FT tries to analyze 007’s post-SPECTRE financial future

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

The Financial Times, IN A STORY POSTED TODAY, tries to analyze the post-SPECTRE financial future of the James Bond film franchise.

The U.K.-based financial publication was prompted by how Sony Pictures’ deal to release James Bond films ends with SPECTRE, the 24th 007 film due for release in November.

Here are some items of note from the FT:

Releasing 007 films is a nice, but not stupendous business, for a studio: The 007 franchise is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq/Eon Productions (the Broccoli-Wilson family).

MGM, however, is too small after a 2010 bankruptcy and reorganization, to release Bond movies on its own. It needs a partner.

Sony was part of a group that owned MGM when Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were released. Post-bankruptcy, Sony was MGM’s partner for releasing 2012’s Skyfall and this year’s SPECTRE.

An excerpt from the FT:

“While it’s a good piece of business the financial upside or downside is not significant on either end,” says a person close to the studio. “The studio can make good money but not runaway money.”

The FT story dovetails with a 2013 STORY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES that reported how Sony was third in line for profits from Skyfall, with the Broccoli-Wilson family and MGM taking their cut first.

Nevertheless, the FT said various studios — including Time Warner’s Warner Bros. and 21st Century’s 20th Century Fox — will still be interested in wrestling the Bond releasing deal from Sony.

Securing a new 007 releasing deal may be related to additional financial deals by MGM: The Financial Times says MGM may still sell stock to the public in an initial public offering or a simple sale to somebody else.

“The studio could arguably be worth more if a buyer knows a Bond distribution deal is still to be done,” according to the FT story by Matthew Garrahan. “Sony, Warner Bros, Fox and the rest of Hollywood will be watching closely.”

To read the entire Financial Times story, CLICK HERE. A shoutout to reader Paul Wynn who brought this to our attention on our Facebook page.

Moonraker and the ‘guilty pleasure’

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Over the past 40 years, the term “guilty pleasure” has become chic. In a James Bond context, some fans will cite the extravagant 1979 Moonraker as a guilty pleasure.

What does the term mean exactly? Wikipedia defines it as “something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. The “guilt” involved is sometimes simply fear of others discovering one’s lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes.”

The term was popularized by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, in which the two Very Serious Film Critics (R) acknowledged they like some schlock on occasion. In 1979 and 1987, they came up with their lists of “guilty pleasures,” including such movies as The Greek Tycoon and The Fury.

Moonraker was the only Bond movie where 007 went into space. Before that happened, a space shuttle was hijacked, Bond fell out of a plane without a parachute, a boat chase took place in Venice, Bond fought Jaws (Richard Kiel) on top of a cable car in Rio, etc., etc. Nothing was done in a small way. There were clearly silly moments, including a double taking pigeon and Jaws finding true love.

In other words, nothing very subtle. It was a huge hit in its day. It even got a rave review in THE NEW YORK TIMES. Nevertheless, Eon Productions immediately decided Bond should come back down to earth both figuratively and literally in his next film adventure, For Your Eyes Only.

When Bond fans say Moonraker is a “guilty pleasure,” they’re putting some distance between themselves and the movie. It’s almost as if they’re afraid they’ll lose their “street cred” with other Bond fans. After all, in the 21st century, Bond is Serious Art deserving of Academy Award nominations.

To be fair, it should be noted that opinions of people change over time. They can like something initially, decide it really was awful, then eventually come back and decide it was good or at least not as bad as they thought. What’s more, in the case of Moonraker, some fans will tell you they hated it then, they hate it now. That group is being consistent.

Still, if you like a movie, maybe should own it and not worry about your “street cred.” In the case of 007 films, just because you like a lighter Bond entry doesn’t preclude from enjoying a more serious film also.

Real life intrudes on a legacy of the ’60s spy craze

Bill Cosby with Victor Buono in an I Spy episode

Bill Cosby with Victor Buono in an I Spy episode

As 2014 draws to a close, one of the proudest accomplishments of 1960s spy entertainment may be forgotten because of a scandal.

The scandal? The numerous allegations of rape against Bill Cosby, now 77. The accomplishment? How I Spy, the 1965-68 television series, had a major social impact in the United States.

To recap: In the fall of 1965, an African American (Cosby) starring along side a white actor (Robert Culp) on television was a huge deal. I Spy was the least glamorous, most somber, of the American spy series. The show reflected a major social movement. It was more than another television series. After I Spy was canceled by NBC, Cosby’s career advanced to many levels of success.

But, by the end of this year, Cosby was depicted as a fallen icon. The New York Times, IN A DEC. 28 STORY by Lorne Manly and Graham Bowley examined how Cosby’s legal team dealt with the allegations.

As accusations of sexual assault continue to mount against Mr. Cosby — more than two dozen women have gone public, the latest last Monday — the question arises as to why these stories never sparked a widespread outcry before. While many of the women say they never filed police complaints or went public because they feared damaging their reputations or careers, the aggressive legal and media strategy mounted by Mr. Cosby and his team may also have played a significant role.

The final outcome of the allegations remains to be seen. Still, what had been one of the high points of the 1960s spy craze may never be looked at the same way. Real life has a way of intruding — and is always more serious than fiction.

007 meets ‘data-driven’ journalism

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

James Bond, meet “data-driven” journalism.

That term is in vogue these days. It describes journalism that’s more based on data, rather than interviews. Interviews may supplement what the data shows, but the idea is to base stories by analyzing and sifting through data, according to a Wikipedia definition. With data-driven journalism, there’s more of an emphasis on charts to illustrate what the data shows.

On Dec. 7, THE WASHINGTON POST’S WONGBLOG did such a piece on SPECTRE, the new 007 film that begins principal photography on Monday, Dec. 8.

