Michael G. Wilson turns 80

Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson, during publicity for 2015’s SPECTRE

Michael G. Wilson, a producer and writer who worked longer on James Bond films than anyone else, celebrated his 80th birthday today.

Wilson, who has been involved with Bond for 50 years on a full-time basis, is the stepson of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli and the half-brother of 007 producer Barbara Broccoli.

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli took command of Eon in 1994 as GoldenEye was in pre-production and Cubby Broccoli suffered from ill health. The Wilson-Barbara Broccoli combination has produced every Bond film starting with GoldenEye.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli died in 1996, ending 35 years with the franchise.

Wilson’s mother, Dana, married Cubby Broccoli in 1959. She had earlier been married to actor Lewis Wilson, who had played Batman in a 1943 serial. The actor was the father of Michael Wilson.

Michael Wilson’s first involvement in the 007 series was as an extra on 1964’s Goldfinger, but that was a one-off. Starting in 1972, he joined Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

Michael G. Wilson’s first 007 on-screen credit in The Spy Who Loved Me

In those early years, Wilson, a lawyer who also had training in engineering, was involved in the separation between Eon founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the latter facing financial troubles. Eventually, United Artists bought out Saltzman’s interest in the 007 franchise.

Wilson’s first on-screen credit was as “special assistant to producer” on 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Wilson got a small title card, sharing the screen with other crew members. But that belied how Wilson’s influence on the series was growing following Saltzman’s departure.

A Poster Changes

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of the poster for The Spy Who Loved Me, with a credit for “Mike Wilson.”

An early poster for Spy had the credit “Assistant to the Producer Mike Wilson.” It didn’t mention other notables such as production designer Ken Adam or associate producer William P. Cartlidge. Later versions didn’t include Wilson’s credits but Adam and Cartlidge still didn’t make the final poster.

For 1979’s Moonraker, Wilson was elevated to executive producer, a title which can be a little confusing. On television series, an executive producer is supposed to be the top producer or producers. For movies, it’s a secondary title to producer. This time, Wilson was included on the posters as were Adam and Cartlidge.

With 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, Wilson doubled as a screenwriter, working in conjunction with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum. Wilson received a screenwriting credit on every 007 film made by Eon in the 1980s. Starting with 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was joint producer along with Cubby Broccoli.

While adding to his production resume, Wilson also began making cameo appearances in the Bond movies themselves. A 2015 story in the Daily Mail provided images of a few examples. The cameos varied from a quick glance (The World Is Not Enough) to getting several lines of dialogue (Tomorrow Never Dies, as a member of the board of directors working with the villain).

‘Particularly Hard’

After Cubby Broccoli’s death, Wilson in interviews began complaining about the work load of making Bond films. “It just seems that this one’s been particularly hard,” Wilson said in an interview with Richard Ashton on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Service website concerning The World Is Not Enough that’s archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

In an earlier Ashton interview, after production of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Wilson described the pressure he felt.

“There are a myriad of things every day,” Wilson told Ashton. “From the producer’s point of view they want to know the schedule, does the set need to be this big? Are we gonna shoot all this stuff in the action sequence? How much of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor? You’re putting the director under pressure to make decisions all the time – and he has a point of view he wants to put across.”

‘Desperately Afraid’

Dana Broccoli was an uncredited adviser on the Bond films during Cubby Broccoli’s reign. She became “the custodian of the James Bond franchise” after his death in 1996, according to a 2004 obituary of Dana Broccoli in The Telegraph.

With her passing, Wilson and Barbara Broccoli were truly on their own. One of their first decisions was to move on from Pierce Brosnan, the last 007 actor selected by Albert R. Broccoli, and go in a new direction with Daniel Craig.

In an October 2005 story in The New York Times, Wilson described the process.

“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.”

Wilson and Barbara Broccoli also began pursuing other interests, including plays as well as movies such as the drama The Silent Storm, where they were among 12 executive producers.

