An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition Part III

An Amazon logo

All those news reports were mostly correct, Amazon said it agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. Naturally, the blog still has questions.

So, does Amazon own MGM right now?

No. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval. It can’t close until then.

How long is that going to take?

Likely months. Maybe even the better part of a year. Amazon, an e-commerce giant, has emerged as a big, powerful company. Regulators are likely to take a close look.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is one of the world’s richest men. That alone, guarantees the deal won’t be rubber stamped.

How will this affect the James Bond franchise?

In the short run, not much. Presuming Amazon completes the acquisition, it will want to get to know Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions better. But MGM only controls half of the Bond franchise and Broccoli and Wilson have a lot of control.

It’s possible that Amazon still won’t own MGM this fall when No Time to Die is scheduled to be released.

In the longer run? That remains to be seen. Could Amazon try to buy out the Broccoli-Wilson family? Perhaps. But, if it were me, there’s no point attempting that until you complete the big MGM film.

UPDATE: Broccoli and Wilson sent a statement to Variety: “We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience,”

What’s driving this?

Streaming, in a word. Netflix is concentrating on developing movies and TV shows it owns rather than relying on studios. Some studios, meanwhile, are in streaming as well. For Amazon, getting MGM’s library (much of which is the old United Artists library) as a big programming source for Amazon Prime.

Didn’t MGM dismiss stories it was in talks with Amazon as “speculation in the media”? Were they fibbing?

Could be. MGM wouldn’t be the first company to use this trick while in merger talks.

Will the MGM name survive in the long run?

Despite decades of financial ills, the MGM name and its Leo the Lion logo are still well known. I suspect (assuming the Amazon deal is completed), the MGM logo will survive but it may say “an Amazon company” beneath it.

Anything else?

On May 24, the blog had a post predicting more Jeff Bezos jokes if the Amazon-MGM deal was announced. It has been a tidal wave of Bezos and Amazon puns today.

Amazon in talks to acquire MGM, Variety says

MGM logo

Amazon is in negotiations to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for about $9 billion, Variety reported.

MGM has been owned by a group of hedge funds since the studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. MGM reportedly has been for sale for months. According to Variety, talks have taken on new urgency. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder.

MGM and Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise. MGM is one of the last of the independent studio operations available for aquisition.

Bond would be one of the major properties that would interest a buyer. MGM also controls the likes of The Pink Panther and Rocky/Creed franchises. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981

Amazon runs the Amazon Prime streaming service. The company, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been expanding its entertainment properties.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film is scheduled to be released this fall. United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna, is to distribute the movie in the U.S. Universal will handle international distribution.