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Propaganda Buys ‘Sleepers’… Hurt & Wang Reteam

Hollywood is still on a book-buying binge: Screen rights to “Sleepers,” a non-fiction book by Lorenzo Carcaterra, were sold Feb. 16 to Propaganda Films for a total exceeding $2 million if the book makes it to film. The sale ended a three-day auction held by William Morris agents Amy Schiffman and Adam Berkowitz, who sold the screen rights for Carcaterra’s Gotham-based literary agent, Loretta Fidel of the Weingel-Fidel Agency.

Steve Golin, CEO of Propaganda, a division of Polygram, said the film will be a key component in Polygram’s attempt to heighten its presence in film production. “We just loved the book, and we had to have it,” said Golin. “We don’t have the resources to buy a lot of things, but (Polygram) understood this is a huge priority to us.” Golin beat out two other suitors.

“Sleepers,” to be published by Ballantine next January, is an autobiographical story focusing on four youths in Hell’s Kitchen who are sent to a reformatory when a prank they pull goes awry and causes a severe injury. At the institution, the four are sexually and psychologically tortured by four guards. As adults, two become Mafia hit men, another becomes a prosecuting attorney and the fourth a journalist.

When the hit men have a chance encounter in a bar with one of the guards who abused them, they murder him. The attorney prosecutes his old friends, planning to let them get off, with the help of the journalist and other friends from the old neighborhood.

The dark subject matter cooled some buyers to the material, who noted the fate of “The Shawshank Redemption,” a critically lauded film that has failed to become a hit (although a second launch in the wake of its seven Oscar noms is under way).

Golin sees it as more of a “Stand by Me” in Hell’s Kitchen. “I loved ‘Shawshank,’ but this story has more scope to it,” said Golin. “This is a tale about morality, and has an epic scale to it. We want to go after a big filmmaker and a big writer right away. This could be a big movie for 1996 or 1997, when Polygram hopes to step up to bigger movies.”

It’s the second traumatic personal tale that Carcaterra, a former New York Daily News reporter, has turned into a book. His first was “A Safe Place,” a tale of his discovery at age 14 that his father murdered his first wife.

The Propaganda deal includes an opportunity for the author to write an original script, and he has other ideas for books.

“I’ve told my editor that I’ve had a very exciting first 25 years, but it’s been totally boring since then,” said Carcaterra, now 40. “I’ve got two more great stories, one a novel, and then the rest is vacuuming and folding laundry,” joked the author, who’s now raising two children with his wife, People mag’s exec editor Susan Toepfer.

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