Bond 25 speculation heats up via Mark Strong video

Screen capture of now-withdrawn Instagram post by Mark Strong’s trainer.

Nature abhors a vacuum. So do James Bond fans interested in news — any news — about the next 007 film adventure.

In this case, the trainer of actor Mark Strong posted a video of Strong working out on Instagram. “Me and Mark Strong working to a new project,” read the caption. What followed was a series of Bond-related hashtags such as #bond25, #DanielCraig, #MarkStrong, #DannyBoyle and more.

The Instagram post was deleted as was a post on Twitter. Didn’t matter. In the absence of confirmed Bond 25 casting news, it took on a life of its own.

After appropriate qualifications, the Birth.Movies.Death website said this:

Mark Strong, meanwhile, is a great choice for Bond 25, particularly in any kind of action capacity. He’s a rock-solid performer with range, easy-going charm and a great comic sensibility, not to mention a known quantity for Boyle, who directed him in Sunshine.

Or, put another way, “We don’t really know, but here’s why it’s a good idea.”

It should be noted that Strong is a friend of 007 star Daniel Craig. Strong made comments in 2016 that Craig was done as Bond. It wasn’t a correct prediction.

In April, there was a similar reaction, when Dave Bautista put out an Instagram post of himself with a SPECTRE tattoo on his finger where a SPECTRE ring should be. Naturally, there was speculation whether he’d be back in Bond 25.

A year earlier, actor Jeffrey Wright put out a photo of himself from Quantum of Solace which geared up speculation he was going to be in Bond 25.

All of this was taken very, very seriously at the time.

So, we’ll see.

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So who is going to buy 007’s home studio?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

It seems as if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s days are numbered as an independent studio. So who ends up with 007’s home studio?

A new era of media consolidation is underway. And MGM is a small fry.

AT&T Inc. has completed its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., CNN, TBS and other media properties. The move comes after a U.S. court approved the deal earlier this week.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, is trying to buy most of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Comcast is offering $65 billion in cash after 21st Century Fox agreed in December to accept $52.4 billion in stock from Walt Disney Co. An all-out bidding war is expected from the two media giants.

MGM supposedly is trying to go it alone. But, in this new media reality, that seems a long shot at best.

MGM is mostly owned by hedge funds following the company’s 2010 bankruptcy. Hedge funds rarely invest for the long run. They mostly look for a quick turnaround. The fact that the hedge fund owners have held on to their ownership for eight years is remarkable enough.

Given how volatile the situation is, making a prediction about who will buy MGM seems foolhardy. But it seems likely somebody will at some point.

Comcast’s Universal recently won the rights to distribute Bond 25 outside the U.S. So Universal may have a foot in the door. Maybe.

Here’s another question worth asking.

Would a bidder for MGM get out its checkbook and buy out Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions?

After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying MGM, shouldn’t you buy all the James Bond film rights? Especially if media companies are throwing around tens of billions of dollars for acquisitions?

Some Bond fans feel the Broccoli-Wilson family would never sell out. Star Wars fans used to say to the same thing about George Lucas before he sold the franchise to Walt Disney Co.

Interesting days may lay ahead.

MGM pays ex-CEO a lot of money to go away

Gary Barber, former MGM chief, has reason to smile.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has bought shares and options from former CEO Gary Barber essentially to make him go away, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Barber received $260 million for 274,392 shares the former chief owned plus options for almost another 3.9 million shares, according to the entertainment news website.

That was on top of about $15 million in severance compensation that Barber received after being fired in March.

Deadline said in return Barber agreed “not to engage” with MGM for three years. Reuters reported last month that Barber was looking into making a bid for MGM. This new deal would preclude that.

What does this mean for Bond 25? Not much. The main effect is Barber goes away, albeit with a lot more money in his bank account.

Had Barber actually mounted a takeover bid, it had the potential to be a sideshow as MGM and Eon Productions are in the midst of getting Bond 25 off the ground. Sideshow averted.

MGM’s credit rating downgraded by Moody’s

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s credit rating was downgraded, in part because of increased film and TV spending, including Bond 25.

“We believe that the front-end spending on the company’s film (including the next Bond film) and television slate are strategically beneficial,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement. At the same time, the New York-based ratings company said “financing the build up with all debt adds financial risk to business risks that are higher than average.”

