EXCLUSIVE: Fox Searchlight has won the first big spec auction of the year, and will pay high six figures for Keeper of the Diary, a hotly contested spec by Mayday 109 scribes Sam Franco and Evan Kilgore. The spec tells the story of Otto Frank’s struggle to find a publisher for the diary written by his daughter Anne Frank before she perished in the Holocaust. He was aided by an ambitious young woman who, fresh out of the Doubleday typing pool, became a junior editor trying to find her way by combing through the slush pile for publishable manuscripts. She and Otto Frank found each other and their perseverance led to the publication of one of the most enduring documents of the Holocaust. That woman, Barbara Zimmerman, became a publishing legend at Doubleday and was the founder of the New York Review of Books.
The film will be produced by Matti Leshem and Lynn Harris under their Weimaraner Republic Pictures banner, whose last big spec was The Shallows. Five studios were in the mix on this one; I’ve heard the included Paramount, Amblin and that Studiocanal was into it with The Picture Company. The bidding went on all day until Searchlight locked it down just now. Paradigm brokered the auction along with Mia Chang and Jeff Portnoy, who manage the scribes and attorneys Eric Feig and Matt Jacobs.
The drama takes place right after WWII, and up until the book was finally accepted by Doubleday in 1950. It became a passion project for the producers: Leshem lost his grandmother in the Holocaust, and his father is a survivor. Otto Frank lost everything and everyone he loved in the Holocaust, except his daughter’s diary. He begged and borrowed his way across Europe in his attempt to bring her story to the world. It happened because of the doggedness of Zimmerman, the ambitious young junior editor at Doubleday Press who believed the diary could change the world.