Random House Goes Hollywood

By Neal Comment

gethers.jpgVariety reported late last night on a deal between Random House and Focus Features whereby “the publishing giant will invest a substantial sum in film production, co-financing an as-yet-unspecified number of book-to-film projects.” Random House Films will be run by Peter Gethers (right), a longtime Random exec and novelist whose also got some impressive film credentials: He fixed the script for Roman Polanski’s Frantic, helped create the sitcom Kate & Allie, and has written scripts for just about everybody at some point. (And, as you can see, he used to have an absolutely adorable cat, Norton, about whom he wrote three books.)

“It remains unclear how many titles would be subject to the joint arrangement, since in many cases film rights are retained by literary agents and sold off separately,” says reporter Stephen Zeitchik, and it’s true—if you’re a current author, and your agent didn’t keep the film rights, it’s probably time to get a new agent. (In fact, one agent confided to Sarah, “no agent worth [his or] her salt will sell film rights to a publisher anyways, whether they have a good tie or not.”) But maybe that leaves a lot of backlist…and, as Zeitchik observes, it also leaves a lot of room for manuscripts to somehow make their way from an editor’s desk to a production assistant’s. Zeitchik notes grumblings among agents and scouts about the deal but doesn’t quote anybody directly. Wanna give us your two cents? Anonymity guaranteed!

(PS: If anybody saved that old Lynn Hirschberg profile of Random CEO Peter Olson from the NYT magazine, feel free to shoot us any relevant passages. Stupid TimesSelect expects me to pay $3.95 just to look at it…)

UPDATE: while we wait for more responses to come in, a most public anonymous agent — Miss Snark — has some comments of her own:

From an agency standpoint I’m not thrilled about this at all. For starters,movie people work from ideas much more than publishers. I’ve yet to pitch a concept to an editor without having to actually cough up something on a page. Other agents have sold things without a written page I’m sure but it’s not common.

Movies on the other hand run on concepts a LOT.

My worry is that the assistant editor, or intern, courted by the film department, runs an extra copy of the ms through the xerox machine and sends it over for a “look see”. They can fall in love with a concept, not copy a single written word of my author, and be well within the realm of legality.

The Art Buchwald suit wherein he prevailed against Eddie Murphy was not a copyright violation, it was breach of contract. If I don’t have a contract when this extra xeroxing happens, they aren’t in breach.

The problem of course is that big Random is the biggest publisher in the world. Can I legitimately not send them submissions cause I’m worried about something that MIGHT happen? No. At least no if I want to act with any degree of integrity.

Peter Olson is a very smart guy. He is however interested in one thing: his bottom line. Frequently our interests intersect but they are never identical. This is the best example of that in quite some time.

But other agents Miss Snark spoke to provided an additional point of view: they are “glad to have it there as an option for projects not fitting in the regular channels.”