Hollywood's 25 Most Powerful Authors
“It’s been a roller coaster,” says James of the year she’s had since she got the first inquiry from a film agent in December 2011 about her Twilight-fanfiction-turned-novel Fifty Shades of Grey and “nearly fell out of my chair.” At that point available only from a small Australian e-book publisher, the book has become the publishing story of 2012. After a New York Times article depicted the novel as “mommy porn,” an intense bidding war for the book rights — won by Knopf/Vintage for seven figures — and an even more intense war for movie rights — won by Focus for $5 million — sparked further interest, transforming the series into a worldwide phenomenon. James’ earnings from the trilogy so far? At least $60 million. The movie adaptation is now one of the most buzzed-about properties in Hollywood, and James drew scrutiny for the demands she made as a first-time author in exchange for the film rights — insisting on approval of everything from the director and screenwriter to the costumes and locations. “I’ve worked in TV all my life, but I’ve always wanted to work in movies,” says James. So far, she has teamed with The Social Network producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, and they’ve selected Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) to pen the script. De Luca won James over with his take on the book. “He said, ‘This is about first love,’ ” she says. “I hadn’t thought about it quite like that.” She has heard the clamoring for a fourth book and says it’s “in the back of her mind.” Next up, she is reworking two novels, both “passionate love stories” she wrote before Fifty Shades. Meanwhile, she and her family — husband Niall Leonard, a screenwriter, and their two teen sons — still live in the same house in a quiet neighborhood in London. “It’s been such a nerve-racking experience — you don’t anticipate this type of success at all,” says James. “I make conscious decisions to say ‘Where am I? What am I doing now? What now? This is amazing.’ ”
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