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Mags sag as film material

The Write Stuff

Film producers and editors at glossy magazines often have the same mandate — to deliver sleek, timely storytelling to an audience whose attention span is notoriously short. And plenty of features — everything from “Saturday Night Fever” to “The Insider” to the forthcoming “A Beautiful Mind” first germinated as articles.

Lately though, the Hollywood market for magazine articles has grown sluggish, but it’s still a fairly dependable cottage industry for established writers. It’s also drawn helped put Texas Monthly, a magazine that several years ago signed an overall rights deal with William Morris, on the map in Hollywood.

Madonna’s Maverick Entertainment has just optioned “Queen of the Rodeo,” an article by Texas Monthly writer Pamela Colloff that chronicles four young contestants in Llano, Tex. who compete for the title of Rodeo Queen.

“Queen” will be produced by Maverick producer Gary Ventimiglia.

It’s the fourth article by Colloff, a National Magazine Award nominee, that William Morris’s L.A. office has placed this year.

Though “Queen of the Rodeo” is slated to be a feature, ICM’s Ron Bernstein says these days, more magazine articles go to TV and cable then to the studios — he’s placed six articles with TV producers in the last few months, but says the market has turned 180 degrees from the days when lit agents “were selling anything that wasn’t nailed down.”

Bernstein attributes this trend to a sharper interest in topical fare among TV producers, and to a diminishing interest in more challenging literary fare at the studios.

“We’re in a classic dumb-down period,” says Bernstein. “We have a dumbed-down president and dumbed-downed movies. The movies are intended for kids and they’re visual and not about language.”

A studio executive who insisted on anonymity had another reason for the slowdown: “With the strike looming over this past year, people tended to buy things that were already scripted, rather than acquiring magazine articles that would then have to be developed before they could be greenlit.”

That hasn’t prevented agents from circulating proposals based on magazine stories in recent weeks, among them “Medicine Man,” a story by Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Ed Humes about a successful, mormon scientist who was secretly selling deadly germs to international terrorists. Humes is repped by WMA’s Bill Contardi. And last week, HarperCollins bought a book based on Eric Konigsberg’s recent New Yorker profile of his uncle, an imprisoned Mafia hitman. Konigsberg has written a treatment based on the story and is shopping it with independent producer Tad Floridis.

THE POKEY LITTLE PUPPY and the Saggy Baggy Elephant will be back in court Wednesday as the bankruptcy auction for Golden Books enters its latest and perhaps final stage.

Media congloms Random House and DIC have tendered bids for the Children’s media company each worth some $80 million each. Both companies have partners in their bids: Random is joined by Classic Media, a company backed by Frank Biondi. DIC’s bid is backed by close to $40 million from HarperCollins.

Controversy has swirled around the auction, which promises to land Golden Books topper Richard Snyder a substantial seven-figure payout, despite the fact that he steered the company into bankruptcy.

That payout also comes in the face of charges, leveled by a union representing some Golden Books employees, that retirees’ medical benefits would not be covered under the bid from Random House and Classic Media.

That can’t have sat well with Random House parent company Bertelsmann, a company that prides itself on a corporate culture that’s far more democratic.

Random House filed court papers earlier this week to correct the problem. “Golden’s retirees will be assured continuity in their medical benefits,” said Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum. “We’ve also addressed present Golden Books employees who will continue at Golden for a transitional period should we become owners of the company.”

SINCE THE RE-RELEASE of “The Exorcist” last year grossed more than $100 million around the world, Warner Bros. has come to appreciate the horror franchise with renewed vigor. A fourth installment is now casting with John Frankenheimer at the helm, and according to an Aug. 11 dispatch from E! Online, the script has the blessing of William Blatty, author of both the screenplay and the novel that served as the basis for the original “Exorcist” in 1973.

But Blatty finds that claim about as welcome as a face full of split-pea soup.

The screenplay of the fourth “Exorcist” — a prequel portraying Father Merrin’s first show-down with the devil while serving as a missionary in Africa – has passed through several hands. William Wisher (“Terminator 2”) wrote the first draft; the script was later reworked by bestselling novelist Caleb Carr.

Blatty found both variations objectionable. The exorcism scene in Wisher’s draft, he says, “would have been the funniest thing onscreen since ‘The Producers.'” Carr’s version is simply “boring,” according to Blatty.

How Blatty’s phantom endorsement made its way onto E! Online is open to dispute. A source at the news outlet says reporter Josh Grossberg was paraphrasing the pic’s exec producer, Morgan Creek’s Jonathan A. Zimbert. Zimbert says his actual quote was, “it’s my hope that (Blatty) will bless the endeavor.”

That’s not likely to happen. “I don’t like people playing with one of my very central characters,” says Blatty. “It does not have my blessing. Far from it.”

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