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.

 

007 (or so) observations about Moonraker

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Wednesday, June 29, was the 37th anniversary of Moonraker’s U.S. debut. The 11th James Bond film doesn’t get much love from fans in the 21st century. Yet, it was a huge financial success in the 20th.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations about the film:

001: Drax’s disdain for Britain: This may reflect a few bits of Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel that made it into the movie.

The nationality of Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t specified but he clearly isn’t British. He keeps a British butler around, mostly to boss around.

The Moonraker villain also tells Bond that “afternoon tea” is the U.K.’s greatest contribution to Western civilization. Later (after Bond has investigated Drax’s Venice facilities), Drax makes a comment about not understanding British humor.

002: Bond’s physical stamina: As Bond (Roger Moore) agrees to take a ride in Drax’s centrifuge, Holly (Lois Chiles) says “even a 70-year-old” can take “three Gs” (the force of takeover). Holly says most people “pass out” at seven Gs. Bond withstands *13 Gs* before activating a device he got from Q to escape.

003: One of the best (unheralded) scenes of the movie: Bond further investigates Drax’s Venice facilities. For the Moore version of Bond, this represents one of his deadliest miscalculations.

Bond briefly observes two of Drax’s scientists at work. Visually, there are a number of things to catch the viewer’s eyes. When the scientists briefly walk away, 007 moves in further.

Unfortunately, Bond didn’t leave everything as he left it, and the two scientists die as a result. One of the best shots of the film is one of the scientists dying while Bond watches on the other side of a Plexiglass barrier.

Yes, this sequence included the joke that draws groans from hard-core Bond fans (the John Williams theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the entry code). Still, overall, the sequence is a mostly serious one for a very lighthearted movie.

004: The minister of defense (defence to our British friends) plays Bridge with Drax: Others have made this observation long ago, but it is one of the few direct references to Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel. So we thought we’d mention it here.

005: Bond is a cheapskate! No tip, James? You get to stay in the President’s Suite at an expensive hotel in Rio and you stiff the guy on the tip. In From Russia With Love, Bond (Sean Connery) stuffed his tip in the suitcoat pocket of the guy who took him to his Istanbul hotel room. He shows his contempt while *still* giving a tip.

But here? Come on, Bond! The guy is just trying to make a living!

006: Bond’s brief moment of compassion for a fellow MI6 agent: After almost getting killed by Jaws, the MI6 agent in Rio offers to still help bond. He declines, saying she should get some rest.

007: Bond’s cable car reaction: Only 007 would react to a stalled cable car by going to the car’s roof. Only a CIA agent (Holly in this case) would have a first reaction to grab the nearest chain. Also, how many cable cars have a chain laying around?

008: The special effects of the boat chase weren’t that good, even in 1979: Friend or foe of the movie, this was not a highlight.

Seriously, the Spy Commander saw the film five times in the theater and you can could discern what was real and was special effects.. But Albert R. Broccoli & Co. had the good sense to keep up the pace to get past that.

009: Bond momentarily loses his cool: It only lasts a few seconds, but Bond really is annoyed with Jaws (Richard Kiel) after the henchman fishes 007 out of Drax’s pool.

0010: Some of the walls of Drax’s space station seem to be made of cardboard: Ken Adam (1921-2016) was one of the greatest production designers in the history of film. But a few shots in the climatic space station fight indicate the budget was running low.

0011: John Barry deserves every compliment he’s ever gotten for this film: The veteran 007 composer improves almost every scene in the movie with his score. It might not be his best Bond score, but Barry elevates the film throughout.

0012: This film is unique in the 007 film series:  It’s the one time that Eon Productions founder Albert R. Broccoli more or less didn’t have to worry about the budget.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Eon had to confront whether the 007 film series could continue after Sean Connery left for good and after Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold his interest to United Artists.

In the 1980s (and beyond), Eon had to deal with budget issues after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired UA in the early part of the decade.

For Moonraker, Broccoli really had (almost) Carte Blanche for making a Bond movie. This really was “the money’s up on the screen.”

 

MGM watch: 007’s studio seen getting stronger

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which controls half of the James Bond franchise, is becoming stronger financially six years after exiting bankruptcy, author and former studio executive Peter Bart writes in a commentary for the Deadline: Hollywood website.