Wilson as P.T. Barnum

Wilson, to a degree, also was the Bond franchise’s equivalent of P.T. Barnum. In separate interviews and public appearances he said he hoped Daniel Craig would do more 007 films than Roger Moore even as the time between Bond films lengthened while later saying Bond actors shouldn’t be kept on too long.

Legal fights between Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired United Artists in 1981) caused a six-year hiatus in Bond films between 1989 and 1995. When production resumed with GoldenEye, Wilson no longer was a credited screenwriter.

Cubby Broccoli had benefited from a long relationship with Richard Maibaum (1909-1991), who ended up contributing to 13 of the first 16 Bond movies. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli seemed to search for their own Maibaum.

At first, screenwriter Bruce Feirstein seemed to fit the bill. He received a writing credit on three movies, starting with GoldenEye and ending with The World Is Not Enough.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011 Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson in November 2011.

Later, the producing duo seemed to settle on scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who received credits on six consecutive 007 epics. They ran began with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and ran through 2015’s SPECTRE. They were hired in 2017 to work on a 007th film, No Time to Die, released in 2021. Director Cary Fukunaga and scribe Phoebe Waller-Bridge were among the other writers on the script.

Still, it wasn’t the same. After 2012’s Skyfall, Purvis and Wade weren’t supposed to return, with writer John Logan (who’d done Skyfall’s later drafts) set to script two movies in a row.

It didn’t work out that way. With SPECTRE, the followup to Skyfall, Logan did the earlier drafts but Purvis and Wade were summoned back. Eventually, Logan, Purvis, Wade and Jez Butterworth would get a credit.

Changing Role?

Cubby Broccoli seemed to live to make James Bond movies. Wilson  not as much, as he pursued other interests, including photography. By the 2010s, it appeared to outsiders that Barbara Broccoli had become the primary force at Eon.

In December, 2014, at the announcement of the title for SPECTRE, Wilson was absent. Director Sam Mendes acted as master of ceremonies with Barbara Broccoli at his side. Wilson showed up in later months for SPECTRE-related publicity events.

Nevertheless, Wilson devoted the majority of his life to the film series.

Making movies is never easy. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment is helping — in a major way — to keeping the 007 series in production. He was not a founding father of the Bond film series. But he was one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures for the film Bond beginning in the 1970s.

“When you go around the world you see how many people are so anxious, in every country, ‘Oh, when’s the next Bond film coming out?'” Wilson told Ashton after production of Tomorrow Never Dies. “You realize that there’s a huge audience and I guess you don’t want to come out with a film that’s going to somehow disappoint them.”

Ralph Fiennes rips off a SPECTRE scab

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes caused a stir with comments on a podcast about how he successfully resisted attempts during production of SPECTRE to turn his M into a villain.

“I had to fight off an attempt by (Skyfall and SPECTRE director) Sam (Mendes) in SPECTRE…I don’t want to play M and then you turn around make M the bad guy. M is never the bad guy….I had to have some pretty intense discussions with Sam.”

The key excerpt is below:

The thing is all of this became known in 2014 with the hacking at Sony, which distributed Skyfall and SPECTRE. What makes it of interest is Fiennes talking about it. Eventually, a new character, dubbed C, became the traitor.

The 2014 hacks also revealed that, at the same time, Tanner would also be revealed to be a traitor. He would commit suicide while Bond observed. At least two SPECTRE script drafts, including one with an Irma Bunt henchwoman (a major character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), leaked out.

Fiennes’ comments draw attention to a volatile time.

Pre-production of SPECTRE (then known as Bond 24) had been well underway when, on Nov. 15, 2013, it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq/Eon had reached an agreement with the estate of Kevin McClory. As a result of the pact, MGM and Danjaq/Eon now firmly held the rights to Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE.

One way to go would be to put Blofeld and SPECTRE in a drawer for use later. Instead, Blofeld and SPECTRE were shoehorned into Bond 24.

All of a sudden, everything was up for grabs. In Fiennes case, he put his foot down and the notion of M as a traitor passed.

