Wayne Fitzgerald, title designer, dies

Wayne Fitzgerald’s title card (along with others, including Bruce Lee) for The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm movie with Dean Martin.

Wayne Fitzgerald, a prolific designer of movie and television titles, has died at 89, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Fitzgerald went to work at Pacific Title in 1951, according to his bio at the Art of the Title website.

Pacific Title did title work for Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox. But no one at Pacific received on-screen credit. As a result, Fitzgerald’s name doesn’t appear on such films as The Music Man and My Fair Lady, according to the website.

Fitzgerald went independent in 1967. His work appeared in such films as The Green Berets; The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm film with Dean Martin; Chinatown; and McQ.

Other of his film credits included The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III, Apocalypse Now and Heaven Can Wait, according to his THR obituary.

The designer also got a lot of television work. He was hired often by Universal’s “television factory.” As a result, the Universal shows he worked on had titles with a bit of visual flair.

Start of the main title of The NBC Mystery Movie

For example, he designed the main title to The NBC Mystery Movie (later The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie), where a man with a flashlight walks with stills of the different components (Columbo, McCloud, McMillan & Wife and others) being shown while accompanied by a Henry Mancini theme.

As the title ended, announcer Hank Simms (also the go-to announcer for shows made by QM Productions) would then tell viewers which Mystery Movie segment was being shown tonight.

That title is rarely seen today. The Mystery Movie’s different entries are syndicated separately as TV movies. As a result, they usually don’t include Fitzgerald’s main title.

The designer’s other Universal credits included  It Takes a Thief, The Bold Ones, Switch and Night Gallery.

In all, Fitzgerald’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 400 credits, extending into the early 21st century.

Apple seen as buyer to stock new streaming service (MGM?)

Apple logo

Apple Inc., which is preparing to launch a streaming television service, is seen as looking to buy entertainment companies to get a library of titles for viewing. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, comes up on the list of possibilities.

Earlier this month, Apple said its Apple TV + will go live Nov. 1 and cost $4.99 a month, $2 less than rival Disney +. The problem is Apple doesn’t have the library of titles that Disney has, which includes projects made under the Disney, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios brands. Marvel, in particular, is making new series for Disney + to go along with its various movie titles. AT&T, which owns Warner Bros., also is getting into streaming television.

Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance had separate stories on Sept. 13 raising the question whether Apple may buy entertainment properties to boost its supply of programming.

Here’s an excerpt from the Bloomberg story (which was picked up by The Washington Post):

Much has been made of Apple TV+ undercutting competitors, but the price was set low to make up for the fact that, unlike rival services, it won’t contain a backlog of content out of the gate. (snip)

Apple’s lack of a library argues for the company to buy a production studio. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (which also owns the Starz premium channel), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (known as MGM), Sony Pictures and indie studio A24 are all prospects.

Yahoo Finance interviewed Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

“It’s a content arms race,” Ives told Yahoo. “Right now, Apple has built a house, they’ve priced it accordingly. They need to fill it with content and we think that’s going to be the next trick up the sleeve for (Apple CEO Tim) Cook in terms of bigger M&A.” That’s mergers and acquisitions for those who don’t converse in business talk.

Ives’s pecking order for potential purchases was as follows: A24 Studio, Lionsgate, Viacom/CBS, Sony Pictures, MGM Studios, Netflix “and then a potential gaming publisher (that could be incorporated into Apple’s streaming service or a separate gaming subscription service) as a wild card.”

Sony distributed the four most recent Bond films. It’s not involved with No Time to Die, which will be distributed by United Artists Releasing (joint venture between MGM and Annapurna) in the U.S. and Universal internationally.

MGM has long been one of the weakest studios, having survived various restructurings and a bankruptcy. MGM controls half of the Bond film franchise along with Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions. MGM also owns a large film library, which includes the old United Artists library containing such titles (in addition to Bond films) as West Side Story, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, the Rocky series and the Pink Panther series.

Apple certainly has plenty of cash. Interesting times in show biz.

Bond 25 questions: The odds and ends edition

No Time to Die logo

No Time to Die’s production grinds on. Still, the blog has a few questions.

Annapurna Pictures apparently cut a deal with its banks. What’s the significance for No Time to Die?

There were reports from major entertainment news sites such as The Hollywood Reporter and Variety that Annapurna was preparing for bankruptcy in case it couldn’t reach a deal with its lenders.

Variety this week reported Annapurna had reached such a deal, covering $200 million worth of debt. Lenders will get 82 cents on the dollar, according to Variety.

Annapurna and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are partners in United Artists Releasing, which will distribute No Time to Die in the U.S., with Universal handling international distribution.

An Annapurna bankruptcy might, at the least, been a distraction. Now, assuming Variety’s report is correct, bankruptcy is off the table. Annapurna can figure out how it wants to continue operations with the debt issue settled.

Is that the end of it?

I wouldn’t be surprised in the long run if there were some sort of restructuring at United Artists Releasing. Perhaps MGM buys out Annapurna. Or something else. Regardless, that’s a longer-term question that can be addressed separately from No Time to Die.

When’s the No Time to Die teaser trailer coming out?

At this point, who knows?

A favorite fan theory was the title for Bond 25 wouldn’t come out until the teaser trailers. Instead, the title was dropped in the afternoon New York time.

It may be the teaser trailer’s debut will be just as unpredictable. Maybe in a few days. Maybe a few weeks. It doesn’t seem worth guessing right now.

