Bond 25 questions: The Universal edition

Universal logo

With Bond 25, one of the biggest changes was how Universal, part of Comcast, would be in charge of international distribution.

For the past four 007 films, Sony’s Columbia Pictures handled all the distribution. With Bond 25, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna, through the United Artists Releasing joint venture, would handle the U.S. and Canada. Universal would deal with international distribution, which is the biggest piece of a Bond film.

With that in mind, the blog has a few questions.

Hey, what about that Bond 25 teaser trailer?

A favorite Bond fan theory was that a Bond 25 teaser trailer might be attached to Universal’s Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, a spinoff from the studio’s successful Fast and the Furious franchise.

Well, Hobbs & Shaw is being released this week. There’s no sign of a Bond 25 trailer. Perhaps it will still happen. Still, these days, trailers debut online days before they show up in theaters. Time is running out for a Bond 25 teaser trailer to be part of Hobbs & Shaw.

What does Universal mean for Bond 25 otherwise?

It may mean the situation is more complicated. Or, as Napoleon Solo once said in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., “It’s a three-cornered game.”

For the last four Bond films, Columbia managed marketing and releasing. MGM was the home studio for the Bond franchise but it lacked its own distribution operation.

Now, with United Artists Releasing, MGM and Annapurna are involved in addition to Universal. There’s no single distribution/marketing point.

So?

Recall that the late April “reveal” event in Jamaica didn’t have a title for Bond 25. The MI6 James Bond website has reported there was a title (A Reason to Die) ready to go but Eon Productions and its studio partners opted to hold off. The film still has no title three months later.

Essentially, there are more parties who need to be kept in the loop. United Artists Releasing is a proxy for two different (financially struggling) studios while Universal is a Bond newbie.

Anything else?

Back in 2015, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said Eon really does the marketing for Bond films, its studio partners merely execute the plan.

But is that really the case this time? Or would Universal like to have a say? Perhaps we’ll see.

What if the early 007 films had Marvel-style teasers?

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Thor: The Dark World was the No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office this weekend with an estimated $86.1 million in ticket sales. It also continues the Marvel movie tradition, begun with 2008’s Iron Man, of having a teaser in the end titles for future film adventures.

By now, such teasers occur not only in the films made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. They’ve also become part of movies made by other studios, such as X-Men at 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man made at Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures.

So what would have been like if the early James Bond movies had such teasers? It was a different time back then, of course. Still, it might have gone something like this.

DR. NO

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
BLOFELD, whose face, we can not see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone RINGS and he answers.

BLOFELD
What’s that? Dr. No is dead? How?
(a beat)
Well, that makes me quite displeased. We should take note of this Mr. Bond.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-M’S OFFICE
M is at his desk, smoking his pipe. His telephone RINGS and he answers.

M
Hello. What’s that? Unauthorized leakages? Involving gold? But why should it involve my deprtment?
(a beat)
Oh, I see. I’ll get our best man on it at once. He’s due back quite soon.

GOLDFINGER

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
Blofeld, whose face we still cannot see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone rings and he answers.

BLOFELD
Yes, Number 2? Ah….splendid. Yes, please proceed. This will be the largest operation SPECTRE has ever undertaken. I am depending on you to make sure it becomes a reality.

Earlier posts:

MAY 2012: THE AVENGERS: THE POWER OF PLANNING

APRIL 2013: THE FAMILY MODEL (EON) VS. THE CORPORATE MODEL (MARVEL)

RE-POST: From Russia With Love’s 50th: legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Originally published Sept. 18, the last of a four-part series. Reprinted today, the actual anniversary.

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films. No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

Nearly a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

From Russia With Love’s 50th conclusion: legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films. No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

Nearly a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

Sony watch: investor raises stake in 007 distributor

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A major investor in Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, which released the last three 007 movies, has boosted its stake in the company.

Third Point LLC, controlled by billionaire Daniel Loeb, now holds 9.4 percent of Sony shares, according to a BLOOMBERG.COM STORY. That’s up from 6.5 percent previously.

Third Point wants Sony to sell 20 percent of its entertainment businesses, including Sony Pictures. The unit, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall from 2006 through 2012. Sony will also release the as-yet-unscheduled Bond 24.

Sony Pictures has been under pressure because it’s not as profitable as other studios, according to a MAY STORY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES despite its interest in 007, Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black movies.

