UPDATE 11:30 a.m., with more information, industry response: Penguin Random House and Universal Pictures said today that the studio has signed a two-year first-look production agreement with the newly minted mega-publisher. Peter Gethers, President of Random House Studio, the publisher’s entertainment division, will oversee the new deal on behalf of Penguin Random House. Random House Studio will be a producer on the projects developed and filmed under the agreement. The announcement was made by co-presidents of production Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum.
The arrangement augments the long-held partnership between Random House Films and Focus Features, part of Universal. The films developed under the agreement will be adapted from Penguin Random House titles for which motion picture rights are available and can be acquired in cooperation with the authors’ agents. The adaptations will be derived from recently-published, forthcoming and backlist titles published by Penguin Random House imprints in North America and internationally, as well as original ideas. As a producer, Penguin Random House will provide cross-promotional sales opportunities for their books.
The deal was negotiated by UTA on behalf of Penguin Random House.
“During our seven-year partnership with Focus Features, Random House Films produced two theatrically released films: Reservation Road, with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo, and One Day, starring Ann Hathaway,” Gethers told Deadline, adding that three more are soon to be announced and more are in the offing. “One Day was a perfect example of the worldwide corporate synergy we’re trying to develop,” he added. “In large part due to the film’s success, we sold over two million copies of the novel in the U.S. and Germany, the territories in which we published the book.”
Gethers noted that Random House Studio, comprising Random House Films and Random House Television, was created in response to the contraction of the specialty film business and increased budgets and scale of both V and feature film projects. “We made a scripted -TV deal with Fremantle, which has just been renewed for two more years, and we are developing projects — all based on Penguin Random House books — with such talent as Carl Hiaasen, Rob Reiner, Scott Frank, John McLaughlin and Terry George,” he said. “We also have a partnership with Jupiter Entertainment to co-produce unscripted television shows. The Universal deal is the final piece of the mosaic. Random House Studio now has the ability to produce and have financing and distribution in all areas of television and film.”
Some authors expressed fear that the first-look deal will make life even harder for writers whose work doesn’t have a hook for a movie deal. But more experienced observers say PRH still needs to separately option a book for development just as any other production company would. “This isn’t a grab for film rights to books,” a major dealmaker told Deadline, “which no agent in their right mind ever sells to a publisher anyway.”