Some unimportant questions about Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Following this week’s announcement of a 2019 release date for Bond 25 here are some unimportant questions about 007’s next film adventure.

Why make this announcement now? The announcement came the Monday after last weekend’s San Diego Comic Con. That event saw November’s Thor: Ragnarok film, this November’s Justice League movie and next year’s Avengers: Infinity War film grab a lot of publicity. Perhaps it’s a chance to remind audiences that James Bond is yet to be heard from?

Why announce a release date without a star, distributor or a director? We don’t really know. See answer (such as it is) to the previous question for a possible explanation.

What do you mean by that? The San Diego Comic Con has become a publicity launching pad for movies and television shows. 007 has been mostly a no-show at the San Diego Con. Although, to be fair, there were some 007-licensed dolls that were part of this year’s comic con festivities.

Why not announce more? Short answer: The principals aren’t ready to say more right now.

Of course, the short announcement on Monday wasn’t the last word.

The New York Times reported the same day that Daniel Craig’s return as Bond was a “done deal.” Deadline: Hollywood said there were three finalists to direct. And Variety said one of said finalists, Frenchman Yann Demange, is the front runner.

Could it be this is part of a marketing master plan by Eon Productions?

Well, if:

–Eon and Craig got together as SPECTRE wrapped production in July 2015 and knowing Craig was scheduled to do some interviews which would be embargoed until October, Eon publicists encouraged Craig to say he’d rather slash his wrists than play Bond again.

–When the interviews came out in October, the plan was this would create some uncertainty whether Craig would and create extra buzz as SPECTRE was being released.

–That Eon’s Michael G. Wilson, in an interview in November 2015, would say Craig wasn’t signed to a contract, to deliberately further stoke up the uncertainty and buzz.

–That Eon (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) deliberately planted stories like a September 2016 one in Vanity Fair saying that MGM CEO Gary Barber contacted Craig “to express his frustration in no uncertain terms” with the actor because of the “slash my wrists” interviews.

So, if all that happened, then, yeah, events of the past two years may have been part of a well-oiled plan worthy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Or maybe not.

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Broken record: MGM has nothing to say about Bond 25

MGM had more to say about Steve Harvey’s Funderdome than it did about Bond 25

Yes, it does sound like a broken record. But once again, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, had nothing to say about Bond 25.

The company released its first-quarter financial results on May 16. MGM commented about completing the rest of the Epix premium channel it didn’t own. It talked about various TV projects, including Steve Havey’s Funderdome, a reality television series for MGM. And updates about various movie remakes, including Tomb Raider and Death Wish.

But no mention about Bond 25, part of the film series which once upon a time was MGM’s major financial asset.

Instead, CEO Gary Barber said the mini-studio has an “increasingly diversified base of earnings” because of the Epix deal.

“This is an exciting time for MGM,” Barber said at the conclusion of an investor call.

Last month, The New York Times said MGM was entertaining offers from five studios to release Bond 25. Barber neither addressed the story nor received any questions about Bond 25 or any related 007 topics.

MGM says nothing about Bond 25 on conference call

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said nothing about Bond 25 during a 24-minute conference call to discuss 2016 earnings.

CEO Gary Barber didn’t mention Bond 25 in prepared remarks. Shareholders asked no questions despite recent reports last month in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal that MGM had been shopping itself to an unidentified Chinese buyer. The deal came undone late last year, the Journal said.

MGM instead highlighted remakes it has in production or planned, including Tomb Raider, Death Wish and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The company also said it plans to increase its “content spend” this year to $400 million to $440 million from $218 million in 2016.

In March 2016, Barber said on an investor call that Bond movies would come out on a three- to four-year cycle. There has been no significant news from the studio about Bond 25 since.

MGM isn’t big enough to release films on its own and cuts deals with other studios to distribute and co-finance movies. MGM doesn’t have a distribution deal for Bond 25. The last four 007 films have been distributed by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture Bond deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The latest conference call is archived on MGM’s investor relations page of its website.

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.

MGM: Bond 25 to be released ‘over the next few years’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expects Bond 25 to come out “over the next few years,” CEO Gary Barber said last week, without providing specifics.

On a conference call with investors and analysts, CEO Gary Barber listed “premium franchise titles” that “we expect to release over the next few years.” The list included Bond 25 as well as reboots of Death Wish and Tomb Raider.

A recording of the call is on the investor relations portion of MGM’s website.

MGM on Nov. 10 reported a third-quarter profit of $12 million, down from $124 million a year earlier. The main reason for the plunge was the studio’s unsuccessful Ben Hur remake released in August.