MGM debt already was below investment grade, known popularly as “junk bonds.” Moody’s lowered its rating on MGM to Ba3 from Ba2. The minimum investment rating at Moody’s is Baa3. MGM, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, now is three levels into junk at Moody’s. The company said it doesn’t expect MGM’s rating to improve through 2019.

Essentially, Moody’s is saying MGM’s increased debt has increased the company’s risk.

MGM has been increasing its debt as it seeks to upgrade its Epix cable channel. Moody’s said the studio’s increased debt ” is a departure from the company’s very conservative financial policies espoused by its departing CEO Gary Barber.”

Barber led MGM out of bankruptcy in 2010. He was ousted earlier this year. A successor has yet to be named.

MGM is home studio to the 007 film franchise, which it controls with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions.

Bond 25 pre-announcement accuracy scorecard

A reader of the blog, @EiriniMakr on Twitter, suggested a post about inaccurate things published about Bond 25.

Well, we’ll go one step further. What follows is a look at major examples of what panned out, what didn’t and what was muddy.

DEFINITELY RIGHT

Craig was coming back: The Page Six gossip operation of the New York Post said Feb. 22, 2017 that Daniel Craig was indeed coming back to play 007 in Bond 25. It had another item to that effect on April 3, 2017. The New York Times has its own story about Craig’s return on July 24, 2017.

All of these were published before Craig announced in mid-August 2017 that he was returning (2:06 mark).

Purvis & Wade were (initially) hired to write Bond 25: Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported on March 9, 2017 that six-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been hired to write Bond 25. This was confirmed in a July 24, 2017 announcement that the movie would have a November 2019 release date in the United States.

Danny Boyle would direct Bond 25: Variety reports Feb. 20 that Boyle was in contention to direct Bond 25. Deadline: Hollywood comes back Feb. 21 with a story that Boyle’s participation depends on whether an idea he has developed with writer John Hodge (and that Hodge is writing as a script) is accepted.

On May 25, it was announced Boyle is directing from a script by Hodge.

DEFINITELY WRONG

The Daily Mail says May 18, 2016 that Daniel Craig turned down an offer of 68 million British pounds to play Bond in two more films. Problem: Craig says in a public appearance in New York in October 2016 that there are “no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Also, Craig ended up coming back.

Radar Online says Sept. 3, 2016 that Sony Pictures was offering Daniel Craig $150 million to do two more James Bond film. Problem: Sony’s involvement as a Bond film distributor ended with 2015’s SPECTRE. The Bond 25 distribution wouldn’t be settled until last month and Sony wasn’t part of it.

The Mirror says July 29, 2017 that Bond 25 will be based on a 007 continuation novel by Raymond Benson titled Never Dream of Dying. Problem: Benson says on social media that he was never contacted by the Mirror and that he can only assume the story was a fabrication. Also, Eon Productions has been notoriously adverse to using Bond continuation novels as the basis of its films. A sequence from Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun was adapted for SPECTRE but you have to dig deep into the end titles to find acknowledgment of it.

Archivo 007, a fan website, says Dec. 2, 2017 Christopher Nolan is “more than likely” to direct  Bond 25. Problem: Didn’t happen. Nolan said in a BBC interview in February he wasn’t going to direct the film.

The Sun says April 26 that filming on Bond 25 “has been put back to later next year” because Daniel Craig’s wife, actress Rachel Weisz, is pregnant. ProblemThe May 25 official announcement about Boyle, Hodge, et. al., specifies that Bond 25 is to begin production Dec. 3.

MUDDY

This section involves stories that are plausible but aren’t likely to be confirmed definitively

Deadline: Hollywood says on July 26, 2017 that  Denis Villeneuve, Yann Demange and David Mackenzie are the “frontrunners” to direct Bond 25. Variety says the same day that Demange is the leading contender. (Variety also said Daniel Craig was likely to return.)

Some Bond fans were extremely enthusiastic about Villeneuve. And the director said in a November podcast that, ” “I had some contact” regarding Bond 25. But Villeneuve said he was is working on a new version of Dune and that was that.

So taking Villeneuve at this word, one of those three directors had been contacted about directing Bond 25. Were Demange and Mackenzie also under consideration? No way to know at this point.

Why Bond 25 may not do much economizing

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

One question about Bond 25 is whether its budget may get trimmed. 2015’s SPECTRE was the most expensive 007 film adventure, with an estimated $245 million budget including Mexican tax credits and product placement deals.

While it’s too early to say definitively, there are signs that Bond 25 won’t exactly fly economy class.

