Bond 26 questions: The Variety interview edition

A previous Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

So, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson gave an interview to Variety. The Eon Productions duo again said James Bond won’t return to theater screens soon and they’re looking for the next actor to make a long-time commitment.

However, there were other interesting tidbits. Naturally, the blog has questions.

How many Bond films will get made during an actor’s “10-, 12-year commitment”?

That’s the kind of commitment the Eon pair said they’re looking for from a new Bond actor. But at the current rate of production, that might only be three films. The Eon series had only two entries — Skyfall and SPECTRE — during the entire decade of the 2010s.

Yes, there were external factors, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s bankruptcy in 2010 and COVID-19 in 2020. But some of the gaps were self-imposed, including putting off the development of what became No Time to Die to try and get Daniel Craig back for another movie.

Will Bond 26 with a new actor really be that much different than Craig’s run?

One passage in the Variety story suggests not.

Both Wilson and Broccoli, who is a director of the U.K. chapter of women’s advocacy org Time’s Up, have left their mark on Bond, particularly in humanizing the once-womanizing spy and ensuring more fulfilling, meatier roles for the female stars of the franchise. These are qualities that will continue in the next films, says Broccoli. (emphasis added)

What are they up to in the interim?

Barbara Broccoli is one of the producers of Till, a fact-based film about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 and its aftermath. It’s due out next month. Wilson “has written a TV show that the duo are looking to set up,” according to Variety. And both are involved in producing an Amazon streaming show 007’s Road to a Million. That is currently in production, Variety says. Amazon also owns MGM.

Producers talk to Variety about casting next Bond

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

The next James Bond actor has to be in it for the long haul, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson told Variety in an interview.

“And when we cast Bond, it’s a 10-, 12-year commitment,” Broccoli said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh yeah, it’d be fun to do one,’ Well. That ain’t gonna work.”

Wilson told Variety: “It’s a big investment for us, too, to bring out a new Bond.”

Eon’s most recent Bond actor, Daniel Craig, was cast as Bond in 2005 when he was 37. His five-film run as Bond ended with 2021’s No Time to Die. That film ended with Bond being blown to smithereens in a sacrifice play for his wife, Madeline Swann, and daughter.

Variety conducted the interview in late August. At one point, the producers said it’s early days for the search. Broccoli again said Bond 26 won’t go into production soon. “(I)t’s going to be a couple of years off.” 

There was also this exchange:

Even in this interview, when asked whether (MGM owner) Amazon might ask for a narrative Bond TV show, Wilson notes, “We’re trying to keep it theatrical,” and Broccoli swiftly retorts: “Well, we’re gonna keep it theatrical. We’re not going to try; we’ve got to do it. It’s just a theatrical franchise.”

Variety suggests NTTD still is unprofitable

No Time to Die teaser poster

Variety has published a story suggesting No Time to Die still hasn’t made a profit despite becoming the No. 1 box office film in 2021 among non-Chinese productions.

Here is an excerpt:

The action-packed spy spectacle, which endured several coronavirus-related delays, has become the rare pandemic-era box office hit, which is even more impressive considering adult audiences — the core demographic for “No Time to Die” — have been reluctant to return to theaters. However, the movie cost more than $250 million to produce, at least $100 million to promote and tens of millions more to postpone over 16 months. Insiders say “No Time to Die” needs to make closer to $900 million to break even.

No Time to Die cost almost $300 million to produce, according to a U.K. regulatory filing in 2020. And there were THREE COVID-19 delays, not “several.” There were FIVE delays overall. Two were related to how Danny Boyle was replaced as director with Cary Fukunaga.

MGM, replying to Variety, issued a denial.

“Unnamed and uninformed sources suggesting the film will lose money are categorically unfounded and put more simply, not true.”

Just remember: People deny things they know to be true. MGM hasn’t provided any detailed financial information regarding No Time to Die.

