About those MGM sales talks and Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post reported that an unknown Chinese buyer is negotiating to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.

The Post’s sister paper, The Wall Street Journal, followed up by saying MGM had been in talks with a Chinese buyer but the negotiations broke off last year.

How all this applies to Bond 25?

This may explain why MGM never reached a Bond 25 distribution deal

Back in March 2016, MGM said it was in no hurry to negotiate a new Bond movie distribution deal. If the Post and Journal are accurate (that MGM at least *had* talks with a would-be Chinese purchaser), the reason is obvious.

MGM CEO Gary Barber had bigger things on his mind. James Bond may be MGM’s biggest asset, but whether to sell the company or not is bigger (from the perspective of an MGM CEO) than that.

Such talks may have slowed the pace of Bond 25 development

Until there’s a studio that can distribute Bond 25, a new 007 production can’t reach theaters.

Following its 2010 bankruptcy, MGM no longer had a distribution operation. Since then, it has negotiated co-financing and distribution deals with other studios. Maybe that would have changed if a Chinese concern acquired MGM. If the Journal is correct, we’ll never know.

Regardless, MGM negotiating to sell to the Chinese probably would have sent any talks with other U.S.-based studios to distribute Bond 25 to the back burner.

Where do we go from here?

Your guess is as good as this blog’s. However, this is a reminder that Bond is tethered to a weak studio.

MGM bought United Artists in 1981. UA, years earlier, got control of half of the Bond franchise when Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, sold out because of financial troubles.

The MGM soap opera changes in some regards (executives come, executives go) but not in others.  MGM’s glory days are long gone.

 

MGM sale to Chinese not happening, WSJ says

MGM logo

A sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, to a Chinese buyer isn’t happening, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Talks broke down between MGM and several Chinese companies late last year, an apparent casualty of China’s move to stanch capital outflows that has stalled the country’s shopping spree in Hollywood, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported.

“An MGM sale would have been among the biggest-ticket and highest-profile such acquisitions, but its failure to materialize is evidence of a twist ending that few in Hollywood expected,” according to the story by three Journal reporters.

Earlier, the New York Post reported that MGM was in talks with a Chinese buyer it didn’t identify. Both the Journal and Post are owned by News Corp., controlled by Rupert Muchoch.

Uncertainty at MGM would have an adverse effect on the 007 film franchise. MGM has been involved with Bond since it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA, in 1975, acquired half of the franchise after Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out because of financial troubles.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company, unable to release its own films. MGM cuts deals with other studios to co-finance and release those movies, including the Bond series.

An MGM spokeswoman told the Journal that the studio wasn’t for sale.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal story about the broader issues facing Hollywood and China:

The economic-policy changes in China come amid mounting protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. from the administration of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve heard from both [private-equity] firms and investment banks that China investment activity around [Hollywood] assets started to wane just prior to the election and is almost nonexistent now,” said Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute, which organizes congressional delegations to China, and president of DMG Entertainment, a media company headquartered in Beverly Hills and Beijing.

“No China entity wants to be the first to test” the heated rhetoric on the U.S. side and the capital controls on the Chinese side, he added.

The last four Bond films have actually been released by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

 

Bond 25: Why MGM has to get bigger or sell out

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is a millstone.

MGM is not big enough to compete with other major studios by itself. Since a 2010 bankruptcy, the home studio of 007 films has needed studio partners to distribute and market Bond movies.

For the past two Bond films, 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE, MGM negotiated a sweet deal with Sony Pictures. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. Sony ended up in third in line behind MGM and Eon Productions for the 007 spoils.

But good fortune like that only lasts so long.

The Sony deal expired with Skyfall. “There’s no rush,” MGM CEO Gary Barber said of reaching a new Bond distribution deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.”

MGM logo

That was eleven months ago. No hurry, indeed.

In reality, other studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and Paramount among them — have their own issues.

Sony’s parent company wrote down the value of its movie business by almost $1 billion, an indication that things aren’t going well. Warner Bros.’s parent company, Time Warner, is in the midst of an $85 billion acquisition by AT&T. Also, Warner Bros. is struggling with its “extended universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Paramount is struggling, period.

