About that Christopher Nolan directing a Bond film thing

Christopher Nolan

There are a number of Hollywood types upset with Warner Bros.’s plans to debut its 2021 film slate simultaneously on the HBO Max streaming service as well as theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And one of the most prominent is writer-producer-director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan directed a financially successful trio of Batman movies released by Warner Bros. He also shows up as a favorite among some James Bond fans to direct a Bond film at some point.

After all, he’s worked in Bond-inspired bits among his Batman films as well as 2010’s Inception and this year’s Tenet. Meanwhile, Bond films such as Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) had Nolan influences. A marriage made in heaven, right?

In a statement to THR, Nolan made clear how unhappy he is about the HBO Max news. The streaming service will show the Warner Bros. movies for 31 days. It’s a way to boost HBO Max.

“Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak,” Nolan said. “They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

So here’s the question: Does this mean that Nolan is looking for the exit from his long-standing Warner Bros. relationship?

If so, does this make it more likely he might direct a Bond movie in the future? Or does it show he’s more than willing to bite the hand that feeds him?

Nolan had a pretty good deal at Warners. Nolan’s Syncopy company produced his movies. Nolan’s wife, Emma Thomas, gets a producer credit on his films.

That’s a lot to walk away from. Bond fans who clamor for Nolan to direct Bond say he likes Bond so much he might well turn away such perks. He’d surely be happy to work for Eon Productions, so the thinking goes.

Who knows? It’s still early days of the shakeup that’s going on in the movie business. And when might Bond 26 get off the ground?

MGM update: Still a hot mess

The Hollywood Reporter is out with a story today that won’t make James Bond fans feel good about the super spy’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The article, by veteran journalist Kim Masters, focuses primarily on Mark Burnett, the reality TV guru who was brought into MGM to run its television operation. Burnett reportedly was instrumental in having CEO Gary Barber fired in 2018.

Burnett, at MGM, hasn’t duplicated the success he had earlier in his career (Survivor, The Apprentice, et. al.). But what’s of interest to Bond fans are passages about how MGM is being managed overall.

A few excerpts follow. The first describes Barber’s firing.

The company has gone without a chief executive since March 2018, when Barber — a tight-fisted, bottom-line oriented businessman who had engineered the acquisition of Burnett’s businesses in a series of deals that began in 2014 — was fired. Barber, who had breathed life into MGM after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, was escorted from the company’s Beverly Hills offices with only a few minutes’ notice. Just months earlier, his contract had been renewed through December 2022.

The second concerns how MGM has been managed since Barber’s departure.

With his departure, Burnett was free to roam. MGM is to some degree guided by an Office of the Chief Executive, but the company does not disclose its members. (Sources say the committee is made up in part of Burnett, COO Christopher Brearton, and the heads of divisions.) But one exec says, “Everyone does their own thing. It’s a rudderless ship.”

To be fair, the article contains comments about how everything is just fine.

MGM controls the Bond film franchise along with Danjaq LLC, parent company of Eon Productions.

Trade group chief says Bond will remain a theater product

No Time to Die poster

The head of a movie theater trade group predicted to Variety that James Bond films will remain a theatrical product first.

“The backers of the Bond movies have told us that they really want the movie to play theatrically,” John Fithian, chief of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in an interview with the entertainment-news outlet.

“We believe that franchise will continue being a theatrical one and we look forward to selling a ton of tickets for ‘No Time to Die.'”

Fithian made the comment in response to a question concerning reports last month that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, sought bids from streaming services, including Apple Inc.’s service, for No Time to Die.

Details of the reports varied. One of the most detailed appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. THR said Oct. 27 that Apple considered an offer of $350 million to $400 million for a one-year license for No Time to Die but that wasn’t enough for MGM.

The studio has said No Time to Die isn’t for sale. Meanwhile, MGM reportedly is incurring interest expense of $1 million a month while the 25th James Bond film figuratively sits on the shelf.

No Time to Die had been scheduled to come out this month. It was delayed until April because of COVID-19.

“There’s a reason I don’t think blockbusters like Bond are going to debut on streaming services,” the trade group official told Variety. “Our challenges are dire in the short term, but in the long term we know this business is going to be healthy again. The model works best for studios and they make the most money when they release movies in theaters first.”

Fithian expressed concern in the Variety interview about the lag between Warner Bros.’s planned Christmas release of Wonder Woman 1984 and No Time to Die.

“There are a bunch of movies in January, February and March, but Bond is the next biggie” after Wonder Woman, Fithian told Variety.

“If ‘Wonder Woman’ sticks with its Christmas Day opening and people come out for that, we hope that other studios will move titles from later in 2021 into the first quarter,” he said. “That’s certainly the hope. We need movies to get back into business.”

Variety says NTTD’s budget was $301 million

Not that the blog is jumping to conclusions or anything…

No Time to Die’s “net” budget — even taking into account the value of product placement deals and tax breaks — was $301 million, Variety said.

The figure, if accurate, would make the 25th James Bond film the most expensive in the series produced by Eon Productions.

