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.”

007 Store sells…a teddy bear?

A pantless Teddy Bear being sold for the 60th anniversary of the cinematic James Bond

It’s well known that the 007 Store sells expensive items. While hardly the most expensive, one of the quirkiest items went on sale today:

A hand-made teddy bear (no pants) with a tuxedo jacket. Also, the lower regions of the teddy bear have been dyed black to match his tuxedo jacket. Finally, said teddy bear has no obvious connection to any of the James Bond films made by Eon Productions.

The price: 275 British pounds. In the U.S. $349. It’s a limited edition. Only 1,962 (same year Dr. 007 was released, get it?) will be made. I suppose that makes it a rare item.

Happy anniversary, Mr. Bond.

Broccoli: No steps toward selecting new Bond

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli spoke to The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast in an episode posted this week. The Eon Productions boss celebrated Daniel Craig’s long run as James Bond and again said she’s not in a hurry to pick his sucessor.

“To be honest, we’re not looking right now. We’re not in the conversation right now,” she said toward the end of a 30-minute interview. “We are living in the present moment and it’s a joyful moment, it’s a celebratory moment. We’re celebrating Daniel’s extraordinary achievement over 16 years.”

“We want to live in this moment for as long as possible and really applaud Daniel and really enjoy it. At some point later, we’ll sit down and think about the future. Right now, I want to live in the present and it’s a very happy place to be right now.”

The podcast also featured an interview with Craig of about an hour.

No Time to Die was released last year following five delays, three related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 25th Bond film made by Eon had a global theatrical run of $774 million and is now available on home video.

Bond’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, last year agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion. That deal hasn’t closed yet. It’s uncertain whether Amazon will make major changes at MGM. Broccoli has repeatedly said she’s not interested in streaming show spinoffs related to Bond.

The 355 flops as spy movies struggle to find an audience

The 355 movie poster

The 355, a spy movie with a mostly female cast, flopped over the weekend in its U.S. debut.

The film’s opening U.S. weekend totaled an estimated $4.8 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data. It was the first film of 2022 with a “wide” opening (3,000 screens or more).

The 355 shows it’s hard for spy movies not part of the James Bond or Mission: Impossible films series to get much traction.

At one time (the early 2000s), Jason Bourne was a big success, even prodding Eon Productions to change the tone of its 007 productions and dump Pierce Brosnan in favor of Daniel Craig as Bond. In the mid- to late-2010s, director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series, mixing violence and comedy, appeared to be something new.

However, Bourne’s success has been difficult to extend without Matt Damon. In 2016, there was another Bourne entry with Matt Damon (simply titled Jason Bourne). But nothing has happened since then. 2017 saw Atomic Blonde with a global box office of $100 million. However, no sequel resulted. And Matthew Vaughn’s most recent Kingsmen effort, The King’s Man, flopped.

Other spy film attempts have been a mixed bag.

Salt (2010) had a respectable $293.5 million at the global box office but never generated a sequel. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015), (loosely) based on the 1964-68 TV show, had a global box office of $107 million. Hopes for a revived U.N.C.L.E. disappeared.

The Rhythm Section (2020), made by Eon Productions, had a worldwide box office of not quite $6 million. Clearly, the makers of the Bond films weren’t able to duplicate the success of the 007 movies.

We’ll see. Matthew Vaughn has another spy project titled Argylle which will star Henry Cavill (who played Solo in the 2015 U.N.C.L.E. movie).

Hope springs eternal when it comes to spy films.

Bond 25 questions: Final box office edition

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, has more or less reached the end of its theatrical release. Naturally, the blog has questions.

What are the final numbers? It’s not final, but it appears No Time to Die will come in globally at No. 2 among non-Chinese movies ($774 million) while No. 007 in the U.S. ($160.8 million), behind Spider-Man No Way Home, Shang-Chi, and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Black Widow, F9: The Fast Saga, and Eternals.

Behind the Eternals? Really? Eternals was commonly viewed as a weak entry (box office wise) since Marvel began making its own movies with 2008’s Iron Man. But, yes, Eternals came a bit ahead, in the U.S., of No Time to Die.

How do you explain the difference for No Time to Die globally vs. the U.S.?

Beats me.

Eon Productions, for years (at least since 2015), says it controls the marketing of Bond films and studios merely execute those plans.

Since at least 1997, Eon talking points include how women characters in Bond newer films are much stronger than characters in classic Bond films. (Honey Rider, Tatiana Romonva, Pussy Galore, Domino, et. al.)

By now, it’s routine for Bond actresses to proclaim their characters are much stronger than earlier Bond women characters.

