Celebrating 35 years of Eon-MGM dysfunction

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the uneasy alliance between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After all this time, the relationship doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.

In 1981, MGM acquired United Artists after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. threw up its hands, opting to get rid of UA and exit the movie business. UA had just dropped a big flop, Heaven’s Gate. Transamerica, which acquired UA in 1967, had enough.

Eon (and its parent company Danjaq) had a reasonably warm relationship with UA.

United Artists simply released the first nine Bond films made by Eon. The studio (which coughed up the money to actually make the movies) occasionally influenced the films. Most famously, it was UA that insisted on bringing Sean Connery back to play 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But for the most part, Eon had a pretty long leash.

The two sides grew closer after UA bought out Harry Saltzman’s stake in the 007 franchise in 1975 when the Danjaq-Eon co-founder ran into financial trouble. Still, UA executives thought a lot about Eon chief Albert R. Broccoli, including maintaining an office for him at UA headquarters in New York.

When MGM bought UA, things changed. The 2015 book Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury goes into some detail about this. Budgets tightened, as did studio oversight. There was a Danjaq-Eon lawsuit when MGM ownership changed at one point, a catalyst in the 1989-1995 hiatus in 007 film production.

Even after the lawsuit was settled, there was tension. Things were never as warm between Eon and MGM as when Broccoli and Saltzman cut their first deal with UA in 1961.

It didn’t help that MGM was long past its prime even in 1981, when it first got into the Bond business. By that point, MGM simply didn’t have the resources as other major studios.

By the mid-2000s, MGM was barely a studio. Sony Pictures actually released the last four James Bond movies, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s Columbia Pictures logo appeared with MGM’s Leo the Lion logo at the start of 007 films.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM was mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It financed a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval. But Barbara Broccoli, current co-boss of Eon, made clear in 2012 she had no plans to make Bond films that quickly.

MGM chief Gary Barber

MGM chief Gary Barber

Gary Barber, who became MGM chief during the bankruptcy, backed off. These days he doesn’t even mention that bankruptcy court business plan. Earlier this year, he said 007 films would come out on a “three-to-four-year cycle.”

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

Barber is trying to demonstrate that MGM is a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

This weekend, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

For now, Eon/Danjaq and MGM are more or less in the same place they were 35 years ago.

MGM needs Eon to make James Bond films, still the studio’s biggest asset. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli wants to make dramas that have nothing to do with James Bond.

At the same time, Eon/Danjaq can’t make James Bond films without doing business with MGM, as much as Eon/Danjaq might like to do so.

It’s a cliche, but true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

MGM watch: Ben-Hur remake flops in setback for 007 studio

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s remake of Ben-Hur flopped at the U.S.-Canada box office with a paltry estimated $11.4 million for the Aug. 19-21 weekend, according to Variety.

The movie finished No. 5 this weekend, according to a tweet by Exhibitors Relations, which tracks box office results. The flop occurred in a weekend that wasn’t robust for theaters. Suicide Squad, in its third weekend, was No. 1 at $20.7 million.

Ben-Hur was actually released by Paramount. After exiting bankruptcy in 2010, MGM isn’t big enough to distribute its own films. So MGM cuts deals with other studios to share production costs, with the partner studio getting movies to theaters.

Ben-Hur, based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, has been made as a film three times previously. The 1959 version, starring Charlton Heston and directed by William Wyler, won 11 Academy Awards.

Here’s why this blog noting all this: MGM is the home studio for the James Bond film series, with MGM and Danjaq LLC (the parent company of Eon Productions) controlling the franchise.

In March, MGM chief Gary Barber said 007 films will come out on a “three-to-four year cycle. MGM doesn’t yet have a partner studio for Bond 25 after Sony Pictures’ most recent contract expired with SPECTRE. The next Bond film also doesn’t have a confirmed leading actor or, as far as anyone knows, a script.

When MGM was in bankruptcy, it produced a business plan saying it would get 007 films out on an every-other-year schedule. However, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, has made clear she’s not interested in making Bond films that often.

MGM in recent months has emphasized its slate of non-Bond projects, mostly in television. The studio only releases a handful of movies each year, so any flop hurts MGM more than competitors with larger film slates.

Ben-Hur’s flop also demonstrates that MGM’s supply of bankable movie projects outside of 007 remains limited. Since 2010, MGM’s other main movie property was the now-concluded Hobbit series.

MGM’s next film is a fall release of another remake, The Magnificent Seven.

