The stunning multimillion-dollar sale of the E.L. James erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey to Universal Pictures and Focus Features might have a lasting impact on the business of evaluating cinematic potential of books. The last time I’ve felt this kind of ripple was when there was a stampede for the Nicholas Evans novel The Horse Whisperer, which went to Disney in the late 1990s for $3 million in a four-studio bidding war. I recall that some studios caught flatfooted made a concerted effort to build up New York operations, and I won’t be surprised to see it happen again.
In my interview with Fifty Shades agent Valerie Hoskins, she noted that Gotham-based studio executives discovered the material early, and helped whip studios into a slow building frenzy, even before The New York Times called it “mommy porn” and really got Hollywood hot and bothered. Times have been tough for New York-based executives as studios cut back on exec staffing and overall producing deals. They also pretty much stopped paying big sums for books. The longest-running dedicated Gotham-based studio office, Paramount Pictures, shuttered its office after the retirement of Patricia Burke, long an influential matriarch of tasteful material. Her deputy Aimee Shieh took over, but eventually Adam Goodman shut it down, and now Nan Shipley is a non-exclusive scout who also scouts for Playtone. Sony Pictures has a dedicated office, run by creative executive Mark James; Fox has a four-person office, run by Drew Reed; Universal has an office run by Erin Hennicke. New Regency has Michelle Kroes. All of those operations were crowing about Fifty Shades way back in December. (more…)