Bond 25 questions: MGM sale (?) edition

No Time to Die logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, home studio of James Bond, may be up for sale. This comes as No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, still (figuratively) sits on the shelf, unwatched.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How solid is this news?

It originated with The Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the situation it didn’t identify. The business newspaper initially published a relatively short story early the evening of Dec. 21. Within a couple of hours, the Journal expanded the article. The audio version of the story went from 2 minutes to 6 minutes.

The Journal has published a number of MGM-related stories in recent years, including how MGM spent much of 2016 unsuccessfully negotiating a sale to Chinese investors and an October article about how MGM was under increasing pressure by investors to sell.

How far along are things? If a sale happens, how long will it take?

The Journal reported MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and that a sales process is underway. That suggests things are at an early stage but there’s no way to know for sure. Meanwhile, the sale of an entire company or substantial subsidiary can easily take months.

Why would MGM want to sell?

The studio is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. Hedge funds typically own an asset for a few years and then sell at a profit. The hedge fund owners of MGM have held on to the studio for a decade, longer than the norm.

Then, there’s the No Time to Die money pit.

Money pit?

The cost of the 25th James Bond film was approaching $300 million as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing. Meanwhile the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed No Time to Die’s release twice (April 2020 to November 2020 to April 2021). MGM’s interest costs on its investment are running at a reported $1 million a month.

MGM normally would start to get its money back when the movie went into release. But, besides the delays, theater attendance is way down because of the pandemic.

Who are possible buyers?

The Journal said the studio is looking to non-traditional buyers. Certainly some familiar Hollywood names have their hands tied.

Walt Disney Co. still is digesting its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. The company’s theme park business also was hurt by the pandemic. Warner Bros. is part of AT&T, which is revamping its entertainment assets to build up its new HBO Max streaming service.

Tech company Apple Inc. is a possibility and it needs programming for its own streaming service. But Apple has lots of other ambitions, including getting into car production by 2024, according to Reuters. A deal with Apple isn’t a sure thing.

What does all this mean for the Bond franchise?

MGM and Danjaq LLC control the franchise. An MGM sales means, at the very least, that Danjaq will have to deal with yet another executive regime. Danjaq has had plenty of practice at that since 1981, when United Artists was bought by MGM.

There could be a bigger effect if an MGM buyer had a streaming operation, the way Apple does. Danjaq and its Eon Productions like to make a big movie every so often. Would Danjaq/Eon even be interested in doing streaming series, the way Disney Plus is doing with Marvel and Star Wars?

Hard to say. Barbara Broccoli of Danjaq/Eon said last year she was resisting the idea of spinoffs. Then again, things can change. We might get The Adventures of Bill Tanner or Loelia! as streaming shows.

MGM explores a sale, WSJ reports

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

Metro Goldwyn Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is looking into selling itself, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter the paper didn’t identify.

MGM has retained investment banks Morgan Stanley and Lion Tree LLC to assist with a sale, according to the financial newspaper.

The studio is looking to its film library, which includes the Bond movies, Rocky films and Pink Panther productions, to generate interest. MGM also has television shows such as Fargo and The Handmaid’s Tale.

MGM and Danjaq LLC, parent firm of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise.

The studio reportedly spent much of 2016 exploring a sale to Chinese investors before talks broke off late that year. In recent years, MGM has described itself as the leading independent studio in Hollywood.

MGM is owned by hedge funds, led by Anchorage Capital Group. The hedge funds took control after MGM exited from bankruptcy in 2010.

The studio explored selling a one-year lease on No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film, to streaming service Apple Plus, according to multiple news accounts this fall. The Hollywood Reporter said in October that MGM didn’t consult with Danjaq/Eon, which generated displeasure from boss Barbara Broccoli.

Release of No Time to Die has been held up by the COVID-19 pandemic and the movie currently has an April 2021 release date. The film cost almost $288 million to make as of June 30, according to a U.K. regulatory filing.

