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.”

Bond 25 questions: No Time to Die’s box office crown

One of the many No Time to Die posters

Sometime soon, No Time to Die is expected will pass F9: The Fast Saga as the No. 1 Hollywood box office movie of 2021. Naturally, the blog has questions.

What do you mean “Hollywood” movie?

From the very beginning, Bond movies were financed by Hollywood studios. United Artists secured a loan from BANK OF AMERICA (a U.S. company) that supplied most of the money. It has never changed since.

Wait, what?

Yes, even though the movies were made in the U.K., the U.S. supplied the money. Without the likes of Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin and David V. Picker at United Artists, Bond would never have gotten off the ground.

But I thought Eon did everything!

That’s a comforting myth that many Bond fans have adopted. In reality, Eon plays with others’ money.

OK, but doesn’t product placement finance *everything*?

No. That’s another comforting myth among Bond fans.

What are you saying?

REPEAT: James Bond’s ownership is blurred. Creatively, it is controlled by Danjaq/Eon while Bond’s home studio is MGM. It’s an uneasy partnership. MGM can’t go forward without Danjaq/Eon while Danjaq/Eon can’t launch a Bond movie without MGM.

What are you trying to say?

MGM and Danjaq/MGM are in an uneasy partnership. MGM has agreed to be acquired by Amazon. Maybe that will create new opportunities.

Still?

Until Amazon gets full control of MGM (that deal still is subject to regulatory review), we don’t really know.

A pedantic observation about No Time to Die

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1, 2020

While glancing at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s website, I noticed the copyright notice for No Time to Die. It read:

© 2020 Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In recent years, Bond films have had copyright notices citing Danjaq and United Artists Corporation (an MGM owned brand and the name of the original studio that released Bond films). Examples include Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough.

The first four films of the Daniel Craig era were released by Sony under its Columbia brand. So, for example, the copyright notice for Casino Royale listed Danjaq, United Artists and Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. The same thing happened with Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Sony wasn’t involved with No Time to Die so naturally it’s not part of the new copyright notice. Why was United Artists dropped? Perhaps because the UA name was revived for United Artists Releasing, MGM’s joint venture with Annapurna Pictures, which will distribute No Time to Die in the U.S.

U.S. FTC to probe Amazon’s purchase of MGM, WSJ says

MGM logo

For blog subscribers: This had the correct headline.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission plans to investigate Amazon’s planned $8.45 billion acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Amazon has said it plans to acquire MGM, which controls half of the James Bond film franchise as well as thousands of other film titles and TV properties.

The FTC and U.S. Justice Department split U.S. regulatory review for large deals, the Journal said.

“During recent interagency negotiations, the FTC secured the right to review the Amazon-MGM deal, the people familiar with the matter said,” according to the Journal.

Amazon’s deal to acquire MGM may provide financial security for the Bond franchise — if approved by regulators. The Bond series has been subject to financial insecurity since MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981.

U.S. FTC to probe Amazon’s purchase of MGM, WSJ says

MGM logo

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission plans to investigate Amazon’s planned $8.45 billion acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Amazon has said it plans to acquire MGM, which controls half of the James Bond film franchise as well as thousands of other film titles and TV properties.

The FTC and U.S. Justice Department split U.S. regulatory review for large deals, the Journal said.

“During recent interagency negotiations, the FTC secured the right to review the Amazon-MGM deal, the people familiar with the matter said,” according to the Journal.

Amazon’s deal to acquire MGM may provide financial security for the Bond franchise — if approved by regulators. The Bond series has been subject to financial insecurity since MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981.

Broccoli celebrates birthday amid interesting 007 times

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli today celebrates her 61st birthday. Some birthdays are more memorable than others. As the boss of Danjaq LLC and its Eon Productions unit, Broccoli’s birthday comes amid a lot of developments.

In recent years, Broccoli — the daughter of Danjaq/Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli — has emerged as the dominant management voice of the James Bond film franchise. And with this year’s birthday, there’s a lot happening on the Bond front.

Amazon has agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. That means, relatively soon, Broccoli and her colleagues will be dealing with a new studio regime — again. This has occurred quite a bit since 1981 when MGM first acquired United Artists.

No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film made by Eon, has been on hold, partly because of creative disagreements (director Danny Boyle’s departure from the project), partly because of a global pandemic.

Bond fans around the globe are hoping No Time to Die finally comes out this fall. Broccoli and her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, have said they want Bond to continue as a big-screen experience, not as a streaming one.

In other words, Barbara Broccoli has a lot on her plate amid her latest birthday.

