The case for and against SPECTRE

SPECTRE's soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

SPECTRE’s soon-to-be-replaced teaser image

This is a weird time for SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film.

The movie is coming off a huge financial success with 2012’s Skyfall. This should be like 50 years ago, when Thunderball was in production coming off Goldfinger. But it isn’t.

Instead, the past few days have concerned how the production may have made script changes to qualify for as much as $20 million in Mexican tax incentives. The reason for going for the tax incentives was that the budget may have shot past $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies of all time.

Images of what appears to be an elaborate car chase in Rome have come out (it is hard hard to disguise your intent when filming in public locations). But that’s gotten drowned out by the publicity about the other matters. We know that because of the hacking at Sony Pictures, something that didn’t happen with other Bond movies.

Regardless, here’s a guide to some of the pros and cons for the movie’s prospects.

PRO: Bond has a built-in audience: No question. Around the globe, there are 007 maniacs eagerly awaiting SPECTRE, regardless of recent publicity. For these folks, Marvel’s Avengers aren’t super heroes, 007 is.

CON: SPECTRE is playing around with serious money: The rule of thumb for movies is they need to have box office equal to 2.5 times to 3 times the production budget to be profitable. Marketing costs total almost, or as much as, the production budget. Theaters take a share. Taxes must be paid, etc.

With Skyfall, with an estimated $200 million budget, its $1.1 billion worldwide box office was like the cherry on top of the sundae. For SPECTRE, a $1 billion box office is almost a necessity. Put another way, if SPECTRE’s worldwide box office totals $750 million, it will be seen as a disappointment. That sounds crazy. But that’s the way it is.

PRO: Eon Productions has been in this place before and it always turned out well in the end: True enough.

There were a lot of questions about the cinema future of 007 in 1977 when The Spy Who Loved Me came out. It wasn’t an easy production, with many scripts written. It went through one director (Guy Hamilton) before Lewis Gilbert brought it home. And it was the most expensive 007 film up to that date. Yet, it was a hit and Bond would go on.

Just two years later, Moonraker’s budget almost doubled from initial projections. Producer Albert R. Broccoli refused the financial demands of leading special effects companies for Agent 007’s journey into outer space. But Broccoli’s boys, led by Derek Meddings, did just fine and got an Oscar nomination. Moonraker also was a big hit.

In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies was a chaotic production with a number of writers (only Bruce Feirstein got a credit) taking turns on the script. Feirstein returned to do rewrites during the middle of filming. Still, Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 outing did fine in the end.

Past performance isn’t a guarantee of future performance. Yet, it would seem extremely premature to bet against 007 at this point.

CON: The Sony hacks showed there were a lot of troubles during pre-production, particularly with the script: The Sony hacks are unprecedented in that they revealed inside information while an expensive movie was in production. To say more would mean major spoilers. We’ll avoid that here.

Suffice to say, the hacks revealed the kind of detail that, for other 007 films, only emerged many years after they were released, when people could research the papers of 007 principals such as screenwriter Richard Maibaum.

On March 17, a teaser poster for SPECTRE is to be unveiled. This may be the start of changing the conversation about SPECTRE compared with the past few days. 007 fans certainly hope so.

SPECTRE: newest twist on 007 product placement

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No spoilers.

James Bond movies have never been shy about product placement. SPECTRE may just be a twist on a long-standing tradition.

For decades, the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions has cut deals with companies pitching their wares. Goldfinger did deals with Ford Motor Co. and Gillette. With Thunderball, not only did Ford provide vehicles but then-CEO Henry Ford II appeared as an extra. Moonraker had deals with Marlboro, 7 Up and British Airways.

By the time Pierce Brosnan was 007 (1995-2002), writer Bruce Feirstein, in his FIRST DRAFT for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, didn’t even specify a car model for 007’s vehicle. It just said “(Insert name).”

