For the past 20 years, ever since their father handed over the keys to the series, two people have micromanaged James Bond’s every move. And the fate of moviedom’s longest-running franchise again finds itself at a critical juncture.
As the James Bond theme thundered — ba-da, ba-daaaa! — and 50 camera crews clamored for a better view, a white Suburban with tinted windows rolled up to the Americas’ premiere of “Spectre” on Monday in Mexico City. Swarming fans had been waiting for hours. Had the superspy himself finally arrived?
When an anxious-looking woman and an older man in a lumpy suit stepped out, the look-who-it-isn’t letdown was palpable. Well, maybe the next SUV would carry Daniel Craig, the current Bond, James Bond. Fans went back to their chant — Dan-iel, Dan-iel — as the mystery man and woman disappeared up a set of red-carpeted stairs.
If the crowd only knew. The fate of moviedom’s longest-running franchise, which again finds itself at a critical juncture, is in those little-known hands.
For the past 20 years, ever since their father handed over the keys to the series, the ferociously private Barbara Broccoli, 55, and her half brother, Michael Wilson, 73, have micromanaged Bond’s every move.
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While moviemaking is a collaborative process, Broccoli and Wilson have final say over every line of dialogue, every casting decision, every stunt sequence, every marketing tie-in, every TV ad, poster and billboard.
In particular, it is the steely-eyed Broccoli who runs the Bond franchise. She was the one who decided to recast the central character in 2005, giving the job to Craig, whom she had seen in the indie drama “Layer Cake.” She was the one who, with “Spectre” hanging in the balance after the on-set injury of Craig this year, figured out how to keep the $300 million production on track.
Yes, a woman is in charge of the world’s most aspirational male brand.
Although she rarely speaks in public and keeps a low profile in Hollywood — born in Los Angeles, she now lives and works in London — Broccoli has an iron-fisted reputation.
“Barbara scares the hell out of people,” Wilson said in a rare sit-down interview at the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City a few hours before the premiere of “Spectre,” which opened in the United States on Friday. “Everyone is frightened to death of her.”
“Good!” shouted Broccoli, who was seated beside him. She laughed.
“I mean it,” Wilson continued. “They all know I’m a big pushover, so they don’t care about me.”
It may take all of Broccoli’s mettle to get James Bond through his next set of challenges. After a four-film period of stability and prosperity — the last Bond movie, “Skyfall,” took in $1.1 billion worldwide, and “Spectre” has been outselling it in many European markets — the spy series finds itself stirred if not shaken.
The complicated Craig, 47, has professed a desire to move on before, but this time he seems to really mean it. (“I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists,” he told a British magazine in October when asked if he wanted to continue playing the character.) Moreover, the final scenes of “Spectre” seem designed to set up the departure of this particular 007, or at least close a chapter.
The Bond contract is also expiring for Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has distributed the last four movies. At least three studios — Sony, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox — are expected to battle for the right to take Bond into the future.
“My main concern is what happens to the franchise next,” Sam Mendes, who directed “Spectre” and “Skyfall,” said in a phone interview, noting Wilson’s age. “Can one of them do it without the other? Does its management go to another generation? I don’t know the answer to those questions, and I don’t think they know.”
While Broccoli is the more aggressive partner, according to studio executives who have worked on Bond, she operates in lock step with Wilson, who got his producing start in 1977, when he helped rig underwater bombs in the Bahamas for “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Wilson brushed aside any notion that there would be big changes in how the franchise was managed. “We’re in it for the long haul, whatever that may be,” he said.
As for Craig’s future, Broccoli shut down that question. “Maybe I’m in denial, but I don’t want to think about another Bond,” she said. “Until he definitely says otherwise, I’m not going to give it another thought.
Bond’s future studio home is another issue, and it’s complicated.
The Bond franchise is unlike any other in Hollywood. For starters, it is gargantuan: The 24 movies have taken in more than $5 billion at the domestic box office, after adjusting for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo.
The series has generated billions more in overseas ticket sales, home-entertainment revenue, television reruns, marketing partnerships (Omega watches, Aston Martin cars, Gillette razors) and video games.
The franchise’s complicated ownership structure is also unique.
In the 1930s, Albert Broccoli, the son of immigrant farmers, set out to make a name for himself in Hollywood. He formed a business partnership with producer Harry Saltzman; together, they came to control the film rights to Ian Fleming’s sex-drenched James Bond novels.
They made a financing deal with the independent studio United Artists. In the 1970s, Saltzman — facing mounting personal debt — sold his 50 percent stake in Bond to that studio. Over the coming decades, as United Artists was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which was in turn sold and resold a half-dozen times, Broccoli, who was known as Cubby, maintained creative control over Bond.
In 1995, he handed operations at the family company, Eon Productions, over to Broccoli and Wilson. Cubby Broccoli died in 1996, after the release of “GoldenEye.” By that time, Barbara Broccoli and Wilson, who had long been involved in the making of the films, were in position to take over custody of the franchise uncontested.
Because MGM no longer distributes its own movies, the last four Bond pictures have been released through Sony. But Sony’s contract expires with “Spectre,” and MGM is expected to begin actively shopping the distribution rights next year.
If Bond moves to a new distributor, Broccoli and Wilson will have their grit tested once more: New studio executives, particularly marketers, tend to want to put their stamp on Bond.
“If we get the wrong partners, there are liable to be conflicts,” Wilson said.
The deal that is expiring is lavish, requiring Sony to pay 50 percent of the “Spectre” production costs — which total some $250 million after accounting for government incentives — for only 25 percent of certain profits, once costs are recouped. Sony also shoulders tens of millions of dollars in marketing costs.