THR: Annapurna’s ills may affect Bond 25 U.S. distribution

Annapurna logo

Financial problems at Annapurna Pictures may affect the U.S. distribution of Bond 25, The Hollywood Reporter said as part of a broader look at the company.

As things currently stand, a joint venture between Annapurna and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will release Bond 25 in the U.S. in February 2020 while Universal will distribute the movie in international markets.

Bond 25 is “the jewel in the crown” for the Annapurna-MGM joint venture, wrote THR’s Kim Masters. “If Annapurna falters, that film is likely to be released by Universal, which is handling overseas distribution. (MGM might also make a play to distribute domestically itself.)”

The joint venture was set up last year. It distributes movies for each partner. Movies that originate with Annapurna carry that brand. Movies generated by MGM, such as Bond 25, carry MGM’s Leo the Lion logo.

The THR story mostly is about cutbacks in film production at Annapurna, headed by Megan Ellison, daughter of tech magnate Larry Ellison.

“(T)he company’s operations now are being reviewed by an executive (with experience in business, but not in Hollywood) dispatched by Ellison’s father,” Masters wrote.

The story quotes a person with knowledge of the situation that it didn’t identify as saying this about Annapurna: “Larry respects money and wants it to be run in a more responsible way.”

Annapurna has exited some movies it commissioned, including a project about the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

“We are simply recalibrating so that our creative decisions are fully aligned with our business goals,” Annapurna said in a statement to THR.

Bond 25: An Annapurna primer

Annapurna logo

This week, various entertainment-news outlets (including Variety, The Wrap and The Hollywood Reporter among others) carried stories about turmoil at Annapurna Pictures.

The company is tied to Bond 25. So 007 fans are wondering if something may be up on that front. What follows is a primer.

What is Annapurna? It originally was a production company involved with films such as Zero Dark Thirty. It was founded by Megan Ellison, daughter of tech magnate Larry Ellison.

In 2017, Annpurna branched into distribution. Its first distributed movie was Detroit, a drama about the 1967 race riots in that city. The film bombed at the box officce.

How is it tied to Bond 25? Also in 2017, Annapurna formed a distribution joint venture with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The joint venture distributes films for each of the partners. Movies generated by MGM would carry that brand. Movies generated by Annapurna would carry that brand.

In May, it was announced the MGM-Annapurna joint venture would distribute Bond 25 (an MGM-generated project) in the United States while Universal would distribute the movie internationally.

Why the concern? Annapurna abruptly has dropped a number of film projects, including a movie based about the late former Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

Annapurna “has racked up hundreds of millions of dollars of losses over the years due to some significant box office losses,” according to a Variety story (linked above) by Brent Lang and Matt Donnelly. The scribes write that Larry Ellison is exterting control to attempt to make Annapurna profitable.

Could this imperil Bond 25? No. Annapurna is one of three players (itself, MGM and Universal). The Bond 25 deal is expected to help Annpurna, because it’ll get a distribution fee, according to Variety. The entertainment site also says Universal is a likely candidate to take over U.S. distribution if necessary.

Bond 25 questions: The P&W are back edition

So Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are back (if they ever were really away) for Bond 25. At least that’s the news from the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, whose 007 scoops for the Daily Mail are usually proven right.

Naturally, the blog has questions. So let’s get to it, shall we?

Just what are P&W writing up for Bond 25?Bamigboye makes it sound like the duo are writing up a treatment they worked on last year. So will it incorporate ideas/input from departed director Danny Boyle and his writer of choice, John Hodge?

We don’t really know. Members of FOE (Friends of Eon) would have you believe that Hodge was rewriting previous work by Purvis and Wade. Boyle, in public comments in March, didn’t make it sound that way. Neither did Eon’s own May 25 announcement that Boyle would direct and Hodge was writing Bond 25.

A treatment is like a detailed outline. It’s not a full-fledged script. So, based on Bamigboye’s story, Purvis and Wade never got past the treatment stage for Bond 25.

How does this affect Bond 25’s schedule?  This is the more important question. Again, FOE members are telling everyone that everything is on track for Bond 25 to come out in fall 2019. Eon has previously said Bond 25 will start filming on Dec. 3. But Eon’s leading man, Daniel Craig, has much of his November spoken for, filming another movie.

 Put another way, how far advanced is Bond 25’s story?  Hypothetically speaking, if a “polish” (tweaking dialogue, massaging set pieces) were underway now, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But based on Bamigboye’s story, things may not be that far advanced.

The thing is, nobody outside of the Eon/MGM/Universal camp really know. That may even apply to FOE members. For the moment, Bond 25 still doesn’t have a director to replace Boyle. Until that appointment is made, there are more questions than answers.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. New York time): Variety had a story this afternoon making it sound as if nothing from John Hodge/Danny Boyle is being retained. It says Purvis and Wade will write a “new script” based on their treatment that had been approved before Boyle and Hodge entered the picture. It also refers to the Hodge-Boyle effort as having been “tossed.”

