In a way, cinema Bond’s 60th already is underway

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

h/t to David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier who researched the founding date of Eon Productions.

2022 will mark the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. But in one sense, the 60th already is underway when it comes to key events that led to the movie.

What follows is a sampling (hardly a comprehensive list) of key dates.

June 29, 1961: United Artists issues a press release that it will distribute a series of James Bond films to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. A partial image of the press release is shown in Inside Dr. No, a documentary included in Bond film home video releases.

The producers earlier agreed to join forces. Saltzman held a six-month option on most of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. But he had been unable to reach a deal with a studio.

Broccoli had been interested in the Bond novels for years. He was introduced to Saltzman. Broccoli was unable to buy out Saltzman’s option. So they approached UA together.

July 6, 1961: Eon Productions is incorporated. It is the Broccoli-Salzman company that will produce the Bond films. A separate company, Danjaq, was formed to control the copyright to the movies.

Aug. 18, 1961: Eon receives a script by Richard Maibaum adapting Thunderball, Fleming’s most recent Bond novel. However, the novel had been based on material from an unmade film. Thunderball would generate legal fights. Eon would switch gears and begin its Bond series with Dr. No instead.

Aug. 23, 1961: Broccoli sends a note to Saltzman. “Blumofe reports New York did not care for Connery feels we can do better.”

The note appears in both Inside Dr. No and When the Snow Melts, Broccoli’s autobiography.

Blumofe may refer to Robert F. Blumofe, a West Coast-based UA executive from 1953 to 1966.

A 1961 article in The New York Times described him as “Hollywood symbol of cinematic revolution.” That referred to how UA provided producers and filmmakers more autonomy than other studios.

Connery, of course, was Sean Connery who got the Bond role. UA would soon change its mind about Connery’s suitability for the part.

UPDATE: Last year, Eon’s official Twitter feed listed Nov. 3, 1961 as the date when Connery’s casting was announced.

Broccoli celebrates birthday amid interesting 007 times

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli today celebrates her 61st birthday. Some birthdays are more memorable than others. As the boss of Danjaq LLC and its Eon Productions unit, Broccoli’s birthday comes amid a lot of developments.

In recent years, Broccoli — the daughter of Danjaq/Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli — has emerged as the dominant management voice of the James Bond film franchise. And with this year’s birthday, there’s a lot happening on the Bond front.

Amazon has agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. That means, relatively soon, Broccoli and her colleagues will be dealing with a new studio regime — again. This has occurred quite a bit since 1981 when MGM first acquired United Artists.

No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film made by Eon, has been on hold, partly because of creative disagreements (director Danny Boyle’s departure from the project), partly because of a global pandemic.

Bond fans around the globe are hoping No Time to Die finally comes out this fall. Broccoli and her half-brother, Michael G. Wilson, have said they want Bond to continue as a big-screen experience, not as a streaming one.

In other words, Barbara Broccoli has a lot on her plate amid her latest birthday.

Broccoli has spent 39 years on a full-time basis in service of the Bond franchise. Even before that, as a teenager, she wrote captions for publicity stills for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

So happy birthday, Ms. Broccoli. The blog hopes it’s a good one.

Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition Part III

An Amazon logo

All those news reports were mostly correct, Amazon said it agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. Naturally, the blog still has questions.

So, does Amazon own MGM right now?

No. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval. It can’t close until then.

How long is that going to take?

Likely months. Maybe even the better part of a year. Amazon, an e-commerce giant, has emerged as a big, powerful company. Regulators are likely to take a close look.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is one of the world’s richest men. That alone, guarantees the deal won’t be rubber stamped.

How will this affect the James Bond franchise?

In the short run, not much. Presuming Amazon completes the acquisition, it will want to get to know Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions better. But MGM only controls half of the Bond franchise and Broccoli and Wilson have a lot of control.

It’s possible that Amazon still won’t own MGM this fall when No Time to Die is scheduled to be released.

In the longer run? That remains to be seen. Could Amazon try to buy out the Broccoli-Wilson family? Perhaps. But, if it were me, there’s no point attempting that until you complete the big MGM film.

UPDATE: Broccoli and Wilson sent a statement to Variety: “We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience,”

What’s driving this?