What’s different about SPECTRE is it may amount to being product placement for a country — Mexico, to be specific — than a series of companies.

The Tax Analysts website, which is targeted at tax professionals, PUBLISHED A MARCH 3 ARTICLE detailing how SPECTRE’s script was altered to take advantage of as much as $20 million in Mexican incentives. (If you click on the link, there are spoilers.)

The incentives are intended to make Mexico look as good as possible in movies, according to the website. The country has reason to do so, according to AN ARTICLE IN THE WASHINGTON POST. Here’s an excerpt:

The Mexican government’s sensitivities to its violent reputation are no secret. When President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he tried to minimize the focus on the drug war while emphasizing economic and political reforms. But ongoing high-profile violence, including battles in Michoacan and the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, has undercut that message.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. For blockbuster movies, access to the vast Chinese market is a must. The 2013 movie Iron Man 3 was a co-production with China. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn turned the villains into North Koreans instead of Chinese.

With SPECTRE, according to Tax Analysts, it was more of a direct subsidy. SPECTRE’s budget may exceed $300 million, making it one of the most expensive movies ever made.

Meanwhile, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns half the Bond franchise, emerged from bankruptcy only a few years ago. It doesn’t even release its own movies, cutting deals with Sony Pictures (including the 007 films) or Warner Bros. (the now-completed Hobbit series). For MGM, $300 million is a huge bet, even for a 007 film and even though the most recent Bond movie (Skyfall) had a worldwide box office of $1.1 billion.

Put another way, $300 million is real money. Some Bond fans may get annoyed with product placement but they don’t have to sign the checks. As a result, it’s understandable why MGM would be willing to change SPECTRE’s story in return for millions of dollars.

SPECTRE by the numbers (and not just 007)

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE is starting production in Rome, for a five-week shoot, including a car chase, that will cost almost as much (if not more) than some movies.

So, here’s a breakdown of the kind of spending that’s known about the 24th James Bond film. We’ll assume a total production budget of $300 million.

According to information from hacked Sony documents, the budget was on pace to well exceed that, but there were also efforts to rein it in. We’ll assume the trends cancel themselves out so we’ll go with a nice round number with $300 million.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume a 30-week shooting schedule. Principal photography began on Dec. 8 and is supposed to run seven months. Actual total may run a week or two less than 30 weeks, but some filming was done before principal photography began. So, again, we’ll use a round number.

Cost per week, total: $10 million.

Cost per week, Rome shoot: $12 million (five weeks, $60 million, according to figures reported by Variety.com)

ESTIMATED COST OF NOTABLE JAMES BOND MOVIES (not adjusted for inflation)

Dr. No: $1 million

From Russia With Love: $2 million

Goldfinger: $3 million

You Only Live Twice: $9.5 million (Ken Adam’s volcano set alone cost more than Dr. No)

The Spy Who Loved Me: $14 million

Moonraker: $31 million to $34 million, depending on estimate (Initial plan was to keep it close to Spy’s budget but it was evident that wouldn’t hold)

Tomorrow Never Dies: $110 million (first to exceed $100 million)

Quantum of Solace: $230 million (first to exceed $200 million)

SPECTRE: $300 million (first to reach $300 million).

One week’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than You Only Live Twice, which had the one set that cost more than Dr. No.

Put another way, each day’s shooting on SPECTRE costs more than Dr. No. At $10 million a week, if you shot seven days a week, equals $1.43 million daily.

ESTIMATED COST OF OTHER 2015 SPY MOVIES

Taken 3: $48 million

Kingsman: The Secret Service: $81 million

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: $75 million

To be fair, none of this takes into account 50 years of inflation. At the same time, this exercise is also a reminder that studios don’t play with Monopoly money. Studios don’t get to spend, or receive, inflation-adjusted dollars.