Bond 25: What’s up with MGM?

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

With all the fuss about Bond 25 since Danny Boyle departed as director, one aspect hasn’t gotten much attention.

What’s up with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of the 007 film franchise?

It was Eon Productions’ 007 social media outlets that announced Boyle’s departure. Nothing new on that front since Eon’s Aug. 21 announcement.

MGM controls half of the Bond franchise along with Eon and its parent company, Danjaq.

MGM reported second-quarter financial results back on Aug. 7, back when Boyle still was slated to direct Bond 25.

The studio had a conference call with investors on Aug. 7. At that point, Christopher Brearton, who has the title chief operating officer, said everything was great 007-wise.

“The big film news of the quarter was our announcement that we were partnering with Universal Pictures for the international distribution of Bond 25. We are very excited about this deal. Universal’s exceptional international distribution and marketing organization make this an important new partnership for MGM.”

MGM, through a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures, is slated to handled U.S. distribution of Bond 25. Brearton said MGM is positioned to retain more value from Bond film box office.

“We couldn’t be more excited about the film,” Brearton said of Bond 25.

That was then. This is….well, we don’t know. MGM has said nothing about Bond 25 since Boyle’s departure. Eon? It has said nothing other than Boyle is out because of “creative differences.”

MGM, it should be remembered, still hasn’t named a new CEO since Gary Barber departed in March.

The studio has a successful TV operation. Its movie operation? Well, it’s latest film, Operation Finale (released by the MGM-Annapurna joint venture) came in at No. 4 for the Aug. 31-Sept. 2 weekend with an estimated $6 million, according to Box Office Mojo. No. 1 was Crazy Rich Asians, with an estimated $22.2 million in its third weekend of release. (MGM rolled out Operation Finale on Aug. 29.)

You’ve got to wonder what the MGM brain trust thinks about the uncertainty surrounding Bond 25, especially because it (and presumably Universal) are paying the bills.

Is the studio pressing for a quick Boyle replacement to ensure Bond 25 meets its previously announced fall 2019 release date? Is there really anything it can do about it? Or can it only sit by and watch to see how Eon resolves the situation?

On the other hand, there are a few known aspects. MGM remains one of the weakest Hollywood studios in an era where a 20th Century Fox, a much healthier operation, can get swallowed up (by Walt Disney Co. in Fox’s case).

British tabloids have ignored the MGM angle of the Bond 25 saga. It may still be one worth watching.

Bond 25 to be delayed, THR reports

Daniel Craig

Bond 25 will not meet its fall 2019 release date, The Hollywood Reporter said, citing sources it didn’t identify.

“With the abrupt exit of director Danny Boyle, the next installment in the James Bond film franchise — the untitled Bond 25 — will miss its Nov. 8, 2019 release date in North American theaters, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter,” according to a story by Pamela McClintock.

Eon Productions announced Aug. 21 that Boyle was exiting the project due to “creative differences.” The development came less than three months after Eon announced the hiring of the director.

THR didn’t provide a precise replacement date.

“It’s possible Bond 25 may not hit theaters until late 2020, according to sources,” McClintock wrote. “No recent Bond film has ever opened in summer. Even before Boyle departed, there was talk of pushing the movie’s release to early 2020.”

The last Bond film to have a summer release was 1989’s Licence to Kill, the second and final 007 film starring Timothy Dalton. Since 1995’s GoldenEye, Bond films have had a U.S. release date of either November or December.

For a time, Bond 22, later titled Quantum of Solace, was slated for May 2, 2008. But Sony Pictures, its distributor, delayed until fall 2008. Iron Man, the first Marvel Studios film, grabbed the May 2 date, launching a powerhouse franchise.

For Bond 25, a joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures will distribute in the U.S. while Universal will handle international distribution.

UPDATE (5:25 p.m. New York time): Variety also has a story. The sourcing isn’t very precise. “Word around town is that it’s back to the drawing board for the creators of the new 007 adventure after Boyle and his co-writer, John Hodge, delivered a draft of the script that didn’t meet the approval of producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, as well as star Daniel Craig.”

Variety adds this tidbit: MGM and Eon “are not simply eyeing a director for hire, which signals that a major rewrite will have to be undertaken. It is also telling that the producers seem more eager to find a screenwriter than a person willing to slide behind the camera.”

If accurate, does this mean a search for yet another “auteur” director? The Bond franchise was built on the shoulders of journeymen directors such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton.

UPDATE (6:10 p.m. New York time): Deadline: Hollywood gets into the act with a counter-story.  “(Bond 25) hasn’t abdicated its November 8, 2019 release date, not yet at least. It is possible that if a replacement director is named within the next 60 days, Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007 can keep its date, sources said.”

Deadline: Hollywood was the same outlet that said last fall that the MGM-Annapurna joint venture was “thisclose” to announcing it had secured the Bond 25 domestic distribution deal. While that happened, it didn’t occur until May 2018.