The raw spending on 2015’s SPECTRE exceeded $300 million, according to documents that became public in 2014 after Sony Corp. documents were hacked. But that was before product placement and tax breaks were factored in. The “net” figure for SPECTRE was $245 million.

For months, entertainment outlets have reported No Time to Die’s final budget at $250 million, only slightly more than SPECTRE.

The $301 million figure provides more evidence that No Time to Die may be a financial disaster for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

No Time to Die has been delayed repeatedly. The movie was set to be released in April but was delayed to November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, the Bond film was delayed again to April 2021.

The Hollywood Reporter carried an Oct. 27 story with behind-the-scenes details of how MGM had talks with Apple Inc. about a one-year lease for No Time to Die to show on Apple’s streaming service. But Apple only offered $350 million to $400 million. MGM wanted $650 million to $750 million or more, THR said.

The THR report said the No Time to Die delay is costing MGM $1 million a month in interest costs. The Variety story carries the same figure.

In addition, according to Variety, star Daniel Craig “and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who control the rights to the series, have generous backend and profit participation deals, limiting the amount of money MGM is able to make on the movie.”

As stated before, No Time to Die was a pre-pandemic movie financed and filmed before COVID-19. But the Bond movie is to come out in the middle of a pandemic which has reduced theater availability.

Nothing exceeds like excess. No Time to Die might be the best James Bond movie ever and still be a financial disaster for MGM.

State of the Bond film franchise fall 2020

James Bond, trying to keep his head above water.

In the fall of 2020, James Bond is trying to keep his head above water.

His newest film adventure, No Time to Die, figuratively sits on the shelf. Its release date has been delayed a number of times. The last two delays stemmed from COVID-19. It remains to be seen whether the current date, April 2021, will be a reality.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, according to various news reports, shopped the 25th James Bond film to streaming services to get some cash now.

An Oct. 27 account in The Hollywood Reporter indicated that Apple Inc. considered offering $350 million to $400 million for a one-year license so the tech company could televise No Time to Die on its streaming service.

That wasn’t enough for MGM, according to THR. But MGM managed to alienate Danjaq LLC, parent firm of Eon Productions. MGM and Danjaq jointly control the Bond film rights.

So we’re back to a familiar spot.

MGM is under financial strain. It’s paying interest monthly on the money it borrowed to finance No Time to Die. MGM, meanwhile, is getting nothing while No Time to Die goes unseen.

Danjaq and Eon can’t make movies without MGM. MGM flops around while trying to diversify its business so it’s not as Bond dependent.

One example: The Epix premium channel was supposed to boost MGM’s prospects. It has yet to be the cash cow MGM envisioned.

MGM bought the company of reality television guru Mark Burnett, who gave the world Survivor and The Apprentice. It also made Burnett a studio executive.

But, as The New York Times noted earlier this month, Burnett is losing his touch. His recent reality TV efforts haven’t caught on the way his old shows did.

So once again, James Bond is MGM’s main asset.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Only this time around, Bond — at least his newest film adventure — isn’t an asset that’s bringing in money right now.

Once again, there’s tension between MGM and Danjaq/Eon. That’s been true much of the time since 1981, when MGM bought United Artists, Bond’s original studio home.

On the MGM side, the names change. From Kirk Kerkorian (more than once) to (among others) Gary Barber (the MGM CEO ousted in 2018) to Kevin Ulrich Ulrich. He heads up the hedge fund that’s MGM’s biggest owner and is chairman of MGM’s board.

The fundamental dynamic, though, hasn’t changed. MGM and Danjaq/Eon are in a troubled marriage.

James Bond is a film franchise that’s nearly six decades old. That’s remarkable by any standard. It’s especially remarkable because Bond’s biggest foe isn’t Blofeld or Goldfinger or Dr. No or Le Chiffre or Silva.

His biggest opponent may be Leo the Lion, the mascot of MGM.

Maybe that would change if MGM’s hedge fund owners finally sell the studio. But maybe not.

THR: Apple didn’t offer MGM enough for NTTD

Apple Inc. didn’t offer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer enough to license No Time to Die to show on streaming, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Apple considered an offer of $350 million to $400 million one a one-year license, the entertainment news outlet reported. MGM was looking for $650 million to $700 million or more, THR said.

MGM’s demands were a “nonstarter” for other streaming such as Netflix, according to THR. Meanwhile, MGM — which controls half the Bond film franchise — is incurring $1 million in interest a month for loans to finance the $250 million No Time to Die, THR said.

No Time to Die has had a series of release dates. It had been set to come out in April but was delayed until November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s set to come out in April 2021 but that’s uncertain as the pandemic continues.

Finally, Danjaq LLC — which controls the other half of the Bond franchise — and its Eon Productions unit wasn’t initially told by MGM about the talks. Danjaq/Eon boss Barbara Broccoli opposed the idea, THR said.

Here’s an excerpt from the THR story:

Broccoli is seen as a staunch traditionalist who is very much in support of the theatrical experience. Furthermore, Bond is a franchise connected to luxury and scarcity, and by going to a streamer there could be a brand hit in her eyes, according to one insider. “It’s a dip into a pool you won’t be able to get out of,” says the source.

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.