MGM, since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, primarily makes television shows. It produces a small film slate, including the 007 series. But MGM isn’t big enough to release movies on its own. So it enters distribution deals with other studios. Ben-Hur, for example, was released by Paramount.

Sony Studios, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films. Sony’s most recent two-picture contract, where it co-financed Bond movies with MGM, expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. No new 007 distribution deal has been announced.

Thanks to reader Matthew Miner for the heads up.

Craig angered MGM chief, Vanity Fair says

Poster for SPECTRE

Poster for SPECTRE

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top executive was angered last year when SPECTRE star Daniel Craig said he’s rather “slash my wrists” than play James Bond again, Vanity Fair reported.

The disclosure was part of a broader story mostly intended to knock down last weekend’s Radar Online story that the actor is being offered $150 million to do two more 007 films. (The publication says the offer is “is as fictional as Francisco Scaramanga’s third nipple”).

Here’s an excerpt that concerns MGM’s CEO, Gary Barber:

Craig’s “slash my wrists” comment didn’t exactly endear him to MGM’s chief executive and chairman Gary Barber who, Vanity Fair has learned, personally contacted the actor last year to express his frustration in no uncertain terms. (An email to Craig’s publicist was not immediately returned.)

“Gary hit the ceiling when he read the story,” says a source with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. “He called up Daniel to yell at him. He was furious.”

Quick recap: Craig made the mark in an interview with Time Out London. The interview was conducted a few days after the seven-month shoot of SPECTRE was completed but not published until October.

The article was in Q&A format and the “slash my wrists” comment was in response to the 17th of 22 questions. Neverthless, other outlets jumped on the quote, leading with it in their summaries of the interview. Craig fans have been crying foul ever since on social media.

This isn’t the first time something like this has been reported. The New York Post’s Page Six gossip page  said 11 months ago that executives at Sony Pictures, which co-financed SPECTRE with MGM, had told Craig to shut up.

Vanity Fair, though, is considerably higher brow than the tabloid New York Post. The Vanity Fair story also says Craig still is contractually obligated to do another Bond movie. Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, said last year that Craig is not.

To read the entire Vanity Fair story, CLICK HERE.

Celebrating 35 years of Eon-MGM dysfunction

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the uneasy alliance between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After all this time, the relationship doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.

In 1981, MGM acquired United Artists after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. threw up its hands, opting to get rid of UA and exit the movie business. UA had just dropped a big flop, Heaven’s Gate. Transamerica, which acquired UA in 1967, had enough.

Eon (and its parent company Danjaq) had a reasonably warm relationship with UA.

United Artists simply released the first nine Bond films made by Eon. The studio (which coughed up the money to actually make the movies) occasionally influenced the films. Most famously, it was UA that insisted on bringing Sean Connery back to play 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But for the most part, Eon had a pretty long leash.

The two sides grew closer after UA bought out Harry Saltzman’s stake in the 007 franchise in 1975 when the Danjaq-Eon co-founder ran into financial trouble. Still, UA executives thought a lot about Eon chief Albert R. Broccoli, including maintaining an office for him at UA headquarters in New York.

When MGM bought UA, things changed. The 2015 book Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury goes into some detail about this. Budgets tightened, as did studio oversight. There was a Danjaq-Eon lawsuit when MGM ownership changed at one point, a catalyst in the 1989-1995 hiatus in 007 film production.

Even after the lawsuit was settled, there was tension. Things were never as warm between Eon and MGM as when Broccoli and Saltzman cut their first deal with UA in 1961.

It didn’t help that MGM was long past its prime even in 1981, when it first got into the Bond business. By that point, MGM simply didn’t have the resources as other major studios.

By the mid-2000s, MGM was barely a studio. Sony Pictures actually released the last four James Bond movies, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s Columbia Pictures logo appeared with MGM’s Leo the Lion logo at the start of 007 films.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM was mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It financed a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval. But Barbara Broccoli, current co-boss of Eon, made clear in 2012 she had no plans to make Bond films that quickly.

MGM chief Gary Barber

MGM chief Gary Barber

Gary Barber, who became MGM chief during the bankruptcy, backed off. These days he doesn’t even mention that bankruptcy court business plan. Earlier this year, he said 007 films would come out on a “three-to-four-year cycle.”

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

Barber is trying to demonstrate that MGM is a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

This weekend, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

For now, Eon/Danjaq and MGM are more or less in the same place they were 35 years ago.

MGM needs Eon to make James Bond films, still the studio’s biggest asset. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli wants to make dramas that have nothing to do with James Bond.

At the same time, Eon/Danjaq can’t make James Bond films without doing business with MGM, as much as Eon/Danjaq might like to do so.

It’s a cliche, but true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.