MGM has yet to confirm reports

The long-running drama surrounding MGM’s future took an odd turn Tuesday with rumors sweeping through the town about Sam Mendes directing next James Bond film.

The beleaguered studio refused to confirm reports about Mendes being in talks for the 23rd Bond pic. MGM also denied other reports that pre-production had been halted after producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that the uncertainty surrounding the Lion’s ownership had left the project’s timeline “a little up in the air what with the situation at MGM, so we have to be flexible.”

Speculation about Mendes as a Bond director has emerged in recent weeks, possibly due to his having directed Daniel Craig in “Road to Perdition.” The last official announcement on the Bondpic came in June when Wilson, Broccoli and MGM disclosed Peter Morgan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were writing the script for the film; Purvis and Wade previously worked on “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.” The Bond franchise is a major piece of MGM’s assets, which include a 4,000-title library, the logo, the United Artists operations, rights to the Pink Panther franchise and half-ownership in the upcoming “Hobbit” films. The package, which could be sold piecemeal, is expected to fetch somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion and the first bids are expected to be submitted by mid-January.

The Lion, which put itself up for sale Nov. 13, is believed to have loosened some of the restrictions in the non-disclosure agreements that potential bidders are required to sign, a source close to the process has indicated recently. It’s been reported recently that News Corp. might not bid due to concerns over restrictions in the NDA.

Reps for possible bidders Time Warner, News Corp. and Lionsgate have refused to comment.

The beleaguered studio has left open the door to continue operating as a standalone entity or forming some kind of strategic partnership if MGM’s 140 debtholders agree to do so, possibly through a prepackaged bankruptcy.

Mendes’ most recent pics were in the specialty realm with “Away We Go” and “Revolutionary Road.” He’s attached to direct comicbook series “Preacher” for Sony. Focus Features inked a first-look deal last year with Mendes and Neal Street Prods., the company the helmer partners with Pippa Harris and Caro Newling, and that includes two projects that could be potential directing vehicles for Mendes: “Butcher’s Crossing,” an epic adventure based on the 1960 revisionist Western novel by John Williams and an adaptation of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” set in the early 1830s.

He also recently directed a season of the Bridge Project, a series of theater co-productions by BAM, the Old Vic and Neal Street.

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