Pub pair pact on projects

Walden Media and Penguin Young Readers have pacted for what is essentially a first-look deal, with the two working together to develop joint book, film and TV properties.

Under the deal, Penguin will share manuscripts and books with Walden for possible film and TV development, while Walden will send to Penguin screenplays that it believes have book potential.

News follows formation of Random House Films, a co-venture between Focus Features and Random House announced last November. Unlike that deal, this arrangement will not involve co-financing or co-production.

Walden prexy Micheal Flaherty said that while the company would be open to receiving financing from Penguin in the future, it will focus initially on the creative aspects of the partnership.

Walden’s plan entails choosing projects that fit with its educational mandate and then shouldering financial risk with studios, a model it pursued with Disney on “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and with New Line on the upcoming “Hoot.”

Walden has had success with books from other houses — “Narnia” is published by HarperCollins, “Hoot” by Knopf — but the company said it felt the need to formalize a deal with one house to secure a steady pipeline of books.

“In looking around for great stories to make into films, we realized how difficult it was to get the rights,” Flaherty said.

Walden has put several Penguin books onto their development slate, including “Heat,” by Mike Lupica; “Jim Thorpe, Original All-American,” by Joseph Bruchac; and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” by Zach Helm.

Walden will also mine Penguin’s backlist where film rights are available.

While the deal could deter other publishers who might work with Walden, Flaherty characterized the pact as “pretty transparent” and said the company will continue to look to work with other houses.

As part of the deal, Walden will be forming a publishing operation out of Gotham. While company is not currently hiring any additional staffers, books acquired under this pact will be published under both Penguin and Walden Media’s imprimatur and marketed by both. Walden’s Deborah Kovacs, currently VP of publishing, will oversee the unit.

Flaherty made the deal with Penguin Group exec veep Doug Whiteman.

Accord is likely to make some agents more willing — and others more reluctant — to submit material to Penguin.

Some are generally skeptical about such partnerships, saying that, like previous synergy projects, they lack teeth.

“The idea of a (studio) getting early information sounds delicious, but it’s rarely going to pan out,” said one book agent with strong Hollywood ties. “It’s not practically feasible — it’s going to cost a lot, and once publishers realize how much they’ll have to pay, they’ll get out pretty quickly.”

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