All of this had been mostly forgotten until the actor’s recent comments. All of this reflects Eon’s “we’ll make it up as we go along” approach. Example: At a 2011 press conference, Mendes said Skyfall had nothing to do with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

When SPECTRE rolled around, lo and behold, Skyfall villain Silva was really part of SPECTRE. It would be as if Goldfinger had been part of SPECTRE in 1964. (He wasn’t.)

So it goes.

Bond 25 questions: What’s up with the U.S.?

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die is the No. 1 box office movie among non-Chinese-made films. Happy days are here again, right? Well, there may be one nagging concern, the (relative) gap between international and the U.S.

The U.S., even with China emerging as the world’s largest market, remains a pretty big market for movies. Yet, relatively speaking, James Bond’s support in Britain’s former colonies appears to be eroding.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What do you mean by eroding support?

Here is are the figures during the Daniel Craig era, according to Box Office Mojo:

Casino Royale, $167.4 million, 27.2 percent of the global total

Quantum of Solace, $168.4 million, 28.6 percent of the global total

Skyfall, $304.4 million, 27.5 percent of the global total

SPECTRE, $200.1 million, 22.7 percent of the global total

No Time to Die, $158.1 million, 20.9 percent of the global total.

So?

Some British fans attribute that to Brits having better taste than Americans. These same fans dismiss the importance of the American market at all.

Are you being serious?

Mostly not (though such fans as described above do exist). Rather, it raises the question whether there should be more changes for U.S. Bond marketing versus international Bond marketing.

With No Time to Time, U.S. trailers were different than international trailers. But is that enough?

Remember, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in 2015 that Eon controls the marketing and that studios just execute that plan.

If anybody at Eon is disappointed with the U.S. box office — and no one has said so publicly — they should perhaps look in the mirror.

Anything else?

For better or worse, the U.S. market likes superhero movies more than international markets The No. 1 U.S. movie in 2021 is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at $224.6 million. It’s based on a lesser-known Marvel Comics title from the 1970s.

Still, $158.1 million in the U.S. for No Time to Die, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, is nothing to sneeze at and not a flop. Many movies would love that size of box office.

Going forward, though, Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Amazon (which has agreed to buy MGM) may want to ponder Bond’s position in the U.S.

Variety suggests NTTD still is unprofitable

No Time to Die teaser poster

Variety has published a story suggesting No Time to Die still hasn’t made a profit despite becoming the No. 1 box office film in 2021 among non-Chinese productions.

Here is an excerpt:

The action-packed spy spectacle, which endured several coronavirus-related delays, has become the rare pandemic-era box office hit, which is even more impressive considering adult audiences — the core demographic for “No Time to Die” — have been reluctant to return to theaters. However, the movie cost more than $250 million to produce, at least $100 million to promote and tens of millions more to postpone over 16 months. Insiders say “No Time to Die” needs to make closer to $900 million to break even.

No Time to Die cost almost $300 million to produce, according to a U.K. regulatory filing in 2020. And there were THREE COVID-19 delays, not “several.” There were FIVE delays overall. Two were related to how Danny Boyle was replaced as director with Cary Fukunaga.

MGM, replying to Variety, issued a denial.

“Unnamed and uninformed sources suggesting the film will lose money are categorically unfounded and put more simply, not true.”

Just remember: People deny things they know to be true. MGM hasn’t provided any detailed financial information regarding No Time to Die.

According to Variety, MGM crowed about how No Time to Die passed F9: The Fast Saga. (Something that occurred this weekend.) So far, No Time to Die hasn’t matched either 2015’s SPECTRE nor 2012’s Skyfall. That latter is the only Bond film to exceed $1 billion box office in theaters.

Since the advent of COVID-19 in early 2020, the market for theatrical films has shrunk. Before the pandemic, there were 48 movies that had a box office of $1 billion or more. 2012’s Skyfall is No. 28 on that list.

With COVID-19, no movie has reached that worldwide box office level. Some Bond fans don’t like to hear that and have criticized the blog for bringing it up.

