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This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
You likely will never hear a book scout thanked during an Oscar or Emmy speech. But these New York-based literary sleuths are on the front lines in a key creative battle: identifying and helping reel in the next big property that can be adapted for film and television. Few studios have in-house book scouts (20th Century Fox’s Drew Reed and Sony’s Ryan Doherty are notable exceptions), so most rely on a small clique of independent literary consultants whose job is to canvass the landscape and chase down books (as early as the proposal form), newspaper and magazine articles and now even blogs and Twitter feeds. With such literary franchises as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the books that became the Game of Thrones TV series generating billions in revenues for Hollywood, it’s no surprise that there’s an increased focus on New York’s publishing world. And considering that some of Hollywood’s most profitable films of 2014 — Gone Girl ($368 million worldwide) and The Fault in Our Stars ($307 million worldwide) — started as must-read manuscripts, the book scouting business only has become more necessary.
At the same time, the explosion of original series in cable television and streaming services — by some measures, about 300 new series will launch worldwide this year — has upped the ante for original source material. “Getting early access to and acquiring books is a competitive business for studios, production companies, financiers and producers because really great literary source material that lends itself to film or TV adaptation is rare,” says one leading scout, Maximum Films & Management’s Marcy Drogin.
Though Reed and Doherty are on staff at their respective studios, book scouts typically are paid as consultants by their high-profile Hollywood clients. Unlike agents, they do not spark bidding wars, but book scouts do frequently engage in battles with their brethren to get a first look at a hot literary property. Still, the community of New York book scouts “is shockingly civil and supportive” compared to its Hollywood script counterpart, says Wheelhouse Films president Erik Palma. There are more than a dozen book scouts working on behalf of film and TV studios as well as production companies and financiers. THR brought together six of the very best who handle some of the most aggressive buyers.
Drew Reed | Senior Literary Consultant, Fox
Biggest Gets: Gone Girl (“When we realized the deal hadn’t closed at Universal … [Fox’s] Emma Watts made a phenomenally fast and aggressive move to land it”) and The Devil Wears Prada.
Books Read Per Week: “Easily five to six. More on weekends.”
How I Got Into the Business: “My mother was a children’s librarian; my father was a film buff. It was the perfect marriage of the two worlds.”
How I Read: “Hard copy or on my iPad, which was gifted to me by producer John Davis, who gave me my first job.”
Jayne Pliner | JP Literary
Hot Clients: Paramount, Imagine Entertainment, Color Force, Walden Media
Biggest Get: The Da Vinci Code. “I was scouting for Imagine and Columbia Pictures. What a thrill seeing a marriage between two companies.”
Where I Find Material: “Book fairs are really about networking with agents and editors. If I’m doing my job right, I already know going in what the big books are. Book Expo [in New York] is a good place to meet and greet, Bologna [Book Fair] is the place to be for children’s publishing, and Frankfurt is the granddaddy of international rights fairs. The London Book Fair has become the go-to event for … the kinds of quality commercial books my clients are looking for.”
Maria Campbell | Maria B. Campbell Associates
Hot Clients: Warner Bros. film and TV
Biggest Get: Michael Crichton‘s Jurassic Park for Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin.
How I Got Into the Business: “I grew up in Italy and New York with Italian as my first language and was educated in Paris. Books were my first love and continue to be my everything. I first worked for Italian publisher Mondadori and then started my own company in 1987. Amblin was my first film client.”
Can’t-Miss Book Fairs: “London Book Fair. Frankfurt Book Fair. I sometimes attend local writers’ festivals and book fairs in Italy, Brazil, Mexico and France.”
Marcy Drogin | Maximum Films & Management
Hot Clients: DreamWorks, Illumination, RatPac, NBC TV
Biggest Gets: Paula Hawkins‘ The Girl on the Train for DreamWorks; Donna Tartt‘s The Goldfinch for RatPac; M.L. Stedman‘s The Light Between Oceans for DreamWorks (Michael Fassbender stars in the upcoming drama).
Craziest Thing I’ve Done to Get a Book to a Client: “Back in the day, when there were only hard copies of manuscripts, I literally flew across the country to hand-deliver a hot book.”
Hot Trend: “In YA, grounded, realistic fiction. For adults, psychological thrillers with unreliable female narrators.”
Erik Palma | Wheelhouse Films
Hot Clients: Jerry Bruckheimer, A&E, Escape Artists
Biggest Get: Legally Blonde. “The book needed a lot of work but it had the bones of a story and an incredible title.”
Hot Trend: “The explosion of TV in the last few years. It has increased the outlets for literary content exponentially.”
Craziest Thing I’ve Done to Get a Book to a Client: “I will never forget the hysteria surrounding the partial manuscript of The Horse Whisperer and how I had to stand over a glitchy fax machine to make sure my colleagues in L.A. got every page.”
John Delaney | John Delaney Literary Consulting
Hot Client: HBO
Biggest Get: Ryan Gattis‘ All Involved, a crime novel set in South Central Los Angeles in the ’90s that HBO is developing as a series in the vein of The Wire.
How I Got Into the Business: “My first job was in Scott Rudin‘s office in development. It was the best introduction possible. It was very theater-and-book-centric, and the caliber of material Scott was developing was fantastic.”
How I Read: “I like my Kindle for convenience but I feel like I’m faster reading a printed manuscript or a galley.”
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