Broccoli has spent 39 years on a full-time basis in service of the Bond franchise. Even before that, as a teenager, she wrote captions for publicity stills for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

So happy birthday, Ms. Broccoli. The blog hopes it’s a good one.

An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

007 after Amazon: The more things change…

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Amazon’s agreement to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer this week got a lot of attention. But it’s only now sinking in that, from a James Bond perspective, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Wall Street Journal today published a story about Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Danjaq LLC and its Eon Productions company and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson.

For decades, the Bond franchise has had unusual management. Danjaq/Eon mostly has creative control while the owners of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have the power the purse and finances the films. The latter is not insignificant. But with other franchises, a studio and its owners have total control.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal’s story.

One executive compared the pair’s decision-making power on Bond to George Lucas’s control over the “Star Wars” universe before he sold Lucasfilm Ltd. to Disney—which has mined its characters and story lines for new movies, TV shows and theme-park attractions. Those who have worked with Mr. Wilson and Ms. Broccoli said not to expect a similar evolution: They have rebuffed past offers to explore spinoffs or hand Bond over to a larger entity.

Assuming Amazon secures regulatory approval for its $8.45 billion purchase (including assumption of debt) of MGM, things should stabilize financially. MGM has been a series of financial soap operas for decades, including a 2010 bankruptcy.

But creatively? Perhaps not so much. James Bond films coming out more often? I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on that. Barbara Broccoli has a plate full of non-Bond projects, including plays and small-scale “Indie” style movies.

It still comes down to this: Danjaq/Eon doesn’t finance its films. It needs a studio to supply the funds. The studio/studio owner involved needs Danjaq/Eon to produce a Bond movie. One side cannot move without the other.

From the standpoint of James Bond films, you might not expect a lot of changes soon. Enjoy No Time to Die (hopefully it makes its current fall 2021 release date). Bond 26 may not come out very soon after that.

Amazon agrees to acquire MGM for $8.45B

Amazon logo

Amazon said today it agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for $8.45 billion.

“Amazon will help preserve MGM’s heritage and catalog of films, and provide customers with greater access to these existing works,” the tech company/e-commerce giant said in a statement.

MGM’s financial state has been in flux for decades, including a 2010 bankruptcy. Since that bankruptcy, MGM has been controlled by a group of hedge funds.

If the deal is completed — and it’s subject to regulatory approval — MGM may stabilize under Amazon ownership.

Amazon didn’t estimate how long regulatory approval will take. It’s possible such review won’t be completed by Sept. 30, when No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, is scheduled to be released in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

As things stand now, No Time to Die will be released by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures, in the U.S. and by Universal internationally..

For Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, the deal means adjusting to yet another MGM ownership. The Bond franchise has been linked to the studio since MGM acquired United Artists, 007’s original studio, in 1981.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition Part II

Amazon logo

The momentum for an acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Amazon seems to be accelerating. Or is it? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Have things gotten more serious?

The Wall Street Journal, in a May 24 story, says MGM’s board was briefed on Sunday about negotiations. The financial newspaper also said a deal could occur as early as this week.

On the other hand, the Journal also said there are “no guarantees” the talks will yield a deal. That sounds like talks are indeed serious but not locked down yet.

If Amazon buys MGM, how might it affect James Bond?

Amazon is a financially successful company. That may mean more stability at MGM, Bond’s home studio. MGM bought United Artists (Bond’s original studio) 40 years ago and it has been one bit of drama after. That included a 2010 bankruptcy.

The Journal story made it sound like the basic Bond dynamic won’t change. MGM and Danjaq/Eon (the Broccoli-Wilson family) . MGM and Danjaq/Eon share the franchise but Danjaq/Eon controls the direction.

Of course, never underestimate the power of the purse. Danjaq/Eon relies on MGM to finance Bond films. Amazon buying MGM would mean a new set of executives exercising that power.

Should I worry about this?

You should avoid worrying about things you can’t control. Amazon is a streaming power and is on the lookout for “content” it can control directly. Netflix is doing the same thing with its original movies and TV shows. AT&T decided it wasn’t cut out to be a media power and has agreed to combine WarnerMedia with Discovery.

In other words, it’s like what was once said about Willard Whyte. People are playing monopoly with real buildings — or studios or television channels or whatever.

Anything else we should expect?

Expect a lot more jokes about how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos looks like a James Bond villain. YouTuber Calvin Dyson did so in a May 19 video. The Gizmodo website, in summarizing the Journal story, went for the gag in the headline. (“Jeff Bezos, a Real-Life Bond Villain, May Own James Bond Very Soon”)