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Disney’s wiggy for piggy bank

In its last days as an AMG subsid, Renaissance, the book division run by Joel Gotler, Alan Nevins and Irv Schwartz, has optioned David Wiesner’s bestselling kids’ tome, “The Three Pigs,” to Disney Feature Animation.

Wiesner’s book is an imaginative retelling of the porcine classic, uniting the three pigs with the Cat and Fiddle and a beneficent dragon in a story that departs from the usual folktale conventions.

The “Pigs” deal was in the works long before the ink dried on the AMG/Firm merger. Under the merger, Renaissance will join the Firm, bringing a list of roughly 50 publishing clients, 200 film clients and 40 literary estates.

It also comes on the heels of other film options and some major publishing deals — including a recent $45 million, four-book deal for Christian novelist Tim Lahaye — that have made Renaissance one of the most quietly profitable areas of AMG, even as AMG’s other management divisions struggled.

Disney sources were unavailable.

BUT AS RENAISSANCE ADJUSTS to its new corporate parents, a major question looms: the fate of AMG’s two top book clients, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton.

Mike Ovitz personally handled Clancy’s film and publishing deals and Crichton’s film deals.

Even if Ovitz doesn’t have a noncompete clause in his exit agreement, most people close to AMG assume he’s leaving the representation business — at least for now.

The possibility lingers that Ovitz could do a one-off deal for either client in an advisory capacity at the Firm, but contrary to a report in Tuesday’s New York Times, sources say, Crichton and Clancy haven’t committed to either Renaissance or the Firm.

Both authors are under multi-book publishing contracts, and Renaissance has sealed up many of Clancy’s foreign rights, so the only major deals left to broker in coming months would be for film rights to their next books. Both are due to deliver major works of fiction later this year.

GOTLER, A VET OF SEVERAL AGENCY MERGERS, nevertheless expects the Firm/Renaissance marriage to be painless.

Among his other clients, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben and David Ambrose are working on books, he says.

Though Jeff Kwatinetz’s entertainment and brand management firm previously had no book division, its efforts to blend management and production by cross-platforming content across different entertainment divisions is a natural extension of what Renaissance sought to do at AMG.

The Firm has a feature division run by Beau Flynn. Like APG, it seeks to develop film and TV projects for the company’s clients. Flynn said he’ll be discriminating about what Renaissance books are set up through his shingle. “If it makes sense, we’ll do it. It can’t just be because it’s a hot book,” he said. But he hopes also to use Renaissance to develop books from other Firm properties and clients.

Renaissance’s practice of selling books to APG was controversial; some competitors claimed APG got preferential treatment.

But Gotler, whose Hollywood sensibility has occasionally put him out of step with the East-coast lit community, says he’s always kept APG at arm’s length. He extols the virtues of selling inhouse, which gives him a wider field and much more control over the process. “For 25 years, I’ve been selling books to strangers,” he said.

It could also be the wave of the future, as the representation business evolves, giving rise to new combinations of production, distribution and rights management companies.

That’s fine with Gotler. “Renaissance is the heir to the two largest literary agencies in California, and (the merger) is not going to change what we do,” he says.

ONE OF THE MORE POPULAR NEW FEATURES of the publishing trade show, Book Expo America, held last weekend at the Javits Center in New York, was the premium placed on the international rights business.

The area reserved for agents and scouts was a luminous space atop the convention hall with panoramic views of the Hudson — compared with cramped, airless basement quarters at Chicago’s McCormick Place last year.

The New York locale was also a boon to foreign publishers who attended the fair in record numbers — a sign of the increasingly fluid relations between American publishers and their foreign partners.

Relations between Hollywood and foreign publishers haven’t always been so good, but there are signs that’s changing. Agents are finding more Hollywood buyers for foreign books, and the growing ranks of international productions have opened producer’s eyes to material outside the usual domestic channels.

UTA is the latest agency to make a major push into the foreign market.

The agency has become the exclusive film and TV agent for Mondadori, Italy’s largest publishing house, with more than 35,000 titles, and leading Italian art publisher Il Saggiatore.

The deal came to UTA through Los Angeles-based writer-producer Stefano Gallini, who’s currently producing the L.A. art world drama “Ringer,” based on the life of 1980s American art forger Anthony Tetro. Gallini’s relationship with Mondadori and Il Saggiatore has given him exclusive access to their catalogs for the past several years.

Most of the titles have never been published in the United States.

“Even in our global media age, there is much wonderful literature undiscovered by American audiences. This is material that filmmakers can sink their teeth into,” said Richard Green, who heads UTA’s book department with Howard Sanders.

Among the first Mondadori and Il Saggiatore titles that UTA is developing is a three-book series about the life of Nostradamus, described as a cross between “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Name of the Rose.”

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