MGM briefly mentions Bond 25 on investor call

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, during an investor call this week, briefly referenced Bond 25, mostly about the hiring of Cary Fukunaga as director.

“We wouldn’t be more excited about the creative direction of our next installment of our treasured evergreen franchise, Bond 25,” Christopher Brearton, MGM’s chief operating officer, said in prepared remarks. MGM is “thrilled to add Cary’s versatility and innovation to the next James Bond adventure.”

Fukunaga’s hiring was announced in September. He got the job after Danny Boyle departed in August in the midst of Bond 25 pre-production. Fukunaga has directed both streaming television series and feature films. Brearton also referenced Bond 25’s release date being delayed to February 2020.

Other MGM subjects weren’t discussed. The company has been run by a committee of executives since Gary Barber was fired as CEO in March. There were no comments whether he’ll be replaced or not.

Also, MGM’s partner in a U.S. film distribution joint venture, Annapurna Pictures, has been hit with financial troubles. But Annapurna’s name didn’t come up. The joint venture is scheduled to release Bond 25 in the U.S. while Universal will distribute the film internationally.

There were no questions from investors on the call.

h/t @CorneelVf on Twitter for the heads up.

Questions for a Barbara Broccoli interview

Barbara Broccoli

The Metro website, in a story labeled “exclusive,” quotes Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli as saying things are just fine with Bond 25. “No, it’s film making,” she told the website. “We’re very excited about Bond and can’t wait.”

There really isn’t much more than that. The story has some background about Bond 25’s pre-production and some Broccoli quotes that previously appeared in The Guardian about how 007 will main a man. The new quotes apparently were generated thusly:

But producer Barbara Broccoli has laughed off fan worries, asking Metro.co.uk ‘concerned about what?’ when queried about the difficulties the production has come under.

Not that the blog is ever going to get the chance, but here are some questions interviewers might want to ask Broccoli if they get the chance in the future.

–You told a Hollywood Reporter podcast in December 2017 that “my heart was breaking” before Daniel Craig agreed to come back for Bond 25. Was it ever in doubt that Craig would come back? If so, when did the situation change and why?

Why did you announce in July 2017 that Bond 25 had a release date when no distributor was lined up yet?

Do you have regrets about the whole Danny Boyle-John Hodge situation? That appears to have cost Bond 25 months in pre-production time.

–Is the big Boyle-Hodge idea still part of Bond 25 or not?

–What can you say about Boyle’s departure from the project?

–What was the back story of how you signed on Bond 25’s new director, Cary Joji Fukunaga?

–What is it like working with MGM? The studio still hasn’t named a successor to the departed Gary Barber. What was Eon’s relationship with Barber?

–Will Bond 25 be Daniel Craig’s last 007 film? Or do you think you can get him back for future installments?

–Are intervals of four or more years what we should expect from now for the 007 film series?

Bond 25: What’s up with MGM?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

With all the fuss about Bond 25 since Danny Boyle departed as director, one aspect hasn’t gotten much attention.

What’s up with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of the 007 film franchise?

It was Eon Productions’ 007 social media outlets that announced Boyle’s departure. Nothing new on that front since Eon’s Aug. 21 announcement.

MGM controls half of the Bond franchise along with Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

MGM reported second-quarter financial results back on Aug. 7, back when Boyle still was slated to direct Bond 25.

The studio had a conference call with investors on Aug. 7. At that point, Christopher Brearton, who has the title chief operating officer, said everything was great 007-wise.

“The big film news of the quarter was our announcement that we were partnering with Universal Pictures for the international distribution of Bond 25. We are very excited about this deal. Universal’s exceptional international distribution and marketing organization make this an important new partnership for MGM.”

MGM, through a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures, is slated to handled U.S. distribution of Bond 25. Brearton said MGM is positioned to retain more value from Bond film box office.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the film,” Brearton said of Bond 25.

That was then. This is….well, we don’t know. MGM has said nothing about Bond 25 since Boyle’s departure. Eon? It has said nothing other than Boyle is out because of “creative differences.”

MGM, it should be remembered, still hasn’t named a new CEO since Gary Barber departed in March.

The studio has a successful TV operation. Its movie operation? Well, it’s latest film, Operation Finale (released by the MGM-Annapurna joint venture) came in at No. 4 for the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 weekend with an estimated $6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. No. 1 was Crazy Rich Asians, with an estimated $22.2 million in its third weekend of release. (MGM rolled out Operation Finale on Aug. 29.)

You’ve got to wonder what the MGM brain trust thinks about the uncertainty surrounding Bond 25, especially because it (and presumably Universal) are paying the bills.

Is the studio pressing for a quick Boyle replacement to ensure Bond 25 meets its previously announced fall 2019 release date? Is there really anything it can do about it? Or can it only sit by and watch to see how Eon resolves the situation?

