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.

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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.

 

MGM sale to Chinese not happening, WSJ says

MGM logo

A sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, to a Chinese buyer isn’t happening, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Talks broke down between MGM and several Chinese companies late last year, an apparent casualty of China’s move to stanch capital outflows that has stalled the country’s shopping spree in Hollywood, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported.

“An MGM sale would have been among the biggest-ticket and highest-profile such acquisitions, but its failure to materialize is evidence of a twist ending that few in Hollywood expected,” according to the story by three Journal reporters.

Earlier, the New York Post reported that MGM was in talks with a Chinese buyer it didn’t identify. Both the Journal and Post are owned by News Corp., controlled by Rupert Muchoch.

Uncertainty at MGM would have an adverse effect on the 007 film franchise. MGM has been involved with Bond since it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA, in 1975, acquired half of the franchise after Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out because of financial troubles.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company, unable to release its own films. MGM cuts deals with other studios to co-finance and release those movies, including the Bond series.

An MGM spokeswoman told the Journal that the studio wasn’t for sale.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal story about the broader issues facing Hollywood and China:

The economic-policy changes in China come amid mounting protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. from the administration of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve heard from both [private-equity] firms and investment banks that China investment activity around [Hollywood] assets started to wane just prior to the election and is almost nonexistent now,” said Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute, which organizes congressional delegations to China, and president of DMG Entertainment, a media company headquartered in Beverly Hills and Beijing.

“No China entity wants to be the first to test” the heated rhetoric on the U.S. side and the capital controls on the Chinese side, he added.

The last four Bond films have actually been released by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

 

How Warner Bros. plans to lighten up its superhero films

Henry Cavill after reading the latest Batman v Superman reviews

Could Supeman (at present deceased) lighten up in future movie appearances?

Studios and production companies rarely admit to misfires (see the James Bond film series for examples). But Warner Bros. and its DC Entertainment unit appear to be doing just that.

The Wall Street Journal, in a STORY POSTED THURSDAY, quoted Jeff Johns, a comic book writer who will have a lot of say over future DC Comics-based superhero movies.

“Mistakenly in the past I think the studio has said, ‘Oh, DC films are gritty and dark and that’s what makes them different.’ That couldn’t be more wrong,” said Mr. Johns, who has written comic books featuring most of the company’s top superheroes. “It’s a hopeful and optimistic view of life. Even Batman has a glimmer of that in him. If he didn’t think he’d make tomorrow better, he’d stop.”

All of this is happening after a very mixed year for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.

The good news: Two of the studios movies, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, had big box office in 2016. Bad news: Both movies fell off quickly after their opening weekends.

What’s more, Warner Bros. still trails rival Marvel Studios, part of Walt Disney Co. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War generated worldwide box office of $1.15 billion, better than either Warner Bros./DC Entertainment entry.

Other studios would kill for the box office of the two DC-based movies. But those movies were also very expensive. Batman v Superman, going into 2016, seemed a lock to be a billion-dollar movie but fell well short — despite featuring the two Big Dogs of the DC Comics universe.

According to The Journal, Warner Bros. is making some mid-course corrections. This except references the studio’s Wonder Woman solo movie and November 2017 release of Justice League:

“Justice League” will also directly address Batman’s extreme actions in the last movie (Batman v Superman), such as torturing criminals and nearly killing the man of steel, rather than accept them as par for the course. And it’s expected to have fewer of Mr. (director Zack) Snyder’s controversial flourishes, like the dream sequences in “Batman v Superman,” in favor of focusing more tightly on the plot, people close to the picture said.

Needless to say, it remains to be seen how this turns out. However, it’s clear that Marvel v DC: Battle for Supremacy, fought for decades in comic books, has moved to films.

Thoughts about MGM’s potential Bond 25 studio partners

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Before much can happen with Bond 25, somebody has to be able to release it to theaters.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, can’t. After it exited bankruptcy it emerged with no distribution arm. MGM cuts deals with other studios for co-financing movies and to release them.

So, in the absence of any actual Bond 25 news, here are some thoughts about some of MGM’s potential partners.

Sony (the incumbent): Sony Pictures, via its Columbia Pictures brand, has released the last four Bond films. Its most recent two-film contract expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

That contract, for Skyfall and SPECTRE, wasn’t a good one for Sony — half of the financing (and risk) but only 25 percent of the profits.

Amy Pascal, who negotiated that deal for Sony, is gone. But Bond is dependable, even if the profits are relatively small (Sony’s profit was $57 million for Skyfall, which generated $1.11 billion in worldwide box office, while MGM got $175 million).

The main questions: Can Sony’s new regime negotiate a better deal from MGM? If not, is Sony willing to walk away from 007?

Warner Bros.: MGM chief Gary Barber reportedly is a friend with Warner Bros. head Kevin Tsujihara. And MGM and Warners have done business in the past, being partners on the recent Hobbit series of movies.

But that only goes so far in business.

Warner Bros. had had issues lately. Its 2015 slate (including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie) had a lot of flops. Also, its Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice appears it won’t be the $1 billion blockbuster the studio may have hoped. (CLICK HERE for a blog that says this alone may prevent Warners from cutting a 007 deal.)

Warners is soldiering on, however, with a Justice League movie going into production, with plans for a new Batman solo film. Does 007 fit in with the studio given all what’s going on?

Paramount: Again, here’s a case where MGM has a relationship with another studio. MGM and Paramount are partners on a remake of Ben Hur being released later this year.

Meanwhile, Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, is in a lot of turmoil, according to Vanity Fair. Viacom said in February it was considering selling a minority stake in Paramount. However, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Viacom controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone, 92, opposes such a move.

For now, Viacom/Paramount sounds like a cross between Peyton Place and Dallas. Is Paramount in a position to do a 007 deal?

20th Century Fox: Again, another studio with which MGM does business. Fox handles home video for 007 movies.

At the moment, Fox doesn’t have the issues that Warner Bros. and Paramount are dealing with. In fact, Fox had a recent big financial success with Deadpool, an X-Men-related property it leases from Marvel. As with the other possibilities, the question is how much 007 is worth to Fox for a co-financing/distribution deal.

Walt Disney Co.: Disney doesn’t seem interested in co-financing/releasing deals, like the now-expired MGM-Sony agreement for 007 films. Disney devours franchises whole (Marvel and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars, for example) and turns them into profit genrators for the Mouse.

Nobody has reported, or even suggested, anything like that is happening related to 007. But some Bond fans are keeping an eye  on Disney anyway.