Familiar meme: megalomaniac environmentalists

This weekend’s U.S. release of Kingsman: The Secret Service marks the return of a familiar meme in spy entertainment — the megalomaniac environmentalist who has the means to take radical action (i.e. wipe people out) to restore ecological balance.

This is a sampling of both television and movie efforts.

Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) looks displeased with associate Kitten Twitty (Jenie Jackson)

Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) looks displeased with associate Kitten Twitty (Jenie Jackson)

The Wild, Wild West: The Night of the Murderous Spring (first broadcast April 15, 1966): Dr. Loveless, after three prior defeats by U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon, is in the midst of his biggest scheme yet.

Loveless (Michael Dunn) arranges to use West (Robert Conrad) as a test subject for his newest discovery. When Loveless’ powder is mixed with water, it’s absorbed into people. When that happens, they lose their inhibitions and their aggressive tendencies are magnified. The powder also causes hallucinations.

In separate incidents, West imagines he kills Loveless and Gordon (Ross Martin). When the real Arty gets into town, he’s told West has been taken to a hospital. It’s really a cover for Loveless’s hideout.

The plan is revealed. Loveless will use a large number of birds to distribute his powder. It’s the start of spring. The birds will reach water, spread the powder and people will kill themselves. Loveless provides a demonstration where the bulk of the “hospital’s” staff kill themselves off.

West and Gordon barely avert catastrophe. Loveless and two women, Antoinette and Kitten Twitty, flee on a boat across a lake. West shoots a hole in the boat and it sinks. After 20 minutes, the agents give up. Bad move, but that won’t become evident until the show’s second season.

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster


Kiss the Girls and Makes Them Die (1966): Ardonian (Raf Vallone) is concerned about the prospects of overpopulation. (The world’s population was about 3 billion at the time, it reached 7 billion in 2011.)

Ardonian, being a megalomaniac, isn’t content to just fret. He plans to launch a satellite that will zap the earth. Sexual activity will stop and the population will decline naturally as people die off.

Meanwhile, Ardonian is abducting various beautiful women and having them frozen. When it’s time to repopulate the Earth, Ardonian will have sex with the women and get them pregnant.

Ardonian’s activities, however, don’t go unnoticed. American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and British agent Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) eventully join forces and foil the scheme.

The Malthusian Affair, unmade television movie, 1976: Sam Rolfe wrote the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and was its first-season producer. In 1976, he was hired to write a new U.N.C.L.E. television movie that would double as a pilot for a new series.

The title refers to Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), who warned about population growth in his day.

The head of Mogul Industries is a big believer in Malthus. So he’s going to kill off vast numbers of people to restore ecological balance and run things himself. (Funny how megalomaniacs never volunteer to sacrifice themselves.)

U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, aided by two younger agents, put a stop to the plan. But their luck with studio executives wasn’t nearly as good so the story never went before the cameras.

For more information, CLICK HERE For The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide’s page on never-made U.N.C.L.E. projects.

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Industrialist Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) is concerned about the world’s oceans. All those billions of people keep polluting them.

Solution: Snatch nuclear submarines and launch their missiles to start a nuclear war. Stromberg uses a specially built freighter. Its front opens up, swallowing up the subs. Stromberg also has some kind of electronic device to disable the submarines, making it easier to make off with them.

James Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are assigned by their respective governments to find the missing submarines. Similar to Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, the two agents initially oppose each other before joining forces.

The two are aboard a U.S. submarine to observe Stromberg’s massive ship when the megalomaniac adds that sub to his collection. The timing is good. Stromberg is just about to execute the final stages of his plan. Long story short, the plan is foiled, Bond kills Stromberg and Bond and Triple-X have sex.

Moonraker teaser poster

Moonraker teaser poster

Moonraker (1979): Industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) has two obsessions — the exploration of space and fixing the environmental mess on Earth.

Like other megalomaniacs, he concludes it’s best to kill off most people, leaving himself in charge. He already has a space station in orbit that nobody knows about because it has a radar jamming system. He plans to make it into an orbiting “stud farm” to repopulate the Earth after he kills off everybody except himself and his employees.

