A SPECTRE reality check

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

Since the SPECTRE teaser trailer came out on March 27, many 007 fans have gotten excited about how the 24th James Bond film may tie together the Daniel Craig era.

It may turn out that way. But it was never planned that way, based on past comments by the filmmakers.

SPECTRE was passe: Here’s a quote from Barbara Broccoli in a 2012 interview with CRAVE ONLINE:

Barbara Broccoli: I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years. The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new. (emphasis added)

Quantum was better than SPECTRE: Here’s a summary by the JAMES BOND INTERNATIONAL FAN CLUB of an article that originally appeared in SPX magazine.

Interestingly, Wilson and Broccoli told SFX that they have not abandoned the Quantum organisation, but also confirmed that it is not used in ‘Skyfall’. Wilson also revealed that they have the rights to bring back Blofeld and SPECTRE. ‘We believe we can use them. They’re a little dated at the moment. We went for the Quantum organisation, which was more business oriented, trying to corner the market on scarce resources, rather than a criminal organisation that did blackmail and bank robberies…’.

But Wilson’s co-producer Barbara Broccoli added, cautiously, that they needed a little more time to pass before they could go back to ‘extortion and blackmail! The Quantunm organisation does seem far more realistic. (emphasis added)

In 2006’s Casino Royale, the mysterious organization that Bond battled didn’t have a name. In Quantum of Solace, we found out it called, surprise, Quantum. Now, Quantum’s Mr. White is in the SPECTRE teaser trailer. This suggests there’s a tie between Quantum and SPECTRE.

As Emily Litella used to say, “Never mind!”

More seriously, the 2013 settlement with the Kevin McClory estate that gave Eon Productions the ability to use SPECTRE was an opportunity. The success of SPECTRE, the film, will depend on how well Eon seizes upon that opportunity. Still, this was never part of a grand plan. It may still be entertaining, however.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, here’s a reminder about Eon’s commitment to continuity. Michael G. Wilson said in 2008 that Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

In that hour, a) Bond changed suits from a three piece to a two piece b) M redecorated her office c) Mathis went from being interrogated to moving into a villa that MI6 bought for him, complete with live-in girlfriend d) the year changed from 2006 to 2008. Not exactly much attention to detail. Do people really think Eon had a four-film plan in 2006?

Return of the mysterious, shadowy organization

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

It’s like the mid-1960s all over again.

–Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation unveiled its teaser trailer this week, in which a mysterious, shadowy organization called the Syndicate is trying crush the Impossible Missions Force.

–SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, is in the midst of production, featuring a 21st century take on the organization that opposed 007 in the early Bond films.

–Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest Marvel Studios film is coming out May 1 and may include the latest appearance by Hyrdra, a vast group that infiltrated SHIELD in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

–The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14. It, too, features a mysterious organization. The question is whether it will be Thrush, the “supra nation” that opposed U.N.C.L.E. in the original 1964-68 series.

At this point, all we need Galaxy (two Derek Flint movies) and BIGO (three of four Matt Helm movies) to come back. KAOS, may be lurking as well (having been included in a 1980 theatrical movie and a 1989 made-for-TV film).

The notion of the huge group that, in some cases, was like a shadow government fell out of favor after the 1960s. Bond was the last man standing by 1971 and 007 encountered mostly one-off independent menaces (though some were affiliated with unfriendly governments). At the same time, the cinema Blofeld was the subject of jokes in Austin Powers movies.

What’s more, there were legal disputes about SPECTRE, with producer Kevin McClory saying the rights to the criminal organization belonged to him. A specific reference to SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld was taken out of the script of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. The script had a line where a mysterious guy who resembled Blofeld said this was the 10th anniversary of his last encounter with 007. Even though it didn’t make the movie, it was too late to take it out of the Marvel Comics adaptation.

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

By 2012, Eon Productions said it wasn’t even interested in SPECTRE.

“I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years,” Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli said in an interview with CRAVE ONLINE. “The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new.”

Eon whistled a different tune after a 2013 settlement with the McClory estate secured the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE. Recently, Broccoli acknowledged to Empire magazine that SPECTRE is a new take on the old villainous organization. The cast of SPECTRE includes Jesper Christensen, who played Mr. White, an official of a group called Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (the name wasn’t revealed until Quantum of Solace).

Marvel Studios also was bringing back the vast villainous organization. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, set during World War II, viewers were introduced to Hydra, formed by Hitler but a group that has its own ambitions to take over for itself. In the 2014 Captain America movie, we see Hydra is alive and well and moving forward on its ambitions.