Assuming the Journal report is accurate, a new chapter in the troubled MGM-Danjaq relationship may be about to unfold. MGM would provide a lot of programming for streaming services.

Apple uses Bond theme to introduce new iPhone

Apple Inc. used The James Bond Theme as part of a presentation to introduce the new iPhone 12 Mini.

Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a deal. However, today’s event comes a couple of days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, is under pressure to strike a sales deal. Apple was listed as one of the potential buyers.

Whether coincidence or conspiracy, it was something Bond fans noted. You can view the use of the Bond theme below via a video from CNET.

Bond 25 questions: The future of MGM edition

No Time to Die poster from spring 2020

It turns out No Time to Die is not just a James Bond movie. It’s also a bargaining chip concerning the future of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What’s going on?

MGM is owned by hedge funds. They acquired the studio when it was in bankruptcy in 2010. Hedge funds typically acquire assets and sell (or “flip”) them a few years later at a profit.

MGM’s hedge fund owners have held onto to the studio for a full decade. That’s longer than is typical of hedge funds.

There have been attempts at selling the studio. MGM spent part of 2016 trying to sell itself to a Chinese buyer, according to news reports in early 2017. CEO Gary Barber was in early “unsanctioned” talks to sell MGM to Apple in 2018. That spurred MGM’s board to fire him, The Wall Street Journal said in part of a story about MGM on Oct. 11.

No Time to Die, a $250 million production, was supposed to generate $1 billion in global box office pre COVID-19. That could boost an MGM sales price. But various delays, including two COVID-related ones, have complicated that rosy scenario.

Why should Bond fans care?

The Bond franchise has felt the impact of shaky MGM ownership ever since MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. At times, Eon Production was under the gun to get movies out fast or hold costs down. The whole 1989-1995 hiatus was the direct result of a financial mess at MGM.

Any push by MGM to sell now would be amid the growth in streaming services. Possible buyers may include Apple and Amazon.com, two tech companies active in streaming.

What happens now?

As once said in Diamonds Are Forever, people are playing Monopoly with real buildings, or at least movie and TV studios.

This week’s Wall Street Journal story depicts Anchorage Capital Group, the largest single MGM hedge fund owner, as under pressure to do a deal.

In one passage, the story indicates that Anchorage views the still-unreleased No Time to Die as something that could boost a sales price. A buyer could assume control of No Time to Die’s distribution.

There is a complication, according to the Journal. Comcast Corp.’s Universal is set to distribute No Time to Die internationally. If someone other than Comcast buys MGM, Comcast may need to be compensation.

But I just want my Bond movie! Why do I to follow this other stuff?

Life is complicated sometimes.

Fukunaga shows WSJ pre-titles for No Time to Die

Of course it’s a spoiler. If you don’t like spoilers, go away.

The Wall Street Journal today published a feature story about No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga. And Fukunaga showed the Journal’s scribe the pre-titles sequence of No Time To Die.

The story is behind a paywall but I saw a version of the full story. As it says above, leave if you don’t like spoilers. No more warnings.

In the story, there’s a description of Fukanaga instructing one of the movie’s editors to show the Journal reporter the pre-titles sequence.

“It’s slow-paced, visually arreting, subtitled with dialogue in French and entirely Bond-free,” the story says. “Focusing instead on Madeline (Swann’s) backstory, the opening is a terrifying episode from her childhood in which Safin, wearing a Japanese Noh mask, kills her mother, persues Madeline through the home and hunts her down on a frozen lake.”

Fukunaga also comments to the reporter: “Some clown chasing a child around the house. Yeah, it’s like I brought back It in the first five minutes of Bond.”

One quick note: This isn’t the first time Bond hasn’t been in a pre-titles sequence. The Journal story mistakenly says Bond has been in every pre-titles sequence.

From Russia With Love had a fake-out and had a Bond double instead of Bond. Live And Let Die didn’t have Bond. And The Man With the Golden Gun had a (supposed) Bond statue, but not Bond.

