Historian takes a brief look at North by Northwest

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Michael Beschloss, a historian who writes about U.S. presidents, turned his attention over the weekend to North by Northwest.

Beschloss’ Twitter feed (@BeschlossDC) often notes the anniversary of major historical events, accompanied by photos and illustrations. But he also posts tweets about the arts and society.

For North by Northwest, the 1959 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Beschloss had two posts.

One tweet included part of a document from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which would release the movie, to National Park Service concerning how Mount Rushmore would be used in the movie.

“None of our characters would tread upon the faces of the Presidents,” the document reads.

Beschloss also tweeted a photo of a brochure marked up by screenwriter to work out the Mount Rushmore sequence.

You can take a look for yourself.

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So who is going to buy 007’s home studio?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

It seems as if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s days are numbered as an independent studio. So who ends up with 007’s home studio?

A new era of media consolidation is underway. And MGM is a small fry.

AT&T Inc. has completed its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., CNN, TBS and other media properties. The move comes after a U.S. court approved the deal earlier this week.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, is trying to buy most of the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

Comcast is offering $65 billion in cash after 21st Century Fox agreed in December to accept $52.4 billion in stock from Walt Disney Co. An all-out bidding war is expected from the two media giants.

MGM supposedly is trying to go it alone. But, in this new media reality, that seems a long shot at best.

MGM is mostly owned by hedge funds following the company’s 2010 bankruptcy. Hedge funds rarely invest for the long run. They mostly look for a quick turnaround. The fact that the hedge fund owners have held on to their ownership for eight years is remarkable enough.

Given how volatile the situation is, making a prediction about who will buy MGM seems foolhardy. But it seems likely somebody will at some point.

Comcast’s Universal recently won the rights to distribute Bond 25 outside the U.S. So Universal may have a foot in the door. Maybe.

Here’s another question worth asking.

Would a bidder for MGM get out its checkbook and buy out Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions?

After all, if you’re going to go to the trouble of buying MGM, shouldn’t you buy all the James Bond film rights? Especially if media companies are throwing around tens of billions of dollars for acquisitions?

Some Bond fans feel the Broccoli-Wilson family would never sell out. Star Wars fans used to say to the same thing about George Lucas before he sold the franchise to Walt Disney Co.

Interesting days may lay ahead.

MGM pays ex-CEO a lot of money to go away

Gary Barber, former MGM chief, has reason to smile.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has bought shares and options from former CEO Gary Barber essentially to make him go away, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Barber received $260 million for 274,392 shares the former chief owned plus options for almost another 3.9 million shares, according to the entertainment news website.

That was on top of about $15 million in severance compensation that Barber received after being fired in March.

Deadline said in return Barber agreed “not to engage” with MGM for three years. Reuters reported last month that Barber was looking into making a bid for MGM. This new deal would preclude that.

What does this mean for Bond 25? Not much. The main effect is Barber goes away, albeit with a lot more money in his bank account.

Had Barber actually mounted a takeover bid, it had the potential to be a sideshow as MGM and Eon Productions are in the midst of getting Bond 25 off the ground. Sideshow averted.

MGM’s credit rating downgraded by Moody’s

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s credit rating was downgraded, in part because of increased film and TV spending, including Bond 25.

“We believe that the front-end spending on the company’s film (including the next Bond film) and television slate are strategically beneficial,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a statement. At the same time, the New York-based ratings company said “financing the build up with all debt adds financial risk to business risks that are higher than average.”

MGM debt already was below investment grade, known popularly as “junk bonds.” Moody’s lowered its rating on MGM to Ba3 from Ba2. The minimum investment rating at Moody’s is Baa3. MGM, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, now is three levels into junk at Moody’s. The company said it doesn’t expect MGM’s rating to improve through 2019.

Essentially, Moody’s is saying MGM’s increased debt has increased the company’s risk.

MGM has been increasing its debt as it seeks to upgrade its Epix cable channel. Moody’s said the studio’s increased debt ” is a departure from the company’s very conservative financial policies espoused by its departing CEO Gary Barber.”

Barber led MGM out of bankruptcy in 2010. He was ousted earlier this year. A successor has yet to be named.

MGM is home studio to the 007 film franchise, which it controls with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions.

Why Bond 25 may not do much economizing

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

One question about Bond 25 is whether its budget may get trimmed. 2015’s SPECTRE was the most expensive 007 film adventure, with an estimated $245 million budget including Mexican tax credits and product placement deals.

While it’s too early to say definitively, there are signs that Bond 25 won’t exactly fly economy class.

Craig’s reported paycheck: Earlier this month, Variety reported that star Daniel Craig is set for a $25 million payday from his fifth Bond film. It was the highest amount in a survey of actor compensation by the trade publication.

If correct, that makes it harder to drastically cut the budget. For example, if you wanted to cut Bond 25’s outlay to $100 million to $150 million, Craig’s pay would mean you could only spend $75 million to $125 million for the rest of the film.