Hydra in the comics made its debut in Strange Tales 135 in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that introduced Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, writer-artist Jim Steranko connected Hyrdra to Fury’s World War II past, establishing that Hydra’s leader was Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, a World War II foe of Fury’s.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

With M:I, the existence of the Syndicate was teased at the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. In the original television series, the Syndicate merely was an alternate name for the Mafia. The trailer unveiled this week makes clear the Syndicate is a much larger animal.

Which brings us to Thrush, which U.N.C.L.E. was waging war against in that television series. (At one point, WASP and MAGGOTT were considered as alternate names.) Thrush had vast resources, with thousands of employees on the U.S. West Coast alone. In the show’s final season, Thrush spent billions of dollars in various failed schemes. The Thrush name, however, wasn’t mentioned in the teaser trailer that came out in February.

Why the surge in popularity for such organizations?

Well, Hydra has been part of successful Marvel movies. Also, naming specific countries as being responsible for mayhem can be tricky. In 2002, Die Another Day had the North Koreans as villains. In 2014, North Korea was the leading suspect for being responsible for hacking at Sony Pictures, including leaks of SPECTRE’s script. What’s more, no studio wants to offend China and its vast market for movie goers.

Thus, what is old is new again. Don’t bet against the return of Galaxy and BIGO.

Filming of SPECTRE’s pre-titles sequence underway

SPECTRE LOGO

No spoilers in text.

Photos and videos of filming of SPECTRE’s pre-titles sequence have started showing up on the Internet.

On March 18, the official 007 Twitter feed said the Mexico shoot would be for the opening sequence of the 24th James Bond film. Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson repeated that at a Mexico City press conference. Today, the official 007 website PUT OUT A SHORT STATEMENT had a statement commenting a bit further. Here’s the key part:

“During the past 53 years, the James Bond movies have been renowned for filming in the most beautiful and exotic locations in the world,” says Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. “For the opening of SPECTRE, we are filming an exciting sequence in Mexico City featuring the Day of the Dead festival. Mexico City was chosen for the film because of the authentic needs of the story. This is the fourth time Bond has been to Mexico and indeed LICENCE TO KILL was shot almost entirely in Mexico City.”

Meanwhile (and the spoiler adverse should not click), very short videos such as THIS ONE and THIS ONE showing the staging of the Day of the Dead sequence have started appearing. The same goes for still photographs such as THIS ONE. It remains to be seen how long they remain up.

Also, El Universal Television POSTED A VIDEO of a rehearsal for a different part the pre-credits sequence. It would also be considered a spoiler.

UPDATE: To view another video showing staging of the Day of the Dead sequence, CLICK HERE. You can hear somebody (presumably an assistant director) call for “action.” You can CLICK HERE to see a video shot from a passing bus.

Eon says Mexican incentives didn’t change SPECTRE script

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, denied that Mexican incentives resulted in script changes for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, according to a story by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Wilson spoke at a press conference in Mexico City where SPECTRE is gearing up to film. The official 007 Twitter feed earlier today said the Mexican sequence, which includes the Day of the Dead festival, will be the film’s opening sequence.

“There is nothing in the script that we hadn’t had before,” Wilson said, according to AP.

Tax Analysts, a website for tax professionals, reported IN A MARCH 3 STORY that script changes and casting choices were made to secure as much as $20 million in Mexican incenties. The website cited memos that became public after hacking at Sony Pictures. According to Tax Analysts, memos indicated SPECTRE had to cast a “known Mexican actress” for Estrella.

Wilson said at the press conference that “we always had a Mexican actress playing this part.” Mexcian actress Stephanie Sigman was cast in the part. Sigman was also with Wilson at the press conference.

Wilson also said the movie’s writers believed using the Day of the Dead festival “would be an excellent background in the opening sequence.”

The hacked Sony documents also indicated that SPECTRE’s budget was at a pace to exceed $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time. Tax Analysts said Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony, which is releasing SPECTRE, wanted to maximize the Mexican incentives to hold down studio costs.

To real the full AP story (Via the US News and World Report website): CLICK HERE.

UPDATE: Here’s a video from NotimexTV in Mexico uploaded to YouTube. It’s in Spanish, but you can hear Wilson speaking under a translator:

UPDATE II (March 19): The MI6 James Bond website has A STORY with additional Wilson comments from the Mexico City press conference. The story quotes Wilson as saying SPECTRE got financial support from Mexican companies, including hotels and other tourist-related businesses. The story also has some additional details about the Mexico shooting schedule.

The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

How did SPECTRE’s budget get so high?

SPECTRE LOGO

Many entertainment websites (including this blog) have written about how the Mexican government may have helped shape a sequence in SPECTRE in return for $20 million in incentives, something the TAX ANALYSTS WEBSITE REPORTED EARLIER THIS MONTH.

