The unheralded James Bond anniversary

Albert R. Broccoli (Illustration by Paul Baack)

Last month marked a notable anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, but it dealt with behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

In December 1992, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer settled a lawsuit filed by Danjaq LLC, the parent company of Eon Productions. The legal fight had paralyzed the production of Bond films.

The dispute was related to a takeover of MGM by financier Giancarlo Parretti. Here’s an excerpt from a UPI story about the settlement.

The companies said the agreement settles the suit Danjaq filed in February 1991 against MGM and its former parent company, Pathe Communications Corp. Danjaq claimed in the suit that then-MGM owner Parretti had breached contracts with it by selling the rights to the Bond films to help finance his $1.4 billion purchase of the studio in late 1990 from Kirk Kerkorian.

This is how Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq and Eon, described the situation leading up to the lawsuit in his autobiography When the Snow Melts.

We learned that our sixteen James Bond pictures were being sold off as part of Parretti’s cash-raising in order to clinch the purchase of MGM/UA. Moreover, it was clear — to us least — that these pictures were to be sold off at bargain-basement prices in a number of foreign TV and video licensing deals. The longer we looked at the fine print, the more our attorneys, Michael (G. Wilson) and me were convinced that not only an alleged breach of contract was involved. This was becoming a question of the virtual survival of James Bond…Our action was a matter of simple prudence…During the protracted lawsuits that arose from this situation we were forced to put James Bond on hold and carry on with our lives.

The legal settlement changed that. Much work would remain to relaunch the film series, such as hiring a director and writers. Still, the conclusion of the legal fight more than 30 years ago was a significant milestone.

Ex-MGM executive talks about working with Eon

Michael Nathanson, an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond films, discussed what it’s like working with Eon Productions, which produces the movies.

Nathanson was president and chief operating officer at the time. He was interviewed in a November episode of The San Francisco Experience podcast.

Among the highlights:

Bond was “critically important” for MGM: “The Bond franchise was critical,” Nathanson said. “There was an active and open dialogue going on” between MGM and Eon.

Nathanson came aboard as Tomorrow Never Dies was going into production. “The Bond movie is an industry onto its own in terms of product placement, cooperative advertising and merchandise. Whenever you have a movie that has all of those components, it’s all built upon a release date.”

“Our ability to move” the release date was limited because of all the corporate partners, the former MGM executive said.

Tomorrow Never Dies had a tight schedule. Principal photography didn’t begin until spring 1997, with a Christmas release date. Post-production, in particular, had a short schedule.

Eon protects Bond as the “crown jewels:” “They protect that movie like it’s the crown jewels and it is the crown jewels for the (Broccoli) family.”

After Harry Saltzman exited the series (selling his interest to United Artists), Albert R. Broccoli “became, sort of, a tyrant, with the whole thing. A lot of that rubbed off on the children.”

To be sure, Nathanson compliments both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Selecting a Bond actor: Eon was “1,000 and 10 percent” involved in picking a Bond actor.

Selecting a Bond director: “The selection of the director was always the most challenging part.” MGM and Eon often disagreed about directors, the ex-MGM executive said.

In MGM’s view, he said, Eon choices for director were “traffic cops.”

“I always believed we could really take the Bond movie to a new height if we didn’t get a traffic cop as a director.”

In the 21st century, Eon picked an “auteur” director, Sam Mendes, who helmed Skyfall and SPECTRE.

MGM had no advanced notice that Pierce Brosnan was fired as Bond: “It was always a see-saw. Keeping Pierce happy, the Broccolis not going too far with how unreasonable he was.”

MGM believed Brosnan could do one more Bond movie. But the executive got a call from Barbara Broccoli. “I’m going to tell him (Brosnan) we’re going to make a switch.”

“I was shocked,” the ex-MGM executive said. “Pierce was shattered.”

Daniel Craig as Bond:” “He had that sort-of Steve McQueen thing about him.”

MGM watch: Amazon tightens its grip on Leo the Lion

Recently, Amazon, which acquired Metro-Goldwyn Mayer for $8.45 billion, has been taking control over the home studio of the James Bond film franchise.

Examples:

–Deadline: Hollywood acquired internal emails showing that Jennifer Salke, chief of Amazon Studios, is now formally in charge of MGM.

Salke now is in charge of Amazon Studios and MGM. Christopher Brearton, who had been chief operating officer of MGM, now has a new executive job.

Before the Amazon deal, MGM’s film division was headed by Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. Eon liked the duo and said they wished they’d stay. But they departed earlier and landed at Warner Bros.

–Mark Burnett, who had created Survivor The Apprentice and other “reality” shows and who had headed MGM’s TV division, is gone, noted The Hollywood Reporter.

Back in 2018, THR reported that Burnett was instrumental in having then MGM CEO Gary Barber fired. What goes around, comes around, one supposes.

To be sure, anytime there’s an acquisition, executive changes occur.

The main question — from the perspective of James Bond fans — is whether any of this affects the 007 franchise. Eon and its parent company Danjaq control the creative rights to the franchise. But Danjaq/Eon relies on its studio partner to finance the films.