In 2012, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli told The Evening Standard, ““Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over.”

More recently, No Time to Die director Cary Funkunaga said the Sean Connery version of Bond was “basically” a rapist.

Also, Daniel Craig, in the midst of a 15-year as Bond, said the character was a misogynist. (Definition: “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.”) When your star calls the character he’s playing that way, it’s hard to argue the point.

That’s especially true when Barbara Broccoli considers Craig the best Bond ever.

Is it time to revamp U.S. Bond film marketing in the U.S.?

Perhaps. Until now, nobody has ever called Eon on its U.S. marketing strategy.

Does anything change in the future?

We’ll see once Amazon completes its acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. Maybe there will be changes. Maybe not.

About genre movies fighting for Oscars love

No Time to Die poster

Studios are in the midst of their blitz to get some love from the Oscars. And that includes lobbying efforts for genre movies to gain some recognition.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, has been lobbying for No Time to Die to get awards while the ultimate goal is the Oscars. Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios are moving to get Spider-Man No Way Home some Oscar love.

Once upon a time, popular movies did pretty well at the Oscars. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), a Cecil B. DeMille schlockfest *won* the Best Picture Oscar. I like Greatest Show but there’s no denying the schlock factor.

Star Wars (1977) was nominated for Best Picture. The movie won Oscars for art direction and score among other awards but fell short of actually winning Best Picture.

In more recent decades, it’s been hard for genre movies to get a lot of Oscar recognition outside of technical awards. There were some exceptions such as Best Actor awards for The Dark Knight (2008) and The Joker (2019). Ironically, both actors involved (Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix) played different versions of the same character.

It’s kind of tough to get Oscar love for playing a hero in a genre movie.

One big exception was Black Panther (2018), a Marvel film that was a big hit while highlighting a Black cast. It got a Best Picture nomination and won a few Oscars, including best score.

All of which brings us to the current situation. MGM is pushing a bit of everything, including star Daniel Craig, director Cary Fukunaga, the writing team and, of course, Best Picture.

Meanwhile, Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman (who said he hates Spider-Man No Way Home) presented a somewhat cynical reason why the academy should nominate the comic book movie anyway.

 If you want an Academy Awards telecast that wins more eyeballs than it loses, you’re going to have to nominate some of the movies that win eyeballs. I don’t disagree with that argument, and in a sense it’s the one I’m making. But this isn’t simply about numbers. It’s about a perception that drives the numbers. Sure, if “No Way Home” gets nominated, a swath of its vast fan base might tune into the Oscars that wouldn’t have otherwise. But what I’m really talking about is the essential idea that movies are, and always have been, a populist art form. If that dimension of cinema isn’t respected, something has gone wrong.

We’ll see how this turns out. The Bond films went almost 50 years between Oscars wins (special effects for Thunderball and two awards for Skyfall). Skyfall got five nominations and won two. But the Bond series has never been nominated for acting or directing.

As for Spider-Man No Way Home? Who knows? Actors and directors love to dump on comic book-based movies but a number of stars have signed on comic book-based movies.

Bond questions: The New Year edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Happy New Year! You would think things would be quiet on the James Bond front at least in early 2022. But there are signs things might not be that quiet.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What’s the top priority for the Bond film franchise?

Seeing whether Amazon’s $8.45 billion acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is completed.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions. have been lobbying on behalf of two current MGM film executives, Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. The fate of De Luca and Abdy likely won’t be known until Amazon finishes the deal.

What’s more, the Eon duo has repeatedly said they’re not interested in Bond streaming spinoffs.

Former Bond Daniel Craig joined in the public lobbying via an interview with The Sun.

Once Amazon takes possession of MGM, we go from hypothetical to the very real. Amazon runs Amazon Prime, one of the leading streaming services. It also has Amazon Studios. Does Amazon merge MGM into Amazon Studios? Or does Amazon maintain MGM as a separate operation like Marvel and Pixar at Walt Disney Co.?

Finally, the search for a new actor to replace Daniel Craig can’t really get very far until the issues above are addressed.

What happens if regulators don’t permit the Amazon acquisition to go through?

MGM possibly goes into crisis mode. Bond’s home studio had been working toward a sale for years. For MGM, everything goes back to square one. That type of uncertainty isn’t good for the orderly development of Bond 26.

What happens if the Amazon deal gets completed?

Wilson and Broccoli familiarize themselves, yet again, with a new set of executives. Eon has done this for 40 years, ever since MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio.

Much of the public lobbying Wilson and Broccoli have done is laying the groundwork for subsequent behind-closed-doors meetings. That’s where many issues will be hashed out.