Streaming, in a word. Netflix is concentrating on developing movies and TV shows it owns rather than relying on studios. Some studios, meanwhile, are in streaming as well. For Amazon, getting MGM’s library (much of which is the old United Artists library) as a big programming source for Amazon Prime.

Didn’t MGM dismiss stories it was in talks with Amazon as “speculation in the media”? Were they fibbing?

Could be. MGM wouldn’t be the first company to use this trick while in merger talks.

Will the MGM name survive in the long run?

Despite decades of financial ills, the MGM name and its Leo the Lion logo are still well known. I suspect (assuming the Amazon deal is completed), the MGM logo will survive but it may say “an Amazon company” beneath it.

Anything else?

On May 24, the blog had a post predicting more Jeff Bezos jokes if the Amazon-MGM deal was announced. It has been a tidal wave of Bezos and Amazon puns today.

Amazon near deal to acquire MGM, WSJ says

Amazon is near an agreement to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for $9 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

An accord may occur as early as this week barring last-minute complications, the financial newspaper said. MGM’s board was briefed on negotiations on Sunday, the Journal said, citing a “person close to the situation.”

There are “no guarantees” an agreement will be reached, the paper said.

MGM last week reported first-quarter financial results. During an investor call, Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay called reports about negotiations “speculation in the media.” Variety reported May 17 that Amazon was in talks to acquire MGM for about $9 billion.

The new report by the Journal makes it sound as if the studio’s relationship with the Bond franchise would remain the same. An excerpt:

MGM shares the James Bond franchise with a holding company owned by the Wilson/Broccoli family, who co-own the copyright to existing Bond movies and control the future of the franchise. The next James Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” was repeatedly delayed due to Covid-19 and is now scheduled for release in October.

No Time to Die has been delayed five times, with three of those occasions stemming from COVID-19. The first two delays took place because of the replacement of director Danny Boyle by Cary Fukunaga. The movie’s original release date was fall 2019.

At $9 billion, an MGM acquisition would be the second-largest for Amazon behind its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, according to the Journal.

Amazon is a major player in streaming. MGM’s library of films and TV shows would be a source of in-house programming. Much of that library is from United Artists, Bond’s original studio, which MGM bought in 1981.

MGM’s library does not include classic movies and TV shows originally made by MGM before the mid-1980s. Such movies as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, Singin’ in the Rain, and Mutiny on the Bounty are part of the Warner Bros. library.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m. New York time): Bloomberg came out with a story matching the Journal reporting. Bloomberg’s story says a deal could be announced on Tuesday. It has the usual caveats, i.e. things could change, etc. The story is behind a paywall; the site forced me off the story before I could finish it.

Amazon in talks to acquire MGM, Variety says

MGM logo

Amazon is in negotiations to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for about $9 billion, Variety reported.

MGM has been owned by a group of hedge funds since the studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. MGM reportedly has been for sale for months. According to Variety, talks have taken on new urgency. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder.

MGM and Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise. MGM is one of the last of the independent studio operations available for aquisition.

Bond would be one of the major properties that would interest a buyer. MGM also controls the likes of The Pink Panther and Rocky/Creed franchises. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981

Amazon runs the Amazon Prime streaming service. The company, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been expanding its entertainment properties.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film is scheduled to be released this fall. United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna, is to distribute the movie in the U.S. Universal will handle international distribution.

Neil Connery, footnote to ’60s spy craze, dies

Neil Connery in a lobby card for Operation Kid Brother

Neil Connery, younger brother of James Bond star Sean Connery and a footnote to the 1960s spy craze in his own right, has died.

His death at age 83 was reported on social media by two James Bond fan sites, 007 Magazine and From Sweden With Love. The latter site then published a detailed obituary.

Neil Connery was signed to spy in his own spy movie, Operation Kid Brother, also known as OK Connery.

The 1967 Italian production was released by United Artists, Bond’s home studio in the 1960s and ’70s. It featured five actors who had been in the Bond movie series (Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Anthony Dawson).

In an example of originality, Neil Connery’s character was dubbed Dr. Neil Connery. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 11 accting credits.

Before James Bond movies were shown on American television, Operation Kid Brother was shown in prime time on NBC. Years later, the film got the Mystery Science 3000 treatment, where a man and “robots” comment on the proceedings. Here it was called Operation Double 007.

