Bond 25 questions: End of times edition

New No Time to Die poster

With the coronavirus, aka COVID-19, going around the globe, life isn’t the way it used to be. Theaters are shut down in many markets. High-profile sporting events are indefinitely delayed. Many people, if they haven’t been laid off, are working from home.

Even from a narrow James Bond perspective, things aren’t the way they used to be. Naturally, the blog has questions.

How confident are you of No Time to Die’s new November release date?

Get back to me when we know how the coronavirus plays out.

The virus has been as serious as advertised. It’s clearly more potent than regular seasonal flu.

The latter has a death rate of about 0.1 percent. The coronavirus has a death rate of 3.4 percent at the moment, although that’s subject to revision as more data comes in. But it’s likely to remain far higher than seasonal flu.

Also to be seen is how long the coronavirus stays around. The virus now officially is a pandemic. The last similar event was the 1918-19 Spanish flu, which killed tens of millions of people around the globe.

No Time to Die was among the first big movies to announce a delay in release. Meanwhile, F9, the ninth Fast and the Furious movie, has been pushed back 11 months to April 2021. Black Widow, the newest Marvel Studios film, has been delayed without a specific release date.

Are there entertainment industry events that give you pause?

Studios have announced early video-on-demand releases. This has raised the idea that maybe movies will bypass theaters altogether. The Wrap entertainment website reported that Warner Bros. is discussing taking Wonder Woman 1984 directly to streaming. (UPDATE: IndieWire says it was told by Warner Bros. that Wonder Woman will get a full theatrical run).

At the same time, Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter has a story that notes the math is more difficult for big expensive “tentpole” movies to go this route. Such films need theatrical releases as an additional revenue stream. With an estimated production budget of $250 million, No Time to Die qualifies as a “tentpole”.

Does all this make you feel unsettled?

Of course. I live in the U.S. California is on lockdown. New York City is almost there.

There are many industries that are being affected by the coronavirus. North American auto plants are being shut down temporarily, for example. The only thing that seems uncertain is the impact of the coronavirus isn’t ending soon.

MGM’s NTTD shift may cost $30M-$50M, THR says

New No Time to Die poster

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer may take a hit of $30 million to $50 million by moving No Time to Die’s release date, The Hollywood Reporter said. But not moving the date could have cost more, the outlet said, citing people it didn’t identify.

MGM, James Bond’s home studio, Eon Productions and Universal (the international distributor) said this week the 25th James Bond film is being moved to November from April.

THR said MGM “fully financed” No Time to Time, which has an estimated production budget of $250 million.

The entertainment news outlet said had MGM stuck with the April release, that would have been more costly because of markets where theaters were shut down because of the coronavirus.

Theaters in China, Japan and Italy have been closed. “That could have resulted in a minimum of 30 percent shaved off the final box-office tallies — a possible $300 million out of a likely $1 billion haul at the worldwide box office,” THR said.

Earlier this week, the MI6 James Bond website and The James Bond Dossier urged MGM, Universal and Eon Productions to delay the release because of health hazards stemming from the coronavirus. The open letter was published March 2 and the decision to delay was announced March 4.

The open letter, besides citing the health risks, said No Time to Die faced lower box office prospects because of efforts to combat coronavirus.

“Of the countries with large public gatherings banned or restricted, their combined ‘SPECTRE’ box-office was $313m, or 38% of the global haul,” the open letter said. SPECTRE, released in 2015, was the most recent Bond film.

THR describes challenges at MGM, Bond’s home studio

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer faces various challenges that may lead to James Bond’s home studio being sold, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The entertainment news outlet paints a picture of a studio in flux, including possible suitors and executive changes. Among the highlights:

–MGM needs No Time to Die, the upcoming James Bond film to generate $1 billion in global box office. Only 2012’s Skyfall has reached that mark among Bond films.

–Various companies might be interested in acquiring MGM, including Comcast (parent company of Universal, which is handling international distribution for No Time to Die), Viacom (parent company of Paramount) and tech company Apple Inc, which has expanded into streaming television.

“Apple’s fledgling streaming service is far behind Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the coming-soon HBO Max and Peacock,” THR said. Apple is sitting on $250 billion in cash and could easily afford an acquisition.

–MGM management is shifting. It was previously known that Jonathan Glickman was departing as head of MGM’s film division. THR reported that former Sony Pictures executive Amy Pascal has joined MGM’s board of directors. Pascal had a close relationship with Barbara Broccoli of Eon Productions when Sony distributed four Bond films from 2006-2015.

–MGM wrote down the value of its Epix premium TV channel by $480 million. MGM bought out its partners for about $1 billion. Translation: MGM paid a lot more for Epix than it was worth. Epix is supposed to be a way for MGM to be consistently profitable.