According to Variety, MGM crowed about how No Time to Die passed F9: The Fast Saga. (Something that occurred this weekend.) So far, No Time to Die hasn’t matched either 2015’s SPECTRE nor 2012’s Skyfall. That latter is the only Bond film to exceed $1 billion box office in theaters.

Since the advent of COVID-19 in early 2020, the market for theatrical films has shrunk. Before the pandemic, there were 48 movies that had a box office of $1 billion or more. 2012’s Skyfall is No. 28 on that list.

With COVID-19, no movie has reached that worldwide box office level. Some Bond fans don’t like to hear that and have criticized the blog for bringing it up.

That’s how it goes.

Bond 25 questions: The box office edition

No Time to Die has been out for a few weeks. Once a movie is released, entertainment-news outlets chew over the numbers. Fans then react to stories.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

So how well is No Time to Die doing?

As of Oct. 17, it had an estimated box office take of $348.3 million internationally and $99.5 million in the U.S. for a grand total of $447.8 million.

That has been depicted as strong internationally, not so much in the U.S.

Why “not so much” in the U.S.?

Because as recently as Oct. 4, two weeks ago, there were some estimates No Time to Die’s U.S. opening weekend could be $100 million, according to CNBC.

The movie’s final U.S. opening weekend number was $55,225,007, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s nothing to sneeze at but obviously not $100 million.

And the 25th James Bond film’s U.S. opening weekend was below recent movies such as Venom: Let There Be Carnage ($90 million) and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ($75.4 million).

I see estimates it may take a global box office of more than $900 million for the movie to break even. How is that?

The studios split that box office with theaters. Precise figures vary, but a rule of thumb is studios get about 50 percent. In China, that’s only 25 percent. But that’s a huge market, so the studios want to be there.

No Time to Die also was very expensive. A U.K. regulatory filing last year indicated the production cost was nearing $300 million. There were also marketing costs, including a pricey Super Bowl ad, in February 2020. Pandemic-related delays may have boosted the marketing expenses.

The MI6 James Bond website published an analysis on Aug. 2. It said No Time to Die “needs to clear $928m at the box office to avoid losing money.” Other outlets have published similar figures. Variety, in an Oct. 11 story, said the film will need “to gross at least $800 million globally to get out of the red (probably closer to $900 million).”

To be clear, the accountants at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, and Universal, handing international distribution, know far more than fans and other outsiders.

Since the pandemic, what movie has had the highest box office?

F9: The Fast Saga at almost $716.6 million.

Can No Time to Die beat that?

The movie is to be released in additional markets. It remains to be seen.

Bond 26 questions: The (eventual) search for a new Bond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions were interviewed on a BBC Radio show on Sept. 27. The duo indicated they weren’t in a hurry to find a successor for Daniel Craig as James Bond.

“We’re not thinking about it at all,” Broccoli said, according to a Variety summary of the interview. “We want Daniel to have his time of celebration. Next year we’ll start thinking about the future.”

Naturally, the blog has questions.

How seriously should we take these remarks?

In general, a CEO always is supposed to be thinking about the future. Barbara Broccoli certainly qualifies as a CEO.

On the one hand, there are signs that Broccoli has at least thought about a post-Craig future for Eon’s Bond film series.

No Time To Die director Cary Fukunaga told Total Film that he had a meeting with Broccoli before he was named to helm the 25th James Bond film.

“At that point Daniel said he wasn’t doing another one, so we spit-balled all the potential new Bonds – that was exciting,” Fukunaga said in that interview.

On the other hand, there are signs that Broccoli is really, really reluctant to let go of Craig. “I’m sort of in denial,” she said in the BBC interview. “I would love for Daniel to continue forever.”

Personally, I take her at her word. She is not anxious to move on from Craig.

Will the search (whenever it starts) be complicated?

Searching for a Bond actor is never easy. The next search will have additional complications.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, has agreed to be acquired by Amazon. But that deal hasn’t been completed and is subject to regulatory review.

It remains to be seen what Amazon will do with MGM assuming the deal goes through. Eon likes some current MGM film executives and has lobbied for Amazon to keep them on board.