Drax makes his first mistake when he steals one of his own Moonraker shuttles from the British. One of the shuttles Drax planned to use developed a fault. The problem with this move is the British are rather annoyed (they’ve lost a 747 aircraft and its crew was killed). So James Bond (Roger Moore) is on the case.

Bond begins his investigation in Southern California, where the Moonrakers are made. It turns out the CIA has an operative, Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), working undercover there. Like Mike Connors and Dorothy Provine….well, you can guess by now what happens.

The story goes to Venice to Rio to the Brazilian rain forest to, eventually, Outer Space! (as it says in the end titles listing the locations.) The space station will launch globes of a deadly poison to kill off Earth’s population. After dispatching Drax, Holly flies a Moonraker while Bond destroys three launched globes (the others were destroyed previously) with a laser.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015): Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine is the latest megalomaniac to decide he’s the man to solve Earth’s environmental problems.

We’ll avoid the specifics. His plot is similar Dr. Loveless’s, except Valentine’s involves electronics, rather than a chemical.

This being the 21st century, things are nastier. We witness a demonstration of Valentine’s device. Also, it’s implied Valentine is at least partially successful. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people may have died before the plot was stopped.

Richard Graydon, 007 stuntman, dies at 92

Richard Graydon, a stuntman in several James Bond films, died Dec. 22, according to an obituary at the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE.

Two of Graydon’s signature stunts involved cable cars. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he doubled star George Lazenby, in a sequence where Bond is supposed to be on a cable as a cable car approaches. The official 007 Twitter feed on Dec. 23, posted a picture in connection with the movie’s 45th anniversary.

A decade later, Graydon doubled for Roger Moore atop a Rio cable car in a scene where 007 is depicted as fighting Jaws. In the documentary Inside Moonraker, director Lewis Gilbert described himself as transfixed watching, having to be reminded to yell cut. Graydon shows up as an interview subject in a number of the 007 film documentaries directed by John Cork.

Graydon also got an on-screen credit in the end titles of 1983’s Octopussy as Francisco, the Fearless, one of the acts in Octopussy’s circus.

Happy 87th birthday, Sir Roger Moore

Oct. 14 is the 87th birthday of Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven movies produced by Eon Productions from 1973 through 1985. Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

This year was the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, one of the actor’s biggest box office successes. It’s not that popular among dedicated Bond fans who feel it’s too light and takes too many liberties. But the movie has its supporters. The Bond series hasn’t attempted a spectacle since — and it did generate some interesting poster art.

goozee_teaser

Richard Kiel, 007 and spy villain, dies at 74

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel, who stood more than 7-feet-tall, making him a natural as a villain in 1960s spy series plus two James Bond films, has died at 74, according to an obituary in the LOS ANGELES TIMES. An excerpt:

Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-2 actor best known for portraying the James Bond villain Jaws, never wanted to be typecast as a dimwitted character just because of his enormous stature. While his towering physique may have made him intimidating, he was not dumb, he told the Los Angeles Times during a 1978 interview. “If I wanted to be a trial attorney, I could have been. If I wanted to be a real estate magnate, I could have been that, too,” he said.

Kiel appeared as Jaws in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker. But he had plenty of experience portraying menacing henchmen. He had one uncredited scene in the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as well as another first-season episode, The Hong Kong Shilling Affair. He was the henchman of Dr. Loveless, a scientist dwarf, in three episodes of The Wild Wild West, plus a later appearance as another character. And he appeared in In Spy. Here’s a sample of Kiel’s pre-007 work, the first Loveless episode on The Wild Wild West. Bear in mind it could be yanked from YouTube at any time. Kiel also reprised the Jaws role (sort of) at the 1982 Oscars during a production of For You Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song of 1981. He appeared along with Harold Sakata, who played Oddjob in Goldfinger.

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