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FilmFour gets the ‘Blues’

The Write Stuff

THE HOLLYWOOD BOOK trade is no longer the boffo free-for-all it used to be, but two cultural trends continue to propel it: the unquenchable European thirst for American crime fiction and the newly robust American market for British romantic dramedy.

Witness these big-money, transatlantic deals:

FilmFour has optioned “Tishomingo Blues,” the latest Southern-fried crime romp by Elmore Leonard, in a deal that could be worth more than $1 million if the film is made. And Miramax is in final talks to pay seven figures to buy outright “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” a novel by Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson.

“Tishomingo Blues,” the company’s first Stateside development deal inked under the watch of L.A.-based senior veep of production Rebecca Yeldham, marks a drive into American production by FilmFour. Pic, to be shot in the U.S. on a budget of $15 million to $20 million, which Yeldham said “signifies, more than any project that we’ve gotten into, the extent to which we’re committed to upping the ante in our talent relations and in the scale and caliber of projects we’re doing in the U.S.”

“Blues” is about a carnival high-diver in Mississippi who stumbles into a Dixie Mafia turf war. The story culminates, in Leonard’s typical madcap fashion, in a Civil War battle reenactment. “This is the book I’ve had the most fun writing,” says Leonard, who called his talks with Film Four “as promising a starting point as I’ve ever had” in producing a movie.

That’s high praise from Leonard, who may be the most oft-optioned writer in Hollywood. Nineteen of Leonard’s 37 books through “Blues” — dating back to his 1950s Westerns, which became star vehicles for Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood — have been produced. Of the remaining 19, all but four are under option.

In a first for Leonard, he’ll produce “Blues,” along with Michael Siegel of Michael Siegel and Associates, who negotiated his deal. Film Four has described Leonard as its “full creative partner on the project.”

Leonard has taken exec producer credits on projects like “Jackie Brown” and “Be Cool,” the “Get Shorty” sequel currently set up at MGM. This time, FilmFour CEO Paul Webster will exec produce, with Yeldham on board as co-producer.

Leonard, who turns 76 in November, is also enjoying the latest twist in what’s become a decadelong publishing renaissance. “Blues” is the first novel Leonard will publish with HarperCollins as part of a massive book deal worth close to eight figures that sent Leonard’s entire backlist and two future books to HarperCollins, where they will appear for the first time under one colophon, in a series art-directed by book-jacket guru Chip Kidd.

FilmFour, now enjoying the Stateside spoils of the slick U.K. crime caper, “Sexy Beast,” is Leonard, who in Siegel’s words, “has a style, a language and attitude that’s quintessential American,” will appeal internationally.

That’s a safe bet, given that crime fiction like Leonard’s is as robust a cultural export as the Western, American jazz or that quintessential English commodity — sharp-tongued romantic dramas and comedy, which have lately gained a far greater currency in Hollywood thanks to such pics as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

In the wake of Bridgetmania, Miramax is investing in the tartly observed travails of another London woman beleagured by the competing demands of relationships, jobs and family — “I Don’t Know How She Does It: A Comedy About Failure; A Tragedy About Success” by Allison Pearson.

The novel, acquired a few months back by Knopf for a substantial six-figure advance, follows a successful woman working in finance in London, who struggles to balance her career with her desire to be a good mother and her guilt about not being with her children. Pearson, who writes for both the Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard, is also the spouse of New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane. Her editor at Knopf is Jordan Pavlin.

Though Miramax has effectively taken the book off the market, several other film companies have been pursuing the book and Richard Heller, Pearson’s attorney at Frankfurt, Garbis, Klein and Selz, declined Tuesday to confirm the deal.

Representing Miramax in the negotiations are Stuart Ford, senior veep of acquisitions and international operations, and Isabel Begg, head of Miramax U.K. business and legal affairs. It’s expected that Julie Goldstein, exec veep of production and development, and Allon Reich, head of Miramax U.K., will oversee the project, reporting to production prexy Meryl Poster.

Why U.K. writers have lately cornered the market on the genre is a question rooted deeper in the culture than the latest spate of Hollywood book deals. But as one editor puts it, “Americans don’t have as light a touch with wit or emotion.”

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