who had said Bond 24 would be out in 2014, two years after Skyfall:

Last week Rory (Bruer), the president of distribution of Sony, announced Bond 24 for I guess late 2014…

Broccoli: He was getting a little overexcited (laughs). We’re just actually focusing on this movie. One hopes that in the future we’ll be announcing other films, but no one’s officially announced it.

Craig: No one’s announced anything. He got a little ahead of himself (laughs). It’s very nice that he has the confidence to be able to do that, but we haven’t finished this movie yet.

One of the most repeated myths on 007-related message boards is that Eon held up Bond 24, later titled SPECTRE, an extra year to get Sam Mendes back as director. Barbara Broccoli has repeatedly made clear she doesn’t want to do Bond movies on an every-other-year basis.

The Sun’s gossip column says Bond 25 won’t come out until late 2018 at the earliest. That should be of absolutely no surprise to anybody who’s followed events of the past five years.

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