O’seas Bond market lifts profits at MGM

Full slate planned for 2001

NEW YORK — MGM posted a tidy first-quarter profit Tuesday despite the absence of any major film releases as James Bond pic “The World Is Not Enough” continued its love affair with the overseas box office.

Lion execs once again touted the fiscal discipline they say sets MGM apart from all its studio competitors. During a conference call with investors, they insisted the company’s balance sheet has never looked better, with $216 million in cash on hand and an untouched $600 million credit facility to draw upon as MGM ramps up production. It’s still aiming for a full slate of 10 to 12 releases from MGM and seven to 10 pics from United Artists starting in 2001.

One will be a new “Pink Panther” pic helmed by Ivan Reitman. Vice chairman and chief operating officer Chris McGurk said MGM is in talks with Kevin Spacey for the role of bumbling Inspector Clouseau.

MGM swung to a profit of $5.2 million for the quarter from a $306 million loss the year earlier. That was just before chairman-CEO Alex Yemenidjian and McGurk came on board with a sweeping set of so-called “core values,” based on financial restraint, to govern all aspects of the company’s business. They want to avoid the missteps of bigger rivals whom they say rack up huge overhead by “buying box office” at the expense of the bottom line.

MGM’s revenue rose 33% to $345 million. Feature film revenue jumped 46% to $285 million. The TV portion, however, fell 24% to $40 million. MGM attributed the dip to hard comparisons with last year’s quarter, which included network TV revenue from “The Magnificent Seven.”

Showtime deal

On Monday, MGM inked an expanded and wide-ranging output deal with Showtime Networks. And the company is still examining the prospects for an MGM-branded cable channel, both analog and digital.

“The World Is Not Enough,” which has grossed more than $350 million worldwide, drove quarterly numbers as did the interactive game version of Bond pic “Tomorrow Never Dies.” That was released in November and contributed a hefty $8 million to cash flow for the quarter.

Electronic Arts is working on a game version of “Tomorrow Never Dies.” That pic, along with five other Bond films, will be out on video and DVD next month. MGM is planning to release three sets of six Bond pics each in coming years.

The studio is meeting with writers to develop a script for the next 007, to be released in 2003.

Minimal writedowns

MGM’s strong quarter was also fueled by lively sell-through and rental of “The Thomas Crowne Affair” and “Stigmata” on homevideo and DVD, minimal film writedowns during the quarter and flat general and administrative costs.

“Supernova,” released early in January, was partially written down in 1999.

MGM’s other theatrical release, Bonnie Hunt’s low-budget “Return To Me” was MGM’s other first-quarter release and will deliver a “solid profit” McGurk said.

“3 Strikes” came out this month. “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her” with Glenn Close and Cameron Diaz, and “Crime And Punishment In Suburbia” with Ellen Barkin (both UA releases) represent MGM’s summer fare, followed by Joan Chen’s “Autumn In New York,” “Kingdom Come” with Nastassja Kinski, “Dancing in the Dark” with Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie, “Anti-Trust” with Tim Robbins and “Breakers” with Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt.

2001 slate

Next year’s slate includes Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal” with Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore, Barry Levinson’s “Outlaws” with Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” and Pedro Almodovar’s first English-language release, “The Paper Boy.”

Yemenidjian said there’s a 50-50 chance that “Harvey” — a retake on the 1950 film — plus a “Basic Instinct” sequel will slip into the 2001 slate as well. Both are in active development, and the studio is scouting for a third-party producer deal on the latter.

More pics cost more. MGM said it anticipates spending $400 million on film production and $250 million on prints and advertising this year. In 2001, production costs will be in the low $400 million range with somewhat higher P&A, execs said. Those numbers could wind up lower as the company hashes out new partnerships and co-financing deals like ones it currently has with Miramax and Universal.

Also, over the next few months MGM plans to announce several more producer deals to supplement its pacts with Hyde Park Entertainment, Lion Rock Prods., Seth Jaret and American Zoetrope.

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