Bart’s story paints MGM as “one of the most consistently profitable” studios.

“MGM produces 5-7 movies a year, has 14 TV shows on the air, has earned a profit of $124 million in its first quarter, and is positioned to make some intriguing acquisitions in the coming year,” Bart wrote.

How could this shake out for future James Bond films?

Executives at rival studios think MGM might re-enter the distribution business next year with the next James Bond film, but this is still speculation. A merger with another major — Paramount or Lionsgate are prospects — is now feasible given MGM’s weight in TV as well as film. Then there’s always the mega-plan: the Amazons and Apples are always hovering. At this point, the possibilities exist, but the decisions haven’t been made. (emphasis added)

MGM hasn’t released a Bond film since 2002’s Die Another Day. The last four were actually released by Sony Pictures. Sony was part of a group that had control of MGM for a few years.

After MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy, Sony cut a deal where it co-financed 007 films with with MGM but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony’s contract with MGM for Bond films expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

Bart, 83, was the editor in chief of Variety from 1989 to 2009. But Bart also worked as an executive at studios, including MGM and Paramount. He’s also written books about the film industry, including 1990’s Fade Out: The Calamitous Final Days of MGM.

Bart doesn’t venture too far into 007’s film future but says the gentleman spy will continue to be part of it.

A key resource for MGM, of course, continues to be the Bond franchise, which is in a moment of flux. Daniel Craig may or may not return, say Bond-watchers, and Sam Mendes has withdrawn as its director. And while Barber is tempted to re-establish MGM’s distribution arm to handle the Bond film, he apparently also believes MGM resources may be more profitably focused on acquisitions or other initiatives.

MGM and Eon Productions have had an uneasy relationship since 1981 when MGM acquired United Artists, the studio that originally released Bond films. Before that, UA acquired Harry Saltzman’s stake in the Bond franchise when the co-founder of Eon was in financial trouble in the mid-1970s.

The main question Bart leaves unanswered is whether Gary Barber, who has been either co-CEO or sole CEO since MGM exited bankruptcy, has managed to change that.

Barber said in March he’s not in a hurry to negotiate a new 007 film releasing deal with other studios. The MGM chief declined to comment to Bart.

To read the entire Bart commentary, CLICK HERE.

 

A footnote about two of Wilson & Broccoli’s non-007 films

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

We read a debate on a 007-related message board about the non-Bond films of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Supporters of the Eon Productions co-bosses said it was great they were involved with other projects, it would keep them fresh and invigorated. Skeptics wondered whether this would adversely affect the Bond series.

This post doesn’t take a side in the debate. Rather, it’s to provide additional information. We’ll take it step-by-step.

–Broccoli and Wilson are listed as executive producers on two independent films, Radiator and The Silent Storm.

–What does that mean? “Executive producer” in movies is a secondary, supportive-type title to the producer or producers. On television, executive producer is the title used by the top producer or producers of a show.

On SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film, Broccoli and Wilson were producers (the top producers, naturally) and Callum McDougall was executive producer. McDougall also doubled as unit production manager.

–Put another way, Broccoli and Wilson aren’t the primary producers on either Radiator or The Silent Storm, the same way Callum McDougall wasn’t the primary producer on SPECTRE.

Broccoli and Wilson are among 12 executive producers on The Silent Storm and among eight executive producers on Radiator.

The lead producers of Radiator were Tom Browne and Genevieve Stevens. The lead producers of The Silent Storm was Nicky Bentham.

As for the debate on the message board, the real question is how well Broccoli and Wilson are at multi-tasking.

In the 1960s, there was a tension between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli (Barbara Broccoli’s father and Michael G. Wilson’s stepson) and Harry Saltzman.

Saltzman pursued a number of non-Bond projects while Albert R. Broccoli (aside from Call Me Bwana and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the latter based on another Ian Fleming novel) concentrated on the 007 series.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, meanwhile, are pursuing the Saltzman model. Besides the independent films, they’re also involved in plays and television projects.

Guy Hamilton, Goldfinger director, dies

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton, director of the first 007 mega-hit, Goldfinger, died at 93, according to an OBITUARY BY THE BBC.

