Random harvest

Book giant, Focus open page to pic partnership via lit adaptations

Random House and Focus Features have created a landmark partnership to co-produce and co-finance a slate of films under a new production entity, Random House Films.

Under the multiyear deal, forged by Focus Features prexies James Schamus and David Linde and Random House CEO Peter Olson, the publishing giant will invest a substantial sum in film production, co-financing an as-yet-unspecified number of book-to-film projects.

Random House is a unit of Bertelsmann and the world’s largest publisher, responsible for close to one-quarter of America’s consumer book market.

Film projects under the deal are likely to come from both upcoming titles and books in Random’s extensive backlist catalog. They will include adult, children’s, young-adult and inspirational titles for which motion picture rights are available from Random’s numerous imprints.

Prexy of Random House Films is Peter Gethers, a longtime Random House editor, novelist and screenwriter and one of the few book editors with credentials in both the publishing and film worlds.

Focus Features, a unit of NBC Universal, has long had a robust appetite for literary adaptations, including “The Constant Gardener,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Pride and Prejudice,” all in theaters this fall.

Deal will provide Focus Features and its genre arm Rogue Pictures with a fresh source of material and production coin.

Under the deal, Random House and Focus Features will work together to develop script, production, marketing and publicity for their joint projects. Pics will be jointly owned, with Focus controlling worldwide distribution and sales.

The creation of a literary pipeline connecting a film unit to the nation’s top book publisher is an unorthodox idea that upends long-entrenched publishing conventions.

Major commercial publishers have traditionally held the Hollywood studios — even their own corporate siblings — at arm’s length, limiting their collaborations to tie-in editions for hit shows and movies.

It remains unclear how many titles would be subject to the joint arrangement, since in many cases film rights are retained by literary agents and sold off separately.

Move could exacerbate tension with agents and scouts, who expressed skepticism about the partnership on Wednesday.

Some pointed out that if manuscripts are sent along to a film studio while they are still under submission for book rights, it would violate an unspoken rule against leaked manuscripts.

The arrangement would go far beyond the synergies at congloms that already have book and film units under their corporate umbrellas, such as those at Viacom (Paramount and Simon & Schuster) and News Corp. (20th Century Fox and HarperCollins). Cooperation between those divisions is usually informal.

Other publishing houses have tried joint film-book arrangements before, but none have been as wide-ranging as this one purports to be.

Miramax set up a book unit several years ago to jointly acquire book and film rights. HarperCollins imprint ReganBooks sometimes acquires both film and literary rights.

But both of those lists are microscopic compared to that of Random House.

Random House encompasses such publishing imprints as Doubleday, Knopf and Crown as well as Random House. It controls Stateside rights to many bestsellers, from “The Da Vinci Code” to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” with adaptations of both in production at Sony Pictures.

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