Eon’s Rhythm Section gets delayed again

Eon Productions logo

Eon Productions’ The Rhythm Section, the company’s non-Bond spy film, has been pushed back a second time to early 2020, Variety reported.

The movie, starring Blake Lively, is now scheduled for Jan. 31, 2020, the entertainment news outlet said.

The Rhythm Section was originally scheduled by Paramount for Feb. 22 of this year. Lively suffered an injury during filming in 2017. The movie’s release was pushed back to Nov. 22.

Lively “underwent two hand surgeries before shooting resumed,” according to Variety.

.The new release date means that Eon will have two movies coming out a little more than two months apart. No Time to Die, Eon’s 25th James Bond film, will be released on April 3, 2020, in the U.K. and April 8 in the U.S.

The Bond film will be will be released by United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures, in the U.S. and Universal internationally.

Bond 25 questions: The Annapurna edition

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

Annapurna, one of the studios involved with Bond 25, has been having a financial crunch after a series of movies that underperformed at the box office. The Hollywood Reporter has said, quoting “multiple sources” that Annapurna has hired a law firm to explore “bankruptcy protection.”

Since Annapurna is a Bond 25 player, naturally the blog has a few questions.

What does Annapurna have to say?

Megan Ellison, Annapurna’s founder, wrote a note to employees.

“I got word this morning that there are some rumblings around town about our current status with the banks and that a story is likely to hit the press at some point today,” Ellison wrote, according to THR.

“Restructuring deals with financial institutions is not uncommon, yet the process is usually handled without a spotlight on it….Regardless of whatever comes out in the press, the truth is that we are well on our continued path towards success. There will always be speculation, misinformation and personal jabs in the press – that’s part of the business.

Sounds like a denial. Is it? 

Remember, THR reported that Annapurna had retained a law firm to evaluate a bankruptcy filing. It didn’t say the decision had actually been made to file. That’s not the firmest denial. Way back in the Watergate days, that sort of thing was dubbed a “non-denial denial.”

Moreover, when a CEO says they have no plans to do something, that applies to this moment, right now. Things change tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. Such statements have a very short life span. Things can change — and sometimes in a hurry.

Why should a Bond fan care?

Annapurna and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are partners in a joint venture called United Artists Releasing. The joint venture will release Annapurna and MGM films in the U.S. UAR is slated to release Bond 25 in North America.

Bond 25, of course, is well underway in its filming schedule. The question is whether an Annapurna bankruptcy filing, should it happen  cause some kind of hiccup with U.S. distribution. Universal is handling Bond 25 distribution internationally. Meanwhile, THR updated its original story to quote an MGM “source” (not identified) as saying there won’t be an effect.

But we should be OK for Bond 25, right?

Probably, at least for now. But a week ago nobody was talking about the possibility of an Annapurna bankruptcy. It’s something to keep an eye on.

UPDATE (Aug. 8) –– Things might be dicier regarding that last question.

Deadline Hollywood has more details. The entertainment website says Annapurna “has burned through much of the $350 million credit facility the company secured in fall 2017. Those sources said Annapurna has either defaulted or is about to default on that debt. A deadline has been set by lenders for this week to come to a solution.”

Credit facility is a fancy way of saying borrowed money.

Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle and Megan Ellison’s father, may bail out Annapurna, according to Deadline. But the tech mogul is being a tough negotiator and preparations are being made to file for Chapter 11 in either California or Delaware if no deal is struck, Deadline reported.

Bond 25 questions: The Universal edition

Universal logo

With Bond 25, one of the biggest changes was how Universal, part of Comcast, would be in charge of international distribution.

For the past four 007 films, Sony’s Columbia Pictures handled all the distribution. With Bond 25, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna, through the United Artists Releasing joint venture, would handle the U.S. and Canada. Universal would deal with international distribution, which is the biggest piece of a Bond film.

With that in mind, the blog has a few questions.

Hey, what about that Bond 25 teaser trailer?

A favorite Bond fan theory was that a Bond 25 teaser trailer might be attached to Universal’s Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, a spinoff from the studio’s successful Fast and the Furious franchise.

Well, Hobbs & Shaw is being released this week. There’s no sign of a Bond 25 trailer. Perhaps it will still happen. Still, these days, trailers debut online days before they show up in theaters. Time is running out for a Bond 25 teaser trailer to be part of Hobbs & Shaw.

What does Universal mean for Bond 25 otherwise?

It may mean the situation is more complicated. Or, as Napoleon Solo once said in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., “It’s a three-cornered game.”

For the last four Bond films, Columbia managed marketing and releasing. MGM was the home studio for the Bond franchise but it lacked its own distribution operation.

Now, with United Artists Releasing, MGM and Annapurna are involved in addition to Universal. There’s no single distribution/marketing point.

So?

Recall that the late April “reveal” event in Jamaica didn’t have a title for Bond 25. The MI6 James Bond website has reported there was a title (A Reason to Die) ready to go but Eon Productions and its studio partners opted to hold off. The film still has no title three months later.

Essentially, there are more parties who need to be kept in the loop. United Artists Releasing is a proxy for two different (financially struggling) studios while Universal is a Bond newbie.

Anything else?

Back in 2015, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said Eon really does the marketing for Bond films, its studio partners merely execute the plan.

But is that really the case this time? Or would Universal like to have a say? Perhaps we’ll see.

Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.