Hamilton directed four Bond films, with Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun being the others. He initially agreed to direct The Spy Who Loved Me, but bowed out after agreeing to direct Superman. He ended up not directing that movie either, paving the way for Richard Donner to helm Christopher Reeve’s debut as the Man of Steel.

Hamilton also was offered the opportunity to direct Dr. No, the first 007 film produced by Eon Productions. He refused, with Terence Young eventually getting the job. After Young turned down Goldfinger, Hamilton didn’t say no to Bond a second time.

Hamilton was no rookie in the film industry when he got the Goldfinger job. He had been assistant director on The Third Man (1949) and The African Queen (1951). In the early 1950s, he graduated to the director’s chair on a series of films.

In the 1990s, Hamilton was interviewed by the British writer and film historian Adrian Turner for the book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger. Some highlights:

–On Eon Productions founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman: “Harry had the subtlety of an ape and he made Sean (Connery) feel like a complete gorilla…I could work happily with Harry and happily with Cubby, but when they were together it was a nightmare.”

— On Pussy Galore being gay in Ian Fleming’s original novel: “We had to glide over it. And you had to be wary of the censor who played a very big part in Bond.”

— On how a skeleton crew shot at the real Fort Knox: “It was just (Director of photography) Ted (Moore), Cubby ( producer Albert R. Broccoli) and me, and we did more shooting the next day than I think I’ve ever done in my life.”

–On taking over from Terence Young’s crew on Dr. No and From Russia With Love: “They were obviously surprised by the success of Dr. No and Russia so they were a bit lazy and arrogant…It was part of my job to put a big boot up all their arses.”

–On Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun: “I regret doing the two with Roger (Moore)…They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

–On how Hamilton though Burt Reynolds would be a good James Bond: “I was in America and found the perfect Bond, who was Burt Reynolds. He had all Sean’s (Connery’s) qualities, a nice wit, but he moved like a dream. But UA (United Artists) said forget it, he’s just a stuntman.”

In the 21st century, some fans view Hamilton as being lucky with getting the Goldfinger job, while his three following 007 films didn’t come close to meeting the same standard.

Regardless, Hamilton was in the director’s chair for the first Bond film that made 007 a worldwide phenomenon. His record also includes directing a Harry Palmer film for Harry Saltzman (Funeral in Berlin) as well as the producer’s Battle of Britain movie.

With Hamilton’s passing, only Lewis Gilbert (b. 1920) remains among the directors of the first 11 Bond films. Terence Young died in 1994 and Peter Hunt died in 2002.

Roger Moore took to Twitter to write about Hamilton.

The Guardian’s daft 007 proposal

Carmine Infantino's cover to Flash No. 123, "The Flash of Two Worlds."

The Guardian’s proposal for alternate-universe 007s sounds a lot like “The Flash of Two Worlds” story published by DC Comics in 1961.

The Guardian has come out with a story in effect saying don’t choose between Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba as the next James Bond but do movies with both — at the same time.

The British newspaper cited how, “We are, after all, living in the era of Marvel’s highly successful expanded universe of interconnected movie and TV superhero stories. Star Wars’ take on the concept is moving forward apace, and Warner Bros has 10 films based on the DC Comics back catalogue planned between now and 2020.”

That sets up the meat of the proposal:

But Bond is just as big as any of the above, and right now seems even more suited to being split into multiple strands. Elba fans reckon the Hackney-born Londoner would make the perfect 21st-century 007, while Hiddlestonians see their Eton-educated man as the epitome of traditional Flemingesque toff sophistication. So why not take the opportunity presented by Craig’s mooted departure and give both versions screen time?

Here are two reasons why the Guardian’s idea is daft.

–Expanded universes and multiple/alternate universes are not the same thing.

To use Marvel as an example, the Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man co-exists in the same fictional universe as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Evans’ Captain America. The characters have been featured in separate films and have also been in movies together. That’s what Warner Bros. is moving toward with the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie that opens this week.

What The Guardian is calling for are movies featuring alternate universe versions of Bond. Eon Productions opened the door to this concept when it rebooted the 007 series ten years ago with Casino Royale. The production company decided to start over, but kept the popular Judi Dench as M, with the explanation that Dench is playing a different version of the character than she did previously.

