Bond 25 questions: MGM edition

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had a little, but not much, to say about Bond 25 after releasing fourth-quarter financial results. Naturally, that leaves the blog with more questions.

Was there anything significant in what MGM had to say about Bond 25? In a backhanded way, the studio reaffirmed that November 2019 release date.

Two different executives referenced “the return of James Bond in 2019” in their prepared remarks.

Why is that significant? MGM is the studio that fired its chief executive (Gary Barber) just last week only months after it extended his contract. Whatever the effects of Barber’s firing, MGM said indirectly in won’t affect its plans for Bond 25.

Anything else? Yeah. this is the same production that spent the better part of a year developing a script by 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Except it apparently put that story aside to see what John Hodge, writing up a new script based on an idea he had and director Danny Boyle had, can come up with.

So, whatever is going on behind the scenes, it would seem Bond 25 won’t get pushed back, at least if the studio can help it.

How stable is MGM? The post-Gary Barber management went out of its way to say things are great, just great.

We’ll see. However, during a call with investors, Barber’s name was only mentioned once and only to say executives wouldn’t answer questions about his abrupt departure.

Why Bond fans should care: MGM controls half of the 007 film franchise.

Why has no distribution deal been announced? Nobody outside of MGM knows for sure, but here’s a guess.

In April 2017, The New York Times reported five studios were seeking the Bond 25 distribution deal.

One of them, Annapurna Pictures, formed a joint venture with MGM. The joint venture will release each other’s movies in the U.S. market.

Now, Bond 25 was not part of the deal. However, on Thursday’s investors call, MGM executives talked up the joint venture as being great, just great for MGM in the long run. It will have more control over its movies and it will make more money in the long run.

Now, if it’s that good a deal, it makes no sense for Bond 25 not to be part of it. And Deadline: Hollywood reported last year, the joint venture was extremely close to distributing Bond 25 in the U.S. But a formal announcement never came.

Even if MGM-Annapurna has the U.S. deal, that still leaves international distribution. For whatever reason, that’s been a long slog with no conclusion yet.

Any other thoughts? Just one. To quote a line from a previous post, “Agent 007 is tethered to a studio where nothing seems to stay stable for long.”

Advertisements

MGM says little about Bond 25 or CEO’s departure

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer didn’t a lot to say today about either Bond 25 or the abrupt departure of CEO Gary Barber.

MGM has a strong film slate in 2018 and will have “the return of James Bond in 2019,” Chief Operating Officer Christopher Brearton said in introductory remarks during an investor call Wednesday. The company earlier reported fourth-quarter and year-end 2017 earnings.

Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay said almost the the same thing as Brearton. He said MGM films in 2019 would be “headlined by the return of James Bond. We are working with out partners at Eon Productions on what we believe will be another highly successful installment of this evergreen franchise.”

Later, during a brief question and answer session, executives were asked about the progress of negotiations for a Bond 25 distributor.

“We don’t have any formal update on this right now,” Brearton said. “We will be updating you when we have further progress in that regard.”

For now, Bond 25 doesn’t have announced distributors. MGM last year formed a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures to distribute each other’s movies in the U.S. market. But Bond 25 wasn’t part of that deal. And even if the joint venture handles Bond 25 U.S. distribution, there’s the question of who will distribute the film in international markets.

MGM had even less to say about Barber’s exit. “We will not be addressing questions about Gary’s departure,” Brearton said.

With Barber gone, MGM is being supervised by an “office of the CEO” that reports to the board of directors. Brearton talked up how remaining executives “are all energized and focused.”

Brearton, an entertainment lawyer, joined MGM last month. Barber became the top MGM executive in 2010 and led the company out of bankruptcy. MGM in October extended his contract through 2022. The extension occurred just months before Barber was fired.

THR says Broccoli & Wilson had rift with deposed MGM chief

Barbara Broccoli

The Hollywood Reporter, as part of a followup story about the firing of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chief Gary Barber, said Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions also had major differences with Barber.

“(I)nsiders say a rift had also developed between (Barber) and 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson,” according to the story by THR’s Paul Bond. ‘“There was a revolt,’ says an insider who claims the Broccoli camp ultimately refused to work with Barber.”

The THR story  was posted this morning. Variety and Deadline: Hollywood had new or updated stories Tuesday night. All three outlets described how Barber and board chairman Kevin Ulrich disagreed over strategy. Ulrich, according to the accounts, wants MGM to get bigger amid changes in media.

Variety said MGM’s board “had doubts about whether Barber had the right strategic vision and willingness to take big risks.”

