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.

 

Memo to studios: Get your costs under control

Poster for SPECTRE, one of a series of overpriced movies.

Poster for SPECTRE, one of a series of overpriced movies.

The other day, this blog published a post about how SPECTRE spent too much for at least two scenes. But the 24th James Bond film isn’t unique in that regard.

Things have gotten crazy as studios pursue a “tentpole” strategy of a few expensive films that support their entire film slates.

A more recent film, the comic book-based Suicide Squad from Warner Bros., debuted earlier this month and has worldwide box office of more than $480 million to date.

Thursday on Twitter, two entertainment news writers, Jeff Snider of Mashable and Scott Mendelson of Forbes.com, posted about whether Suicide Squad should be considered a hit if it tops out at around $600 million.

Before we take a closer look, let that figure sink in. People are seriously debating whether a movie based on a comic book unknown to most of the general public is or isn’t a hit after generating $600 MILLION in ticket sales.

Anyway, here’s the gist of the posts about Suicide Squad.
 

Granted, there is a difference between whether something is popular and whether it turns a profit for its studio.

The classic example is 1963’s Cleopatra, which sold an estimated 67.2 million tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Box Office Mojo website. That’s in the same neighborhood as Goldfinger’s 66.3 million in the region.

Despite that, Cleopatra is remembered as a movie that nearly bankrupted its studio (20th Century Fox) while Goldfinger is remembered as a huge hit. Then again, Goldfinger had a budget ($3 million in 1964) that ensured profits while Cleopatra couldn’t cover its costs despite being seen by a lot of people paying for theater tickets.

In the 21st century, the decimal places have shifted but the lesson remains the same. It’s in the interests of filmmakers and studios not to spend for the sake of spending.

It’s absurd that a movie has to surpass $1 billion to be considered a hit. It’s also borders on the irresponsible.

Even with inflated ticket prices, there have been only 26 movies all time that have $1 billion or more in global box office. Yes, that’s not adjusted for inflation. Regardless, selling $1 billion in movie tickets is hard. Very hard.

In our post about SPECTRE, we detailed two scenes (a car chase and an explosion) where spending a lot of money appeared to be point, not story telling or dramatic choices. But SPECTRE isn’t alone.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, ended its theatrical run with global box office of almost $873 million. Yet, it’s seen as a disappointment for not making the $1 billion mark because, gosh, any movie with Batman and Superman should have been a cinch to make $1 billion.

None of this is new. Go even further back and directors such as D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim got into trouble for overly expensive movies for their day. Clint Eastwood, as he transitioned into directing, witnessed ridiculous spending for the 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon. As a result, Eastwood has made acclaimed films as a director but he’s also known for efficiency.

Decimal places change, but the lesson doesn’t. Movies have always been a balance between art and commerce. Studios can, and should, watch their spending. It’s still possible to make good films on a budget.

That doesn’t mean cheap spending. Movies like SPECTRE and Batman v Superman can’t be done on the cheap. But it calls for smart spending.

Michael Cimino and the art vs. commerce conflict

Heaven's Gate poster

Heaven’s Gate poster

Director Michael Cimino died over the weekend at the age of 77, as noted in obituaries by various outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. In death, as in life, Cimino was a reminder of the age old movie conflict of art vs. commerce.

Cimino’s third movie, 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, lost a lot of money for United Artists. The director, coming off an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, had a lot of clout. He used it, with Heaven’s Gate running over budget and over schedule as the perfectionist director pursued his vision of a Western that addressed broader social issues.

The project lost so much that UA’s parent firm, Transamerica Corp., threw in the towel and sold off the studio. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, itself a financially struggling entity. That had a big impact on the James Bond franchise, beginning an era of tension between MGM and Eon Productions.

With Cimino’s passing, memories broke into two camps.

The first was that of unjustly punished artist, whose career never recovered. (This article in The Guardian is an example.)

Second, that an of an out-of-control director who helped wreck a studio, a view popularized by Final Cut, the 1985 book by the late Steven Bach, one of the UA executives unable to bring Cimino’s spending under control.

What this debate overlooks is Cimino and Heaven’s Gate were just one of a long line of directors whose projects got caught up in art vs. commerce. It wasn’t even the first time for United Artists.

In 1965, UA, then headed by Arthur Krim and his lieutenants (the same bunch smart enough to do a deal to get 007 films made), were in the same boat as their eventual successors at UA were with Cimino.

In ’65, UA was backing another perfectionist director, George Stevens. The main difference between Stevens and Cimino is that the former had a long track record, including such films as Gunga Din, Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank.

No matter. Stevens was far over budget and over schedule on The Greatest Story Ever Told, the director’s film about Jesus Christ. Ex-UA executive David Picker goes into detail in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers how studio management couldn’t bring Stevens under control.

Greatest Story bombed big time for UA, coming out as audience interest in Biblical movies faded. The Krim management group, however had a life line: Thunderball (released at the peak of 1960s Bondmania) and movies featuring The Beatles (which had low budgets and high profits).

While UA made it through the crisis, the same couldn’t be said of Stevens. He’d only make one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

20th Century Fox faced a similar crisis a couple of years earlier with Cleopatra. It actually was popular at the box office, but its mammoth budget meant a lot of red ink.

Fox leaned on its television division, headed by William Self, to recover from the financial crisis. The TV unit was able to sell small-screen versions of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place in time for the 1964-65 season.

Meanwhile, like Stevens, Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s career also suffered after his big flop. Going further back, the likes of D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim, among others, ran into the art vs. commerce buzzsaw.

In short, Cimino wasn’t unique. He was, however, a colorful example of a conflict that continues to shape the film industry.