Still, based on the Journal story, this is a departure from a typical Bond pre-titles sequence.

Meanwhile, Fukunaga declined comment on the following possibilities for the movie: Bond is a father, Bond saves the world from a biological weapon and global pandemic.

The director also says he won’t feel closure with the project until it’s in front of audiences. Last week, No Time to Die’s release date was pushed back again, this time to April 2021.

Bond 25 questions (Danny Boyle edition Part IV)

Danny Boyle

Apologies. The blog is suffering from Lt. Columbo-itis. Little things bother it. So here are some more questions about Bond 25.

Why did Danny Boyle go public with his involvement with Bond 25 now?

Without a mind reading machine, there’s no way to know for sure. But Boyle’s behavior is a lot different than his predecessor in the 007 director’s chair, Sam Mendes.

In January 2010, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Mendes mostly about other topics. But the paper asked if it was true he’d be directing the next James Bond film.

“It’s only speculation and, you know, at the moment there isn’t even a studio to make the James Bond movie, because MGM is for sale.”

The thing was, at almost the same time, Mendes’ U.K. publicist, Sara Keene, confirmed to The Guardian that Mendes was in talks about directing what would become Skyfall. “I can confirm that he has had a meeting, but Sam always has lots of projects on the table that he might direct next,”

In contrast, Boyle’s comments to Metro and other outlets were relatively straight forward. He said he planned to direct Bond 25 if a script being written by John Hodge is accepted. If that occurred, the plan would be to start production toward the end of 2018.

Just to be clear, the blog likes straight forwardness. Meanwhile, if you don’t want to comment, you say, “No comment.” That’s because when you deny things that turn out to be true (i.e. Ben Whishaw was playing Q in Skyfall, etc.) it hurts your credibility in the long run.

On the other hand, intentionally or not, Boyle may have pressured Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer a bit. If the Hodge script were rejected (and Boyle ended up not directing Bond 25), both would get questions about what happened.

Do you think Eon/MGM will turn down the script when Hodge finishes it?

Not likely. Supposedly, actor Daniel Craig is really keen on Boyle directing. For now, the blog suspects Eon boss Barbara Broccoli will move heaven and earth to keep him happy.

She’s repeatedly expressed her admiration for Craig. If Hodge delivered 110 pages of chicken tracks as a script, sure it’d be rejected. But if the Boyle-backed story is even remotely acceptable, it will get approved and off we go. At least, that’s the blog’s guess.

How does the pace of Bond 25 development compare with recent 007 films?

It’s lagging.

Bond 23 (Skyfall) was suspended because of MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy. In January 2011, there was an announcement the movie was back on, finally confirming Mendes’ involvement. Principal photography started in November 2011.

Bond 24 (SPECTRE) had a first draft script submitted in March 2014. Principal photography originally was slated to begin in October 2014, but was pushed back to December 2014.

At this point, Hodge is still writing his first draft. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had worked on a Bond 25 script for the better part of a year, but that’s been put aside for the Boyle-backed Hodge script.

Also, at the start of 2011 and 2014, it was known what studio (Sony Pictures) would be distributing Skyfall and SPECTRE respectively. No announcement has been made concerningt what what/which studio(s) will be distributing Bond 25.

One troubling aspect about that WSJ Aston video

Daniel Craig and Aston Martin DB5 in a Skyfall publicity sill

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend posted a video with Andrew Palmer, the head of Aston Martin. It had the headline, “Could James Bond’s Next Car Be an Aston Martin SUV?”

On social media, that got a rise from 007 fans, who found the idea of Bond driving an SUV awful. Also, truth be told, the interview really didn’t explore the idea of Bond behind the wheel of an SUV.

But there was an exchange that fans might find troubling for an entirely different reason. It begins around the 0:55 mark. Naturally the video also includes clips from 1964’s Goldfinger.

LEE HAWKINS (WSJ INTERVIEWER): In America, when we think of Aston Martin, a lot of us think of James Bond. But does that put you into a box to some extent, putting into the consumers mind that an Aston Martin is really designed and intended to serve an older person?

