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Stiefel, Phillips buy ‘Midnight’ film rights

A fact-based novel about a Georgia murder that has captivated Southern readers has been optioned by producers Arnold Stiefel and Randy Phillips in a deal that could garner Manhattan-based writer John Berendt upward of $ 500,000.

Contrary to published reports earlier this week, the deal for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story” will bring scribbler Berendt considerably more than the mid-five-figure sum that the producers reportedly paid as an option.

Sources close to the deal said Stiefel and Phillips offered the five-figure option payment against a purchase price that would include bestseller “escalators,” which could take the figure up to $ 500,000.

The book, which is set in Savannah, Ga., chronicles a shooting and four subsequent murder trials. Along the way, it explores the history and Southern charm of its antebellum locale, complete with a cast of high-class eccentrics, low-lifes and faded aristocrats.

Stiefel, an exec producer on “About Last Night,””That Was Then, This Is Now” and a producer of “Stop Making Sense,” has been managing Rod Stewart, Morrissey and Patty Smyth for a few years. He said the project would be his re-entry into film producing.

Stiefel said the price paid for the book will ultimately depend on placement on the New York Times bestseller list. He added that since the tome was about to join the Times list on March 13 at the No. 9 position, the book would likely earn Berendt the full $ 500,000 amount.

“The likelihood that it will happen is pretty good,” Stiefel said.

The deal went through Stiefel Phillips Entertainment production and development veepee Anita Zuckerman, who originally found the book.

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