Bond 25: The distribution edition

Annapurna logo

If Deadline: Hollywood is correct, the Bond 25 picture is about to get clearer but there are still key questions to be asked.

What Deadline reported: The new joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures will release Bond 25 in the United States.

MGM and Annapurna announced the venture on Oct. 31. It will release movies for both companies. But when the venture was announced, Bond 25 wasn’t part of the deal.

So let’s go with the questions.

Who’s going to release Bond 25 internationally? Deadline didn’t know. It said studios including Warner Bros., Sony, 20th Century Fox and Universal are in the mix.

More importantly, who’s going to finance Bond 25? Sony has released the last four Bond films. Under Sony’s most recent two-picture deal (Skyfall and SPECTRE), the studio co-financed the movie with MGM but only got 25 percent of the profits.

Presuming we end up with MGM-Annapurna in the U.S. and someone with international distribution, Bond 25’s financing has the potential to be more complicated.

Will Annapurna do some of the financing? Or will its involvement be more limited? Will the international distributor also kick in some of the financing?

Or is MGM confident it will be the dominant financing entity?

Too early to answer any of that. The MGM-Annapurna distribution deal for Bond 25 in the U.S. hasn’t been announced yet.

Why does the blog ask these questions? Because until they’re settled, nobody is going to get paid to do the movieThe blog occasionally has its chain yanked (hopefully in a kidding way) about bringing up the subject. But it’s still legitimate. Eon Productions doesn’t finance Bond films and doesn’t release them.

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MGM-Annapurna may distribute Bond 25 in U.S.

The recently announced joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures may distribute Bond 25 in the United States, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

“This all should be finalized this week, and rumors are flying today,” according to the story by Mike Fleming Jr. and Anita Busch.

MGM and Annapurna announced the joint venture on Oct. 31. At the time, MGM and Annapurna said Bond 25 was not part of the deal.

Deadline said distribution outside the U.S. for Bond 25 hasn’t been decided.

“There are still major decisions to be made on both international distribution and ancillary distribution, the latter of which long had been administered by Fox in a deal that is expiring,” according to the story.

Deadline said Warner Bros. Sony, 20th Century Fox and Universal are still seeking  international distribution for Bond 25.

20th Century Fox currently handles home video releases of Bond films.

MGM controls half of the Bond franchise, with the other half under control of Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions.

MGM hasn’t had its own distribution operation since exiting bankruptcy in 2010. Sony Pictures has distributed the past four Bond films. Other MGM projects have been released by other studios.

Sony “has been informed that domestic will not go their way” for Bond 25, Deadline said.

Annapurna is a movie production company that got into distribution this year with the drama Detroit.

Universal in the ’60s & ’70s: The Television Factory

 

Universal logo, circa 1960s

In the 1960s and ’70s, Universal’s television division was like a TV factory.

Its shows had a certain look, a certain sheen. Universal’s TV operation would help launch the careers of people such as director Steven Spielberg and writer-director Steven Bochco (who both worked on the same episode of Columbo).

Universal developed the concept of “the wheel,” where different shows rotated in the same time slow, or a series that had rotating leads. Examples: The NBC Mystery Movie (different rotating shows) and The Name of the Game (rotating leads).

Universal, of course, still produces television shows. It’s now part of Comcast as is NBC, where many Universal shows were telecast. But it’s not the same because, naturally, television has evolved. Still, it’s a worth a look back.

Origins: Music Corp. of America, or MCA, was a talent agency. But MCA saw the potential of television. It formed Revue in 1950 as a television production arm. It acquired the studio lot of Universal (then known as Universal-International) in 1958 and eventually acquired Universal itself.

Revue produced all sorts of shows: Westerns (Wagon Train and The Virginian), comedies (The Jack Benny Program, Leave It to Beaver, The Munsters), crime dramas (M Squad), and anthology shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents (hosted by Hitch), Thriller (hosted by Boris Karloff) and The General Electric Theater (hosted by Ronald Reagan).

Eventually, all of its TV series were under the better-known Universal brand. The boss of MCA-Universal was Lew Wasserman, who became a major figure in Hollywood. Writers Richard Levinson and William Link, when devising the Mannix television series, came up with a character named Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) who was modeled on Wasserman.

The Universal mogul apparently didn’t mind. After Campanella’s Wickersham character was written out after the first season of Mannix, the actor ended up as one of the leads on “The Lawyers” part of The Bold Ones, another Universal “wheel.”

