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.

Our rants about Bond 25

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad, yet again.

Bond isn’t at the same level as other film franchises: You’ve bought an old helicopter. And we should care, why?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in 2015 acquired a lot of old cars. More than three years after filming began, it didn’t really matter in the movie’s ultimate success (or lack thereof), did it? Buying vehicles and props is, at the end of the day, a minor enterprise.

Real film franchises have studios that distribute them. Bond doesn’t have one.

The most recent 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Sony Pictures released the last four Bond movies. SPECTRE concluded Sony’s most recent two-picture contract.

If Bond were a fantastically profitable film franchise, other studios would be beating down the doors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio. But MGM hasn’t yet reached a new deal.

Of course, Sony got taken with the last two films (Skyfall and SPECTRE), providing 50 percent of the financing but only 25 percent of the profits. That might, just might, be a factor in MGM’s delays in finding a new studio partner.

Meanwhile, real film franchises actually seek publicity. Marvel Studios releases two movies a year. But it successfully gets publicity year round. Ditto for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film universe, despite the fact it’s not as successful as Marvel.

The Bond franchise is more like the Kremlin. I know, Ian Fleming would spin in his grave at that reference.

Seriously, though, there are parallels. Both provide little tiny bits of news that require the knowledge of long-time followers to interpret. Why else, do you suppose, there has been so much attention to the purchase of a helicopter?

Carry on.

Baz Bamigboye implies Bond 25 is ‘long, long way off’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter


File this under “S” for sketchy, but Baz Bamigboye, who used to be the go-to U.K. reporter for James Bond scoops, appeared to say on Twitter that Bond 25 is a “long, long way off.”

Bamigboye, who writes for the Daily Mail, was specifically asked, “Is it dead?” referring to Bond news. That’s when the writer made his “long, long way off” response, presumably referring to Bond 25.

Bamigboye generated a number of scoops about Skyfall and SPECTRE, such as how Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to rewrite SPECTRE’s script in mid-2014. That was the first major tipoff that the movie had major script issues.

However, a major caveat: Bamigboye hasn’t been on the Bond beat since 2014. He’s been writing about other entertainment topics. Caveat No. 2: “long, long way off” is vague. 2019? 2020? 2022?

Still, for what it’s worth, you can view the exchange on Twitter here.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Sony writes down value of film unit by almost $1B

Sony Pictures logo

Sony Pictures logo

Sony Corp. wrote down the value of its film business by $962 million, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Essentially, Sony said its film business is worth far less than what it listed on its financial books. In accounting that’s known as a “goodwill impairment charge.”

The writedown stemmed from “a downward revision in the future profitability projection for the motion pictures business,” according to a Sony statement quoted by THR.

Sony also said its commitment to the film unit “remains unchanged.” The New York Post earlier this month said Sony “is listening to bank pitches about a potential sale of its film and TV operations.”

Sony has released the past four James Bond films. The company has said it would like to extend the relationship but it has no deal in place with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.  Under its most recent two-picture deal, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits.

At the moment, Bond 25 has no distributor, much less a release date.

Some questions about Bond 25 (20XX)

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This originally was intended as a humorous post. But, truth be told, there’s not much funny right now.

Sketchy, circumstantial evidence suggests the 007 film franchise is more or less in the same place it was from 2002 to 2006: Trying to figure out what to do next.

The franchise eventually got back into gear by adapting Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale.

You could debate whether a reboot (i.e. starting the series over) or recasting the lead role (letting Pierce Brosnan go and bringing on Daniel Craig) was necessary.

Even if you disagreed with either move, the idea of seeing Eon Productions do a straight adaptation of Casino ensured fan interest. The main question fans asked was, “How will it turn out?”

In early 2017, there isn’t another Ian Fleming novel to adapt.

Eon has already partially adapted the You Only Live Twice novel (with Skyfall). That 2012 film featured a disturbed, off-kilter Bond on a variation of the “impossible mission.”

On the other hand, does Eon Productions adapt the rest of the 1964 novel with Bond 25? Have Blofeld kill SPECTRE heroine Madeline Swann, causing Bond to go off on (another) mission of revenge? Some fans would say yes, saying the “Blofeld Trilogy” would finally be fulfilled on the screen.

Does Eon finally adapt a 007 continuation novel? Over the years, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson has criticized the ones written by John Gardner.

However, Eon opened the door with SPECTRE, adapting a sequence of Kingsley Amis’ 1968 novel Colonel Sun. You had to be patient watching the end titles to catch the acknowledgment citing Amis’ estate. At this point, you don’t have to use one of Gardner’s novels. There are many to choose from.

It still comes down to nobody knows when Bond 25 is coming out. Nobody knows what studio will release it. Nobody knows for sure who will play James Bond. Many fans are sure Daniel Craig will be back. Some will tell you it’s virtually assured that Daniel Craig will be James Bond in Shatterhand (Blofeld’s alias in the You Only Live Twice novel) in 2018.

But, for now, that’s a matter of faith, not fact.

PREVIOUS POSTS: 

WHY NOBODY SHOULD BE SURPRISED THAT ‘NOTHING IS HAPPENING’

PURVIS & WADE DISCUSS WRITING 007 FILMS

 

Purvis & Wade discuss writing 007 films

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve worked as writers on the past six James Bond movies, told The Telegraph that writing future 007 films has gotten harder.

“I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now.” Purvis said in the interview.

Purvis and Wade were interviewed concerning SS-GB, an upcoming mini-series they’ve scripted. It’s based on a Len Deighton novel about a United Kingdom where Nazi Germany won the Battle of Britain.

Much of the Telegraph article, naturally, concerns SS-GB. But there are a number of comments concerning Bond films. Some excerpts:

How a changing world affects Bond films: “Each time, you’ve got to say something about Bond’s place in the world, which is Britain’s place in the world,” Purvis said. “But things are moving so quickly now, that becomes tricky.

“With people like (U.S. President Donald) Trump, the Bond villain has become a reality. So when they do another one, it will be interesting to see how they deal with the fact that the world has become a fantasy.”

Skyfall’s origins: Wade is quoted (via paraphrase and not by direct quote) as saying the 23rd James Bond film came from discussions with director Sam Mendes about a new take on Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel. The movie includes M (Judi Dench) writing Bond’s obituary, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Working on SPECTRE: Purvis and Wade were brought during 2014 in to rework John Logan’s script.

When the duo arrived, construction had began on a replica of London’s Westminster Bridge. Logan’s script had a helicopter crashing on the bridge. Purvis and Wade’s work had to include that, according to the article.

In the end, they used it as the stage for Bond to make a life-changing choice: would he walk off to a new life with the comely Madeleine Swann on one side, or slink off to M on the other, back to a life in the shadows? Purvis and Wade had him choose the latter: in the end, they were overruled.

“Spectre felt like it closed off a certain way of doing Bond,” Purvis told The Telegraph. “And I think whatever happens next will be quite different.”

To view the Telegraph article, CLICK HERE. You’ll see a preview of the article. You either have to register for the site (no payment involved) or subscribe to the site to see the entire article.

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?