A few 007-related questions for this summer

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Here are some questions 007 fans perhaps should follow for the rest of the summer.

Let’s begin with this: Barbara Broccoli’s newest non-007 film, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, has started filming at Pinewood Studios. That was disclosed in a Pinewood press release.

Why is that something to watch? It’s a test of the ability of the Eon Productions co-boss to multi-task.

In this case, can Broccoli simultaneously produce the drama and gear up Bond 25?

Why do you say that? Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman was able to produce the Harry Palmer film series and The Battle of Britain without affecting the 007 film schedule.

Albert R. Broccoli, Barbara Broccoli’s father and the other Eon co-founder, produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in between Bond films.

Both Broccoli and Saltzman were involved with Call Me Bwana inbetween Dr. No and From From Russia With Love.

In the 21st century, Kevin Feige runs Marvel Studios, which produces two movies a year, with Feige getting the credit as producer.

So what should we watch for? If there are significant Bond 25 developments (writers hired, a director hired, etc.) while production of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is underway, then it would seem the Eon co-boss can handle multi-tasking just fine.

To be fair, Eon may be somewhat limited by the fact there’s no distributor yet for Bond 25. 007’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, isn’t big enough to release its own films.

But there are things Eon can do — especially lining up writers and a director — before MGM selects a distribution partner. Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its contract expired with SPECTRE.

And if there isn’t major Bond 25 news during that time? Maybe, just maybe, there won’t be any major Bond 25 news until the last part of 2016, or perhaps early 2017.

 

Michael Cimino and the art vs. commerce conflict

Heaven's Gate poster

Heaven’s Gate poster

Director Michael Cimino died over the weekend at the age of 77, as noted in obituaries by various outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. In death, as in life, Cimino was a reminder of the age old movie conflict of art vs. commerce.

Cimino’s third movie, 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, lost a lot of money for United Artists. The director, coming off an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, had a lot of clout. He used it, with Heaven’s Gate running over budget and over schedule as the perfectionist director pursued his vision of a Western that addressed broader social issues.

The project lost so much that UA’s parent firm, Transamerica Corp., threw in the towel and sold off the studio. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, itself a financially struggling entity. That had a big impact on the James Bond franchise, beginning an era of tension between MGM and Eon Productions.

With Cimino’s passing, memories broke into two camps.

The first was that of unjustly punished artist, whose career never recovered. (This article in The Guardian is an example.)

Second, that an of an out-of-control director who helped wreck a studio, a view popularized by Final Cut, the 1985 book by the late Steven Bach, one of the UA executives unable to bring Cimino’s spending under control.

What this debate overlooks is Cimino and Heaven’s Gate were just one of a long line of directors whose projects got caught up in art vs. commerce. It wasn’t even the first time for United Artists.

In 1965, UA, then headed by Arthur Krim and his lieutenants (the same bunch smart enough to do a deal to get 007 films made), were in the same boat as their eventual successors at UA were with Cimino.

In ’65, UA was backing another perfectionist director, George Stevens. The main difference between Stevens and Cimino is that the former had a long track record, including such films as Gunga Din, Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank.

No matter. Stevens was far over budget and over schedule on The Greatest Story Ever Told, the director’s film about Jesus Christ. Ex-UA executive David Picker goes into detail in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers how studio management couldn’t bring Stevens under control.

Greatest Story bombed big time for UA, coming out as audience interest in Biblical movies faded. The Krim management group, however had a life line: Thunderball (released at the peak of 1960s Bondmania) and movies featuring The Beatles (which had low budgets and high profits).

While UA made it through the crisis, the same couldn’t be said of Stevens. He’d only make one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

20th Century Fox faced a similar crisis a couple of years earlier with Cleopatra. It actually was popular at the box office, but its mammoth budget meant a lot of red ink.

Fox leaned on its television division, headed by William Self, to recover from the financial crisis. The TV unit was able to sell small-screen versions of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place in time for the 1964-65 season.

Meanwhile, like Stevens, Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s career also suffered after his big flop. Going further back, the likes of D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim, among others, ran into the art vs. commerce buzzsaw.

