EXCLUSIVE: Start Media has optioned film and television rights to Jonathan Stroud’s award-winning young adult fantasy series, The Bartimaeus Sequence. It gives a new lease on life for a four-book fantasy series whose publishing and screen rights were bought by Miramax for a whopping $3 million back in 2002, and then proceeded to languish.
Start Media’s Michael Maher, whose credits include the Sony pic Passengers, said he spent several years untangling the rights. He arranged to pay the money against the project upon start of production, and will finance development. Even though the first deal got made nearly two decades ago, he believes there is ripe potential for a studio tent pole with fresh IP that perhaps is best classified as a darker Harry Potter.
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The book was originally by then Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein in the wake of the success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, the latter of which Weinstein acquired but couldn’t get Disney to finance. After its success, he was determined to find another hit fantasy movie franchise. The property got several scripts from the likes of Hossein Amini, but lost its rudder when Weinstein and his brother Bob left Miramax to form The Weinstein Company.
The story follows ambitious teenage magician Nathaniel’s relationship with Bartimaeus, a five-thousand year old Djinni Bartimaeus summons in defiance of the magical laws governing the city of London. The book series stretched to four installments — The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, and The Ring of Solomon — sold 6 million copies in 35 languages.
Maher read the books as a fan when they were published. When he saw no progress on the movies, he pitched the author and his agent several years ago, only to be told there was a prohibitive amount of money against them. But Maher — who among other things holds significant interest in the Florida movie chain Paragon and Graphic India, a comic book and animated studio in Bangalore — got in business with the author on another book. Over time, Maher said he was able to square the rights. He notes he paid $4 million to extricate Passengers and believed the potential was worth the risk.
Maher will produce in partnership with New York based S/B Films’ Ella Bishop, Pau Suris and Jake Cheetham. The deal was brokered by Charlotte Knight of the Knight Hall Agency Ltd on behalf of Stroud’s lit agency, David Higham Associates. Start Media is represented by Bethany Haynes of Sloss Eckhouse.
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