On the other hand, there are a few known aspects. MGM remains one of the weakest Hollywood studios in an era where a 20th Century Fox, a much healthier operation, can get swallowed up (by Walt Disney Co. in Fox’s case).

British tabloids have ignored the MGM angle of the Bond 25 saga. It may still be one worth watching.

MGM pays ex-CEO a lot of money to go away

Gary Barber, former MGM chief, has reason to smile.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has bought shares and options from former CEO Gary Barber essentially to make him go away, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Barber received $260 million for 274,392 shares the former chief owned plus options for almost another 3.9 million shares, according to the entertainment news website.

That was on top of about $15 million in severance compensation that Barber received after being fired in March.

Deadline said in return Barber agreed “not to engage” with MGM for three years. Reuters reported last month that Barber was looking into making a bid for MGM. This new deal would preclude that.

What does this mean for Bond 25? Not much. The main effect is Barber goes away, albeit with a lot more money in his bank account.

Had Barber actually mounted a takeover bid, it had the potential to be a sideshow as MGM and Eon Productions are in the midst of getting Bond 25 off the ground. Sideshow averted.

MGM’s credit rating downgraded by Moody’s

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s credit rating was downgraded, in part because of increased film and TV spending, including Bond 25.

“We believe that the front-end spending on the company’s film (including the next Bond film) and television slate are strategically beneficial,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement. At the same time, the New York-based ratings company said “financing the build up with all debt adds financial risk to business risks that are higher than average.”

MGM debt already was below investment grade, known popularly as “junk bonds.” Moody’s lowered its rating on MGM to Ba3 from Ba2. The minimum investment rating at Moody’s is Baa3. MGM, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, now is three levels into junk at Moody’s. The company said it doesn’t expect MGM’s rating to improve through 2019.

Essentially, Moody’s is saying MGM’s increased debt has increased the company’s risk.

MGM has been increasing its debt as it seeks to upgrade its Epix cable channel. Moody’s said the studio’s increased debt ” is a departure from the company’s very conservative financial policies espoused by its departing CEO Gary Barber.”

Barber led MGM out of bankruptcy in 2010. He was ousted earlier this year. A successor has yet to be named.

MGM is home studio to the 007 film franchise, which it controls with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions.

Fired MGM CEO explores making a bid for the studio

Gary Barber, former MGM chief

Gary Barber, ousted earlier this year as CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is looking into a bid to acquire MGM, Reuters reported, citing five people “familiar with the matter.”

Here’s a key excerpt from the Reuters story:

MGM could be worth more than $5 billion including debt, and it is far from certain that Barber can raise the funds for a bid, the sources said. His potential bid, however, is aimed at convincing the hedge funds that own and control MGM to explore a sale, the sources added.

Barber owns about 9 percent of MGM through stock options after serving as its CEO between 2010 and 2018, according to the sources. He was let go abruptly in March from MGM after signing a five-year extension to his contract, according to the sources. MGM at the time did not give a reason for his departure.

Why 007 fans should care: MGM is the home studio of 007 films and it controls the franchise along with Eon Productions and its parent company, Danjaq.

In 2016, MGM explored a possible sale to Chinese buyers, The Wall Street Journal reported in February 2017. More recently, The Hollywood Reporter said in April that MGM was again looking into a sale, with its 007 rights a major selling point.

Potential Bond 25 impact: A change in MGM ownership may well affect the announced November 2019 release date for Bond 25. There is no announced distributor for the project.

Background: Barber became co-CEO of MGM in 2010 as it exited from bankruptcy. He eventually was the sole CEO.

MGM exited bankruptcy without a distribution operation. As a result it negotiated distribution deals with other studios. Sony Pictures distributed the last four 007 films (a relationship that began before the MGM bankruptcy).

MGM last year, while Barber was CEO, announced a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures that would release each other’s movies in the United States. But Bond 25 was not part of the deal.

What does this mean? Bond 25 remains a pawn of a chessboard controlled by various business interests.

Amusing trivia: Ian Fleming worked for Reuters in the 1930s.

MGM paid ex-CEO $15 million in severance

Gary Barber, former MGM chief

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in reporting first-quarter financial results on May 16, disclosed it paid former CEO Gary Barber about $15 million in severance.

The home studio of the James Bond film series referenced the payment in a table labeled Adjusted EBITDA (EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization).

The table listed $15.362 million as “non-recurring costs and expenses.” A footnote explained: “Non-recurring costs and expenses primarily consist of severance expenses related to the exit of our former CEO.”

MGM gave Barber the heave-ho in March, despite last year extending his contract to run through 2022. In December, in a Hollywood Reporter podcast, Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli said Barber was taking the lead on finding a distributor for Bond 25.

MGM also conducted an investor call about the first-quarter results. There was no mention about Bond 25. The only question during the call concerned how MGM is operating with a committee of executives.

The next 007 film adventure has claimed a November 2019 release date in the Unites States. However, there’s no announced distributor. Sony Pictures has released the past four Bond films.