Michael Crichton is involved in rewriting several records this week. As the screen version of his novel “Jurassic Park” continues to smash box office records, Crichton’s new Knopf novel about sexual harassment, untitled and unpublished, was purchased Monday by Warner Bros. for a record sum close to $ 3. 5 million.
The deal breakdown is $ 2.5 million for the book, $ 500,000 for a producer fee and another $ 500,-000 for bonuses based on such things as book sales, plus more backend potential. That total dwarfs the last book record, the $ 2.5 million paid by WB for John Grisham’s “The Client,” and far outpaces the $ 2 million Crichton got for “Jurassic Park.”
As is often the case with screen deals involving record numbers, nobody wanted to speak on the record about Crichton’s cash convergence.
Though Bruce Berman, Warner Bros. Pictures president of worldwide production, claims that price is too high, he acknowledged his studio wanted the project badly enough to pay an exorbitant sum.
“We love the book, and we thought it could make a great movie,” Berman said. “Knowing how competitive the marketplace was going to be on this material and this author, we were very aggressive in our attempts to acquireit, and we were successful.”
WB also contended heavily for “Jurassic Park,” offering Tim Burton as director. Crichton, however, chose U and Steven Spielberg.
Manuscripts were given to the heads of each studio for a speed read last Friday by Crichton’s agents, Bob Bookman and Brian Wimer of Creative Artists Agency.
According to sources, the auction was over as quickly as that battle between the sleazy lawyer and the Tyrannosaurus Rex in “Jurassic.”
Unlike “Jurassic,” which went out with the $ 2 million price tag, no floor was mentioned. But Warner Bros. quickly blew rivals such as TriStar, Fox and Universal out of the water with a bid no one would touch, sources say.
WB didn’t immediately have a director attached. “We’re thinking about directors now, and so is Mr. Crichton,” Berman said.
The “Jurassic” sale included Crichton’s first draft of the script, but this time Crichton’s leaving the scripting to someone else while he works on a new novel.
But he’ll surely have more control over this film than any since he stopped directing. He’s attached as producer, so the 6-foot, 8-inch, Harvard-educated former physician will likely get a chance to doctor whatever the scriptwriter turns in.
The deal calls for mutual agreement between Crichton and WB on scripter and director. Control became a high priority for him because of his unhappiness with how his other recent best seller, “Rising Sun” was transformed by director Philip Kaufman.
Crichton got approximately $ 750,000 for “Sun,” plus another $ 500,000 to write the script. But his first draft was changed dramatically by Kaufman. That Fox film bows July 30.
Berman seemed enthusiastic about including Crichton in the process. “There’s no problem as far as I can see. He comes up with great ideas for movies, he’s written screenplays, he’s directed, he’s written great novels. I look forward to a working relationship with him.”
The new book isn’t set in a newsroom, as widely rumored. The story actually unfolds in the headquarters of a high-tech company located in Seattle.
A small cutting-edge company is merging with a large one, and the protagonist , Tom, is hoping for a veep post in the newly configured company.
That job goes to Meredith, a 35-year-old female exec who’s mentored by the head of the large corporation and was formerly Tom’s lover. The former lovers meet, and, after a near romantic linkup in the workplace, Tom finds he’s been hit with sexual harassment charges. The story then becomes a series of back-stabbing and corporate cat-and-mouse games that endanger the corporate merger.
While this hardly sounds as photogenic as “Jurassic,” the book has sex appeal , but the real lure is Crichton’s use of virtual reality, which becomes a key plot element.
It is much closer to “Rising Sun” than “Jurassic,” since it’s a polemic wrapped around a thriller. In much the same way that Crichton’s feelings about Japanese investments in the U.S. caused controversy for “Sun,” his views on how a female exec uses sexual harassment as a weapon should also create controversy.
WB’s last association with Crichton was on “The Terminal Man,” which was based on his novel.