2016: 007’s lost year?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

While there’s a little more than month yet to go, 2016 is shaping up as a kind of lost year for the cinematic James Bond — when pretty much nothing substantial happened.

Decision made about a studio to actually release Bond 25? No.

Release date, if only the year? No. Can’t set a release date without somebody to distribute it.

Script? Not that anyone knows about.

Director? No.

Bond actor cast for sure? Not really. Incumbent Daniel Craig said in October of Bond, ” Were I to stop doing it, I’d miss it terribly.” But that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’ll be back.”

Something else of note that Craig said was, “There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,”

That evokes the 2002-2006 period when Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were going through a creative mid-life crisis.

Or, as Wilson told The New York Times in 2005, describing that period: “We are running out of energy, mental energy. We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That creative mid-life crisis followed the release of Die Another Day, a big, sprawling and expensive (for the time) movie. The current exhaustion followed the release of SPECTRE, a big, sprawling and expensive movie.

On top of the usual pressures, much of the behind-the-scenes issues on SPECTRE became public knowledge because of the Sony computer hacks in 2014.

Thus, e-mails about the film’s budget, script problems and negotiations for tax incentives in Mexico became public knowledge. The Gawker website described the plot in detail based on a draft of the script made available by the leaks. So, to be fair, you could argue SPECTRE was more stressful than the usual big-budget movie.

Still, nobody — especially this blog — expected that things would seemingly shut down in 2016.

Michael G. Wilson said late last year he thought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would select a new distributor by January or February. Wilson also said MGM had talked with executives at three studios, although he didn’t identify them. Sony Pictures has distributed the past four 007 films but its contract expired with SPECTRE.

By March, MGM said no deal was struck and it wasn’t hurrying to reach one. Studio boss Gary Barber said he expected Bond movies to come out on a “three-to-four year cycle.” Eight months later, that’s still the status quo.

As a result, right now there appears to be no momentum on the 007 film front.

By contrast, in November 2012 (the same month Skyfall was released in the U.S.), a writer (John Logan) had been hired and publicly announced by MGM. In July 2013, a fall 2015 release date for the then-untitled Bond 24 was disclosed, along with an announcement that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return for an encore.

Much of the year has been taken up by reports of supposed contenders for the Bond role or, conversely, supposed major offers for Craig to come back.

Remember how Tom Hiddleston, among others, was a cinch to be the next 007? Remember how Sony supposedly “should be announcing any day” it had a new deal to release Bond 25 and was offering Craig $150 million for two more movies?

Months and months later, neither has become reality.

Maybe there will be a flurry of news in December, such as MGM finally selecting its studio partner. Still, Bond 25 development is behind the pace of SPECTRE at a similar point three years ago. Maybe 2017 will be more eventful.

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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Broccoli’s latest project: The Kid Stays in the Picture

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli has another non-Bond project lined up, a stage production of The Kid Stays in the Picture about movie executive and producer Robert Evans.

Broccoli, along with half-brother Michael G. Wilson, Patrick Milling Smith and Brian Carmody, are the producers of the play. Broccoli and Wilson are the co-bosses of Eon Productions, which make James Bond films.

Evans, 86, started as an actor before working behind the camera. One of his early roles was in 1957’s Man of a Thousand Faces, a James Cagney movie about Lon Chaney. Evans played film producer Irving Thalberg. He later became a movie mogul in real life as an executive at Paramount. He shifted to being a producer of movies such as Chinatown and Marathon Man.

Along the way, Evans led a colorful life, including marrying actresses Camilla Sparv and Ali McGraw as well as pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking. The title of the play comes from his 1994 autobiography, which was turned into a 2002 documentary.

The play adaptation will run March 7 to April 8 at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s West End.

For producer Broccoli, this is her second recent project dealing with the life of a Hollywood figure. She’s also a producer of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Annette Bening plays actress Gloria Grahame. That film is in post-production. Wilson isn’t involved in the movie.

Casino Royale’s 10th: The ‘kids’ make the series their own

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This month’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale is best known for the debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond and the 007 film series being rebooted.

But it’s also when the “kids,” Barbara Broccoli, now 56, and Michael G. Wilson, now 74, really made the series their own.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, died in 1996. His wife Dana, mother to both Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, remained a behind-the-scenes presence until she passed away in 2004.