Cinema Bond at 60

A one-time avatar for Eon’s Twitter feed

The cinema James Bond is a few days from its 60th anniversary. For Eon Productions, it has been a run of 25 films, starting with Dr. No through No Time to Die.

Eon has spent most of 2022 celebrating that run. At the same time, there’s uncertainty what happens now.

We all know that Eon boss Barbara Broccoli feels Daniel Craig is the best Bond. She made that clear in multiple interviews. A year ago, when No Time to Die came out, Broccoli said she just wanted to celebrate Craig’s run. That celebration continues this year.

Broccoli and Eon have made clear they’re in no hurry for post-Craig films. Broccoli has said it will be at least two years before Bond 26 starts filming. At least two years. That implies it could be longer.

Eon also is making a big deal about a new Bond actor having to make a 10- to 12-year commitment. At the same time, Eon isn’t making commitments to how many films it intends to make during that time. Three? More? If so, how many?

That’s something to be determined later. Bond — despite various studio issues, including a 2010 MGM bankruptcy — has had a long run. It’s no longer 1965 — when Bond dominated global popular entertainment — but 007 (despite being killed off in No Time to Die) still makes an impact.

Happy anniversary, Mr. Bond.

MGM watch: Epix to be renamed MGM +

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Epix premium TV channel will be renamed MGM + in early 2023, various outlets reported, including Deadline: Hollywood and Variety.

Epix originally was formed in 2008 as a joint venture between MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate. MGM eventually acquired all of Epix.

The Variety story had this passage citing Michael Wright, president of Epix, commenting how things have changed since Amazon acquired MGM.

“The good news is, Amazon has increased investment in content,” says Wright, who declines to get into specifics on how much that means. But, he contends, the new owners are “really helping us to grow this thing. So, we’re doing more of the same with, I will say, a greater emphasis on and celebration of MGM. We’re not going to be exclusive to MGM, we’re still going to be acquiring films from other studios. But a celebration of the MGM brand is a is a bigger part now of the service.”

MGM is the studio home to the James Bond film series produced by Eon Productions.

Bond 26 questions: The Variety interview edition

A previous Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

So, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson gave an interview to Variety. The Eon Productions duo again said James Bond won’t return to theater screens soon and they’re looking for the next actor to make a long-time commitment.

However, there were other interesting tidbits. Naturally, the blog has questions.

How many Bond films will get made during an actor’s “10-, 12-year commitment”?

That’s the kind of commitment the Eon pair said they’re looking for from a new Bond actor. But at the current rate of production, that might only be three films. The Eon series had only two entries — Skyfall and SPECTRE — during the entire decade of the 2010s.

Yes, there were external factors, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s bankruptcy in 2010 and COVID-19 in 2020. But some of the gaps were self-imposed, including putting off the development of what became No Time to Die to try and get Daniel Craig back for another movie.

Will Bond 26 with a new actor really be that much different than Craig’s run?

One passage in the Variety story suggests not.

Both Wilson and Broccoli, who is a director of the U.K. chapter of women’s advocacy org Time’s Up, have left their mark on Bond, particularly in humanizing the once-womanizing spy and ensuring more fulfilling, meatier roles for the female stars of the franchise. These are qualities that will continue in the next films, says Broccoli. (emphasis added)

What are they up to in the interim?

Barbara Broccoli is one of the producers of Till, a fact-based film about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 and its aftermath. It’s due out next month. Wilson “has written a TV show that the duo are looking to set up,” according to Variety. And both are involved in producing an Amazon streaming show 007’s Road to a Million. That is currently in production, Variety says. Amazon also owns MGM.

Producers talk to Variety about casting next Bond

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

The next James Bond actor has to be in it for the long haul, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson told Variety in an interview.

“And when we cast Bond, it’s a 10-, 12-year commitment,” Broccoli said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh yeah, it’d be fun to do one,’ Well. That ain’t gonna work.”

Wilson told Variety: “It’s a big investment for us, too, to bring out a new Bond.”

Eon’s most recent Bond actor, Daniel Craig, was cast as Bond in 2005 when he was 37. His five-film run as Bond ended with 2021’s No Time to Die. That film ended with Bond being blown to smithereens in a sacrifice play for his wife, Madeline Swann, and daughter.

Variety conducted the interview in late August. At one point, the producers said it’s early days for the search. Broccoli again said Bond 26 won’t go into production soon. “(I)t’s going to be a couple of years off.” 

There was also this exchange:

Even in this interview, when asked whether (MGM owner) Amazon might ask for a narrative Bond TV show, Wilson notes, “We’re trying to keep it theatrical,” and Broccoli swiftly retorts: “Well, we’re gonna keep it theatrical. We’re not going to try; we’ve got to do it. It’s just a theatrical franchise.”

WB to distribute MGM movies internationally, Deadline says

MGM logo

Warner Bros. has agreed to distribute Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films internationally, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

The agreement begins with “with Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All in November and continuing with the 2023 slate and beyond; the second title under the pact being Creed III in March,” Deadline said.

However, Warner Bros., part of Warner Bros. Discovery, will not be involved with MGM’s James Bond series right away.

