About those MGM sales talks and Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post reported that an unknown Chinese buyer is negotiating to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.

The Post’s sister paper, The Wall Street Journal, followed up by saying MGM had been in talks with a Chinese buyer but the negotiations broke off last year.

How all this applies to Bond 25?

This may explain why MGM never reached a Bond 25 distribution deal

Back in March 2016, MGM said it was in no hurry to negotiate a new Bond movie distribution deal. If the Post and Journal are accurate (that MGM at least *had* talks with a would-be Chinese purchaser), the reason is obvious.

MGM CEO Gary Barber had bigger things on his mind. James Bond may be MGM’s biggest asset, but whether to sell the company or not is bigger (from the perspective of an MGM CEO) than that.

Such talks may have slowed the pace of Bond 25 development

Until there’s a studio that can distribute Bond 25, a new 007 production can’t reach theaters.

Following its 2010 bankruptcy, MGM no longer had a distribution operation. Since then, it has negotiated co-financing and distribution deals with other studios. Maybe that would have changed if a Chinese concern acquired MGM. If the Journal is correct, we’ll never know.

Regardless, MGM negotiating to sell to the Chinese probably would have sent any talks with other U.S.-based studios to distribute Bond 25 to the back burner.

Where do we go from here?

Your guess is as good as this blog’s. However, this is a reminder that Bond is tethered to a weak studio.

MGM bought United Artists in 1981. UA, years earlier, got control of half of the Bond franchise when Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, sold out because of financial troubles.

The MGM soap opera changes in some regards (executives come, executives go) but not in others.  MGM’s glory days are long gone.

 

MGM sale to Chinese not happening, WSJ says

MGM logo

A sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, to a Chinese buyer isn’t happening, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Talks broke down between MGM and several Chinese companies late last year, an apparent casualty of China’s move to stanch capital outflows that has stalled the country’s shopping spree in Hollywood, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported.

“An MGM sale would have been among the biggest-ticket and highest-profile such acquisitions, but its failure to materialize is evidence of a twist ending that few in Hollywood expected,” according to the story by three Journal reporters.

Earlier, the New York Post reported that MGM was in talks with a Chinese buyer it didn’t identify. Both the Journal and Post are owned by News Corp., controlled by Rupert Muchoch.

Uncertainty at MGM would have an adverse effect on the 007 film franchise. MGM has been involved with Bond since it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA, in 1975, acquired half of the franchise after Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out because of financial troubles.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company, unable to release its own films. MGM cuts deals with other studios to co-finance and release those movies, including the Bond series.

An MGM spokeswoman told the Journal that the studio wasn’t for sale.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal story about the broader issues facing Hollywood and China:

The economic-policy changes in China come amid mounting protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. from the administration of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve heard from both [private-equity] firms and investment banks that China investment activity around [Hollywood] assets started to wane just prior to the election and is almost nonexistent now,” said Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute, which organizes congressional delegations to China, and president of DMG Entertainment, a media company headquartered in Beverly Hills and Beijing.

“No China entity wants to be the first to test” the heated rhetoric on the U.S. side and the capital controls on the Chinese side, he added.

The last four Bond films have actually been released by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

 

MGM in negotiations with Chinese buyer, NY Post reports

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio of the 007 film franchise, is in sales talks with a Chinese buyer, the New York Post reported.

“The name of the China-based entity involved in the talks, perhaps newly formed to make the deal, could not immediately be learned,” the Post’s Claire Atkinson wrote.

MGM acquired United Artists in 1981, giving it a half stake in the Bond franchise. UA had earlier purchased the holdings of Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions and its parent firm, Danjaq.

The studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company. It doesn’t have a distribution operation and negotiates deals with other studios to release its films. The last four Bond movies have been released by Sony Pictures.

MGM’s most recent two-picture contract with Sony expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Studio chief Gary Barber said in March 2016 there was “no rush” to negotiate a new Bond distribution accord with Sony or another studio.

In 2016, MGM said it intended to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

Craig’s 007 tenure now second-longest, fan website says

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is now second-longest, according to a fan website, Dalton Was Best.

The site’s websmaster, Adrian Stirrup, made the calculations for a Jan. 1 post. Stirrup said they were based on the date each Bond actor was announced publicly.

In the Jan. 1 post, Stirrup wrote that Craig would take over the No. 2 spot from Pierce Brosnan as of Feb. 20. The webmaster followed that up with a post on Twitter today, saying Craig now has 4,147 days in the role, compared with Brosnan’s 4,146.

The public announcement for Craig being cast as 007 was Oct. 14, 2005.

No. 1 is Roger Moore at 5,118 days. Sean Connery, the original film Bond, has 3,049 days with two stints in the role combined. Based on Jan. 1 post, the calculation is only for Connery’s time making six movies in the Eon Productions series. The actor did a seventh non-Eon Bond film, Never Say Never Again.

You can view today’s follow up tweet by Stirrup below.