Here’s an excerpt:

There is another James Bond movie in the works, the 24th in the series of gun-slingin’, sex-havin’, Russia-or-whoever-it-is-nowadays-hatin’ flicks to appear on-screen since Sean Connery kicked the whole thing off. But next year’s film, Spectre, features something rarely seen in the Bond world: an age-appropriate co-star.

The so-called “Bond girl,” in this film, is Monica Bellucci, age 50. For a franchise that has been built on the idea that Britain’s most famous spy has no qualms about romantic entanglements with a teenager (Aliza Gur was a teenager while filming “From Russia With Love”), it’s a step forward.

The story, by writer Philip Bump, is accompanied by A CHART showing the different the different Bond actors and how their age varied with their women co-stars.

The story makes it sound as if Bellucci has the primary female part opposite Daniel Craig, 46. Lea Seydoux, 29, also is in the movie and may also be a Bond woman. It’s possible that Craig/Bond might be involved with both. But, of course, nobody really knows outside of the filmmakers. That’s a twist for this example of data-driven journalism.

Bump, in his story, wrote that “some minor love interests (there are so many) may drag the average down. But for now, we’re content with James Bond appearing with the oldest co-star since Maud Adams’ Octopussy.”

The Post’s story isn’t entirely data driven. There’s some commentary. “And let’s just let out a collective ‘ugh’ to that phrase, ‘Bond girl,'” Bump writes at one point.

Nor is this 007’s first encounter with data-driven journalism. On Aug. 13, THE UPSHOT BLOG OF THE NEW YORK TIMES ran a piece how the 007 continuation novels outnumber the Ian Fleming originals. It’s something fans have been aware of for some time but may be new to the general public. The Upshot included the inevitable chart.

NYT’s Upshot blog breaks down 007 by the numbers

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

The New York Times, IN AN ENTRY IN ITS UPSHOT BLOG, performs a bit of numerical analysis on James Bond.

The Upshot used this week’s 50th anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming to examine Bond. The Upshot stresses data-based reporting. The newspaper started the blog after Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN purchased the FiveThirtyEight blog, which used to appear on the NYT’s website, from journalist-statistician Nate Silver, who now works for ESPN and its sister company ABC News. Silver gained fame for using data to project the winners of political races.

The Upshot describes itself as providing “news, analysis and graphics about politics, policy and everyday life.” (For more information, you can CLICK HERE.)

The Bond post by Alan Flippen includes graphics about which authors wrote how many 007 novels (Fleming being in a tie with John Gardner at 14 each) and how many 007 movie titles are derived from Fleming. To read the entire post, CLICK HERE.

In addition, you can read the newspaper’s 1964 obituary on Fleming BY CLICKING HERE. If you want to see the obituary in its original form, you can find information on purchasing a copy, or getting a Times digital subscription BY CLICKING HERE.

Moonraker’s 35th: when outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

June marks the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer. Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967’s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit. This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

1964: Broccoli and Saltzman try to derail U.N.C.L.E.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

By early 1964, post production was underway on the pilot for Solo. On Jan. 7, composer Jerry Goldsmith recorded his score, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline. But things would shortly get bumpy for Norman Felton’s production.

Toward the end of January, The New York Times ran an article about spy-oriented pilots, including Solo. In early February, Albert R. Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, which made the 007 films, had had enough. Here’s how the Henderson website describes it:

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1964
Cubby Broccoli telephones Sam Kaplan of Ashley-Steiner, telling Kaplan he intends to sue Arena, Felton and all others connected with Solo for violating Broccoli’s and Saltzman’s rights to the James Bond stories, referring specifically to the Jan. 26 New York Times story.

Ian Fleming hadn’t been involved with Solo since June of the previous year. The author signed away his rights under pressure from Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the other co-head of Eon. The name Napoleon Solo had been one of his few contributions to make it to the final product of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot..

Still, it appears Broccoli couldn’t stand U.N.C.L.E. In his later years, in ill health, Broccoli worked on an autobiography that wouldn’t be published until after his death. Here’s how he described U.N.C.L.E.:

MGM came in with The Man From UNCLE, which was a straight steal from Fleming’s use of acronyms like SMERSH and SPECTRE.

When The Snow Melts, the autobiography of Cubby Broccoli with Donald Zec, 1998, page 199

Of course, Smersh wasn’t an acronym and Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Nothing had been stolen from Fleming (though he signed away his rights for a mere one British pound). Also, it was pretty easy to tell Napoleon Solo, suave U.N.C.L.E. agent apart from Mafia boss Solo in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and Eon movie.

None of that mattered. Again, an excerpt from the Henderson website:

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1964
New York law firm for Saltzman and Broccoli sends cease-and-desist letter to Felton, MGM, NBC and Ashley-Steiner demanding immediate end to use of Fleming’s name in connection with planned Solo series — and end to all use of name and character “Solo,” “Napoleon Solo” and “Mr. Solo,” claiming theft of the “Mr. Solo” character in Goldfinger, which Eon is currently filming.

By April, the two sides agree Solo won’t be the title but the Napoleon Solo name is retained for the television series. NBC picks up the series to debut the following fall.

In May, the new series title ends up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time, first drafts of series scripts have been written. The first draft for an episode to be called The Double Affair refers to the villainous organization as MAGGOT. The name is later changed to Thrush, which had been the choice of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the pilot, all along.

U.N.C.L.E. is now on its way to becoming reality. But more changes await before the cameras roll on the early episodes of the show.

CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. BOND TIMELINE FOR 1964

Earlier posts:

JUNE 1963: IAN FLEMING SIGNS AWAY HIS U.N.C.L.E. RIGHTS

MAY 1963: IAN FLEMING CRIES U.N.C.L.E.

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