Uncertainty at studio holds up next 007 film

James Bond’s been thwarted — for now — by MGM’s profound financial difficulties.

EON Prods. toppers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli jointly announced Monday that they’ve put plans on hold for the next Bond pic.

“Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on ‘Bond 23′ indefinitely,” the duo said in a statement. “We do not know when development will resume and do not have a date for the release of ‘Bond 23.'” It was the first statement from Wilson and Broccoli since last June, when the producers jointly disclosed with MGM that Peter Morgan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were writing the script for the film, which does not have a director officially attached yet. Purvis and Wade most recently worked on “Quantum of Solace” and “Casino Royale.”

MGM had no comment Monday about EON’s announcement but a person close to the situation indicated that a decision on restructuring won’t be made for at least several more weeks.

Daniel Craig told fans last fall that the 23rd James Bond film would start shooting late this year, but MGM and EON never confirmed. Craig starred in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” which took in nearly $1.2 billion in worldwide box office.

MGM also owns the right to co-finance the “Hobbit” films, which MGM and New Line have not officially greenlit. Peter Jackson recently completed the second “Hobbit” script — co-written by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and director Guillermo del Toro — which could trigger calculation of the budget and setting a start for lensing in New Zealand.

“The Hobbit” films are being exec produced by Jackson and Walsh with MGM and New Line co-financing. The two pics are based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, which follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, who obtains the ring that was the centerpiece for “The Lord of the Rings.”

MGM’s been in process of sorting out its future with its debtholders.

Its last announcement came on March 31 when it received 1½ months of relief from payments on its debt, with its lenders agreeing to skip receiving payments until mid-May. It was the fourth time since September that lenders to MGM have made such an agreement, aimed at giving CEO Stephen Cooper enough time to restructure the storied studio.

MGM put itself up for sale in November, drawing a trio of binding offers last month. Lionsgate subsequently bailed out of the bidding, leaving only Time Warner and Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries in the running.

MGM debtholders are believed to be split into two camps — one that wants to accept the best offer; and the other that wants to prolong the process in hopes of keeping the studio alive. The remaining binding offers for MGM are believed to be in the $1.5 billion range, far below the $2 billion threshold price sought by MGM and its debtholders.

MGM carries debts of $3.7 billion. MGM’s assets include its name and logo, the United Artists operations, a library with more than 4,000 titles, the James Bond franchise, half of “The Hobbit” franchise and a barebones film and TV operation.

MGM’s lone release this year, “Hot Tub Time Machine,” has grossed $42.4 million after four weekends.

EON noted that it’s produced 22 James Bond films since 1962.

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