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Bond 25: Why MGM has to get bigger or sell out

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a millstone.

MGM is not big enough to compete with other major studios by itself. Since a 2010 bankruptcy, the home studio of 007 films has needed studio partners to distribute and market Bond movies.

For the past two Bond films, 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, MGM negotiated a sweet deal with Sony Pictures. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony ended up in third in line behind MGM and Eon Productions for the 007 spoils.

But good fortune like that only lasts so long.

The Sony deal expired with Skyfall. “There’s no rush,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said of reaching a new Bond distribution deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

MGM logo

That was eleven months ago. No hurry, indeed.

In reality, other studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount among them — have their own issues.

Sony’s parent company wrote down the value of its movie business by almost $1 billion, an indication that things aren’t going well. Warner Bros.’s parent company, Time Warner, is in the midst of an $85 billion acquisition by AT&T. Also, Warner Bros. is struggling with its “extended universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Paramount is struggling, period.

Under those circumstances, cutting a deal with MGM to distribute Bond movies might not be the top priority. Even more stable studios, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal, probably want a better deal than Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

These days, MGM mostly makes television shows while producing a few movies.

Bond, however, remains MGM’s biggest property, going back to when MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. 007, which not that long ago had his first $1 billion box office movie (Skyfall), is a major league property, or at least can be.

For that promise to be fulfilled, however, Bond needs to be at a major league studio.

MGM isn’t that. It hasn’t been for a long time.

To be a big-time studio, MGM needs to be able to release its own movies and be in more control of its destiny.

It’s fine to cut deals with other companies for financing (other studios do). Ultimately, however, Bond’s home studio needs the ability to distribute the movies.

MGM’s Barber wants the company to sell stock to the public in the next three to five years. Maybe it can become big enough to be a real studio again.

But if it can’t, the 007 franchise will suffer. From the selfish standpoint of Bond film fans, a better option might be for MGM to sell to a studio that has big league status.

Long-term issues confronting the 007 franchise

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Here are some long-term issues confronting the James Bond film franchise that extend beyond purchased helicopters or even the next 007 film (whenever it comes out).

MGM needs to get bigger or sell out: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, is in a no man’s land in Hollywood.

It’s not big enough to release it’s own movies. In fact, it’s more of a television production company than an actual studio. What few movies it makes annually require cutting deal with another studio to distribute. The last four 007 films were released by Sony, with other MGM projects released by other studios.

Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., has agreed to be acquired by AT&T. If that deal receives U.S. regulatory approval (not a sure thing), other deals may result.

That leaves MGM to decide whether it’s present strategy is adequate. If a new wave of deals develops, MGM probably has to move one way or another — get bigger or sell off to a buyer.

Eon’s succession plan: Eon is a private outfit that doesn’t discuss such subjects. Maybe it has one, maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, it needs a succession plan if it doesn’t have one.

Michael G. Wilson, one of the Eon principals, turned 75 last month. His half-sister, Barbara Broccoli, is only 56. But, as the saying goes, nobody lives forever.

Perhaps Gregg Wilson, one of Wilson’s sons who has been working on recent films, is being groomed to take more responsibility once his father retires. At this point, nobody really knows.

Is it time for new marketing ideas? There are recurring themes in marketing Bond films over the past two decades.

One of the most repeated is having the lead female actor talk about his character is Bond’s equal. It was uttered most recently by actress Lea Seydoux in an interview with Empire magazine in early 2015.

We get it. Bond women are now strong and independent. Maybe it’s time to come up new marketing points. Strong women in Bond films are now a given.

Our rants about Bond 25

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad, yet again.

Bond isn’t at the same level as other film franchises: You’ve bought an old helicopter. And we should care, why?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in 2015 acquired a lot of old cars. More than three years after filming began, it didn’t really matter in the movie’s ultimate success (or lack thereof), did it? Buying vehicles and props is, at the end of the day, a minor enterprise.

Real film franchises have studios that distribute them. Bond doesn’t have one.

The most recent 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Sony Pictures released the last four Bond movies. SPECTRE concluded Sony’s most recent two-picture contract.

If Bond were a fantastically profitable film franchise, other studios would be beating down the doors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio. But MGM hasn’t yet reached a new deal.

Of course, Sony got taken with the last two films (Skyfall and SPECTRE), providing 50 percent of the financing but only 25 percent of the profits. That might, just might, be a factor in MGM’s delays in finding a new studio partner.

Meanwhile, real film franchises actually seek publicity. Marvel Studios releases two movies a year. But it successfully gets publicity year round. Ditto for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film universe, despite the fact it’s not as successful as Marvel.

The Bond franchise is more like the Kremlin. I know, Ian Fleming would spin in his grave at that reference.

Seriously, though, there are parallels. Both provide little tiny bits of news that require the knowledge of long-time followers to interpret. Why else, do you suppose, there has been so much attention to the purchase of a helicopter?

Carry on.