Deadline said: “Ulrich saw an opportunity for MGM to remake itself into a digital powerhouse by renaming Epix with the MGM brand and making it a subscription streaming service that could line up favorably along the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Disney’s new service, Hulu and others that come along. The idea would be to include the upcoming James Bond film’s pay window as part of this.”

The upcoming film, of course, is Bond 25, which has an official U.S. release date of November 2019. Ulrich heads a New York investment company, Anchorage Capital Group, a major shareholder in MGM.

UPDATE (2:35 p.m.): The Wall Street Journal weighed in with an MGM story I can’t access because it’s behind a paywall. However, one of the reporters, Ben Fritz, sent out this tweet quoting from a Broccoli-Wilson statement that’s not referenced in the story.

 

Bond 25 questions (MGM-Gary Barber edition)

 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is now leaderless after CEO Gary Barber was apparently forced out. Naturally, the blog is intrigued and has some questions.

Why did Barber get the heave-ho? Outlets including  The Hollywood Reporter (“Barber was blindsided”), Variety (“Barber was blindsided”) and Deadline: Hollywood (“Gary Barber was asked to leave”) made it sound that Barber’s departure was swift and sudden. Considering that MGM in May extended Barber’s contract through 2022, that’s quite understandable.

The reports also cited disagreements between Barber and the board of directors.

What might that mean? Remember, MGM spent much of 2016 negotiating to sell itself to a Chinese buyer, a deal that never materialized, The Wall Street Journal reported in February 2017.

Barber, who took command of MGM in 2010 when it was in bankruptcy, has been gradually trying to expand the company. It has become a good-sized buyer of television shows.

And it took a step toward again becoming a “big boy studio” by striking a deal with Annapurna Pictures to create a joint venture to release each other’s movies. That would be a step toward MGM taking more control of its films. Until now, MGM has cut deals with other studios to distribute MGM films, including the Bond series.

Speculation: It may be the MGM board lost patience and wants to sell the studio.

UPDATE (7 p.m. eastern time): Actually, Deadline: Hollywood, in an update, says it was the other way around from the blog’s speculation — directors didn’t want to sell but Barber wanted to entertain a sale.

How might this affect Bond 25? The next 007 film was specifically exempted from the MGM-Annapurna joint venture. Deadline reported in November that joint venture was “thisclose” to securing U.S. domestic distribution. That was never announced. But if that’s an unannounced reality, there’s still the question of international distribution.

If you’re a studio interested in Bond 25 distribution (in whole or part), who do you talk to? MGM said Monday night there will be an “office of the CEO” that reports to the board until a successor is named.

More broadly, at least for now, Barber’s ouster creates uncertainty for Eon Productions and its parent company, Danjaq. MGM controls half the franchise. That means Agent 007 is tethered to a studio where nothing seems to stay stable for long.

UPDATE II (9:45 p.m., eastern time): The Tracking Board and Variety came out with similar “behind the scenes” stories Tuesday night.

The Tracking Board said a key MGM director saw the company “as a growing empire more than a company on the block as an acquisition target. ” Variety said MGM’s board “has big ambition for growing the once-troubled studio into a major force in film and TV” while deciding Barber “was not the person to lead MGM into the future.”

 

MGM CEO Barber leaving the studio

Gary Barber, former MGM chief

Gary Barber, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio for the James Bond film franchise, is departing the studio after eight years at the helm, according to numerous news accounts.

Deadline: Hollywood, in an update of its initial story, said late Monday that Barber “was asked to leave” by the company’s board of directors.

The executive was requested to depart “over disagreements on strategy about the future direction of the company,” according to the entertainment news website. “In no uncertain terms, Barber was asked to leave the company, a move that sent has employees reeling.” Barber declined to comment to Deadline about why he was leaving.

The move came after MGM in October extended Barber’s contract through 2022. Barber’s exit apparently was swift. He was still listed as CEO on the company’s website early Tuesday morning.

Barber’s exit potentially could affect Bond 25. MGM hasn’t announced how the movie will be distributed.

MGM formed a joint venture last year with Annapurna Pictures to distribute each other’s movies. Deadline in November reported the joint venture was close to getting the U.S. distributorship for the film. If the deal was completed it was never publicly disclosed. It’s possible another studio may distribute Bond 25 in international markets.

Bond 25 also hasn’t nailed down a director. Danny Boyle said last week he plans to direct the film if a script being written by John Hodge is approved.

Barber took command of MGM when the studio was in bankruptcy in 2010. He steered a slimmed down version of MGM, which has improved its finances since then.

