Newcomers conjure up deal for fantasy pic

A producer and financier who’ve made no films have paid a fortune to secure screen rights to “Shadowmancer,” a fantasy novel that has drawn comparisons to the “Harry Potter” series.

Lisa Marie Butkiewicz and financier Steve Delaportas confirmed they’ve secured movie rights by paying British author G.P. Taylor nearly $1 million upfront against a potential purchase price of $6.2 million if the film has a tentpole-sized budget.

Taylor, an Episcopalian vicar, will also get 15% of merchandising proceeds. They will produce the film through Fortitude Films, their newly formed production shingle.

Deal is the latest chapter in the unlikely “Shadowmancer” saga. Taylor is a former punk rock promoter-turned-policeman-turned-vicar who presides over St. Mary’s Church on the Yorkshire coast, some 300 miles north of London. When an injury shelved his golf game, Taylor wrote an 18th-century ghost story about three children’s battle against an evil vicar out to control the world who has the ability to enlist the dead as his forces.

The vicar sold his Harley for $6,000 to fund a self-published first printing, and after his parishioners bought copies the word spread about the tale and its religious and spiritual symbolism. Taylor soon had a British publisher and a runaway bestseller.

He got a $500,000 advance from Putnam for U.S. rights, with a 250,000 first printing to be published in April. After rebuffing several film overtures, Taylor succumbed to a cold call from Butkiewicz, who’d read about the book in a Christian magazine. Her passion, plus the promise of a big check, won the title.

“She had a limited track record, but she had fire in the belly and told me what the heart of the book was in five sentences,” Taylor said. “I told her what I wanted and that I’d make the deal if she could raise that money.

“I guess it was a risk, but ‘Shadowmancer’ has always helped people out. My parishioners who paid $10 for that first printing are selling those copies for $4,000 apiece now. I’ve taken a high-six figure advance, for tax reasons, but I’ll make $4 million if the film costs $50 million.

“I studied J.K. Rowling’s deal and felt she hadn’t earned what she could because she was not properly covered on merchandising. So I trademarked ‘Shadowmancer’ and the characters and will get 15%. I may be a priest, I may be a Christian, but I am not a fool and wasn’t going to give this away. I’ve already done well enough to hang up the dog collar, but I won’t, of course.”

Butkiewicz found the money through Delaportas, a venture capitalist whose group does everything from fix ailing businesses to own hotels and restaurants. Delaportas was vague about where his group’s holdings or where its funding comes from.

In any case, he had the resources to become the latest entrepreneur making a big bet on Hollywood. Delaportas had considered other projects Butkiewicz had brought, but he and his group dropped everything when she showed up with “Shadowmancer.”

“We’re putting everything we have behind doing this movie the right way,” he said. “If we chose to, we could take it all the way to production, but the key right now is translating this phenomenal story.”

Butkiewicz said they are still figuring out whether to align with a distributor, as they look for an A-list writer to draft the tale.

“I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime property, a potential tentpole project,” she said.

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