Did MGM change its logo?

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, may have streamlined its logo.

MGM put out a series of tweets suggesting that was the case. Here are the Tweets. MGM also updated its avatar for its tweets:

MGM was formed by the merger of three companies in 1924. But the logo of Leo the Lion with “art for art’s sake” preceded that because it was the logo of one of the merged companies (Goldwyn).

Why should Bond fans care? MGM acquired United Artists in 1981. That gave it half-control of the Bond film franchise.

MGM, currently owned by a group of hedge funds, reportedly is up for sale. Could the logo change be related to that? Hard to say. As of midday New York time, the new logo wasn’t on MGM’s website yet.

UPDATE (2:40 P.M. New York Time): The new MGM logo is now on MGM’s website.

UPDATE II (8:05 P.M., New York Time): Adweek has a story. It makes it sound as if Leo the Lion will remain, but be a bit different. OK.

2021’s two most important 007 anniversaries

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

People love anniversaries and James Bond fans are no exception. Typically, anniversaries of films are noted. But, in 2021, anniversaries of two events are more important.

On June 29, 1961, United Artists put out a press release that the company had reached an agreement with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to finance and release a series of films based on Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. A copy of the release can be seen in the documentary Inside Dr. No.

The tale has been told many times. Saltzman had obtained a six-month option on most of Fleming’s books. But time was running out and Saltzman met up with Broccoli, who had better studio connections. An uneasy partnership was formed and their first 007 film debuted a year later.

Thus, we’re approaching the 60th anniversary of the event that made the Bond film series possible.

In 1981, UA was sold by Transamerica Corp. to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Transamerica had acquired UA in 1967 but grew weary of the unpredictable movie business.

Now, we’re approaching the 40th anniversary of the tie-up between MGM and Bond. The relationship has often been dysfunctional. MGM’s ownership has changed at various times. The studio at one point was seized by a French bank and it underwent bankruptcy in 2010. Reportedly, MGM is again up for sale and one possible buyer is Amazon.

The one constant over those four decades is that Bond has remained one of MGM’s major assets. Every time MGM runs into financial trouble, Bond fans fret about what will happen to the gentleman agent. For those fans, the journey might seem like the Israelites wandering the wilderness for 40 years.

The two anniversaries also remain relevant to today. The Broccoli-Wilson clan that succeeded the Broccoli-Saltzman duo retains creative control. Any deal to buy MGM has to take that into account.

Happy anniversaries.

Amazon has held preliminary talks to buy MGM, Forbes says

Amazon logo

Amazon has held “exploratory talks” about acquiring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, Forbes said as part of a broader story about MGM.

The Forbes story had few additional details about Amazon’s interest. Amazon and MGM declined to comment to Forbes.

Instead, Forbes went into detail about how it will be difficult for MGM to get the kind of price ($10 billion) it wants. A key excerpt of interest to Bond film fans:

The problem is that MGM’s collection of great movies is dated and losing value by the minute. Barbara Broccoli and her half brother Michael G. Wilson, who maintain an iron grip over the Bond franchise — a deal initially hammered out decades ago by Broccoli’s father, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli — have the final say over casting decisions, dialog and promotional materials related to 007 — adding complexity to any deal talks. 

In 2017, The Hollywood Reporter said that Amazon and Apple Inc. were seeking the Bond film rights. Nothing ever came of that. Forbes, in its story, says Apple “remains a speculative wild-card” in terms of buying MGM.

In general, movies have been turned upside down by Netflix’s streaming service. Walt Disney Co. and AT&T’s Warner Bros. are orienting themselves toward streaming and de-emphasizing their traditional theater-released movie model.

Netflix, AT&T’s HBO Max, and Disney’s Disney Plus all feature in-house content. (MGM films before 1986, such as Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mutiny on the Bounty, are part of the Warner Bros. film library that’s included with HBO Max.)

MGM doesn’t have a streaming service. But both Amazon and Apple have such services.

MGM is owned by a group of hedge funds led by Anchorage Capital. They took over following an MGM bankruptcy in 2010.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of MGM’s dysfunctional relationship with the Bond franchise. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981 after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. decided to get out of the movie business.

MGM has the 25th Bond film, No Time to Die, on hold until October, the latest in a series of release dates. The movie has been pushed back since April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.