That’s how it goes.

MGM takes a No Time to Die victory lap

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives took a victory lap concerning No Time to Die during an investor call.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait and a real thrill for all of us at MGM to deliver on our goal to release Bond in theaters around the world,” Christopher Brearton, the studio’s chief operating officer, said in prepared remarks.

“There have been many great stories about the excitement amongst Bond fans that returned to theaters for Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007 — all underscoring that a Bond film is one of the biggest events in the theatrical marketplace,” he added. “To that point, the film is performing well despite ongoing pandemic challenges. The film has now surpassed $700 million in worldwide box office and it is still going strong.”

No Time to Die’s global total stood at $709.6 million as of Thursday night, according to Box Office Mojo. It is on the verge of catching F9: The Fast Saga’s $721.1 million. F9 is No. 1 globally in 2021 among movies released by major U.S. studios.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the movie-going market. Billion-dollar box office films had become regular events before COVID-19. Box Office Mojo lists 48 such movies. That includes 2012’s Skyfall at No. 28.

The pandemic caused three separate delays in No Time to Die reaching theaters. It finally came out in late September in the U.K. and early October in the U.S.

“Releasing Bond when theaters were opened was the right decision for the film and for MGM,” Brearton said.

In addition to its theatrical release, No Time to Die moved into premium video on demand on Nov. 9 in the U.S.

MGM executives did not take questions from investors. The company has agreed to be acquired by Amazon. That deal is still undergoing regulatory review.

No Time to Die footnote edition

No Time to Die poster

No Time to Die’s theatrical rollout is well along, with only a few countries left to see the movie. With that in mind, here’s a look at various things that were either supposed to happen or people wanted to happen.

The ginormous premiere: Remember how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions were supposed to be considering staging the movie’s world premiere “at the biggest venues in London, starting with Wembley and going down from there” ?

At least that was the tale from The Mirror on April 17. That didn’t happen. The premiere took place at Royal Albert Hall.

An “in memoriam” title card for Sean Connery and Roger Moore: James Bond fans were rooting for No Time to Die to note the passings of Sean Connery (1930-2020) and Roger Moore (1927-2017). The two actors played Bond in 13 of Eon’s 25 Bond films. That didn’t happen, either.

MGM’s push for a Best Picture Oscar nomination: Matthew Belloni, part of a digital news startup called Puck, wrote in June that he was told No Time to Die “will get a best picture push a la the final Lord of the Rings.”

This, of course, could still happen. Belloni is a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter. And some of his other items about No Time to Die have proven correct, including an August newsletter item that MGM and Eon were committed to releasing No Time to Die in late September in the U.K. and on Oct. 8 in the U.S.

The Bond series has experienced a mixed record at the Oscars. Goldfinger and Thunderball won for sound and special effects respectively. Skyfall won for best song and a sound award while SPECTRE also received a best song Oscar.

However, Bond films haven’t been nominated for acting, directing, or writing nor for best picture. Perhaps that could change if MGM and Eon make a sufficient push.

NTTD opens in the U.S. with good news, not-so-good news

BOND: Harumpf!

First the good news: No Time to Die is projected to be the No. 1 movie in the U.S. this weekend.

Not-so-good news: The 25th James Bond film’s estimated weekend take (including Thursday night preview showings) is estimated at $56 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which track movie box office data.

That’s behind the U.S. opening of Skyfall ($88.4 million), SPECTRE ($70.4 million), and Quantum of Solace ($67.5 million). In U.S. terms, No Time to Die’s opening is the lowest since 2006’s Casino Royale ($40.8 million), when movie ticket prices were a lot cheaper.

The U.S. results for No Time to Die compare with an international opening of $121 million last week. That, of course, included the U.K., where going to a Bond movie is part of national pride.

Some context: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a Spider-Man related movie) had an opening of $90 million last weekend.

