1965: Predicting a "New Bull Market for Stories" to Screen

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1996's 'Who's Afraid Virginia Woolf'

A "million-dollar price tag on top properties will be common."

Fifty years ago today, on Nov. 10, 1965, The Hollywood Reporter published a front page story noting an "increasing shortage of top literary properties" to adapt for film. The article based its observations in part on the assertions of notable literary agent H.N. Swanson, who listed several factors at play in the market. The original article:

The continuing and increasing shortage of top literary properties suitable for adaptation as major motion pictures is bringing about a new bull market for screen material, with the result that a few years from now Hollywood will regard what was paid for My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf as comparative bargains. So says H.N. Swanson, whose literary agency for years has been a leader in selling properties and handling writers for motion pictures and TV. 

Industry conditions — the supply and demand situation — and producers themselves are giving a steady and continuous push to prices in the story market, Swanson declares. He cites: (a) shrinkage in floating supply of material, (b) almost nonexistent output of original screenplays, (c) fewer fiction magazines being published, (d) practical disappearance of the market for short stories, (e) fewer Broadway plays due to greatly increased legit production costs, (f) increased competition for stories by European producers — who often outbid Hollywood offers.

It all boils down to the competition for material of real merit being so enormous that million-dollar story tags soon will become a common thing, says Swanson, and on top of this a lot of big-name writers who don't need the money are holding back their properties for the higher prices they see ahead. 

In the old days, studios would acquire every good story they could, then decide later who would produce it, direct it, do the screenplay and star in it. Today, with no big roster of talent under contract, they buy more selectively, usually when they have a commitment with a star who wants a particular story, and thus the owners of literary properties are in better bargaining position. 

High salaries and percentages paid to stars also have been an influence on writers, Swanson notes. Studios willing to pay $1 million to an actor also should recognize that an author's bestseller title has equal box office value, he says. 

Agents are willing to gamble with studios, Swanson adds, by suggesting a base price plus so much for each week a book is on the bestseller list or for each profitable week on Broadway. 

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