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 Daniel Craig may or may not return, say Bond-watchers, and Sam Mendes has withdrawn as its director.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.

 

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 35th anniversary: license renewed

July is the 35th anniversary of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. It may not be the best James Bond movie but it’s certainly one of the most important for the series: 007 got his license to kill renewed.

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of Spy’s poster: Barbara Bach is “introduced” while Michael G. Wilson gets a credit he wouldn’t receive on the final version of the poster.


Spy faced many barriers to reaching the screen: the breakup between founding 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; widespread doubt (outside of Bond fandom) whether Agent 007 had a cinematic future; and legal fights as Kevin McClory sought to get back into the 007 movie game more than a decade after 1965’s Thunderball.

All of those topics have been covered in more detail than we can provide here. Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on the 10th James Bond film.

Eon Productions was now headed solely by Cubby Broccoli, aided and abetted by stepson Michael G. Wilson (who got a “special assistant to producer” credit in small type in the main titles). United Artists had bought out Saltzman’s stake in the franchise. The studio (now, in effect, Broccoli’s partner) supported the remaining Bond producer by doubling down, greatly increasing Spy’s budget compared with 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (about twice Golden Gun’s $7 million outlay).

For star Roger Moore, it was his third 007 film. It firmly established him in the role and he has said it’s his favorite Bond movie. The plot has a number of similarities with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, also directed by Lewis Gilbert. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

The script was developed after a number of writers participated without receiving a credit (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant). The final credit went to 007 stalwart Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (the latter, who got top billing in the screenplay credit, was brought in by Gilbert). There even were odd changes in the early version of the film’s poster compared with the final version.

For all the twists and turns, Spy was a big hit in the summer of 1977. It generated $185.4 million in worldwide ticket sales, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.) The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for its sets (designed by Ken Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), score (Marvin Hamlisch) and title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). The movie, though, went 0-for-3 on Oscar night.

Do all 007 film fans love Spy? No. Check out some of the comments by HMSS EDITORS, many of whom never warmed up the Roger Moore movies. Still, Spy’s success ensured there would be future 007 screen adventures, securing Broccoli’s control of the franchise.

How ‘The Trouble With Harry’ still affects the 007 franchise

Our co-publisher has sounded the alarm on how troubles at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. could imperil the movie future of James Bond. But in many ways, it’s merely the latest chapter of “The Trouble With Harry.”

Harry, of course, is Harry Saltzman who launched the Bond series with partner Albert R. Broccoli with 1962’s Dr. No. Saltzman, though, was never satisified with only doing 007 movies. He did other movie projects and got involved with business ventures. He ended up pledging his half of Danjaq LLC (and its production company, Eon Productions) as collateral to banks. As chronicled in the documentary Inside the Spy Who Loved Me, the banks began to foreclose, freezing operations at Danjaq/Eon for a time.

The situation was resolved when United Artists Corp., the studio that rleased the Bond movies, bought Saltzman’s half in the mid-1970s, and gained a direct ownership interest. Over the next two decades, UA got absorbed by MGM and MGM’s ownership changed hands multiple times. Danjaq/Eon largely retained creative control but studio types exercised influence. One small example: In GoldenEye, Bond’s original car was to have been as Aston Martin but the studio struck a deal instead of with BMW AG.

The Harry Saltzman deal thus tied 007’s future to a studio where the words “uncertain outlook” stick like glue. The trouble with Harry continues to haunt 007. For now, the words “uncertain outlook” also stick to James Bond.