I’ve been intending to comment on the purchase of MGM by the retail/media conglomerate Amazon, but it meant so little to me I figured I’d cover it as a sub topic in another rant. However Mr. John Logan screenwriter extraordinaire had other plans in mind when he penned this article for the New York Times.
In the grand scheme of things it’s net zero news, on the one hand MGM will finally have some money in their pocket and we won’t have to hear EON crab about how they’re ready to move forward with a film, but the studio’s financial woes are holding them back. On the other, a big corporate presence means big corporate influence. What Mr. Logan says below is not patently incorrect, in fact I’d down right agree with him if it weren’t for the fact “saintly” Miss Barbara Broccoli hadn’t done all he’s complaining about to Bond herself. It’s hard to get worked up over Amazon ruining Bond when EON has been doing just that for the better part of two decades. In reality there is nothing Amazon can do to Bond that EON hasn’t done already. Hell, just look at what we’ve seen from the No Time To Die previews alone!
I’ve made a few notations to Mr. Logan’s manifesto along the way, the original text is italicized and my annotations are in bold.
So without further ado here are the pretentious words of John Logan, straight from the horses…
I Wrote James Bond Movies. The Amazon-MGM Deal Gives Me Chills.
By John Logan
Mr. Logan, a three-time Oscar nominee for screenplays, was a co-writer on the James Bond movies “Skyfall” and “Spectre.” (The by-line on this article is John Logan so did he write this about himself? If so, way to slip those Oscar nominations in there!)
So, Amazon now owns 50 percent of 007. With the acquisition of MGM and its movie catalog, the online retail giant bought into the James Bond franchise. When I heard this news, a chill went through me. Having worked as a writer on “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” I know that Bond isn’t just another franchise, not a Marvel or a DC; it is a family business that has been carefully nurtured and shepherded through the changing times by the Broccoli/Wilson family. Work sessions on “Skyfall” and “Spectre” were like hearty discussions around the dinner table, (Barbara Broccoli has used a similar line in the past so I find it suspect here) with Barbara Broccoli and her half brother Michael Wilson letting all the unruly children talk. Every crazy aunt or eccentric uncle was given a voice. We discussed and debated and came to a resolution, as families must, with no outside voices in the room. When you work on Bond movies, you’re not just an employee. You’re part of that family.
As I said, we’ve heard all this familial claptrap from EON and their cutouts like Logan before, as if the fact they all sit around the writing table hugging and kissing is supposed to make great film. I argue it doesn’t, while these touchy-feely good times might make the participants more at ease voicing their ideas, no one is willing to fight for what they believe for fear of bruising egos, or worse still, disappointing mommy Barbara. Babz has set herself up as dictatorial matriarch with all decisions coming down to her poor film making choices, so while the “crazy aunts and uncles” can “voice” their opinion, if Babz don’t like it, it ain’t happening no matter the quality.
Another thing about this incestuous love fest, if it’s such a great environment for creativity and expression, why does the writer’s room have a revolving door wide enough to drive a tanker truck full of Colombia’s purest through it?
Here comes another delivery of writers!
No Time To Die had as many as 7-8 writers attached at various times! Peter Morgan was unceremoniously replaced by our humble Mr. Logan for Skyfall. Paul Haggis’ work was thrown out despite a writer’s strike looming on Quantum Of Solace and Anthony Waye had his name scrubbed from the screenplay credits of Casino Royale.
The reason we’re still watching Bond movies after more than 50 years is that the family has done an extraordinary job of protecting the character through the thickets of moviemaking and changing public tastes.
Bang up job they’re doing there!
Corporate partners come and go, but James Bond endures. (Despite Bab’s best efforts) He endures precisely because he is being protected by people who love him.
If I may call you that…
Bond has endured because he’s an intriguing character as created by Ian Fleming…
Right, I’m sorry I forgot you’re an idiot!
Bond as written by Fleming and enhanced by Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, embodies every male’s fantasy persona and every female’s fantasy lover. The suave sophisticated man about town, who’s just as quick with a wry smile as he is with his gun. The man who drives fast cars and even faster women, in some of the most beautiful and exotic locations on earth. That is why Bond has survived and precisely why under Barbara Broccoli he is dying a slow and tragic death, the magic is getting stripped away layer by layer. Just look at the dearth of anticipation for the latest film, after a decade of uninspired pseudo intellectual, pop psych drivel the audience has become fatigued, the fact this film appears to be full of social justice claptrap doesn’t help ether.