In short, Cimino wasn’t unique. He was, however, a colorful example of a conflict that continues to shape the film industry.

007 film franchise at mid-year

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The year is half over and the first six months of 2016 has been a bit of an odd one for the James Bond film franchise.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: The lack of real news.

At the end of 2015, we ran a post about Bond 25 news to look for this year. Have we got egg on our face so far.

Bond 25 distributor selected by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio? Nope.

Bond 25 release date? You can’t have that without a distributor. Bond 25 director revealed? No, again.

Daniel Craig decides if he’s coming back or not? If he has, nobody has said anything officially. The Daily Mail in March and 007 Magazine (in a Facebook post in June) had stories with sources they didn’t identify said Craig has quit.

BIGGEST NEWS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED? Obituaries as major series contributors passed away.

Four-time director Guy Hamilton, seven-time production designer Ken Adam and Live And Let Die composer George Martin all died. All left a mark on the 007 films.

Hamilton directed the series’ first mega-hit, Goldfinger. Adam’s stupendous set designs, such as the Fort Knox interior in Goldfinger, in effect created a world for the film Bond to call his own. Martin, the one-time Beatles producer, was instrumental in selling the Paul and Linda McCartney title song for Live And Let Die to producer Harry Saltzman.

Seven-time 007 star Roger Moore took to Twitter following each death. After Hamilton’s death in April, his tweet included this line: “2016 is horrid.” Many fans probably felt the same way.

THINGS TO WATCH: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s finances continued to improve after the 2010 bankruptcy of the studio.

That’s not as sexy a story as whether they’ll be a new James Bond or not. But, potentially, it could be significiant. Various MGM financial turmoils in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s negatively affected the Bond franchise. So, financial stability at MGM would be a good thing for the film 007.

MGM wants to be a publicly held company in the next three to five years. Presumably, MGM’s interest in the 007 franchise will be a selling point if and when that occurs.

007 (or so) observations about Moonraker

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Wednesday, June 29, was the 37th anniversary of Moonraker’s U.S. debut. The 11th James Bond film doesn’t get much love from fans in the 21st century. Yet, it was a huge financial success in the 20th.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations about the film:

001: Drax’s disdain for Britain: This may reflect a few bits of Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel that made it into the movie.

The nationality of Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t specified but he clearly isn’t British. He keeps a British butler around, mostly to boss around.

The Moonraker villain also tells Bond that “afternoon tea” is the U.K.’s greatest contribution to Western civilization. Later (after Bond has investigated Drax’s Venice facilities), Drax makes a comment about not understanding British humor.

002: Bond’s physical stamina: As Bond (Roger Moore) agrees to take a ride in Drax’s centrifuge, Holly (Lois Chiles) says “even a 70-year-old” can take “three Gs” (the force of takeover). Holly says most people “pass out” at seven Gs. Bond withstands *13 Gs* before activating a device he got from Q to escape.

003: One of the best (unheralded) scenes of the movie: Bond further investigates Drax’s Venice facilities. For the Moore version of Bond, this represents one of his deadliest miscalculations.

Bond briefly observes two of Drax’s scientists at work. Visually, there are a number of things to catch the viewer’s eyes. When the scientists briefly walk away, 007 moves in further.

Unfortunately, Bond didn’t leave everything as he left it, and the two scientists die as a result. One of the best shots of the film is one of the scientists dying while Bond watches on the other side of a Plexiglass barrier.

Yes, this sequence included the joke that draws groans from hard-core Bond fans (the John Williams theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the entry code). Still, overall, the sequence is a mostly serious one for a very lighthearted movie.

004: The minister of defense (defence to our British friends) plays Bridge with Drax: Others have made this observation long ago, but it is one of the few direct references to Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel. So we thought we’d mention it here.

005: Bond is a cheapskate! No tip, James? You get to stay in the President’s Suite at an expensive hotel in Rio and you stiff the guy on the tip. In From Russia With Love, Bond (Sean Connery) stuffed his tip in the suitcoat pocket of the guy who took him to his Istanbul hotel room. He shows his contempt while *still* giving a tip.