Glory Days: Universal was a major supplier of shows for U.S. television. As early as 1964, it embraced the idea of made-for-television movies. Its first effort, The Killers, directed by Don Siegel, was deemed too violent and got a theatrical release.

One of the early TV movies was 1966’s Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Tony Franciosa as an investigative reporter for a magazine.

This would be the basis for The Name of the Game (1968-71), an early example of “the wheel.” Franciosa, Robert Stack and Gene Barry rotated as the leads of the series, which concerned the magazine empire headed by Glenn Howard (Barry).

A key figure at Universal television, who is not remembered much today, was Richard Irving (1917-1990), a producer-director. He oversaw a Universal Western series (Laredo), which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1967.

Irving also produced and directed the 1968 television movie Prescription: Murder, where TV audiences were first introduced to Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk). The same year, he produced and directed a TV movie with international intrigue titled Istanbul Express, starring Barry, Senta Berger and John Saxon.

Irving remained a booster of Columbo. He directed another TV movie with the detective, 1971’s Ransom for a Dead Man, which finally sold Columbo as a series.

The Universal TV operation cruised throughout the ’70s. In the early 1980s, it had another hit with Magnum: P.I. But things got tougher that decade. Universal excelled at one-hour dramas and TV movies at a time things were changing.

In 1990, MCA sold itself to Japan’s  Matsushita Electric. It would be bought and sold over the years before being acquired by Comcast.

Bond 25 questions: Lull before the news edition

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

The past few months has had significant Bond 25 news (Daniel Craig confirming his return and a U.S. release date). And some additional news may be made soon.

Until then, some questions to pass the time.

Who is the distributor going to be? This isn’t as sexy as the lead actor (there was plenty of speculation before Craig announced his return on CBS’s The Late Show) or who the title song performer will be (the current focus of U.K. tabloids).

But without a distributor, nobody can see the movie. And, with a U.S. release date of November 2019 being announced by Eon Productions, you’d think one was already in place. If the distributor still hasn’t been decided, well, announcing a release date shows lots of chutzpah.

Back in April, The New York Times reported there were five contenders: Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Universal and upstart Annapurna. Nothing has come out since.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, doesn’t have a distribution operation. And MGM, despite a financial recovery since a 2010 bankruptcy, probably doesn’t have the resources to mount a Bond movie by itself. It needs a studio partner to kick in the money to film Bond 25.

Yes, this blog has raised this question before. It’s still the most important unanswered question at this point.

Which leads us to…..

How much will Bond 25’s budget be?

2012’s Skyfall had a big budget (estimated at $200 million) but less than 2008’s Quantum of Solace (estimated at $220 million to $230 million).

The only significant first-unit location shooting for Skyfall was in Turkey, while a second unit got enough Shanghai shots to make it look as if 007 & Co. actually went there.

With 2015’s SPECTRE, thanks to the Sony hacks of 2014, e-mails about spending exceeding $300 million became known. Thanks to product placement and Mexican tax incentives, the net cost supposed was lowered to $245 million (though nobody involved put their name to that figure).

Even so, SPECTRE was still the most expensive Bond film to date, fattened up by a $36 million “car chase” in Rome and the biggest explosion in motion picture history that wasn’t particularly dramatic. Before the $300 million-plus figure emerged, SPECTRE director Sam Mendes joked (maybe) that the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios is where “budgets come to die.”

So: Does Bond 25 follow the Skyfall model (some economizing) or not? The answer depends on the answer to the previous question.

Questions after Bond 25 release date announcement

Is this guy coming back?

The official announcement that Bond 25 will be out in fall 2019 no doubt is spurring Bondologists to read it line by line for clues.

That’s because while being the first bit of hard news since SPECTRE came out in 2015, the announcement raises question. A number of questions.

And since questions is a specialty of the blog….

Why make this announcement now? After no hard news during 2016 and the first half of 2017, why say this in the last week of July?

Calling dibs on the release date (Nov. 8, 2019 in the U.S.)? Big movie franchises, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe announce release dates years into the future, even if they just say “untitled.”

Regardless, there is a reason. This could have been done last week. It could have been done next week. We’ll see if the reason surfaces.

Is Daniel Craig coming back? The four-time 007 actor was conspicuously absent from the announcement. Is he coming back for his fifth go-round as 007? Or not?

Craig has a movie, Logan Lucky, coming out next month. You’d think he’d be asked about Bond regardless. If there aren’t additional announcements between now and the movie’s release, the Bond 25 announcement news ensures he’ll be asked about it during Logan Lucky publicity events.