To be sure: Comparing No Time to Die (released during the midst of a long pandemic) to earlier Bond films is dicey. No Time to Die’s release was delayed three times because of COVID-19.

On the other hand: U.S. audiences are turning out for movies. For whatever reason, in the U.S., Venom trumps Bond. I never thought I’d type that in a sentence.

I suspect Bond 26, whenever that comes out, will be shoved toward the end of the release dates. (joke/sarcasm)

UPDATE: Deadline: Hollywood reports that No Time to Die’s global box office is $313.7 million including this weekend’s U.S. results.

Not surprisingly, the U.K. paced the international results. Here’s the take from Exhibitor Relations Co.

Harris reinforces her status as Bond film ambassador

Naomie Harris introduces the Lego Aston Martin DB5 in 2018

Namomie Harris, yet again, has reinforced her status as the ambassador for the James Bond film franchise.

For years, that status belonged to Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven movies from 1973 to 1985. Long after that, he appeared on TV specials and in other appearances on behalf of the franchise.

Since Moore’s death, Harris — who made her Bond film debut in 2012’s Skyfall — has done the heavy lifting in Bond promotion. In 2019, she was at a promotional event in Jamaica for No Time to Die despite how none of her scenes in the movie were filmed there. She has also shown up to promote things such as a Lego Aston Martin DB5.

All of that may seem strange. Harris is a supporting player. Since 2005, when he was first cast as Bond, Daniel Craig has been the star. But, let’s face it, promotion isn’t Craig’s strong point. One reason why Roger Moore reached people was his enthusiasm for the part — even after his departure — was evident.

Of those involved with the franchise, only Naomie Harris currently has a similar stature.

The official Eon Productions James Bond feed on Twitter featured a video of Harris today. You can see it below.

About those billion-dollar movies

Poster for Skyfall, the first $1 billion Bond

Over the past decade, claiming the title of being a “billion-dollar” movie has become a thing.

The Box Office Mojo website, currently lists 48 movies with a global box office of $1 billion or more. The list isn’t adjusted for inflation. But the $1 billion mark has become a sign of box office success.

The list includes 2012’s Skyfall at No. 28 ($1.11 billion), the first billion-dollar Bond film. Regardless what was once rare (The Dark Knight in 2008, Avatar in 2009) has become almost common place.

Until COVID-19, that is. But more on that in a moment.

The New Standard

The thing about achieving billion dollar status is that suddenly becomes the floor. If you fail to match it, that almost becomes failure.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) got a lot of attention. It scored an opening weekend in the U.S. of more than $200 million and $1.5 billion globally. Marvel films, after four years of build up, had arrived.

Yet, when 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron came out with a $1.4 billion box office, it was almost seen as a disappointment. Marvel followed up with a two-part Avengers adventure (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame) which generated more than $2 billion for each installment.

Keeping this to the cinema world of James Bond, 2015’s SPECTRE generated $880.6 million. By any reasonable standard, that would be seen as popular. But it’s not a billion dollars!

At the same time, this isn’t just hype. So-called “tentpole” movies are getting so expensive a billion-dollar box office is almost a necessity. No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film, had generated production costs of almost $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Making a “tentpole” movie is not cheap.

Life Changes

All of that was before COVID-19 hit in the first months of 2020.

With the pandemic, movie theater attendance plunged. Theaters were closed or had severe limitation on attendance. Some movies got released on streaming.

The industry is changing. Theaters had enjoyed a 90-day window to show films before home video kicked in. After COVID, that window is tightening even when films come out “exclusively in theaters” (now an advertising tagline)

Industrywide, the financials are shifting. There’s a legitimate question whether an expensive No Time to Time can even make a profit on its theatrical release.

This post isn’t a matter of being doom and gloom. It’s more a description of an industry in change.

Want to hear doom and gloom? Veteran entertainment executive Barry Diller told The Hollywood Reporter this month that he expects only 10 percent of movie theaters to survive.

Again, keeping this to Bond, No Time to Die was made while one world existed. It will debut after a new world has taken hold.

Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.