‘Playing Monopoly with real buildings’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For almost a year, there was supposed to be bidding by studios to be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s partner in distributing Bond 25 and other future 007 movies. But real life has a way of intruding.

Two of the expected suitors, Paramount and Warner Bros., have seen their respective parent companies involved with real-life dramas.

Throughout much of this year, there was a fight for control at Viacom, which owns Paramount. Viacom’s CEO, Philippe Dauman, who had wanted to sell a big chunk of Paramount to outside investors, got his walking papers. Now, billionaire Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. wants to merge Viacom with CBS.

National Amusements controls both. At one time, CBS was part of Viacom. Then, they were split into separate companies. Now, they may be one again. (This FORTUNE.COM STORY has a summary of all this.)

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., has had talks with AT&T Inc. concerning “various business strategies including a possible merger.” According to the Bloomberg story, citing “people familiar with the matter,” Time Warner would be willing to sell for the right offer. The company rejected an offer from 21st Century Fox, parent company of 20th Century Fox, in 2014 for $75 billion.

Why should 007 fans care? Change of ownership or major structural change tends to be unsettling. It’s harder to make long-term moves if your company’s ownership may change. The separate intrigue at Viacom and Time Warner, may affect the ability of Paramount and Warner Bros. to do a Bond deal with MGM.

For now, there is nobody to release Bond 25. Sony Pictures, through its Columbia brand, has released the last four 007 films. But its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

At this point, neither the Viacom-CBS merger nor an AT&T-Time Warner deal have occurred (AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment on the Bloomberg story).

Still, all this wheeling and dealing recalls a line from Diamonds Are Forever about how reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte was said to be “playing Monopoly with real buildings.”

UPDATE (Oct. 21): The Wall Street Journal reported today that AT&T is in “advanced talks” to acquire Time Warner and that a deal could be reached as early as this weekend.

UPDATE II (Oct. 21, 10:20 p.m. ET): Reuters reported Friday night, citing people it didn’t identify, that AT&T has reached “an agreement in principal” to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion.

UPDATE III (Oct. 22, 7:40 p.m.ET): AT&T announces it has agreed to acquire Time Warner for $107.50 per share for a total of $85.4 billion. Time Warner shareholders will receive half in cash and half in AT&T stock, according to the statement disclosing the sales accord. AT&T said it expects the deal to close before the end of 2017.

Craig angered MGM chief, Vanity Fair says

Poster for SPECTRE

Poster for SPECTRE

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top executive was angered last year when SPECTRE star Daniel Craig said he’s rather “slash my wrists” than play James Bond again, Vanity Fair reported.

The disclosure was part of a broader story mostly intended to knock down last weekend’s Radar Online story that the actor is being offered $150 million to do two more 007 films. (The publication says the offer is “is as fictional as Francisco Scaramanga’s third nipple”).

Here’s an excerpt that concerns MGM’s CEO, Gary Barber:

Craig’s “slash my wrists” comment didn’t exactly endear him to MGM’s chief executive and chairman Gary Barber who, Vanity Fair has learned, personally contacted the actor last year to express his frustration in no uncertain terms. (An email to Craig’s publicist was not immediately returned.)

“Gary hit the ceiling when he read the story,” says a source with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. “He called up Daniel to yell at him. He was furious.”

Quick recap: Craig made the mark in an interview with Time Out London. The interview was conducted a few days after the seven-month shoot of SPECTRE was completed but not published until October.

The article was in Q&A format and the “slash my wrists” comment was in response to the 17th of 22 questions. Neverthless, other outlets jumped on the quote, leading with it in their summaries of the interview. Craig fans have been crying foul ever since on social media.

This isn’t the first time something like this has been reported. The New York Post’s Page Six gossip page  said 11 months ago that executives at Sony Pictures, which co-financed SPECTRE with MGM, had told Craig to shut up.

Vanity Fair, though, is considerably higher brow than the tabloid New York Post. The Vanity Fair story also says Craig still is contractually obligated to do another Bond movie. Michael G. Wilson, co-boss of Eon Productions, said last year that Craig is not.

To read the entire Vanity Fair story, CLICK HERE.

About Daniel Craig’s supposed big 007 offer

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig on the verge of a $150 million pay day?

Over the weekend, Radar Online reported that Daniel Craig, the ever-reluctant 007, is being offered $150 million to do two more James Bond films.

Naturally, this generated a lot of discussion among Bond fans.

On one 007 message board, a poster said the equivalent of, “Why are you guys so upset? It’s not your money.”

Here’s one way of thinking about it.

Michael Cimino (figuratively) thought the same thing when he was directing Heaven’s Gate. For sure, it wasn’t his money. It was United Artists’ money.

However, in the end, he spent so much of UA’s money — and his film generated so little box office — it spelled the end of UA as a separate studio. It’s parent company, Transamerica, threw in the towel. MGM bought UA.

Now some argue Cimino’s movie was better than the reviewers thought. And perhaps it was. Nevertheless, Heaven’s Gate doomed UA. MGM bought UA and merged it into its operations.

How many fewer movies were made because UA was no longer an actual studio? There’s no way to know, of course. But likely a decent number.

Leaving that issue aside, MGM absorbing UA still had an impact on the James Bond film series. The UA-Eon relationship was generally a good one. The MGM-Eon relationship, less so. The Heaven’s Gate situation clearly had a major impact on the Bond film series. It’s still being felt to this day.

Here’s another example for old timers.