–MGM is “highly leveraged” (i.e. it has a lot of debt).

MGM became the home studio of Bond when it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA had owned half of the franchise since it bought out Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman in 1975.

Ever since, the MGM-Bond relationship has been a soap opera. Danjaq, Eon’s parent company, filed a lawsuit against MGM, which contributed to the 1989-1995 hiatus. MGM underwent a 2010 bankruptcy, which caused Bond production to grind to a halt for a time.

MGM never replaced CEO Gary Barber after the studio’s board forced out the executive in 2018 MGM currently is managed by an “office of the CEO.”

MGM film division chief to depart

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Jonathan Glickman, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s film division, is leaving James Bond’s home studio, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Glickman, while hardly a household name, got some notoriety in 2014. That’s when Sony Pictures was hacked and confidential memos and emails became public.

Sony distributed four James Bond films through SPECTRE. Glickman wrote leaked memos about SPECTRE’s budget where he made suggestions for cost savings.

Glickman joined MGM in 2011 following a 2010 bankruptcy. He was part of a new executive team that took command of the studio.

When Glickman got the MGM post, the studio was run by Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum. Birnbaum stepped down to become a producer working out of MGM. Barber was fired by MGM’s board and never replaced. The studio is supervised by an “office of the CEO.”

Glickman’s duties included supervision of Skyfall, SPECTRE and No Time to Die. Glickman will stay with MGM long enough for the completion of No Time to Die, THR said.

Michael De Luca, who has experience as a film executive and producer will take over Glickman’s duties, THR said.

It’s hard to say what direct impact Glickman’s departure will have on the Bond franchise. The studio is one of Hollywood’s weakest and is owned by private equity firms. Glickman will be a producer working at MGM.

The departing executive “is said to have developed a strong relationship” with Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions, which makes the Bond films, according to THR.

RE-POST: Why Bond 25 didn’t economize

Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Updated from an April 3 post.

NEW INTRODUCTION: This past week, The Hollywood Reporter had a feature story about No Time to Die cast members Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas that had a passing reference that the film’s budget was $250 million.

On Nov. 9, the Daily Mail had a story with a passing reference that the budget was 200 million British pounds ($257 million or so, depending on the conversion rate).

Regular readers of this blog were probably not surprised. In April, the blog had a post about why it was not likely the 25th James Bond film didn’t do much economizing.

Since that post was published, it became public knowledge that writer-actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge also worked on the movie’s script. Her reported fee (via The Hollywood Reporter) was $2 million. Thus, there’s even more evidence that spending on the movie continued on the high side.

Over the past few days, other outlets have picked up on the $250 million budget figure for No Time to Die. SPECTRE had a $245 million figure (after tax breaks, product placement and other incentives were factored in).

What follows in the text of the blog’s original post on the subject.

ORIGINAL APRIL POST: Bond 25 production got underway last week with some filming in Norway. There’s a lot we don’t know (including a title). But there are some signs that the film isn’t traveling in Economy Class.

Delays in production: Eon Productions began renting space at Pinewood Studios last year. But filming there has been delayed at least five months.

Eon couldn’t just give up that space. Demand for space at Pinewood is high. So that’s a few months without any footage actually being shot. That makes it harder to economize.

An expensive script doctor: Scott Z. Burns recently spent four weeks working on Bond 25’s script. He’s a well-regarded scribe and he’s moving into directing. His services are in demand. It’s likely his Bond 25 services didn’t come cheap. (UPDATE: Burns’s involvement was confirmed in late April at the “reveal” event in Jamaica.)

The star may have gotten a raise: Variety last year reported that Daniel Craig will receive $25 million for his fifth 007 film. The truth is known to Craig, Eon boss Barbara Broccoli, Craig’s agent and the various studios backing Bond 25. Still, it’s unlikely Craig’s services are receiving discounted rates.

The Mission: Impossible franchise means now isn’t the time to economize: This is a favorite fan theory/speculation. During the 2010s, the Mission: Impossible films starring and produced by Tom Cruise have cranked out three entries while Eon’s 007 series will have two.

Moreover, the M:I films have gotten a lot of attention for their stunts, big set pieces and international intrigue — things the 007 films are known for.

Paramount recently announced the Cruise M:I series will produce two more entries back-to-back, coming out in 2021 and 2022. By the time the latter entry is out, Cruise will be 60 and Christopher McQuarrie will have written and directed four films.

Bond 25 questions: The marketing edition

No Time to Die teaser poster

There may be no teaser trailer yet but it’s clear the marketing for No Time to Die is underway.