Suddenly Johnny goes on an anti corporate tirade, just like a good little Marxist. One has to wonder what makes Amazon so much different than any other corporation? Why is this incarnation of MGM any different than the preceding?
Other that having money that is.
The current deal with Amazon gives Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, who own 50 percent of the Bond empire, ironclad assurances of continued artistic control. But will this always be the case? (Why wouldn’t it be, that’s the definition of Ironclad) What happens if a bruising corporation like Amazon begins to demand a voice in the process? (What happened when the previous bruising corporations calling themselves MGM did the same?) What happens to the comradeship and quality control if there’s an Amazonian overlord with analytics parsing every decision? (Again, the same as it was under previous rule and don’t say they didn’t, the emails leaked from Sony during the production of SPECTRE prove otherwise!) What happens when a focus group reports they don’t like Bond drinking martinis? Or killing quite so many people? And that English accent’s a bit alienating, so could we have more Americans in the story for marketability? (Apparently the only 3 things John Logan “knows” about Bond)
Ok J.L. you’re taking the piss right?! Bond is a very established character, nobody is complaining about his martini consumption or British accent and quite frankly if they cut back on the killing a bit, it wouldn’t hurt. Since the Brosnan Era, Bond has become a rival to Rambo in the machinegun toting department.
Someone call my name?!
The great thing about the early Bonds was the emphasis on adventure over action, Dr. No and From Russia With Love were epic films yet there was no scene of Bond “running and gunning” his way through mountains of anonymous henchmen.
Such high adventure and great cinema, not to mention “gritty realism”!!!!
Hearing what he’s said above about the dilution of Bond, I’m curious on Mr. Logan’s opinion concerning a race or sex swap for everybody’s favorite super spy? Or is it ok to change everything about the character so long as they, what ever they may become, guzzle martinis and speak the Queen’s English?
Just make sure those martini shakers don’t go anywhere!
As a side note, in Live And Let Die Bond doesn’t touch a single martini, yet the film feels no less “Bond” and on the British accent, none other than Cubby Broccoli considered casting American actors for the role several times, but the thought of the fan reaction (or what you might call a focus group) caused him to take pause, kinda takes the wind outa your sails there don’t it.
If you think I’m exaggerating, consider some internal polling data that decreed that the movie adaptation of “Sweeney Todd” — for which I wrote the screenplay — would be much more popular without all those annoying songs.
Cool Story Indeed!!!!!
Here’s the problem with J Lo’s nifty little parable, it totally undermines the point he’s trying to make here. If movie studios have already been attempting to control the creative process with polling data, etc. then how would life under Amazon be any different? Besides we’re talking about Bond here not some long forgotten niche musical 30 years out of date at the time.
From my experience, here’s what happens to movies when such concerns start invading the creative process: (So it happens regularly? Huh, to hear you tell it, this will be exclusive to the Amazon deal) Everything gets watered down to the most anodyne and easily consumable version of itself. The movie becomes an inoffensive shadow of a thing, not the thing itself. (Like a sour, angry, perpetually pissed off agent calling himself Bond?) There are no more rough edges or flights of cinematic madness. (Yes, just what we need in a Bond film! (e_e) ) The fire and passion are gradually drained away as original ideas and voices are subsumed by commercial concerns, corporate oversight and polling data. (Kind of like, oh I don’t know, a government entity demanding script approval prior to authorizing fat tax cuts for filming there! But that could never happen to Bond right?) I wonder whether such an outré studio movie as “Vertigo” would have survived if such pressures existed then. (they did) Not to mention radical films like “Citizen Kane,” “The Red Shoes,” “Cabin in the Sky” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Ok, really old boy?! Citizen Kane?! Vertigo?! You do realize your comparing these films to an action adventure series right? Hey, nobody loves Bond as much as I do, as evidenced by my incessant prattling on this site for no more compensation than a bit of self expression and the entertainment of my fellow Bond fans, but even I admit it ain’t high art in film making! Nor is it supposed to be, they’re fun “popcorn movies” intended to entertain (remember that word) and amuse, not probe and provoke the societal zeitgeist.
