Hollywood raids Chicken House

First J.K. Rowling, then Cornelia Funke. British publisher Barry Cunningham doesn’t have a bad track record at discovering bestselling children’s storytellers. That’s why both New Line Cinema and Miramax Films are now courting him for a unique first-look deal covering the movie, TV and stage rights to all the books he puts out under his Chicken House imprint.

Cunningham plucked Rowling’s first “Harry Potter” manuscript out of the slush pile when he worked at Bloomsbury. He left to launch Chicken House in 2000, a boutique based in rural Somerset specializing in new writers and handling just 20 titles a year. Unusually, Cunningham not only publishes the books (with his own label deal in the U.S. via Scholastic), but also negotiates film and TV deals on behalf of his authors.

He started to attract serious Hollywood attention last year when his German writer Funke hit the American bestseller lists with “Inkheart” and “The Thief Lord.” New Line heads the list of studios in hot pursuit of the rights to “Inkheart,” while Warner’s international arm is backing a European movie adaptation of “The Thief Lord.”

The buzz around “Inkheart” prompted Harvey Weinstein to send a car all the way to Somerset to fetch Cunningham to a meeting in London, at which the possibility of a long-term relationship was first broached.

“I’d love to find a way we can exploit our book talent in other media,” Cunningham says. “Miramax has been very interested, but we haven’t concluded a deal yet. You hear a lot of stories about Harvey Weinstein, but I had a great meeting with him. I found him full of energy about books and, well, life.”

Meanwhile, New Line is expected to make Cunningham a firm offer of an overall deal this week. “It’s interesting that these companies are interested in people like us, because we’re not mainstream,” he says. “I guess there’s so much attention on children’s and family entertainment now.”

Loach slices “Bread”

“Bread and Roses” was one of Ken Loach’s least acclaimed movies of recent years, so the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for him to deliver a director’s cut. But he has done it anyway.

This new version of his four-year-old pic about the Justice for Janitors movement in Los Angeles, starring Adrien Brody, will be unveiled this month at the American Film Market by sales outfit the Works.

Although director’s cuts are usually longer, this one actually runs 16 minutes shorter than the original, which got lukewarm reviews at Cannes in 2000. Loach always felt that he botched the pic first time around, so when the cutting copy came back into his hands while he was editing his latest movie “Ae Fond Kiss,” he couldn’t resist having another stab at it.

“It just plays so much better now,” Loach says ruefully. “I’m kicking myself up and down Wardour Street that I didn’t see it sooner.”

Interestingly, given that the most common criticism of Loach’s work is that his political didacticism sometimes overwhelms his dramatic instincts, this is precisely the fault he has sought to rectify in “Bread and Roses,” the only American movie he has ever made.

“When you work outside your own culture, it’s less easy to distinguish between the things that drive the drama, and the things that are interesting but are more suitable for a documentary,” he confesses.

“With ‘Bread and Roses’ we were working with real people who were part of the Justice for Janitors campaign,” explains his producer Rebecca O’Brien. “At the time, we felt that if we cut it very hard, we might not get the full extent of their contribution across. This time it is more of a cinematic cut.”

Loach and O’Brien are hoping that distribs who own rights to the original, such as Lion’s Gate in the U.S., will want to take this version for any future DVD release or TV transmission. They would also like the British Council to include this cut in its roving Loach retrospective.

“There are two or three of my old films that I’d like to recut,” Loach says wistfully. “This is just the one I could get my hands on. I knew there was a better film in there than we actually made.”

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