Since Sunday, The Sunday Times published an interview with star Daniel Craig; The Hollywood Reporter did a feature story on actresses Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas; and the BBC interviewed screenwriter (and multi-Emmy winner) Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

These interviews didn’t just happen and were likely coordinated to begin drawing attention to the 25th James Bond film, which will debut in April 2020.

Of course, the blog has a few question.

Any trends you see?

Yes. Among them:

–Eon Productions is determined not to repeat P.R. problems from SPECTRE.

Daniel Craig did interviews shortly after SPECTRE finished filming but didn’t run until shortly before the movie came out. Those were likely embargoed until a certain date.

The problem? Craig’s (in)famous “slash by wrists” quote (likely made while just starting to decompress) from one interview went viral. People wondered whether Craig had enough playing Bond.

This time out, Craig talked plenty about he loves playing James Bond and he’s really, really not grumpy.

–Expect #MeToo and the Bond’s adjustment to that movement to be a talking point.

Many long-time fans complain that, in reality, Bond actually had strong women characters. Pussy Galore was a pilot who didn’t take guff from Bond. Fiona Volpe went to bed with Bond but was still determined to kill him. Soviet agent Triple-X was the first in a line of women agents who were Bond’s equal.

#MeToo still is a significant movement. No Time to Die is the first Bond to come out since that movement began. Some kind of acknowledgment was likely to happen.

–Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s involvement is going to be mentioned prominently.

Waller-Bridge is a hot property, both for her acting and writing. The general public is more than aware of her. She has hosted Saturday Night Live. She has won Emmys for Fleabag, the streaming series she created.

When you have a hot property, you make it part of marketing.

Anything else catch your eye?

The Lynch-de Armas interviews were a new take on an old theme. For decades, Bond actresses have said how they’re characters are different (or better) than previous female characters in the series.

In The Hollywood Reporter story, neither Lynch nor de Armas criticized previous female characters. Instead, there was talk of the effort being made to make their characters more rounded. At the very least, their comments were more subtle than previous Eon marketing efforts on this front.

What’s next?

A trailer (teaser or otherwise) will be out sooner than later. When that happens, we’ll get a better idea of the themes that will be emphasized.

THR features Lynch, de Armas and evolving Bond women

Lashana Lynch publicity still released during April “reveal” event in Jamaica

The Hollywood Reporter is out with a feature story about Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas and how they’re part of efforts “about bringing James Bond into the #MeToo age” in No Time to Die.

Lynch and de Armas have worked with director Cary Fukunaga and producer Barbara Broccoli “to create a new type of female Bond character who is much more fully realized than the ‘Bond girls’ of films past,” writes Rebecca Ford of THR.

“It’s pretty obvious that there is an evolution in the fact that Lashana is one of the main characters in the film and wears the pants — literally,” de Armas told the entertainment news outlet.

Referring to her character, Nomi, Lynch told THR: “Everyone was really responsive to having her be what I wanted. You’re given a fresh perspective on a brand-new black woman in the Bond world.”

Lynch confirmed Nomi is a British agent. She did not comment whether that character has the 007 code number after Bond departed MI6. Ford wrote that “sources close to the film tell THR that it’s accurate.”

The Lynch character joins a series of women agents in the Bond film series, including Soviet Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me; CIA agent and astronaut Holly Goodhead in Moonraker; Chinese operative Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies; and NSA agent Jinx in Die Another Day.

De Armas, meanwhile, provided a bit of detail about her character, Paloma.

Paloma “is a character that is very irresponsible,” the actress told THR. “She’s got this bubbliness of someone who is excited to be on a mission, but she plays with this ambiguity — you don’t really know if she’s like a really trained, prepared partner for Bond.”

This is not the first time the franchise has said it’s improving the way women are treated in Bond films. In 2012, Broccoli told the Evening Standard: “Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over.”

However, No Time to Die is the first Bond film since the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In 2018, The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine shared a Pulitizer Prize “for their revelations of sexual harassment and abuse that had gone on, unheeded and unpunished, in the spheres of Hollywood, politics, the media and Silicon Valley,” The Times said in its account of the awards.

Other highlights from the article:

–THR says the movie’s budget is $250 million. This is the first estimate I’ve seen. That is probably after tax breaks, incentives and product placement deals have been factored in.

–Both actresses compliment screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I very literally squealed when I first heard her name,” Lynch said to THR. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, British girl just like me. She’s going to know how to actually take care of women onscreen.’ ”

–De Armas told THR that reports that an “intimacy coach” being hired for her scenes with Daniel Craig were false.

To view the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Repeat after me: Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond

No Time to Die logo

It’s pretty clear that one recurring theme of No Time to Die’s publicity campaign, such as it is to date, is that Daniel Craig is the favorite and/or best James Bond of principals associated with the movie.