“Zo tell me again vhere zee bad man touched you.”
Ok John, I’ll play along. Vertigo was Hitchcock in his prime, nobody is going to second guess the master at his easel. Johnny even makes this point below when talking about Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese! Citizen Kane was almost erased in 1941 by none other than, wait for it, Louis B. Mayer, you know head of the virtuous pre-pre-Amazon MGM studio, when he offered to buy the film from RKO in order to bury it for William Randolph Hearst. So again I question what’s so terrible about Amazon specifically?
Why worry about Amazon? (Ok, finally!) It’s not that it’s a bad-faith company. It’s that it’s a global technology company with a more than $1.6 trillion market capitalization that produces on a mass scale and is obsessed with the “customer experience.” (Oh, of course those pesky customers!) It’s not necessarily a champion or guardian of artistic creativity or original entertainment. (Guess what, neither are the studios, especially when they force Marxism into every little nook and cranny of their films!) ,In the context of the larger company, Amazon Prime Video is not chiefly about artists. It’s about attracting and retaining customers.(Those damned customers again! Customers generally gravitate to quality products so if Amazon wants to retain them they’ll keep that in mind) And when bigger companies start having a say in iconic characters or franchises, the companies tend to want more, not better, and the quality differential can vary wildly, project to project. (See: the rapidly expanding “Star Wars” franchise at Disney and the DC Comics franchises of Superman, Batman and others at Warner Bros.) (Last I checked Disney and Warner were traditional movie studios)
Now this mention of Star Wars is interesting, Is he speaking of the universally panned films singlehandedly “shepherded” by Kathleen Kennedy, you know, the current “protector” of Star Wars, or are you referring to fan favorite streaming program The Mandalorian, helmed by a couple of Lucasfilm outsiders who are actually passionate about the source material? Is Mr. Logan implying Kathleen Kennedy is not all she’s cracked up to be?! Especially interesting when you consider she’s cut from the same cloth as our old friend Barbara Broccoli!
As a screenwriter, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several big studio movies…
Those that emerge with meaning, with art and uniqueness intact, are always those that are protected from undue corporate influence — those occasions when the moviemakers can work in a protected environment.
In my case, films like “Gladiator,” “The Aviator,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Rango” (a film, when Googled the first result is “Why is Rango so bad.”) and “Hugo” ( a film like Sweeney Todd, forgotten the instant it was released) were all made from passion and without ever worrying about synergy or spinoffs or cross-platform marketing. Artistic control and stewardship are especially vital to big movies, where the voices are many and the stakes huge.
When we were making “Gladiator,” it took a giant like the director Ridley Scott to fend off the countless naysayers who predicted disaster would befall our “sword-and-sandal epic.” They questioned everything, especially the ending: Isn’t it a bummer? How can we have a sequel if you kill the hero? And is there any way we could avoid an R rating? But Ridley believed in the story we were telling and how we were telling it, so he resolutely kept the commercial concerns and noisy corporate voices outside the door.
According to that bastion of “fact” Wikipedia, Gladiator was produced by three men Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig with the first draft coming from Franzoni himself, so I can imagine why he may have taken issue with Logan monkeying around with his baby. Also according to Wikipedia the script was extensively rewritten after Logan was gone so…
Again, If that’s what happened twenty years ago under an independent production studio, then why is this suddenly an issue with Amazon specifically?
So too Martin Scorsese with our Howard Hughes biopic, “The Aviator.” A subject like Mr. Hughes naturally invites controversy and high emotion. The push from outside the creative circle was for the lurid and sensational, but Marty stared down every challenge that threatened our more humane version of the story. He sometimes said, “Yes, that would make an interesting Howard Hughes movie, but it’s not our Howard Hughes movie.” Significantly, in the case of both “Gladiator” and “The Aviator,” we were working with brave producers who defended our choices. They cared more about the art than about the bottom line.
Pictured: Men not nearly as brave as Martin Scorsese or Ridley Scott saying no to a studio executive during their film making prime.
When you’re making a movie, you need a champion to fight battles like these. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. (excuse me for a moment…
… Not according to my Omega™ watch, Bollinger™ champagne or tickets to Mexico City)
That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. (No, instead we have Bondless comics, children’s cartoons and an extensive continuation novel library! And wasn’t it Babs who wanted to do a Jinx spin off 20 years ago?) The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on. (Not saying much) That’s why they are original, thorny, eccentric and special.