But here? Come on, Bond! The guy is just trying to make a living!

006: Bond’s brief moment of compassion for a fellow MI6 agent: After almost getting killed by Jaws, the MI6 agent in Rio offers to still help bond. He declines, saying she should get some rest.

007: Bond’s cable car reaction: Only 007 would react to a stalled cable car by going to the car’s roof. Only a CIA agent (Holly in this case) would have a first reaction to grab the nearest chain. Also, how many cable cars have a chain laying around?

008: The special effects of the boat chase weren’t that good, even in 1979: Friend or foe of the movie, this was not a highlight.

Seriously, the Spy Commander saw the film five times in the theater and you can could discern what was real and was special effects.. But Albert R. Broccoli & Co. had the good sense to keep up the pace to get past that.

009: Bond momentarily loses his cool: It only lasts a few seconds, but Bond really is annoyed with Jaws (Richard Kiel) after the henchman fishes 007 out of Drax’s pool.

0010: Some of the walls of Drax’s space station seem to be made of cardboard: Ken Adam (1921-2016) was one of the greatest production designers in the history of film. But a few shots in the climatic space station fight indicate the budget was running low.

0011: John Barry deserves every compliment he’s ever gotten for this film: The veteran 007 composer improves almost every scene in the movie with his score. It might not be his best Bond score, but Barry elevates the film throughout.

0012: This film is unique in the 007 film series:  It’s the one time that Eon Productions founder Albert R. Broccoli more or less didn’t have to worry about the budget.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Eon had to confront whether the 007 film series could continue after Sean Connery left for good and after Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold his interest to United Artists.

In the 1980s (and beyond), Eon had to deal with budget issues after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired UA in the early part of the decade.

For Moonraker, Broccoli really had (almost) Carte Blanche for making a Bond movie. This really was “the money’s up on the screen.”

 

Just another wacky week for James Bond fans

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

It’s only Wednesday but it’s already been a weird week for the serious 007 fan. Let’s get to it.

CRAIG WHIPLASH: Early Tuesday, the LIVERPOOL ECHO ran a short story Tuesday about actor Daniel Craig that had the following quote about playing James Bond again:

Speaking to the TV Times the Wirral actor said: “I have no thoughts about it. What the future holds, I don’t know. That’s the honest truth.”

Some Bond fans spotted that and viewed it as a sign that the four-time 007 might still be available for Bond 25. However, reader James Page (who saw this post when it was first published) advises the quote is from 2015.

Later on Tuesday, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported Craig was in talks to star with Halle Berry in a drama set during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Other entertainment websites, such as VARIETY, quickly confirmed the development.

The possible project for Craig comes on top of a Steven Soderbergh heist movie (filming this fall), an off-Broadway play (to occur during the 2016-17 season) and a 20-episode limited series to be produced in 2017 to run on the Showtime premium cable channel in 2017 and 2018.

Never say never, the saying goes. Still, Craig’s schedule is getting full.

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

REDDIT, YOUR SOURCE FOR 007 NEWS: So it’s come to this: James Bond fans are so starved for news, an anonymous Reddit post this week about 007 film gossip in London generated buzz.

Citing “the world around London,” the post said Bond 25 pre-production “has officially begun,” that Steven Knight is writing the script and that Daniel Craig hasn’t made a decision about returning as Bond. The post also references three directors — Joe Wright, Yann Demange and Paul McGuigan — who have been rumored to have met with producer Barbara Broccoli.

It also says Sony Pictures will distribute Bond 25. That’s interesting because Sony executive Tom Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter this month that Sony hasn’t even started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about a new Bond distribution deal.

Regardless, news-starved fans like a thread on message board of the MI6 James Bond website and social media such as Facebook were linking and commenting about it in detail.

Early Tuesday, the original poster posted a follow-up comment. For what it’s worth:

The British film community is surprisingly small in London. This was the ‘news’ I was hearing over the last week.