His departure is the latest twist in an often dysfunctional relationship between MGM and Eon Productions and its parent firm, Danjaq. MGM acquired United Artists in 1981, which included half control of the Bond franchise. Relations have at time been tense between the two sides.

Barber’s tenure appeared to be an exception. In his public remarks, Barber frequently referred to Danjaq as partners.

UPDATE (1:05 p.m. eastern time): MGM has removed Barber from the part of its website featuring executives.

Broccoli says major B25 decisions to be made in 2018

Barbara Broccoli

Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, in a long interview with the THR Awards Chatter podcast, said major Bond 25 decisions won’t occur until sometime in early 2018.

Given it’s mid-December of 2017, that’s not terribly surprising. But the podcast is a chance for fans to hear things for themselves.

Asked if “we know” Bond 25’s title or director, she replied: “I don’t. It’s still to be determined.”

Asked about who will distribute the movie, she said, “It’s exciting to be courted. We’ll hopefully be making that decision early next year.”

Gary Barber, CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, “is leading this whole crusade,” Broccoli said, referring to the distributor issue.

MGM is home studio to the Bond franchise. The last four 007 films were released by Sony Pictures. With Skyfall and SPECTRE, Sony also co-financed but only got 25 percent of the profits.

MGM is getting back into distribution seven years after exiting bankruptcy. It formed a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures to distribute each other’s movies. But, for now at least, that joint venture isn’t involved with Bond 25.

Broccoli was asked whether Bond 25’s distribution may be split between the U.S. and internationally. “That’s all to be decided in the future,” she said.

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are “busy working away, trying to come up with something fantastic.”

The producer went into more detail about how went to work for Eon, co-founded by her father, Albert R. Broccoli. Broccoli, 57, doesn’t do a lot of interviews and this one is longer than most. Among the highlights:

Working in her teens on The Spy Who Loved Me: “My job was captioning stills.” She had to do through a lot of film and “you’d have to come up with captions.

Working on Octopussy as an assistant director: “I was basically a runner. I was a third assistant (director).” One of her responsibilities was dealing with a large group of young actresses. “I was responsible for herding them and get them around.”

Associate producer Tom Pevsner was “a mentor to me.” Broccoli said she learned the art of production scheduling from Pevsner. “He taught me about breaking down scripts…He was an incredible man.”

Pevsner joined the series with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. With 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill both Broccoli and Pevsner had the title of associate producer. Pevsner’s final Bond film was 1995’s GoldenEye, where he had the title of executive producer. Pevsner died in 2014.

On her working style with half-brother Michael G. Wilson: “Michael and I are very different. Strangely enough, when it comes to Bond, we always agree.”

On 007 actor Daniel Craig: “He brought humanity to the character…making Bond relevant to today.”

Broccoli said she first saw Craig in the 1998 film Elizabeth. “He has the most incredible presence on the screen,” she said of Craig. “He’s lit from within. I remember thinking, ‘What a force.’ I just watched everything he did.”

Craig announced in August he’d return for a fifth film as Bond. Before that announcement, Broccoli said, “My heart was breaking.”

To check out the podcast, CLICK HERE. The Broccoli interview begins at the 40:36 mark and lasts almost an hour. She also discusses her non-Bond movie, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in detail as well as talking Bond.

About that lack of a Bond 25 distributor

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Some James Bond fans were sure — just sure — that Global James Bond Day would include a significant announcement about Bond 25.

But, like Linus in the Peanuts comic strip looking forward to seeing the Great Pumpkin, those 007 fans were disappointed. The only Global James Bond Day announcement was a one-day sale of 007 T-shirts at 10 percent off.

Denis Villeneuve being announced as Bond 25’s director? Didn’t happen.

Announcement of Bond 25’s distributor? Didn’t happen.

Until that distributor issue is resolved, Bond 25 can only proceed so far. Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in July announced a U.S. release date of November 2019. But neither has a global distribution operation. MGM needs to cut a deal with somebody who has that capability.

Are such entities interested? Of course. But that distributor likely is going to have to supply a lot of the financing. Sony provided half of the production costs of Skyfall and SPECTRE, but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony only got a small profit for Skyfall and who knows if it got anything for SPECTRE between higher production outlays and a bit less at the box office.

There was one other bit of Bond-related news on Global James Bond Day 2017. MGM extended the contract for CEO Gary Barber to 2022, according to the Deadline: Hollywood entertainment news website.

Barber has been gradually improving MGM’s business. But the studio’s biggest asset still remains Agent 007.

As the Twitter feed for the MI6 James Bond website asked, “How about getting on that Bond 25 distribution deal now, Gary?”