Regardless, assuming Amazon completes the deal, that will be an additional piece of complication.

What’s more, Eon has its own issues. Wilson turns 80 next year. There are popular fan theories that he may retire after No Time to Die. Who knows whether that’ll be the case. Still a new Bond isn’t the only succession issue facing Eon.

Reminder: Zimmer isn’t the only NTTD composer

Hans Zimmer

I saw some chatter on social media today expressing surprise that No Time to Die’s score is a joint effort.

So this is just a reminder that Hans Zimmer is not the sole composer on No Time to Die’s score. Back in June 2020, Zimmer himself told Variety it would not be. Her is Zimmer in his own words in the Variety interview.

Well, it was surprising, and let me explain why. I’ve known [producer] Barbara Broccoli for a long time, and we’re friends. I never thought we would work together on something like that, so it was surprising just to get the call. And I asked her if it was okay that Steve Mazzaro, who is one of the most fabulous composers I know, could do it with me, because there was very little time. And of course she said yes. Steve should really be the top name on the Bond film. I hope we’ve done it justice. (emphasis added)

Since then, all of the promotional material for the movie only mentioned Zimmer and didn’t reference Mazzaro.

As noted before, Mazzaro did the score for Eon Productions’ The Rhythm Section, with Zimmer producing the score.

Zimmer, of course, is a big name in movie music. Mazzaro? Not so much.

UPDATE: The No Time to Die soundtrack list is released. The MI6 James Bond website has a copy. The 71-minute soundtrack has 21 selections: 1) Gun Barrel 2) Matera 3) A Message From an Old Friend 4) Square Escape 5) Someone Was Here 6) Not What I Expected 7) What Have You Done? 8) Shouldn’t We Get to Know Each Other First 9) Cuba Chase 10) Back to MI6 11) Good to Have You Back 12) Lovely to See You Again 13) Home 14) Norway Chase 15) Gearing Up 16) Poison Garden 17) The Factory 18) I’ll Be Right Back 19) Opening the Doors 20) Final Ascent 21) No Time to Die.

From 2020: A peek at NTTD’s scoring sessions

One of several images Steve Mazzaro uploaded to Instagram in March 2020.

Back in March 2020, Steve Mazzaro, a composer who assisted Hans Zimmer in doing No Time to Die’s score, posted several behind the scenes images on Instagram.

The photos were originally posted on March 4, 2020, after the movie had the first of three COVID-19 delays in its release date.

Zimmer is the only composer listed on movie posters and soundtrack covers that have been released to date. But Mazzaro is one of the many composers who work for Zimmer. Mazzaro also composed the score for The Rhythm Section, a non-Bond spy film made by Eon Productions.

In a June 2020 interview with Variety, Zimmer said Mazzaro’s contributions to No Time to Die were significant.

“Steve should really be the top name on the Bond film,” Zimmer told Variety. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Besides the image above, Mazzaro posted images of himself working with Zimmer at a control board as well as musicians recording the No Time to Die score.

As with anything else concerning No Time to Die, fans will have to wait to see how the movie’s score worked out.

An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

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.

MGM stays mum on report about talks with Amazon

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer refused to comment Thursday about a Variety report that the studio is in talks to be acquired by Amazon.

“We are aware of speculation in the media,” Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay said at the end of a prepared presentation about first-quarter results. The executive didn’t reference Amazon by name.

Kay said the company only take questions about first-quarter performance. No questions about Amazon were asked.

Variety reported May 17 that Amazon and MGM were in talks where the studio would be bought for $9 billion.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 owned by hedge funds. Such funds typically look for a relatively quick turnaround and sale so they can turn a profit. MGM’s hedge fund owners have held onto the studio for longer than normal.

Pro tip: Companies involved in major moves (restructurings, deal negotiations) often refer to stories such as the Variety report as “speculation.” That is until the major moves are ready to be announced.

Regardless, this week’s investor call mentioned No Time to Die once. It was basically referenced as part of why MGM will have great second-half financial results.