Sony considers proposal to sell piece of entertainment unit

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Sony Corp.’s board is considering a proposal from a major shareholder to sell as much as 20 percent of its entertainment business, which includes the Sony movie studio, according to various reports, including BLOOMBERG.COM, THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

The Columbia Pictures unit of Sony has released the last three James Bond movies from 2006 through 2012 and is contracted to distribute the next film, Bond 24, whenever it comes out.

The proposal to sell a piece of the entertainment business was made last week by investor Daniel Loeb and his Third Point LLC, which holds a 6.5 percent stake in Sony. An excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter story citing Sony Corp. CEO Kaz Hirai:

“Firstly, I would like to clarify that the Third Point proposal is to sell off 15-20 percent of the entertainment division, not to spin it off as a separate entity,” said Hirai. “ We take this as an important proposal from one of our shareholders, and we will consider it thoroughly. We will discuss this fully at the board level and present our answer.”

The New York Times ran a MAY 19 REPORT about Sony Studios that said it wasn’t as profitable as other studios. The story cited Skyfall as an example. The Wilson-Broccoli family (referred to as the “James Bond rights holders”) got its cut and then Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony split the remainder 75-25, according to the story.

To view a Bloomberg Television video about Sony, CLICK HERE.

Sony watch: studio facing challenges

sonylogo

UPDATE (May 21): The Nikkei news service in Japan has reported that Sony Corp. is considering a spinoff of its entertainment business. Nikkei has an English Web site but to access THE STORY you have to be a subscriber. If you CLICK HERE, you can view a Los Angeles Times story that summarizes the Nikkei piece.

According to a BLOOMBERG.COM STORY, Sony shares climbed to their highest levels in more than two years after the Nikkei report.

ORIGINAL POST: The New York Times, IN THE LEAD STORY IN ITS MAY 19 BUSINESS SECTION has a detailed story about challenging times at Sony Pictures, the entertainment arm of Sony Corp.

One problem: it’s not as profitable as other studios, even with Agent 007 in its portfolio. According to reporters Brook Barnes and Michael Cieply, Sony’s operating margin was 6.5 percent and “figures at Warner Brothers, Disney, Paramount and 20th Century Fox were all higher.”

Here’s an excerpt with part of the explanation:

SONY’S $4.4 billion in ticket sales last year was impressive, but shareholders care about profit margins.

The movie studio’s bottom line didn’t look better for several reasons. For one thing, about 75 percent of the “Skyfall” revenue went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after James Bond rights holders took their cut. Revenue from some DVD titles — “Zero Dark Thirty,” for instance — will come in the next fiscal year. But more important, “Men in Black 3” cost an arm and a leg, and when you’re making this many movies some are bound to miss: Sony’s hits were offset by the major flops “Total Recall” and Mr. (Adam) Sandler’s “That’s My Boy.”

Thus, in the case of Skyfall, which Sony distributed, the studio was third in line after the Broccoli-Wilson family and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Another challenge is investor Daniel Loeb, whose Third Point LLC, acquired a 6.5 percent stake and wants Sony Corp. to sell of 20 percent of its entertainment business and focus on its consumer electronics unit. Loeb, according to the Times, “specifically complained” about profitability of the entertainment unit. Sony said the entertainment business wasn’t up for sale.

Sony’s Columbia Pictures has distributed the last three 007 films (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall) and is contracted to do so again for Bond 24 whenever it’s made.

For the complete NYT story, CLICK HERE. For more, you can CLICK HERE for a May 16 Bloomberg.com story headlined “Sony’s $100 Billion Lost Decade Supports Loeb Brakeup.” You can also CLICK HERE for a May 14 story by the Deadline entertainment news Web site.

Sony watch: studio looks to Skyfall for a lift


Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, can’t have come soon enough for Sony Corp. and its Sony Pictures unit.

Sony reported a lot of bad numbers this week. The parent company reported its seventh straight quarterly loss (details can be found BY CLICKING HERE to view a Bloomberg News story). It had been expeced by analysts to post a profit. Sony Corp. is now worth less than 10 percent of what it was in 2000.

Sony Pictures had an operating profit, but it was down almost 62 percent, according to the Deadline Web site from a year earlier. The Amazing Spider-Man released in July was a big help, the Total Recall remake released in August was not. Sony Corp. said the movie business is not for sale, according to Deadline. Sony Pictures will release two fewer movies a year starting in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Times.