The “kids” (as some fans refer to them) were looking to make their own mark and make changes.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005, recalling his thinking on the matter. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That included the reboot, starting the series over; finally adapting Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel after acquiring the film rights after many years; informing Pierce Brosnan he no longer had the 007 role; and casting Daniel Craig (with Barbara Broccoli as his primary champion), performing a tougher interpretation of the part.

In November 2006, when Casino arrived in theaters, the movie, its new approach and its lead actor received many good reviews. It has a 95 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson

“Daniel Craig makes a superb Bond: Leaner, more taciturn, less sex-obsessed, able to be hurt in body and soul, not giving a damn if his martini is shaken or stirred,” movie critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) wrote of the film’s star.

Of the movie itself, Ebert wrote: “With “Casino Royale,” we get to the obligatory concluding lovey-dovey on the tropical sands, and then the movie pulls a screeching U-turn and starts up again with the most sensational scene I have ever seen set in Venice, or most other places. It’s a movie that keeps on giving.”

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade did the initial adaptation, with Paul Haggis polishing up the story, with all three receiving credit. Martin Campbell came aboard as director. Campbell had helmed Brosnan’s first Bond with GoldenEye and oversaw Craig’s first 007 adventure.

Casino Royale set a high bar for the “new” series to maintain. The challenges of doing that would unfold in coming years.

The main thing in November 2006 was, after a four-year absence, Bond was back — different but still 007. And the “kids” were responsible.

1995: 007 convention, the sequel

Program for the 1995 James Bond convention in New York. Image courtesy of Steve Oxenrider.

Program for the 1995 James Bond convention in New York. Image courtesy of Steve Oxenrider.

In November 1995, James Bond was about to end a six-year hiatus from the screen in GoldenEye. So, a few days before its U.S. premiere, the second — and final — James Bond convention produced by Creation Entertainment was held in New York.

On Nov. 12, 1995, fans again traveled at attend an officially sanctioned 007 convention. The new Bond, Pierce Brosnan, put in an appearance as did other members of the cast.

What follows are by no means the only highlights. But they may be interesting to those who couldn’t make it.

Bond quiz: Like the 1994 convention in Los Angeles, the 1995 edition featured a “beat the experts” session. Audience members tried to outfox a panel of 007 experts for fun and prizes.

I was among those who gave it a try. My question: Name the three Bond movies where Bond didn’t don a tuxedo.

After conferring, the panel answered You Only Live Twice and Live And Let Die but that there was no third film.

I replied something to the effect, “To that list you have to add From Russia With Love, where it’s Bond’s double who wears the tuxedo but not Bond.”

There was a momentary dispute but the moderator said I got the prize. He quickly grabbed a pair of 007 boxer shorts. I hesitated.

“Are you man enough?” the host asked. As a result, I came up and claimed the prize.

Screenwriter question: At one point, the schedule had to be altered on the fly. So, Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson and writer Bruce Feirstein came out to take audience questions.

Earlier that year, writer Donald E. Westlake, in a column in The Indianapolis News, said he was writing the next Bond film after GoldenEye. It was the only place I had ever seen that news. So I got in line to ask about it.

My memory is that Feirstein was the first to talk, looking at Wilson and asking, “He is?” Wilson’s said something to the effect that Westlake might end up writing for Bond some day.

Many years later, more details have emerged about the late author’s Bond writing effort, which is to be issued as a novel with Bond removed from the proceedings.

The new Bond: Pierce Brosnan, naturally, was the star attraction. Anticipation for his appearance had been building throughout the afternoon. At one point in the program, the GoldenEye titles were shown.

By the time Brosnan appeared, fans came were ready with more than just good wishes. They came with presents. Lots of presents. The pile of presents grew and grew the longer Brosnan spoke.

One can only guess what Brosnan was feeling. The role had almost been his nine years earlier. Now, he had it. The convention was a reminder there’s a whole lot more that accompanies playing James Bond that just a (hefty) paycheck.

Then it was over. For whatever reason, Creation Entertainment didn’t produce future Bond conventions. Bond was back, however. The two conventions had done what they were intended to do, helping revive interest in Agent 007.

