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Conroy and Par in harmony on ‘Beach Music’ deal

It took Pat Conroy seven years to write his new novel, “Beach Music.” It only seems like it took that long to sell the movie rights.

Paramount established itself as the clear front runner to buy the book when it agreed in early March to pay $500,000 to give producer Alan Ladd Jr. an exclusive first look and final topping privileges. But the deal wasn’t set until the studio finally came to an agreement with Conroy June 23 in a complicated deal that could pay him $5.1 million for “Beach Music”; $1.3 million for “Ex,” a 1989 script he co-wrote with Doug Marlette; and $700,000 to adapt his favorite novel, Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel.” Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing and production president John Goldwyn brokered the deal. Ladd and Alan Brown will produce.

The sale caps an 18-month saga that began when Conroy parted with Creative Artists Agency – which packaged his 1986 novel “The Prince of Tides” – and entrusted New York-based producer Brown with the task of packaging “Beach” with “Ex.”

Asking about $5 million a year ago for “Ex” and a sight-unseen “Beach,” Brown and Conroy nearly had a deal with Fox, then decided to wait. Numerous suitors tried to go around Brown, but Conroy stuck by his producer, even though he’d never sold a property that large. In the spirit of a most unusual deal, the sale almost died on the eve of the Par deal after a published report lowballed the offer.

Rumor squelched

The studio ultimately convinced Conroy and Brown that the news story was spread by a rival hoping to quash the deal by demeaning it, and after Par sweetened the pot, the deal was closed.

For “Beach,” Conroy gets $825,000 on signing, another $200,000 upon writing the script, $500,000 if the book hits the bestseller list – a cinch considering a first printing of 750,000 – another $750,000 upon exercise of option, eight payments of $250,000 totalling $2 million, plus two extra payments of $500,000 if the film grosses $80 million and $100 million. Other backend gross bonuses would guarantee Conroy another $6 million if the film goes over $100 million.

The book is the story of Jack McCall, a food writer who fled with his daughter to Rome when his wife committed suicide in South Carolina. He cuts off ties with family, but returns upon learning his mother’s dying of leukemia. McCall and his daughter rediscover roots that encompass the Holocaust and the Vietnam war, leading to a discovery of why his wife killed herself. The book will be published June 28 by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Books.

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