Studio to develop film based on June 22 article

Miramax Films has closed a deal to develop a movie from “This Strange Thing Called Prom,” a Brooke Hauser article published in the June 22 edition of the New York Times.

The article follows the prom adventures of high school seniors who came to Brooklyn from locales like Senegal, Venezuela, Tibet, Haiti, Poland and Gabon (one was a nomadic yak herder until age 12).

The experiences of the students, who eagerly looked forward to taking part in their first prom, ranged from magical to miserable.

It is the 15th movie option deal that the Grey Lady has participated in since signing two years ago with ICM’s Todd Hoffman and Chris Silbermann. The goal is to participate financially in film and TV projects that spring from the pages of its newspaper. The paper splits the money with its writers.

Miramax hasn’t attached a producer or writer, and hasn’t bought rights from the kids. It essentially acquired a promising premise, as Paramount and JJ Abrams did recently when they optioned “Mystery on Fifth Avenue,” an article about a house custom-built to include a mystery whose clues were part of the architecture.

In separate deals, Overbrook partners Will Smith and James Lassiter optioned “Supplier Under Scrutiny on Aging Arms for Afghans,” about an investigation into a Miami-based company that won a federal contract to arm Afghanistan’s army and police; Universal and Jack Black optioned “In College Football Big Paydays for Humiliation,” the tale of a college that were paid premiums to send its subpar football team to play powerhouse programs.

The Times also participated in two whopper deals, when Paramount bought “The Fall of the Warrior King” for Stephen Belber to adapt for Tom Cruise, and when Universal spent seven figures in a fierce bidding war to acquire “Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on the Soccer Field” in 2007.

After years of subsidizing articles and then watching writers receive option deals, economically challenged newspapers and magazines are trying to share in those proceeds. The Times is the first publication to be this proactive, but several lit agents said that the Wall Street Journal — which recently became a sister company to the Rupert Murdoch-owned 20th Century Fox — is aiming to share in rights deals that come from its articles.

Like the WSJ, the NYT owns the copyright to newspaper content generated by staffers. The NYT doesn’t usually share in screen sales from its Sunday magazine; while the company now tries to secure those rights in contracts, lit agents of seasoned contributors and high-end writers strike it from the contract, sources said.

Magazines would also like to participate in movie option money, but not without a fight that goes back to Talk Magazine. Launched by Harvey Weinstein with Disney, the mag intended to control screen rights, but backed down when the provision became a deal-breaker for major writers.

Texas Monthly takes a different tack, said longtime writer Skip Hollandsworth, who has had 10 articles optioned, including “The Goree Girls,” a DreamWorks drama that calls for Jennifer Aniston to play a wrongly imprisoned woman who taps her inmates to start one of the first all-girl string bands. The magazine takes about 25%-30% of the option, which Hollandsworth thinks is fair.

“The magazine feels that it gives you a lot of time to write a story, and pays your salary during that time, so if a movie company wants to buy it, the magazine ought to get some of that return, and I’m with them on that,” Hollandsworth said. “Texas Monthly tends to get a higher number of movie options than many places because our editorial policy is oriented toward writing dramatic narrative pieces. But I don’t think they ever see movie options as a profit center, it’s more a pat on the back to the writers.”

Hoffman and Silbermann signed NYT while they were at Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann before that agency got bought by ICM.

The Times keeps a church-state policy that mandates the agents get no heads up when a cinema-friendly piece is going to be published. The agents go to work when the producers and studios start calling.

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