EON had been more involved in distributing the long delayed ‘The Silent Storm’ and making ‘Film Stars’. Pre-production for B25 has just begun in earnest.

I’ve heard plenty of other directors mentioned (all with varying degrees of credibility), but those three come up the most often.

The other film often being discussed around Soho VFX houses is ‘Rogue One’ which is said to be in more turmoil than imaginable. People love to gossip.

Your mileage may vary. For the moment, caveat emptor.

ACTUAL NEWS: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Monday extended its contract with 20th Century Fox to distribute MGM productions via home video, including the Bond films, though June 2020, according to a press release.

Sony executive says no talks on new 007 deal yet

sonylogo

A Sony Pictures executive, in an interview with THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, said the studio hasn’t started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer concerning whether Sony will distribute future James Bond films.

Tom Rothman, who heads Sony’s movie group, didn’t say much more than that. Sony has released the past four 007 films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale and running through 2015’s SPECTRE. Sony’s most recent two-picture contract expired with SPECTRE.

Here’s the exchange in the interview:

 

Where do discussions stand on the next James Bond film?

I’m not going to comment on that, other than to say that we remain very interested in continuing that excellent and important relationship. And I think we have certain advantages as the incumbent. No discussions have started yet.

MGM emerged a smaller company after exiting bankruptcy in 2010. It has no distribution organization and cuts deals with other studios to release its movies. Under the Bond deal, MGM and Sony co-financed the movies but Sony’s cut of the profits was small.

Rothman assumed the Sony job after Amy Pascal — the Sony executive who negotiated the Bond film deal — departed the studio although she has a producer’s deal at Sony.

In March, MGM CEO Gary Barber said on an investor call, “There’s no rush” to negotiate a new 007 deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.” Based on Rothman’s comments, that hasn’t changed.

Rothman, in The Hollywood Reporter interview, also commented on Sony’s relationship with Marvel Studios concerning future stand-alone Spider-Man movies.

“Sony has the ultimate authority,” the executive told the entertainment website. “But we have deferred the creative lead to Marvel, because they know what they’re doing.”

Sony released five Spider-Man films from 2002 through 2014. Under the agreement with Marvel, Spider-Man is now part of Marvel’s film universe. The character made his Marvel Studios debut with last month’s Captain America: Civil War.

Some questions about the future of 007 films

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There’s still no news (at least officially announced news) on the James Bond movie front. But that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of questions. And so…

Is Daniel Craig coming back as 007 or not?

Over the weekend, 007 fan sites weighed in. Graham Rye’s 007 Magazine said the actor wasn’t and that Tom Hiddleston had been offered the job. The Book Bond site also said Craig wasn’t while adding “Eon (Productions) and Barbara Broccoli are the ones who are done with Craig.” James Bond Radio said on Facebook that “we’re confident it’s all BS and Hiddleston isn’t actually in the frame.”

All cited sources they had confidence in, but obviously there isn’t a unanimous picture from the three sites. (Thanks to The James Bond Dossier for its post on the subject.) With the lack of any official announcement, there’s no definitive answer to be had.

What do you think? 

Mixed. On the one hand, it has been almost a year since SPECTRE wrapped up filming. If he really wants to come back, does he need another year off to make up his mind?

In the meantime, his dance card for the upcoming year or so is starting to fill up. Currently on tap is a heist movie, a play and a limited-run TV series on Showtime.

On the other hand, few people know what he’s really thinking. And they’re not making public pronouncements. For now, much of this is a matter of faith, whether you want Craig back or want a new 007.

What happens next?

There are so many things that need to be settled. Among them: Which studio strikes a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to release Bond 25 and future 007 films? Who gets hired to write Bond 25’s script? If Craig really is gone (and we’re not saying he is), who gets the nod to replace him?

From a fan’s standpoint, this is the frustrating thing: Four years after Skyfall became a billion-dollar hit, 007’s film future is very unsettled.

James Bond will return, it says in the end titles of 007 films. But when and in what form are unsettled at this point.

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