PALMER: It’s a greater customer. Of course, when you come in life to the ability to afford an Aston Martin, then generally you’re a little older. We do have to think about about a more youthful market.  (emphasis added).

It’s not a secret that Bond fandom skews older that other movie franchises. The exchange in the Journal video simply reflects that.

Also, Eon Productions keeps bringing back the 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Newer Astons do get screen time. However, the DB5 has been in five of eight Bond films since 1995. SPECTRE, the most recent Eon offering, had Bond (Daniel Craig) driving off in the DB5 at the end of the movie.

Also, this isn’t the first time Palmer has talked about making Aston known for more than 007.

“James is an important customer for our sports cars but he occasionally gets married so maybe there’s someone out there for him although you can get a baby seat in the back of an (Aston Martin) DB11,” Palmer told CNBC in April 2016.

“But it’s about reality and Aston is more than just James Bond,” Palmer added. “It’s about being British, being independent, it’s about craftsmanship and it’s about business itself.”

To see the full Wall Street Journal video, CLICK HERE.

Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the nod. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.

Sony passed on chance to buy MGM, WSJ says

Sony Pictures at one time passed on a chance to outright buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of James Bond, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Journal doesn’t specify exactly when this occurred. But, based on the story by Ben Fritz, it was before MGM reorganized during a 2010 bankruptcy. Here’s the key excerpt:

Sony Pictures executives discussed buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose James Bond movies Sony had distributed for years. Instead MGM reorganized itself into an independent venture. Other potential acquisitions targets for Sony included DreamWorks Animation and pay-cable network Starz, according to employees. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. ended up buying the network.

“There was a cautious business philosophy where we did not want to take big swings,” said a former Sony Pictures executive.

The story concerns both Sony Pictures and Paramount described as “Hollywood’s two worst-performing movie studios” by the Journal.

Paramount missed its own opportunity. It initially released movies produced by Marvel Studios. But Walt Disney Co. moved in and bought Marvel.

Sony has released the past four James Bond films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 distribution deal expired with SPECTRE. Under that contract, Sony co-financed the films but only got 25 percent of the profits.

The Journal recently reported that MGM’s attempts to sell itself to a Chinese buyer fell apart last year.

Regardless, MGM has no distribution agreement for Bond 25. The studio and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) control the Bond franchise.

About those MGM sales talks and Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post reported that an unknown Chinese buyer is negotiating to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.

The Post’s sister paper, The Wall Street Journal, followed up by saying MGM had been in talks with a Chinese buyer but the negotiations broke off last year.

How all this applies to Bond 25?

This may explain why MGM never reached a Bond 25 distribution deal

Back in March 2016, MGM said it was in no hurry to negotiate a new Bond movie distribution deal. If the Post and Journal are accurate (that MGM at least *had* talks with a would-be Chinese purchaser), the reason is obvious.

MGM CEO Gary Barber had bigger things on his mind. James Bond may be MGM’s biggest asset, but whether to sell the company or not is bigger (from the perspective of an MGM CEO) than that.

Such talks may have slowed the pace of Bond 25 development

Until there’s a studio that can distribute Bond 25, a new 007 production can’t reach theaters.

Following its 2010 bankruptcy, MGM no longer had a distribution operation. Since then, it has negotiated co-financing and distribution deals with other studios. Maybe that would have changed if a Chinese concern acquired MGM. If the Journal is correct, we’ll never know.

Regardless, MGM negotiating to sell to the Chinese probably would have sent any talks with other U.S.-based studios to distribute Bond 25 to the back burner.

Where do we go from here?

Your guess is as good as this blog’s. However, this is a reminder that Bond is tethered to a weak studio.

MGM bought United Artists in 1981. UA, years earlier, got control of half of the Bond franchise when Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, sold out because of financial troubles.

The MGM soap opera changes in some regards (executives come, executives go) but not in others.  MGM’s glory days are long gone.