All of which brings us to Skyfall, which Sony is releasing and co-financed with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. The Bond movie set a seven-day ticket sales record in the U.K., according to Deadline and has sold about $100 million in tickets in various markets since its Oct. 26 debut. Skyfall reaches U.S. shores Nov. 8 at Imax theaters and goes into general release the next day.

Skyfall by itself won’t cure the ills of Sony and Sony Pictures. It’s just one movie and the studio unit has to share Skyfall’s take with MGM and theater chains. But assuming the positive box office buzz continues, Sony won’t mind at all reporting Skyfall numbers. Sony Pictures also will co-finance Bond 24 and Bond 25.

The non-Bond film that had the biggest impact on 007

Dean Martin as Matt Helm during a dramatic moment in The Silencers.


With the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film series, we got to thinking about the 007 film competitor that had the biggest impact. It’s really not much of a contest. It’s 1966’s The Silencers.

Now, other spy films had an impact on the style of Bond films. Studio executives told The New York Times (without letting their names be attached) in 2005 that The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy comprised the model for Daniel Craig’s rebooted 007, beginning with 2006’s Casino Royale and especially with 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Even non-spy films influenced earlier 007 films such as Live And Let Die (Shaft, Super Fly), The Man With the Golden Gun (Bruce Lee kung fu films) and Moonraker (Star Wars).

But The Silencers rocked the Bond franchise in ways other films didn’t. The 1966 movie was the first of four Matt Helm movies produced by Irving Allen, once the partner of Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of the 007 film franchise. Allen (dismissed as a “blowhard” by current Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli) had been skeptical of 007’s film potential and had insulted Ian Fleming.

Allen, presumably realizing the scope of his mistake, got the film rights to the Matt Helm series of paperback novels by Donald Hamilton. To make a Helm film series a reality, Allen needed a star. He got one — Dean Martin. But to get Dino into the fold, Allen made the Rat Packer a partner. For The Silencers, that meant a $1.2 million paycheck, more than twice the money Sean Connery got for doing Thunderball. To top it off, the Helm series found a home at Columbia Pictures. That was the same studio that passed on doing business with 007 producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who ended up taking their project to United Artists.

The Scotsman didn’t like that and tensions accelerated between the star and 007 producers Broccoli and Saltzman. Perhaps Connery would have tired of the role anyway. But the conflict over money — fueled by The Silencers — caused Eon’s relationship with its star to rupture. Broccoli’s relationship with Saltzman was already getting tenuous and making Connery a partner in the enterprise wasn’t going to happen. Broccoli eventually would be proven right in one respect. Once Dean Martin lost interest, the Helm film series went away.

Still, had Allen not brought The Silencers (retooled from Hamilton’s serious novels to almost an extension of Dean Martin’s variety show) to the screen, much could have been different. Perhaps Connery would have stayed longer. Perhaps On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been a lot different with Connery, rather than George Lazenby. The point is, things got a lot bumpier for the franchise as The Silencers worsened tensions lurking beneath the surface.

Other films affected Bond films but The Silencers affected the business of Bond. The new Everything Or Nothing documentary references this in an indirect way. But in a way, the impact of The Silencers is part of Bond film history.

MGM watch: 007’s studio may go public

The parent company of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that controls half the James Bond franchise, may become a public company. MGM put out a press release late July 24 that read:

MGM Holdings Inc. (“MGM” or the “Company”) announced today that it has
previously submitted a draft registration statement on a confidential basis to
the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) for a possible initial
public offering of its Class A common stock.

No other details were available. MGM went through bankruptcy in 2010 and a new management team, led by Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum took over. Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Web site tries to read the tea leaves in a story you can view BY CLICKING HERE. You can CLICK HERE to read the Hollywood Reporter’s take.

MGM was originally created in 1924 when three studios merged. Most classic MGM movies (Gone With the Wind, Ben Hur, etc.) along with MGM-produced television series such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., are owned by Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros.

MGM’s film library includes the old United Artists library, which includes the 007, Pink Panther and Rocky series of movies along with the likes of West Side Story and In the Heat of the Night. UA also acquired half the Bond franchise when Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out in 1975 because of financial difficulties. The slimmed down MGM struck a deal with Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures to release the upcoming Skyfall.