Not to mention all the Bourne and Marvel influences!
They were never created with lawyers and accountants and e-commerce mass marketing pollsters hovering in the background.
This is also why they can afford to be daring. Here’s an example from “Skyfall” — my favorite day working on the movie, in fact. (I’m sure.)
Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. (What is it with Sam Mendes that he feels the need to shoehorn homoerotic themes into every one of his films?) Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation (They should have!) — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. They weren’t afraid of controversy. In my experience, not many big movies can work with such freedom and risky joy. But with the Broccoli/Wilson family at the helm, Bond is allowed to provoke, grow and be idiosyncratic. Long may that continue (The longer that continues, the shorter Bond will).
So, John boy who has just spent several paragraphs bemoaning how Amazon, their bean counters and focus groups will destroy the Bond mythos by extricating the character elements that defy who the man is, now contradicts himself with this story wailing about how those same forces won’t allow him and his ilk do the very same, only much more so! For as much as Bond is known for being British and drinking martinis he’s even more known for being a voracious womanizer! Calling Bond’s sexuality into question does far more damage to the character’s persona that the deletion of any vodka based tipple ever could!
James Bond has survived the Cold War, Goldfinger, Jaws, disco and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, several times (as well as neo Marxist screenwriters such as yourself). And I can only hope that the powers that be at Amazon recognize the uniqueness of what they just acquired and allow and encourage this special family business to continue unobstructed.
Bond’s not “content,” and he’s not a mere commodity. (Tell that to EON!) He has been a part of our lives for decades now. From Sean Connery to George Lazenby to Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton to Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig, we all grew up with our version of 007, so we care deeply about him.
Please let 007 drink his martinis in peace. Don’t shake him, don’t stir him.(Leave that to EON and their activist writers!)
Reading all this, one does not need to don an industrial strength tinfoil hat in order to suspect some sort of conspiracy at play. I can see why a pretentious artsy fartsy sort such as Mr. Logan would have a problem with big business entering the arts.
But why drill down so hard on Bond, why is this not written in a general speaking sort of manner? A great many classic MGM properties face the same treatment, why isn’t Mr. Logan concerned with them? Why is he working so hard to lick the crust from between the toes of Barbara Broccoli?
I’ll spare you the image.
I suspect this may be an EON sanctioned attempt at damage control. Amazon has come right out and said they intend on milking their newly acquired studio library for content (for better or worse), and when you consider Bond is the biggest jewel in that crown, well as the SPECTRE theme goes…
This means the vacation is over for Babz and Co. Gone are the days of resting on her duff for 2-3 years before reluctantly assembling a rag tag team of Hollywood hacks to drape a paper thin layer of flesh over the rickety skeleton of a story outline erected by her go to in-house hacks for the last quarter of a century, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Writing as they film and pissing away fountains of studio money while sunning herself at nearby resorts.
Under Amazon rule Babz’ll have to put up or shut up, put in the work herself or get someone who will. This is why the inference to Star Wars by Logan above is so interesting, if a neophyte with a passion for the source, or at the very least is hungry enough to fake it, comes along and upstages the nepotistic “family love fest” one has to wonder if those “ironclad assurances” mentioned above wouldn’t suddenly acquire a layer of rust?
Those ironclad assurances we made you.
Suddenly MGM has money behind them and no longer needs EON as much as EON needs them. In days past perpetually bankrupt MGM was content to keep their Primadonna happy so she could crap out a film every once in a while to boost the studio’s resale value, enabling them to foist the hot potato onto the next gang of chumps willing to make a fist of it.
Here, catch idiot!
As I said, Amazon wants content and not at Babz’ pace, I know EON own half the rights to Bond and Amazon can’t take that away from them. I also don’t pretend to know what this “ironclad” contract contains, but I’m willing to bet there is no clause dictating a minimum amount of rest between projects. If EON drag their feet and can’t or won’t deliver the goods, I’m sure Amazon has ways of making it happen. Old MGM didn’t have the cash, lawyers or inclination to hold EON’s feet to the fire, however Amazon does in spades.
Put down the Mai Tai Babs and get back to work!