The Guardian is calling for an Elba 007 set in the present time and a Hiddleston Bond set in the time of the original Ian Fleming novels. Unless the two Bonds suddenly develop super powers, like the two versions of DC Comics’ The Flash, the two Bonds can never meet because they’re in separate universes.

Still, some fans might be intrigued with watching alternate takes. So let’s look at the second reason.

–Eon has trouble enough producing one James Bond movie every three years. Do you really expect it to produce, in effect, two series at once?

Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has talked since at least 1999 about how exhausting it is to make Bond movies. Barbara Broccoli, the other co-boss, told the Los Angeles Times in November 2012 that she didn’t want to hurry future 007 installments.

“Sometimes there are external pressures from a studio who want you to make it in a certain time frame or for their own benefit, and sometimes we’ve given into that,” Broccoli said. “But following what we hope will be a tremendous success with ‘Skyfall,’ we have to try to keep the deadlines within our own time limits and not cave in to external pressures.”

Also, even with a three-year gap between Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, the scripting process was chaotic. So imagine that situation squared as Eon produced twin Bond series. And that doesn’t take into consideration other ideas put forth by The Guardian, including a Netflix series (similar to the Netflix shows featuring other Marvel characters) featuring Moneypenny.

Finally, on top of all that, Broccoli and Wilson are interested in various non-Bond projects. In that respect, they’re more like Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman than they are the other co-found Albert R. Broccoli, who never did a non-Bond film after 1968.

Live And Let Die: a soundtrack to listen without earmuffs

Design for LIve And Let Die's soundtrack album

Design for LIve And Let Die’s soundtrack album

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

George Martin was the first composer to face the challenge that would later come to Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, David Arnold and Thomas Newman: to replace the role of John Barry in a James Bond movie.

The soundtrack is an important part of every movie, and the James Bond films are not an exception. From Dr. No to Diamonds Are Forever, Barry had put his talent to the service of Eon Productions and set the standard for “the spy music,” either with dramatic sounds for Thunderball, funny melodies for Goldfinger or an Asian flavor for 007’s incursion into the east with You Only Live Twice. No matter what vibe he took, the John Barry cues always fitted the words “spy music.”

But in 1973, John Barry was busy composing a musical and unable to score Roger Moore’s debut in the franchise, Live and Let Die. He suggested George Martin, who had been producer of The Beatles.

It was a huge challenge: a new Bond had to be introduced and a new era in the series had begun. And every time a new actor is seen in the 007 gunbarrel logo, the composer has to adapt his tunes to the interpretative style of the new Bond and other topics of the movie: the script, the settings and the period of time.

George Martin was the first to take up the challenge of following in Barry’s footsteps and passed with flying colors. The score for Live and Let Die is explosive, adrenaline filled and exotic.

Tracks like “Trespassers will be Eaten,”, “Bond to New York” and “Whisper who Dares” capture the adventurist feeling of Roger Moore’s Bond adding an atmosphere of thrills and excitement. “Bond meets Solitaire” and “The Lovers” accentuate the delicateness of Jane Seymour’s Solitaire.

The Caribbean flavor of the film is transpired in tracks like “San Monique,” “Sacrifice” and “Baron Samedi’s Dance of Death” while the main motif of the title song is repeated often through the album, either to cue action sequences like the boat chase or as a source music, in a soul version performed by B J Arnau as James and Felix visit the Fillet of Soul bar.

The main title song, Live and Let Die, was also produced by George Martin who insisted to producer Harry Saltzman to hire Paul McCartney for the title song, warning him he’d drop the project if he refused.

Saltzman, a man hard to convince, went for the deal and Martin wasn’t wrong: the song, written by Paul and his wife Linda the same day they finished Ian Fleming’s novel, was the first Bond theme to get an Oscar nomination and it’s widely admired by Bond fans, brilliantly striking with Maurice Binder’s terrifying and colorful main title sequence.

Just like You Only Live Twice’s Asian feeling, Goldfinger’s swinging melody and Diamonds Are Forever’s luscious sound, Live and Let Die lets the influence of the new decade (the 1970s) fill into the soundtrack in a clever and representative way.

George Martin proved indeed the golden sound of Bond, established by John Barry, could be provided by many talented composers.