About the SPECTRE gunbarrel logo

RIP classic 007 gunbarrel (1962-2002)

Original gunbarrel as seen from Dr. No through Goldfinger.

Back in 2012, this blog ran a post that raised the question whether the gunbarrel logo would ever begin a James Bond movie again.

In 2015, the answer, finally was yes with SPECTRE.

At the time, this blog didn’t comment much. After all, it doesn’t seem like good form to complain about getting something you wanted.

Since then, we’ve been reminded there were a few oddities about SPECTRE’s gunbarrel. For example, the Being James Bond website, IN THIS VIDEO, noted that Daniel Craig’s 007 wildly swings his right arm so that you can see Bond openly is carrying a gun. Not exactly an inconspicuous wielding of a firearm by a secret agent.

The website also noted that the three-dimensional gunbarrel effect that began with GoldenEye wasn’t used in SPECTRE.

Something else to consider: The SPECTRE gunbarrel uses a different musical arrangement from previous Bond movies. There’s a soft arrangement of The James Bond Theme that plays under the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures/Sony logos.

Back in the “old days,” there was no music over studio logos. Music didn’t begin until the white dots began moving across the screen.

With SPECTRE, the music with the studio logs is followed by the start of gunbarrel music per se. But there’s a delay between the start of the white dots going across the screen and the time the last dot opens up to reveal Bond on the right side of the screen.

On the Being James Bond video, there’s speculation that the filmmakers really didn’t want to put the gunbarrel at the start of the film.

We guess Being James Bond is correct. With Skyfall, there was a song and dance about how a gunbarrel at the beginning just wouldn’t, couldn’t, etc. work. IN A 2012 INTERVIEW, Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli clearly was NOT promising the gunbarrel would be at the start of the next movie. “It will vary from film to film,” she said at the time.

As an aside, it should be noted that Daniel Craig is the only Bond to get to film a different gunbarrel for each 007 film he did.

Prior to Craig:

–Stuntman Bob Simmons’ gunbarrel was used for the first three Bond films.

–The same Sean Connery gunbarrel was used for three movies (Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever).

–George Lazenby only did one, naturally. (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)

–Roger Moore did two (one for Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, the other for his other five 007 films)

–Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan only had one on-screen gunbarrel in their films (although Brosnan got another for a trailer only).

Regardless, the SPECTRE gunbarrel will have to do. It doesn’t appear we’ll be seeing another version anytime soon.

Two 007 facts amid the speculation

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

What follows are two 007-related facts. They don’t necessarily connect to one another.

On the other hand, you see so much on social media, we thought we’d mention them, for what they’re worth.

–It’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s choice, not Eon Productions’, what studio will distribute Bond 25.

That’s not this blog talking. It’s Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss. He gave an interview late last year portions of which are on YouTube.

“It’s not primarily our decision,” Wilson said. “MGM will…it’s their responsibility.” Wilson said, at the time. He also said that Eon had met with studios (he didn’t specify which ones) which were interested in releasing Bond 25 for MGM.

Sony Pictures has released the last four 007 films but its most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE.

–Barbara Broccoli’s current non-Bond film has a relatively short filming schedule. 

According to the Screen Daily website, the Eon co-boss’ drama, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, is scheduled to wrap filming on Aug. 8. Principal photography began in late June and is based at stages that are part of an expansion at Pinewood Studios.

A producer’s job, of course, doesn’t end with filming. A producer oversees various post-production tasks — editing, sound work, music, etc.

Meanwhile, Screen Daily also refers to the movie as a “passion project” of Broccoli’s. The movie is based upon the memoirs of British actor Peter Turner, who had a relationship with American actress Gloria Grahame. Broccoli acquired the film rights more than 20 years ago, according to Screen Daily.

At the same time, Eon has various other pending non-007 projects. So, there’s no telling how many will take up Broccoli’s time before she turns her attention to Bond 25.

 

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.

 

Being James Bond analyzes SPECTRE

SPECTRE LOGO

The Being James Bond website has done a detailed analysis of SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film.

The analysis runs more than an hour, taking on everything from the return of the gunbarrel logo to the start of the film (for the first time since 2002’s Die Another Day) and whether it was well executed, to the movie’s troubled third act (which was revealed before the movie went into production because of the hacking at Sony Picturies in 2014).

Readers may agree or disagree with the points presented, but it’s clear a lot of effort went into this. So, if you’re interested, you can view the embedded video below:

 

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.

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