Boyle’s change of attitude: Director Danny Boyle has a reputation for making very lean, small-scale films. Some fans on internet message boards have speculated Boyle in Bond 25’s director chair could mean a less epic, leaner 007 outing.

Not so fast.

This week, Boyle spoke at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Here’s an excerpt from a story about the talk on LIPA’s website.

Danny says, at first, he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the job (for Bond 25). “I like watching big films but I don’t think I’m necessarily good at making them. Then I thought ‘no, you shouldn’t think like that’.”

Working with long-time collaborator, writer John Hodge, Danny explained why he accepted. “We have this idea about what we want to do with Bond and I felt we should have a go because of this idea. So we are trying to stay true to our principles.” (emphasis added)

It sounds, at the very least, Boyle may be more than willing to have a go at an epic-like film.

Broccoli’s ambitions: The Screen Daily website this week ran a story about how Universal became the international distributor for Bond 25. There was this passage:

“(Eon Productions boss) Barbara Broccoli wants a one billion dollar international gross,” says one industry expert, noting that international box office accounts for the bulk of Bond films’ global theatrical revenues. No 007 release has ever achieved this, and Universal knows a thing or two about getting to the hallowed milestone. Of only seven films to cross $1bn at the international box office, Universal has released three, and it has done so in the last three years: Furious 7 and Jurassic World in 2015, and Fate Of The Furious in 2017.

Only one Bond film surpassed $1 billion globally. 2012’s Skyfall had $304.4 million in the U.S. and $804.2 million internationally. SPECTRE slipped to $200 million in the U.S. and $680.6 million internationally.

To achieve that $1 billion international mark, Bond 25 would have to generate more than 45 percent more box office compared with SPECTRE. Higher ticket prices will help some. But if Broccoli really wants $1 billion, excluding the U.S. market, Bond is going to have to ramp things up.

What’s more, if Broccoli really is seeking $1 billion internationally, that generally means mounting a big-scale production. Marvel Studios filmed two Avengers movies back to back, Avengers: Infinity War, released in late April and the yet-to-titled Avengers 4, due out next year.

It’s been estimated the combined cost of the two movies may reach as much as $1 billion. Avengers: Infinity War has been a big hit (global box office of $1.9 billion so far).

Big risks, big rewards. If the expert quoted by Screen Daily is correct (and the website didn’t identify him or her), that may mean that Bond 25 may be a more high stakes game than anything 007 encountered in a novel or movie scene.

Bond 25 announcements confirm director, distribution

Daniel Craig

Official announcements about Bond 25 being directed by Danny Boyle and its distribution were issued early Friday.

Versions were on the official James Bond website and official James Bond feed on Twitter.

They followed a story late Thursday by Deadline: Hollywood that Universal would distribute the movie internationally while a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures would distribute it in the United States. The story also said Boyle was confirmed as director.

The announcements also confirmed a Feb. 21 story in Deadline about how  Boyle would direct is a script by John Hodge were accepted. Boyle said as such in subsequent public appearances but that hadn’t been part of official announcements until now.

A March 8 story by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, who has had a number of 007 scoops confirmed in the past, said star Daniel Craig was “pulling out all the stops” to have Boyle direct the new Bond film.

The announcements reference Hodge working on Bond 25’s script. A July 24, 2017 announcement said veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were writing Bond 25.

Excerpt from the announcement issued early today:

Daniel Craig returns as 007 and Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Steve Jobs) will direct from an original screenplay by Academy Award nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting) with production set to begin on 3 December 2018. Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release the film theatrically in the US on 8 November 2019 through its new joint venture for domestic theatrical distribution with Annapurna Pictures, and Universal Pictures will release internationally commencing with the traditional earlier release in the UK on 25 October 2019.

Here is what the Twitter version looked like:

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Deadline says Bond 25 distribution settled

Bond 25’s distribution has been settled, Deadline: Hollywood reported. with Universal taking over the international distribution.

Universal will also handle home video distribution, the entertainment website, citing sources it didn’t identify.

U.S. distribution will be through a joint venture that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures formed last year, Deadline said.

That joint venture was announced on Oct. 31. Deadline reported in November that the joint venture was “thisclose” to securing U.S. distribution rights but no formal announcement has been made.

Deadline also said the movie will debut in the U.K. on Oct. 25, 2019, with a U.S. release on Nov. 8, 2019. The U.S. release date was announced by Eon Productions and MGM on July 24, 2017.

Bond 25 will begin production on Dec. 3 of this year, Deadline said.

UPDATE (11:55 p.m.): Deadline says the studios involved confirmed the news. Danny Boyle also  is now confirmed as director, the website said.

“We are delighted to announce that the exceptionally talented Danny Boyle will be directing Daniel Craig in his fifth outing as James Bond in the 25th installment of the franchise,” Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said in a statement quoted by Deadline.

“We will begin shooting Bond 25 at Pinewood Studios in December with our partners at MGM and thrilled that Universal will be our international distributor.” the duo said in the statement.

The distribution deal was put together more than 300 days after the release date was announced.