Under those circumstances, cutting a deal with MGM to distribute Bond movies might not be the top priority. Even more stable studios, such as 20th Century Fox and Universal, probably want a better deal than Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

These days, MGM mostly makes television shows while producing a few movies.

Bond, however, remains MGM’s biggest property, going back to when MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. 007, which not that long ago had his first $1 billion box office movie (Skyfall), is a major league property, or at least can be.

For that promise to be fulfilled, however, Bond needs to be at a major league studio.

MGM isn’t that. It hasn’t been for a long time.

To be a big-time studio, MGM needs to be able to release its own movies and be in more control of its destiny.

It’s fine to cut deals with other companies for financing (other studios do). Ultimately, however, Bond’s home studio needs the ability to distribute the movies.

MGM’s Barber wants the company to sell stock to the public in the next three to five years. Maybe it can become big enough to be a real studio again.

But if it can’t, the 007 franchise will suffer. From the selfish standpoint of Bond film fans, a better option might be for MGM to sell to a studio that has big league status.

More turmoil at would-be Bond 25 studio partner Paramount

Paramount logo

Paramount logo

Paramount Pictures, one of the would-be studio partners for Bond 25, may be experiencing some more turmoil.

Bray Grey, the studio chief, is in talks with parent company Viacom about taking a different post at Viacom, the entertainment news website The Wrap reported, citing two people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. Paramount and Viacom did not comment, The Wrap said.

The Los Angeles Times, which also reported on the talks, said Paramount could announce Grey’s exit as early as next week.

Paramount is among the studios that is supposed to be interested in striking a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25. MGM isn’t big enough to release its own films.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture 007 film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Paramount has done business with MGM, releasing MGM’s 2016 Ben Hur flop.

Paramount has struggled and Viacom was hobbled by a fight where the controlling Redstone family ousted CEO Philippe Dauman last year. The Redstones also control CBS and for a time wanted the companies to consider a merger. Those talks ended in December.

The talks with Grey “come nearly two weeks after” Viacom’s current CEO, Bob Bakish, “made a public mandate for improved financial performance at the studio,” The Wrap said.

Other would-be Bond 25 studio partners also have issues.

Sony Corp., parent company of Sony Pictures, last month wrote down the value of that studio by almost $1 billion. Sony Corp. has said it’s not planning to sell the movie business. Warner Bros.’ parent company, Time Warner, is being acquired by AT&T, but that $85 billion deal is pending regulatory review.

Long-term issues confronting the 007 franchise

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Here are some long-term issues confronting the James Bond film franchise that extend beyond purchased helicopters or even the next 007 film (whenever it comes out).

MGM needs to get bigger or sell out: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, is in a no man’s land in Hollywood.

It’s not big enough to release it’s own movies. In fact, it’s more of a television production company than an actual studio. What few movies it makes annually require cutting deal with another studio to distribute. The last four 007 films were released by Sony, with other MGM projects released by other studios.

Time Warner, which includes Warner Bros., has agreed to be acquired by AT&T. If that deal receives U.S. regulatory approval (not a sure thing), other deals may result.

That leaves MGM to decide whether it’s present strategy is adequate. If a new wave of deals develops, MGM probably has to move one way or another — get bigger or sell off to a buyer.

Eon’s succession plan: Eon is a private outfit that doesn’t discuss such subjects. Maybe it has one, maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, it needs a succession plan if it doesn’t have one.

Michael G. Wilson, one of the Eon principals, turned 75 last month. His half-sister, Barbara Broccoli, is only 56. But, as the saying goes, nobody lives forever.

Perhaps Gregg Wilson, one of Wilson’s sons who has been working on recent films, is being groomed to take more responsibility once his father retires. At this point, nobody really knows.

Is it time for new marketing ideas? There are recurring themes in marketing Bond films over the past two decades.