Craig’s reported paycheck: Earlier this month, Variety reported that star Daniel Craig is set for a $25 million payday from his fifth Bond film. It was the highest amount in a survey of actor compensation by the trade publication.

If correct, that makes it harder to drastically cut the budget. For example, if you wanted to cut Bond 25’s outlay to $100 million to $150 million, Craig’s pay would mean you could only spend $75 million to $125 million for the rest of the film.

Boyle’s change of attitude: Director Danny Boyle has a reputation for making very lean, small-scale films. Some fans on internet message boards have speculated Boyle in Bond 25’s director chair could mean a less epic, leaner 007 outing.

Not so fast.

This week, Boyle spoke at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Here’s an excerpt from a story about the talk on LIPA’s website.

Danny says, at first, he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the job (for Bond 25). “I like watching big films but I don’t think I’m necessarily good at making them. Then I thought ‘no, you shouldn’t think like that’.”

Working with long-time collaborator, writer John Hodge, Danny explained why he accepted. “We have this idea about what we want to do with Bond and I felt we should have a go because of this idea. So we are trying to stay true to our principles.” (emphasis added)

It sounds, at the very least, Boyle may be more than willing to have a go at an epic-like film.

Broccoli’s ambitions: The Screen Daily website this week ran a story about how Universal became the international distributor for Bond 25. There was this passage:

“(Eon Productions boss) Barbara Broccoli wants a one billion dollar international gross,” says one industry expert, noting that international box office accounts for the bulk of Bond films’ global theatrical revenues. No 007 release has ever achieved this, and Universal knows a thing or two about getting to the hallowed milestone. Of only seven films to cross $1bn at the international box office, Universal has released three, and it has done so in the last three years: Furious 7 and Jurassic World in 2015, and Fate Of The Furious in 2017.

Only one Bond film surpassed $1 billion globally. 2012’s Skyfall had $304.4 million in the U.S. and $804.2 million internationally. SPECTRE slipped to $200 million in the U.S. and $680.6 million internationally.

To achieve that $1 billion international mark, Bond 25 would have to generate more than 45 percent more box office compared with SPECTRE. Higher ticket prices will help some. But if Broccoli really wants $1 billion, excluding the U.S. market, Bond is going to have to ramp things up.

What’s more, if Broccoli really is seeking $1 billion internationally, that generally means mounting a big-scale production. Marvel Studios filmed two Avengers movies back to back, Avengers: Infinity War, released in late April and the yet-to-titled Avengers 4, due out next year.

It’s been estimated the combined cost of the two movies may reach as much as $1 billion. Avengers: Infinity War has been a big hit (global box office of $1.9 billion so far).

Big risks, big rewards. If the expert quoted by Screen Daily is correct (and the website didn’t identify him or her), that may mean that Bond 25 may be a more high stakes game than anything 007 encountered in a novel or movie scene.

Daniel Craig is seen in a tuxedo and the internet explodes

Daniel Craig was photographed in a tuxedo and the internet exploded. Welcome to Bond 25 pre-production.

The actor, set to play James Bond for a fifth time, was in Cardona, Spain. TMZ rushed out a story saying the appearance “appears to be the start of filming for his fifth 007 flick … and a production assistant clearly wanted to keep it under wraps.”

Except….

The Daily Mail, a tabloid not usually known as the voice of reason, had a different explanation: Filming a Heineken commercial. The paper said Crig was “spotted channeling the spy as he filmed scenes for a new Heineken commercial in Spain on Tuesday.”

A Spanish outlet, Regio 7, had a similar explanation. According to a rough Google translation, Regio 7 said, “The popular English actor Daniel Craig, known for his role as James Bond, has been today in Cardona to participate in the shooting of an announcement by Heineken, according to this newspaper. The City Council, however, explained that it is not ‘authorized’ or to confirm or deny information that was circulated today among the people’s neighbors, who have gathered in different parts of the town.”

Heineken has had a commercial relationship with the 007 film series for some time now. There was a fuss about Heineken’s product placement in Skyfall, although the literary James Bond was known to have a beer now and then.

One tidbit was supplied in a tweet by the MI6 James Bond website. It said that Craig’s contract to play 007 “prohibits him from appearing onscreen in a tuxedo unless approved.”

Regardless, given what happened today, you now have an idea what it’s going to be like until fall 2019, when Bond 25 is scheduled to be released.