The Cinema Blend website in its story on the subject added a question about SPECTRE’s $300 million-plus budget: “Why is the budget that high to begin with?” Skyfall had a reported budget of $200 million.

Sam Mendes, at the Dec. 4 media event for SPECTRE said the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios was “where budgets go to die.” The comment took on a whole new meaning after hacking of internal Sony Pictures emails revealed the budget was on pace to exceed $300 million, making the 24th James Bond movie once of the most expensive of all time.

Cinema Blend poses a good question. Here’s an attempt at a partial answer. What follows is by no means definitive or comprehensive.

More locations: With 2012’s Skyfall, the first unit only went to one location: Turkey. The second unit went to Shanghai to film exteriors but the first unit used Pinewood Studios and U.K. locations in place of the Chinese business center.

With SPECTRE, the crew is traveling more. The OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE said, “The locations for SPECTRE include Pinewood London, Mexico City, Rome, Tangier and Erfoud, Morocco. Bond is also back in the snow, this time in Sölden, Austria as well as Obertilliach and Lake Altaussee.” Already, there has been filming in Rome and Austria.

Some of the principals probably got a big raise: In November 2012, as Skyfall was on its way to a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion, THE INDEPENDENT reported star Daniel Craig would be paid 31 million pounds (or almost $46 million at current exchange rates) to play 007 in Bond 24 (now SPECTRE) and Bond 25 combined.

According to that article, Craig received 1.9 million pounds for Casino Royale, 4.4 million pounds for Quantum of Solace and 10.7 million pounds for Skyfall.

Meanwhile, Skyfall director Mendes initially said the thought of directing another Bond movie made him “physically ill.”

Nevertheless, Eon Productions wanted Mendes back, to the point of being willing to push back production so the director could participate in some stage projects. With Skyfall’s box office, it’s likely he got a big raise also. Money has a way of calming upset stomachs.

Bond movies now have pricier casts: Under Albert R. Broccoli, Eon was willing to pay big money for its Bond but supporting actors — particularly those with the M, Moneypenny and Q roles — were paid modestly.

In the 21st century, the likes of Ralph Fiennes (a two-time Oscar nominee), Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are paid better adjusted for inflation than Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn. Meanwhile, Skyfall had an Oscar winning actor (Javier Bardem as Silva) and SPECTRE has another (Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser).

All of this is, at best, a partial explanation. SPECTRE’s budget exceeds the estimated outlays of Marvel’s The Avengers ($220 million) and The Dark Knight Rises ($250 million), movies with extensive special effects.

Things we know about SPECTRE so far

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No substantive spoilers, but super spoiler averse people should not even begin reading.

SPECTRE began seven months of principal photography on Dec. 8. That means we’ll soon be at the halfway mark of filming.

For other movies (say The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film) things would have wrapped up now. But this is a Bond film and one of the most expensive movies of all time. So here’s what we know as the halfway mark approaches.

This will be a new take on an old idea: At the Dec. 4 media event to kick off filming, nobody wanted to even acknowledge the story concerns the same criminal organization featured in early 007 films.

Earlier this month, Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli told Empire magazine the movie does feature that organization, albeit a new version. That’s not much of an admission, but it’s more than the principals were willing to say in December.

The movie includes an extensive, intricate car chase: The production this week wrapped up said car chase, involving an Aston Martin (driven by Bond) being chased by a Jaguar. Because the sequence was filmed on public streets in a major European city (Rome), a lot of video from the chase has ended u on the Internet. Some footage on the Internet (we’re not linking to it in this post) even shows how it finishes.

The Sony hacking is the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Eon’s talking point is that only an early draft surfaced in the computer hacking at Sony Studios, which is releasing SPECTRE. Based on the news accounts where reporters reviewed the script, that’s not the case. What has been written about is not the current shooting script (last-minute alterations are often made during filming). How close the script from the hacks is to the final version of the movie remains to be seen.

Given how expensive the movie is ($300 million or more, another fact that came out in the hacks), it’s understandable the hacking would be sensitive. Nevertheless, the hacking is a complication other 007 films haven’t had to deal with.

This is going to be a costly movie: Already, there has been footage shot in Austria, Rome and Pinewood Studios. There will soon be filming in Mexico, which we now know will include sizeable subsidies from the Mexican government (another fact from the hacks), as well as other locations.

Audiences won’t care as long as they feel they’ve been entertained. The executives (like the ones at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) who have to sign the checks for all involved, may be a little more nervous until the movie comes out in November.

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