One of the most repeated is having the lead female actor talk about his character is Bond’s equal. It was uttered most recently by actress Lea Seydoux in an interview with Empire magazine in early 2015.

We get it. Bond women are now strong and independent. Maybe it’s time to come up new marketing points. Strong women in Bond films are now a given.

MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25 Part III

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s a new year but there some leftover business from the old: What studio will end up releasing Bond 25?

The blog has twice (once in April and again in September) analyzed the possibilities. So here’s an updated look.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures released the last four 007 films but as of now has no new contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for future Bond movies.

Not a lot new since September. Last year’s Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a success for Sony and isn’t likely to become a franchise. Sony is teaming up with Marvel Studios to get new Spider-Man movies going.

Sony may be sufficiently desperate to again accept a low-profit distribution deal for Bond 25. Most recently, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. It received less money than MGM and Danjaq, the parent group for Eon Productions.

However, there’s the possibility of a wild card.

The New York Post last month reported that its “Tokyo tipsters claim” that CBS chief Les Moonves was looking to acquire Sony Pictures from its parent company, Sony Corp. The story didn’t offer much in the way of details. Certainly, no actual deal materialized.

Paramount: CBS had been looking to merge with Viacom, parent company of ParamountBut that deal unraveled in December.

CBS and Viacom had once been together but then were split apart. The companies are controlled by the Redstone family. There had been a family soap opera in 2015 and 2016 which led to, among other things, a new leadership team at Paramount.

It remains to be seen how quickly Paramount recovers from all this and whether it’s in the position to make a Bond deal with MGM.

Warner Bros.: AT&T announced in October it agreed to acquire Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros. The $85 billion deal isn’t forecast to be complete until the second half of this year.

That raises the question whether Warners can do a Bond 25 deal. The studio already is busy trying to establish its “shared universe” of movies based on DC Comics characters. Two big ones, Wonder Woman and Justice League, are coming out this year.

20th Century Fox and Universal: Neither studio has the issues confronting Sony, Paramount or Warner Bros. Either or both could make a play. But the question is whether either would be willing to take the kind of low profits Sony got for Skyfall and SPECTRE.

Walt Disney Co.: This is strictly a guess but Disney doesn’t act like a company interested in doing a limited distribution deal for Bond. Disney likes to get out its checkbook and buy properties whole, such as Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. If Disney were interested in 007, it’d be more likely to buy everybody else out.

MGM (?): Sony emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a much smaller company without its own movie distribution operation.

MGM has been working toward an initial public offering of stock in a few years. However, if the pending AT&T acquisition causes a new round of media deals, MGM will face a decision.

Is the current strategy adequate? If not, does it get bigger (and re-establish distribution)? Or does it sell out and get acquired by someone else?

Caveat Emptor: UK tabloid claims MGM ‘panicking’

Daniel Craig photo opposing Brexit

Daniel Craig photo opposing Brexit

A British tabloid apparently has decided U.S. tabloids shouldn’t have all the James Bond fun.

The Mirror claims that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives are “panicking” because they can’t get Daniel Craig to respond about whether he’ll be in Bond 25.

Here’s an excerpt, for what it’s worth.

A source said: “Daniel and MGM are currently at a stalemate with him having not spoken to them about Bond.

“They have offered a bigger wage deal, and asked about his filming availability to his reps in 2017, but as yet they have not spoken to Daniel.

“They want Bond 25 out in October 2018, but currently they have no Bond, film dates or knowledge of when that will change.”

What’s more, according to the tabloid, getting a commitment from Craig, 48, is an important part of securing an agreement from Sony Pictures to co-finance the movie.

The Mirror didn’t get into this detail or context. But here goes. MGM is a shadow of its former self. After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM isn’t big enough to release its own movies. Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has distributed the past four 007 films.

Sony’s most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. That contract called for Sony to co-finance the 007 movies while only getting 25 percent of the profits.

On Jan. 11, the New York Post’s Page Six gossip site said Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli is producing Craig’s current Othello off-Broadway play to encourage the actor to do Bond 25 eventually after a hiatus of performing more serious roles.

And the world goes round and round….