No Time to Die, the most recent Bond film, was distributed by Universal internationally. That will remain in effect for Bond 26, according to Deadline.

“The terms of the new Warner Bros. agreement with MGM include the foreign distribution of subsequent 007 films from Bond 27 onward,” according to the entertainment news website.

Barbara Broccoli, the head of Eon Productions, which makes the Bond films, has said it will be “at least two years” before Bond 26 begins filming. That would imply Bond 26 won’t be out until 2025 or so.

On the Warner Bros. side, the new agreement was hammered out by Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy. They were formerly film executives at MGM.

Eon spoke highly of De Luca and Abdy and said it hoped they’d be retained after Amazon completed its acquisition of MGM. Instead, De Luca and Abdy departed and landed at Warner Bros.

State of the Bond franchise: Mid-2022

I just did one of these posts in April. I really thought that would take care of things for a long time. I was wrong.

Comments from Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, originally reported by Deadline, suggest the Bond movie franchise is adrift.

If Broccoli is to be believed, Eon doesn’t know who should play Bond following Daniel Craig. It hasn’t determined the direction of future 007 films after Craig has retired from the part with 2021’s No Time to Die.

The key Broccoli quotes from the Deadline story

“We’re working out where to go with him, we’re talking that through. There isn’t a script and we can’t come up with one until we decide how we’re going to approach the next film because, really, it’s a reinvention of Bond. We’re reinventing who he is and that takes time. I’d say that filming is at least two years away.”

Eon has been adrift before. Following Die Another Day in 2002, the company that has made 007 films had no idea where to go.

The source of this? Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli’s half-brother in a 2005 New York Times story.

“I was desperately afraid, and Barbara was desperately afraid, we would go downhill,” said Michael G. Wilson, the producer of the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” with Ms. Broccoli. He even told that to Pierce Brosnan, the suave James Bond who had a successful run of four films, he said.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Mr. Wilson recalled saying. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

In a 2012 speech, Wilson further described the period involved.

“We had been working on a new script for a year and getting absolutely nowhere,” he said then.

As told by Wilson, Eon got out of its funk at that time when he and Barbara Broccoli talked and each wanted to adapt Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, start the film series over and recast the Bond role. The result, 2006’s Casino Royale, was a highlight of the Eon series.

What is old is new again. Except, for now, there hasn’t been an attempt at a script. Also, there’s no complete Fleming novel to use. Eon didn’t get the rights to the Casino Royale novel until a few years before pre-production began on the 2006 movie.

Michael G. Wilson turned 80 earlier this year. Barbara Broccoli is 62. Wilson has been involved *full-time* with Eon for 50 years. Broccoli has been involved *full-time* with Eon for 40 years.

The movie business is in flux. It is being battered by streaming and new technology. Bond (created by Ian Fleming in 1952) and its movie makers (whose first movie came out 60 years ago this year) are anchored in the 20th century.

Eon has had a lot of time to ponder a post-Daniel Craig future. No Time to Die, Eon’s most recent effort, wrapped filming in fall 2019.

If you take Barbara Broccoli at her word, in mid-2022, the Bond filmmakers still haven’t figured out where to go.

To be sure, keeping a film franchise going for 60 years is a great achievement.

Yet, where does it go from here? We don’t know. And the answer won’t be known soon.

Bond 26 questions: The how long (?) edition

Not coming to a theater near you anytime soon

So Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions, says (in remarks reported by Deadline) that James Bond is about to be reinvented and that filming of Bond 26 won’t take place for at least two years.

Also, she said, there’s no actor and no script. Neither will happen until the reinvention occurs.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So when might Bond 26 come out? The MI6 James Bond website estimates “2025, possibly later.”

That makes sense. Two years from now is 2024. The film would then go into post-production and may not be out until 2025.

Are there potential complications? Amazon, the new owner of studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is yet to be heard from. Would Amazon try to pressure Eon to move faster? Or is the tech company satisfied with all the Bond programming Amazon Prime has?

Is this a surprise? No. Eon is not known for advanced planning.

Some Bond fans hoped it’d be different this time. No Time to Die completed filming in fall 2019. It then went on the shelf until fall 2021.

Eon had time to look to the future if it wanted to do so. But Barbara Broccoli said after No Time to Die came out she was celebrating the tenure of Daniel Craig as Bond. She didn’t sound as if she were in a hurry to deal with a post-Craig era.

What might take place because of this? No Time to Die stirred a strongly mixed reaction in the fanbase. For some, Craig/Bond’s death was a bold creative choice. Others strongly did not like it.

Now, that mixed atmosphere will linger, with at least a four-year gap between No Time to Die and Bond 26.

Anything else? It’s getting harder to imagine the likes of Idris Elba (who turns 50 in September), Henry Cavill, 39, or Tom Hardy (who turns 45 in September) being cast as Bond.

Yes, Roger Moore was in his mid-40s when he began his Bond run but that was a different era.

Yes, Craig was in his 50s when his run finally ended. But he’s a special case, given Broccoli’s strong admiration for the actor. She spoke more than once about being in denial that Craig’s time as Bond was ending.