Enron debacle powers spate of projects

The rise and fall of Enron is a spectacle to rival any Hollywood disaster movie and the town is taking notice. The last few weeks have seen scores of book deals on the corporate debacle, and a handful of producers are in a race to mount their own versions of the Enron mess on the small and bigscreen.

Paramount-based producer Scott Rudin has optioned Marie Brenner’s Enron expose, “The Enron Wars,” from the April issue of Vanity Fair. Brenner also wrote the Vanity Fair story that was the basis for Michael Mann’s “The Insider.”

CBS has thrown its hat in the ring via producer Robert Greenwald (“Blonde,” “My Dark Places”), who is fast-tracking a two-hour original movie based on “Anatomy of Greed,” a book that Avalon will publish in spring.

The CBS movie, which will likely be titled, “The Crooked E,” is based on the memoir of a young Enron employee, Brian Cruver, who witnessed the firm’s collapse. Cruver was repped by Hotchkiss and Associates.

ICM, which brokered the Brenner deal, is shopping film rights to one of the more prominent forthcoming books on the topic, Mimi Swartz’s “Power Failure,” about Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins. Doubleday recently bought the book for $500,000. Like Brenner’s Vanity Fair story, Swartz’s article focuses on a woman navigating Enron’s male-dominated upper ranks.

And Artisan Television and FX Networks have already enlisted former “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman, who Al Pacino played in “The Insider,” to develop an original TV movie about Enron (Daily Variety, Feb. 6).

“The Insider,” a muckraking melodrama about Bergman’s relationship with big-tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, may serve as inspiration for the wave of Enron projects.

That doesn’t necessarily augur well for them.

Stories of corporate malfeasance are among the most difficult genres to dramatize effectively for a mass audience.

“The Insider,” which garnered seven Oscar noms two years ago, is one of the more acclaimed adult dramas to recently emerge from an industry increasingly given to franchise movies for kids. But it was also a commercial failure that proved difficult to market, and questions were raised about its fidelity to the truth.

There’s also the challenge of injecting sex appeal into a story of investment fraud, sham partnerships and the influence of big business on beltway politics. Must a producer cast Sherron Watkins in a pushup bra, a la Erin Brockovich?

The flood of Enron books and potential development deals may nevertheless signal a shift in Hollywood’s approach to corporate America.

At Warner Bros., Steven Soderbergh recently began developing an adaptation of “The Informant,” New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald’s account of the price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland. And “John Q,” which offers a ringing indictment of the national health care system, appears to have struck a nerve among filmgoers. And producers of Enron TV and theatrical films can rest assured that the myriad Enron books recently put under contract by publishers guarantees that we’ll be reading about Enron for years to come.

THE INTERNATIONAL LIT MARKET will shift into high gear March 17 when the London Book Fair opens for business. Annual confab generates tens of millions of dollars in rights fees for the publishers and agents who descend on the fair with a list of books they hope will emerge from the crowd and attract international attention.

Scouts and agents are already crowing over a few early candidates, including Donna Tartt’s much anticipated follow-up to “The Secret History.” Tartt’s new novel, tentatively called “The Pledge,” is a Southern gothic thriller about a young girl who attempts to solve the mystery of her brother’s death after he’s found hanging from a tree.

Also attracting attention are “Middlesex,” the new novel from “The Virgin Suicides” author Jeffrey Eugenides; a book on the pilgrims by Nathaniel Philbrick, who won a National Book Award last year for “In the Heart of the Sea”; and “Tete-a-Tete,” a new look at the relationship of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley.

A NUMBER OF PUBLISHERS and film shingles attending the fair have come to depend on rights tracking service Rightscenter to manage the chaos of book information available there.

Rightscenter is a Web application that helps companies share book information — including manuscripts, summaries, rights and contact details — with clients and across departments.

Rightscenter has unveiled a partnership with Publishers Weekly’s Rights Alert — a biweekly newsletter detailing new book deals. Now, subscribers to Rights Alert and Rightscenter get to peek at PW reviews three days before they appear in the magazine.

That could make a difference for Hollywood companies that depend on early reviews. Rightscenter already counts among its Hollywood clients Lightstorm Entertainment, C-2 Pictures, Deep River Prods., Casey Silver Prods., Baltimore/Spring Creek and Scott Rudin Prods.

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