State of the 007 film franchise summer 2018

Omega advertising image released hours before Eon Productions announced Danny Boyle was exiting as Bond 25 director.

The James Bond film franchise is either experiencing an unusual run of bad luck or it it’s adrift and taking in water.

Either way, there was an omen on Aug. 21. Omega released an image of tuxedo-clad 007 star Daniel Craig, mostly underwater but promoting an Omega watch. A few hours later, Eon Productions announced that director Danny Boyle had exited Bond 25 because of “creative differences.”

It was the latest in a series of whipsawing developments with the 25th James Bond film produced by Eon.

For a long time after the release of 2015’s SPECTRE, Eon was quiet amid speculation that Craig wouldn’t be back. Finally, in July 2017, it said it had retained veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to write Bond 25.

This after the duo said writing Bond films were very hard in the 21st century. “I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now.” Purvis said in a January 2017 interview with The Telegraph.

In August 2017, Craig announced on CBS’s The Late Show that he was, indeed, coming back.

Yet, as 2017 ended, no real word on how things were going. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli said in a Hollywood Reporter podcast that Purvis and Wade were hard at work.

Until, a few months later, when Danny Boyle and his screenwriter, John Hodge, became the 007 flavor of the month. The duo pitched an idea. Hodge began writing. If his script was deemed acceptable by Eon, that would be Bond 25’s new direction.

On May 25, the Eon brain trust, doing its best Jean-Luc Picard imitation, proclaimed: “Make it so!” Boyle was now the official director and Hodge the new writer. Good-bye, Purvis and Wade.

Less than three months later? No so fast. The Boyle was lanced. No word on Hodge’s script, based on the supposedly spectacular idea Boyle and Hodge pitched.

What happens next? Your guess is as good as mine. Eon seemed to love working with “auteur” directors such as Marc Forster and Sam Mendes. Boyle’s hiring (however brief) seemed a natural.

The bigger question: Does Eon really know what it wants to do with Bond?

Both Broccoli and Craig clearly wanted a break from Bondage after SPECTRE. They both went about various projects, including a stage production of Othello where Craig appeared and Broccoli was a producer.

The break is over. Aside from keeping Craig in the Bond role, what does Broccoli have in mind? Eon has burned through three writers from 2017 through the present.

Will the next installment be helmed by another “auteur” director? If so, how long does it take to find a Boyle replacement?

At the very least, Bond 25’s announced fall 2019 release date looks shaky. Eon had a bad experience trying to make Quantum of Solace on an accelerated schedule. Does Eon have the stomach to try to find a new director fast? Or should it take a deep breath and start over?

Eon, of course, has business partners it must consider. Universal now does the international distribution. A joint venture of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures is distributing the movie in the United States.

More broadly, the movie business is in the midst of great change, under pressure from streaming services such as Netflix.

Bond is a franchise that has enjoyed enormous longevity. It still generates interest worldwide.

But continued longevity isn’t automatic. At the very least, the 007 film franchise faces renewed uncertainty.

Richard Irving: Key part of Universal’s TV Factory

Richard Irving’s title card for a Gene Barry episode of The Name of the Game

Another in a series about unsung figures of television.

Richard Irving was a major figure in the establishment of Universal’s television factory.

Irving, a one-time actor, helped get TV movies at Universal off the ground.

He directed two TV movie pilots for Columbo (Prescription: Murder in 1968 and Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971). He also produced and directed 1968’s Istanbul Express (a sort-of TV movie equivalent of From Russia With Love) and the TV movie pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man.

As a producer, he oversaw Universal TV shows such as Laredo, a western, and The Name of the Game.

With the latter, he produced the Gene Barry episodes of the first season. For the rest of the series, he assumed the title of executive producer, supervising the different producers for the episodes starring Barry, Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa.

Dean Hargrove, Irving’s associate producer for the first season of The Name of the Game, took over as producer of the Gene Barry episodes from the second season onward.

Irving was promoted to being a Universal television executive, which lasted until 1979.

Steven Bochco, working at Universal in the early 1970s, said in an interview for Archive of American Television, that it was Irving who got him involved in Columbo.

“I got a call from Dick Irving,” Bochco remembered. “‘Dick, it’s a mystery show. I don’t know anything about mystery writing. It’s a mystery to me.'”

According to Bochco, Irving said, “‘Do it. It’ll be great.'”

It was. Bochco wrote Murder by the Book, directed by Steven Spielberg, and the first series episode for Columbo. It also was the first installment of the NBC Mystery Movie aired by the network. Bochco went on the script a number of Columbo episodes on his way to being an important writer-producer on U.S. television.

The Los Angeles Times, in its 1990 obituary for Irving, put his contributions into perspective.

In an era when motion picture studios refused to release their old films to television, not wanting to contribute to declining theater attendance, Irving and such pioneers as William Link, Richard Levinson, Norman Lloyd and a handful of others filled the small screen with dramas, mysteries and comedies.

Irving died at the age of 73.