Barbara Broccoli (Hollywood Reporter podcast, December 2017): Craig “brought humanity to the character…making Bond relevant to today….My heart was breaking” until Craig said he’d return for Bond 25/No Time to Die.

The interviewer, Scott Feinberg, asked if Craig was the best of the six actors employed by Eon Productions. “They’ve (Bond actors) all been incredible. But he (Craig) is particularly incredible.”

Host of April 2019 “reveal” event from Jamaica: Referring to Craig, introduces a montage of Bond films scenes that she says shows how Craig made Bond “his own.”

No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga, during the “reveal” event: “Daniel is my favorite James Bond.”

Rami Malek on The Late Show (CBS), Oct. 2, 2019: Craig “is my favorite Bond if I can say that.”

Is this a talking a point from the publicity department? Is it honest emotion from those concerned? You be the judge.

Waller-Bridge being paid $2M for Bond 25, THR says

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is receiving $2 million for her work on Bond 25’s script, The Hollywood Reporter said, attributing the information sources it didn’t identify.

The information is part of a long feature story THR did on actress-writer Waller-Bridge. Relatively little of the story concerns Bond 25. But there are other tidbits.

–Waller-Bridge was “secretly” polishing the Bond script in March and April while also performing in a stage version of Fleabag.

–The writer-actress described working on Bond thusly: “There’s something about James Bond that always intrigued me in a similar way that Villanelle did.” That’s a reference to an assassin played by Jodie Comer in Killing Eve, the TV series created by Waller-Bridge.

“They live a fantasy! But it’s a life none of us would ever want, if we’re honest,” she added. “We don’t want to go put a bullet in someone’s head to sleep with people and have martinis. It’s a kind of fantasy nightmare.”

–Waller-Bridge didn’t directly confirm that actress Lashana Lynch is playing the new 007 in Bond 25 after Bond (Daniel Craig) has left MI6.

“The whole thing has potential to birth new iconic characters all the time,” she told THR.

Bond 25 questions: The Annapurna edition

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

Annapurna, one of the studios involved with Bond 25, has been having a financial crunch after a series of movies that underperformed at the box office. The Hollywood Reporter has said, quoting “multiple sources” that Annapurna has hired a law firm to explore “bankruptcy protection.”

Since Annapurna is a Bond 25 player, naturally the blog has a few questions.

What does Annapurna have to say?

Megan Ellison, Annapurna’s founder, wrote a note to employees.

“I got word this morning that there are some rumblings around town about our current status with the banks and that a story is likely to hit the press at some point today,” Ellison wrote, according to THR.

“Restructuring deals with financial institutions is not uncommon, yet the process is usually handled without a spotlight on it….Regardless of whatever comes out in the press, the truth is that we are well on our continued path towards success. There will always be speculation, misinformation and personal jabs in the press – that’s part of the business.

Sounds like a denial. Is it? 

Remember, THR reported that Annapurna had retained a law firm to evaluate a bankruptcy filing. It didn’t say the decision had actually been made to file. That’s not the firmest denial. Way back in the Watergate days, that sort of thing was dubbed a “non-denial denial.”

Moreover, when a CEO says they have no plans to do something, that applies to this moment, right now. Things change tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. Such statements have a very short life span. Things can change — and sometimes in a hurry.

Why should a Bond fan care?

Annapurna and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are partners in a joint venture called United Artists Releasing. The joint venture will release Annapurna and MGM films in the U.S. UAR is slated to release Bond 25 in North America.

Bond 25, of course, is well underway in its filming schedule. The question is whether an Annapurna bankruptcy filing, should it happen  cause some kind of hiccup with U.S. distribution. Universal is handling Bond 25 distribution internationally. Meanwhile, THR updated its original story to quote an MGM “source” (not identified) as saying there won’t be an effect.

But we should be OK for Bond 25, right?

Probably, at least for now. But a week ago nobody was talking about the possibility of an Annapurna bankruptcy. It’s something to keep an eye on.

UPDATE (Aug. 8) –– Things might be dicier regarding that last question.

Deadline Hollywood has more details. The entertainment website says Annapurna “has burned through much of the $350 million credit facility the company secured in fall 2017. Those sources said Annapurna has either defaulted or is about to default on that debt. A deadline has been set by lenders for this week to come to a solution.”

Credit facility is a fancy way of saying borrowed money.

Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle and Megan Ellison’s father, may bail out Annapurna, according to Deadline. But the tech mogul is being a tough negotiator and preparations are being made to file for Chapter 11 in either California or Delaware if no deal is struck, Deadline reported.