With Propaganda Films close to landing director Barry Levinson days after pledging $2 million for Lorenzo Carcaterra’s “Sleepers,” and David Hoberman’s Mandeville Films paying $1 million for Paul Garrison’s “Ice & Sun,” book buys have never been hotter.

Titles like Pat Conroy’s “Beach Music” and Carl Hiaasen’s “Stormy Weather” are soon to hit the auction block, and producers are opening offices in New York at a rate reminiscent of prospectors flocking to California during the Gold Rush.

This is a marked contrast to only a year ago, when Gotham outposts were viewed as unnecessary expenditures. But when Robert Redford paid $3.2 million for the partially finished novel “The Horse Whisperer,” suddenly every producer wanted to be in position to get early looks at books.

Some titles, like John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker,” are landing before they even get edited. And more books are getting scrutinized closely, with the town now poring over such submissions as Philip Kerr’s “Grid Iron,” about a hi-tech building that turns on its creator, and Delia Ephron’s “Hanging Up,” for screen possibilities.

A New York office has just been opened by Laura Ziskin’s Fox 2000. Located in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. building, the office will be headed by Raymond Bongiovanni, VP of East Coast production, with Lewis Canfield aboard as a creative executive.

Bongiovanni headed the New York office of Scott Rudin, the most aggressive of book-buying producers, whose literary scores include “Nobody’s Fool,” “The Firm” and the now-in-development “The Alienist.” Replacing Bongiovanni at Rudin’s New York office is Nan Shipley, who moves over from Barbra Streisand’s New York production shingle, Barwood.

Canfield, who was story editor for the Paramount Pictures film office run by Patricia Burke, has been replaced at Paramount by Christian McLaughlin, who was an assistant editor at HarperCollins.

James Brooks’ Gracie Films, producer Fred Zollo and Tribeca Films are among those who’ve recently opened shop or beefed up their book-finding abilities, and Turner Pictures also is looking to set up shop.

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