‘Exposure’ generates H’w’d heat

The hottest book in Hollywood is one that nobody has seen: Michael Crichton’s “Exposure.”

The reason for all the heat: The film capital forked over $ 2.5 million for Crichton’s last two books, “Jurassic Park” and “Rising Sun,” which are being turned into two of the year’s most anticipated (and most expensive) films.

All of which has made Crichton a hotter commodity as a novelist than he ever was in his other careers as a doctor and film director. He has helmed six features, including 1989’s “Physical Evidence,” and a made-for-TV film.

“I’ve never gotten more calls about a book in my career,” says Bob Bookman of CAA, who is handling film rights. Alfred A. Knopf has tentatively scheduled “Exposure” for its spring ’94 list.

“We know that Crichton’s written it,” says one studio chairman. “We know what it’s about and we know it’s back in his hands for revisions and will go back out again within the next few weeks. And that’s all we know.”

Crichton’s book agent, Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit, estimates she and Bookman have received more than a hundred queries.

Ordinarily, New York scouts and story editors would be madly lunching editors and bribing cleaning women to get their hands on a draft of the manuscript, which is said to have a plot involving sexual harassment within a contemporary professional setting.

But studio execs say this time there’s no point: Bookman, Nesbit and Crichton will ignore all offers while the formal submission process runs its course.

“I haven’t asked my people to steal it,” a studio topper says, “because Crichton’s just too big. If I had it early and we called up Bob and asked to buy it for $ 2 million, he wouldn’t take it anyway.”

Bookman says he expects to make a director-oriented submission patterned after those that netted him the big sales on Crichton’s last two novels: Universal bought “Jurassic Park” for $ 1.5 million on behalf of Steven Spielberg , while Fox sprang more than $ 1 million for “Rising Sun” for Philip Kaufman.

“Jurassic” is slotted for July release; “Sun,” starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, will be released this summer.

Wrote first drafts

Crichton wrote the first draft of the screenplays for both projects, though authors of subsequent drafts have asked the Writers Guild of America to award them sole credit.

In spite of the many hats Crichton has donned, Nesbit says: “At the moment, he really just wants to write books. But I can’t speak for the future.”

Per Bookman, “I send Crichton to directors and simultaneously to the people who can write a check. In the case of ‘Rising Sun,’ because of the apparent incendiary (i.e. anti-Japanese) nature of the material, Fox made the only offer.”

Japanese big seller

“I think perhaps it was the American management rather than the Japanese owners of the studios who were scared,” Nesbit says, pointing out that Crichton’s Japanese publisher took the book and made it a best seller in Japan.

Drafts of “Rising Sun” circulating in Hollywood were, in fact, far more xenophobic than the final book. “Once you send anything to the book clubs,” Nesbit confirms, “it’s out. I don’t think it hurt our sales, but he was still tinkering with the manuscript, especially the relationship between the Americans and the Japanese.”

“That manuscript certainly leaked out,” Bookman says. “Sieve doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Bookman faced a different problem with “Jurassic Park.””It was going to be an extremely expensive movie and only certain companies would be able to take the risk.” Budget for the film is estimated now at $ 70 million.

New York book agents have long voiced worry that CAA is too concerned with packaging their books with their talent. “We do not favor CAA clients,” Bookman insists. “If a Paul Verhoeven wanted to do a project I would be ecstatic.”

Meanwhile, Crichton’s star continues to rise in bookstores. “Rising Sun” is in its fifth week on top of paperback best seller lists.

“Jurassic Park” recently made a fluke return to the lists, buoyed by early movie publicity. Not since Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides” and Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs” has a tie-in edition been expected to sell as wildly.

“People here are just floating around on air because of his backlist,” says Carol Fass, director of publicity for the Ballantine group, which publishes Crichton.

Many millions in print

“Rising Sun” has more than 2 million paperback copies in print, and 1990’s “Jurassic Park” has 3 million copies out after 30 printings. “We can’t imagine what’s going to happen when the movies actually come out,” says Fass. “We even think his 1969 novel ‘The Andromeda Strain’ is going to come back on the list.”

But Spielberg’s dinos remain under wraps. Fass says Ballantine’s “Making of Jurassic Park” tie-in is nearly ready–except for photos. “We can’t put the book out early because no one is allowed to see the dinosaurs.”

Not surprisingly, dinosaur books are jumping out of bookstores. Turner Publishing recently had its first best seller with “Dinotopia.” Ballantine has an in-house sales force newsletter called Dino-Minutes. Dinosaurs have only recently reclaimed their status as a sure-fire publishing bet on the heels of renewed popular curiosity. There may have been nothing like them for 85 million years, but in this town you’re only as hot as your last museum gross.

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