Things like the 60th anniversary of the Bond film franchise will probably have to wait.

Bond 25 questions: 007 vs. Spidey at the box office

“What? We’re not No. 1 anymore?”

To be honest, it seemed as if No Time to Die had secured the title of No. 1 film at the global box office among non-Chinese movies. Yes, Spider-Man No Way Home was expected to do very well. But it had a Dec. 17 release date.

Surely, the 25th James Bond film would hold on for the end of calendar 2021. Well, no. Spider-Man No Way Home has passed the $1 billion global box office mark.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What happened with No Time to Die?

It’s going to finish 2021 as the No. 2 global film (behind Spider-Man No Way Home) among non-Chinese movies. So that’s not a flop.

However, a significant development was how No Time to Die’s U.S. box office performance didn’t match relatively recent Bond films.

In the U.S., No Time to Die generated $160.8 million at the box office, coming in at (00)7 for the year. That’s nothing to sneeze at. But Bond in the U.S. lagged the rest of the globe.

By contrast, 2012’s Skyfall produced a box office of $304.4 million while 2015’s SPECTRE had $200.1 million. And those figures don’t take into account higher movie ticket prices.

No Time to Die, of course, had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in three delays in the film’s release date.

OK, but why did Spider-Man do so well?

Spider-Man No Way Home wasn’t just a single Spidey movie. It was an epic.

The thing to compare the Spider-Man movie to is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. The latter was a de facto Avengers movie. The centerpiece was multiple Marvel characters (one side led by Cap, the other side led by Iron Man) slugging it out.

Spider-Man No Way Home includes one Marvel character (Dr. Strange) with another (not naming him here to avoid spoilers) making a cameo. Villains from previous Spider-Man films make an appearance. And there are major developments that occur.

Anything else to keep in mind?

Spider-Man is part of a large universe of characters. Bond is the centerpiece of a smaller universe.

One more thing: Spider-Man debuted in 1962, the same year that the Bond film series made by Eon Productions began. Spidey is hardly an edgy creation that came out of left field. Like Bond, Spider-Man has been popular for decades.

Bond questions: The Wrap edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions granted an interview to the entertainment news website The Wrap. The half-siblings proclaimed they’re not interested in Bond film spinoffs. However, some questions appear not to have been asked.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

You say you’re not interested in spinoffs. But what about the James Bond Jr. cartoon show or that attempted Jinx spinoff movie?

Apparently, that was a different era. James Bond Jr. was made during Eon’s 1989-1995 hiatus from making James Bond films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually pulled the plug on the Jinx movie.

What about all those non-Bond movies you’ve worked on?

You mean Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) ? Which had a global box office of $4 million? Or Nancy, which had a worldwide box office of $92,000. Or, The Rhythm Section with a global box office just shy of $6 million.

Yes, that’s what I mean.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy were small, dramatic films. The Rhythm Section was an espionage-themed film that sought a larger audience and, for whatever reason, didn’t achieve it. It happens that way sometimes.

What is the bottom line?

Eon’s record outside of the Bond film series is rather mixed. Compared to Nancy, Call Me Bwana (1963), the Bob Hope comedy Eon made between Dr. No and From Russia With Love, is a blockbuster. (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on an Ian Fleming’s children story and produced by Albert R. Broccoli, was not made under the Eon banner.)

Clearly, Eon wants to do other things besides Bond films. But Bond still is its major asset. Eon’s leadership needs to evaluate its future. We’ll see how that goes.

Broccoli & Wilson say (yet again) no Bond spinoffs

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions have, yet again, said they’re not interested in television spinoffs of the James Bond film franchise.

The half-siblings spoke to the entertainment news website, The Wrap.

“From our point of view, we try to focus on making good James Bond pictures and that takes a lot of time and thought — it takes a couple of years working on the script with a director,” Wilson told The Wrap. “If we had to make a TV series on top of that and put that same amount of energy into 10 or 20 hours of content, that’s a big commitment. So, we’d have to delegate. And we’ve been very reluctant to delegate.”

“We’re not a factory,” Barbara Broccoli told the website. “Our movies are all hand-made. We’ve always been a family business and it will remain a family business, so long as we keep breathing.”

Eon previously was involved with the syndicated cartoon series James Bond Jr. in the 1990s. Wilson shared a “developed by” credit on that show. The cartoon featured Bond’s nephew who encountered classic Bond villains as well as new adversaries. It was produced during the 1989-1995 hiatus in Eon’s film series.

The home studio of the Bond series is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It has agreed to be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion. The deal still is under regulatory review.