Who’s going to distribute Bond 25? No word on that in the release date announcement. The New York Times reported in April that five studios (Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures plus upstart Annpurna) were bidding to distribute the movie.

Bond’s home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, came out of bankruptcy in 2010 and can’t release its own films. It negotiates distribution deals with other studios. Sony has released the last four 007 films.

Does Eon Productions announcing a release date mean the distributor has either been chosen or will be chosen soon? Michael G. Wilson of Eon said in November 2015 he expected MGM to make a decision by early 2016. It obviously didn’t happen.

Who’s going to direct? There have been occasional stories speculating about a new director. But there has been no hard news.

Late July: The new hot spy movie release date

Atomic Blonde poster

Through a series of unrelated events, the last weekend of July has emerged as a hot release date in the U.S. for spy movies.

This year’s entry is Atomic Blonde, with Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, an operative adept at both gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. It opens in the U.S. on July 28.

Atomic Blonde is the third spy film in a row to open during the final July weekend.

The streak began with Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the fifth installment in star-producer Tom Cruise’s film series.

Rogue Nation originally was set to open on Christmas Day 2015. However, Paramount moved up Rogue Nation’s release to get it out of the way of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which had a Dec. 18, 2015 release date.

The strategy worked. Rogue Nation ended up with a box office of $195 million in the U.S. and Canada and $682.7 million globally.

Rogue Nation also affected another spy movie, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which came out just two weeks later. Rogue Nation was still going strong and U.N.C.L.E. was No. 3 its opening weekend.

In 2016, both star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returned to the Bourne franchise with Jason Bourne. Universal slotted the movie for a July 29 release date.

Jason Bourne didn’t do quite as well as Rogue Nation, with a U.S.-Canada box office of $162.4 million and $415.5 million worldwide.

Regardless of Atomic Blonde’s box office results later this month, the July spy movie streak already is guaranteed to continue. Paramount has Mission: Impossible 6 scheduled for July 27, 2018. The movie currently is in production.

To a degree, this makes a lot of sense. The “summer” movie release in the U.S. begins in May. Many of the biggest summer films already have been in theaters and late July is a chance for spy films to find an audience.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s one of the trailers of Atomic Blonde.

RECAP: 007 film franchise at mid-2017

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, the first half of 2017 was similar to 2016: more heat than light.

There has been nothing confirmed in the first half of the year. There have been two meaningful bits of Bond film news:

–Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported in March that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were retained to work on Bond 25, which would be their seventh 007 scripting effort.

The reason that merits serious consideration is that Bamigboye had a number of scoops concerning Skyfall and SPECTRE that were proven to be correct.

–The New York Times reported in April that five studios made proposals to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to be its studio partner to release Bond 25.

According to The Times, four were established studios: Sony Pictures (which has released the last four 007 films), Warner Bros., Universal and 20th Century Fox. The fifth is an upstart, Annapurna, a movie production company just now entering the movie distribution business.

The significance: The Times has more gravitas than entertainment news websites and British tabloids (including Bamigboye’s Daily Mail), where a lot of 007 items originate.

Other than that? A lot of stories about British bookmakers setting odds for different actors to play 007 in Bond 25. There have also been stories that speculated about actors and Bond.

Eon Productions bought a helicopter from a museum early in the year but, according to the MI6 James Bond website, that aircraft is for a non-Bond film project.

There have been examples of journalistic empty calories, including a Twitter post last month by The Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider. He tossed out the idea that Eon Productions would like a 007 film universe but hasn’t provided anything to back it up.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Bond 25 to come out in 2018, something many fans want to happen.

In July 2013, more than a year before SPECTRE came out, there was a confirmed director (Sam Mendes’ return to the director’s chair was announced July 11, 2013); a confirmed Bond distributor (Sony); and a confirmed Bond star (Daniel Craig).

There’s still no distributor for Bond 25. Maybe MGM makes a decision in the second half of 2017. Still, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in November 2015 that he was expecting a decision in early 2016.

No director is in place for Bond 25. There’s no confirmed James Bond actor for Bond 25. Some fans believe it’s a cinch Daniel Craig will be back for his fifth 007 film. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

But until the distributor selection is made, it doesn’t really matter. MGM, Bond’s home studio for more than 35 years, is one of the weakest studio operations. It can’t release its own films. It needs partners to co-finance and distribute them.