An image of the New York convention is below. Thanks to reader Steven Oxenrider who provided it.

 

Schedule for the 1995 007 convention, image courtesy of Steve Oxenrider.

Schedule for the 1995 007 convention, image courtesy of Steve Oxenrider.

 

The real question about Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

UPDATE (9:15 a.m.): Updated with another quote and a link to another video in sixth paragraph below.

Daniel Craig’s public appearance at the New Yorker Festival has come and gone without definitive answers about Bond 25 and his future as 007. But it raised a new, and probably more important, question.

How tired is the 007 film franchise? Is it a momentary slump? Or is a deeper exhaustion?

The James Bond Radio website HAD A POST that INCLUDED A SHORT VIDEO of the Craig appearance. It includes this passage:

“There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig, 48, said. “The producers are just…Barbara (Broccoli) is making a movie. I’m doing Othello, Barbara’s producing that.”

The Broccoli movie is the drama Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, now in post-production. Othello is an off-Broadway production, which has a short run starting next month. When that play is over, Craig will spend much of his 2017 working on Purity, a limited, 20-episode series for Showtime.

One shouldn’t make too much about a couple of comments. Also during the evening IN A VIDEO IN ANOTHER TWEET, Craig also said of playing Bond, “Were I to stop doing it, I’d miss it terribly.”

Still, the way Craig said “just a bit tired” made it sound like he still hasn’t recovered fully from SPECTRE, which wrapped production in mid-2015.

Meanwhile the co-bosses of Eon Productions, who don’t do a lot of interviews, have reason to be tired as well.

Both Broccoli, 56, and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson, 74, have been involved with the series for decades. Both have been at it longer than Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, who spent the last 35 years of his life in Bondage.

If this is a short-term thing, it’s not much of an issue. But if it’s a deeper exhaustion, there are larger concerns than whether Daniel Craig does another James Bond film or not. If Craig comes back all excited to go, it doesn’t mean much unless the rest of the creative team is equally enthusiastic.

Only Broccoli and Wilson can answer the question. All we know is everybody’s a bit tired almost a year after the most recent 007 film was released.

 

Will the Daniel Craig 007 soap opera take it up a notch?

Daniel Craig in a pose worthy of Orson Welles.

Which way will you turn, Daniel? Which way will you turn?

The James Bond soap opera, As Daniel Craig Turns, may ratchet it up a notch. Or not.

In six days, the 48-year-old actor is scheduled to appear at The New Yorker Festival in a program titled “Beyond Bond.”

Craig is to talk for 90 minutes with the magazine’s Nicholas Schmidle.

After all these months of speculation whether Craig will make a fifth Bond film, Schmidle almost has to ask the actor the question. The New Yorker, afterall, is a high-brow journalistic operation and one of the most prestigious in the United States.

If the award-winning journalist didn’t ask the obvious, it might put a dent in his reputation. Also, when you tease your program by calling it “Beyond Bond,” you’re practically advertising you intend to ask.

Assuming the question arises, that doesn’t mean Craig has to answer, of course. He’s been known to give curt answers to the entertainment press. Some of his fans love that aspect about the star, saying they love watching him befuddle the scribes.

Still, Craig’s appearance at The New Yorker might mean we finally hear him address his Bond future.

The appearance comes as a high-ranking member of Eon Productions, Callum McDougall, told the BBC this week that Craig is still Eon’s top choice as 007. McDougall is one of the main deputies of Eon co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

That interview prompted Vanity Fair to post a snarky article titled Everybody but Daniel Craig Wants Another Daniel Craig Bond Film. Vanity Fair noted Craig’s interview (originally published by Time Out London) where he said he’d rather slash his wrists than do another 007 movie.

Of course, that interview was done shortly after SPECTRE wrapped up filming. Doing another Bond film was likely the last thing Craig wanted to think about.

Nevertheless, Vanity Fair previously reported Craig’s remarks angered the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon’s partner in the Bond franchise.

In the newest Vanity Fair article, Yohana Desta opined, “But for the love of Bond fans and poor, rich, tormented Daniel Craig, please make a decision soon, Broccoli.”

Cue the background music. Maybe the As Daniel Craig Turns soap opera will reach a climax. Or maybe not.

Which way will you turn, Daniel? Which way will you turn?