In the U.S. market, Cleopatra (1963) sold about the same number of movie tickets (actually a little more) than Goldfinger. Cleopatra sold an estimated 67.2 million tickets, according to the Box Office Mojo website. Goldfinger sold 66.3 million

Goldfinger was a big fat success while Cleopatra almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

Why? Because Fox spent — squandered — so much money that Cleopatra couldn’t make a dime of profit despite being a popular success. Meanwhile, Goldfinger had a budget that ensured a huge profit.

Fox survived, but only because it’s television division sold a number of TV shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place) for the 1964-65 season.

Some fans will argue, “But this is James Bond! How can you say such a thing?”

Well, to cite a John Gardner 007 continuation novel title, “Nobody Lives Forever.”

Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Eon Productions, once said something to the effect that James Bond is bigger than any actor who plays him. It took a while for him to be proven correct, but he eventually was.

If the Radar Oneline story is accurate (and that remains to be seen), the Cubby Broccoli approach is dead, once and for all.

Also, in the U.S. market, Skyfall had a per-day gross of $2.8 million ($304.4 million divided by 109 days of release) while SPECTRE had a per-day gross of $1.3 million ($200 million divided by 154 days of release).

Nothing is easy, or automatic, in the movie business. Just ask those folks who thought Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a cinch to have a billion-dollar global box office.

For a Bond movie, with its leading man getting $75 million, to make a profit, it would have to consist of said actor sitting on a stool doing a dramatic reading of the script — perhaps with ads running on the bottom of the screen.

Then again, it’s not my money. So why get upset?

UPDATE: After this post was published, the blog was asked how would other big actor pay days compare when adjusted for inflation. The INFLATION CALCULATOR of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a useful tool for such calculations.

Elizabeth Taylor was paid the then-regal sum of $1 million for 1963’s Cleopatra. That works out to $7.86 million in 2016 dollars. Sean Connery got what was seen as a staggering amount, $1.25 million, to do Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. That works out to be $7.43 million in 2016 dollars.

UPDATE II (7:30 p.m.) A website called Gossip Cop today HAD A POST where its unidentified source (“an individual involved in the James Bond franchise”) says Craig has received no such offer. In effect, Gossip Cop’s anonymous source is ragging on Radar Online’s anonymous sources. Caveat Emptor all around.


Comparing Daily Mail, Radar Online 007 stories

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

Radar Online story this weekend saying Daniel Craig is being offered a ton of money to return as James Bond is similar a Daily Mail story from May.

Here’s a quick look:

–The Daily Mail said Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offered Craig 68 million British pounds ($99 million at the time, $90 million at current exchange rates) to do two more James Bond films. The Mail said Craig turned down the offer.

“The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer,” according to that story.

–Radar Online said Sony Pictures is offering Craig $150 million to do two more James Bond films.

The entertainment and gossip website quotes a person it didn’t identify as saying, “Daniel’s the key for a seamless, safe transition as far as Sony and Bond bosses are concerned, and they’re prepared to pay a king’s ransom to make it happen.”

According to this story, Sony is ready to announce it has a new deal to distribute Bond films. Its most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. The Radar Online story doesn’t mention MGM.

UPDATED: MGM’s possible studio partners for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Back in April, the blog took a look at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s potential studio partners for Bond 25.

Well, no decision has been reached (or at least announced) since then, but there have been developments among the studios. So here’s an updated look at the studios that may co-finance and distribute the next James Bond film.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, through its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films but its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

Sony’s share of the Bond profits were paltry the past two films. New leadership took over the studio and Amy Pascal, the executive who negotiated that deal, is gone.

Still, it may be the case that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sony this summer tried to revive Ghostbusters, this time featuring four women ghostbusters. (Pascal was one of the producers.) The Hollywood Reporter said in an August story that the new film is on track to lose $70 million and that a sequel is unlikely.

Sony and Marvel Studios are working together on a new Spider-Man movie (with Marvel in creative control). But Sony remains in need of a movie “franchise.”

Radar Online, an entertainment and gossip website, this weekend RAN A POST saying that Sony “should be announcing any day that the studio is re-upping the distribution rights for the Bond series.” Further, it says Sony (it doesn’t mention MGM) is offering Daniel Craig, 48, $150 million to do two more Bond movies.

We’ll slap the Caveat Emptor label on that. One of Sony’s problems with the last two 007 movies is, while they generated $2 billion in worldwide box office, the studio was third in line (behind MGM and Eon Productions) in getting money despite putting up half of the large production budgets.

Paying your leading man $75 million per movie isn’t going to help studio profitability. But we’ll see what happens. Regardless, Sony’s interest in Bond likely remains high, especially after this summer’s Ghostbusters movie.

Warner Bros.: The studio has its hands full with its slate of movies featuring DC Comics characters.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the No. 5 movie worldwide so far this year at $872.7 million. Another DC-based movie, Suicide Squad, featuring villains forced to work for the government, is No. 8 worldwide at $643.4 million.

Most studios would love such a result, but “Mr. Warner” was hoping for more than $1 billion for Batman v Superman. Rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co., is No. 1 for 2016 at $1.15 billion for Captain America: Civil War.

Still, the studio isn’t backing down, with a movie version of the Justice League in the works for 2017, picking up where Batman v Superman left off. Does the studio have the bandwidth to also co-finance Bond films?

Paramount: When last we looked in on Paramount, there was a lot of turmoil at its parent company, Viacom.

Well, that soap opera reached a resolution last month, including the forced departure of Paramount chief Philippe Dauman. That raises the question whether new leadership at the studio can mount an effort to strike a deal with MGM.

Paramount co-financed and released MGM’s Ben-Hur remake, which reached theaters last month. The movie bombed, apparently the answer to a question audiences weren’t asking.

20th Century Fox: Not much has changed here. Fox has a deal with MGM to handle home video distribution of Bond movies.


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.