Sony snags rights to 'Familiars'

Upcoming children's fantasy book series generating buzz

In a low- to mid-seven-figure deal, Sony Pictures Animation has picked up the rights to "The Familiars," an upcoming children's fantasy book series written by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson.

Sam Raimi and Josh Donen are in negotiations to produce via their Stars Road Entertainment banner. Epstein and Jacobson also will write the script.

The writers pitched the idea to their reps at UTA and H2F Entertainment, who believed -- given the current marketplace that favors having an IP like a comic book or book behind a project -- that going the book route would be better than simply going out with a pitch. The approach also would give the duo an opportunity to make tracks as novelists.

The writers' literary agent, Markus Hoffmann of Regal Literary, submitted a partial manuscript plus a detailed chapter outline for the first book as well as short synopses for the second and third volumes during the Book¬Expo America convention, where HarperCollins Children's pre-emptively acquired North American rights to the series in a six-figure deal.

The series is said to offer a franchise set in a compelling world rich in detail. The first book follows three young wizard apprentices who, after being whisked away to an evil kingdom by a nefarious queen, must rely on their animal companions -- an alley cat, a blue jay and a tree frog -- to escape.

UTA and H2F wanted to wait for the books to reach the galley stage before selling the movie rights, but the buzz generated from the book deal attracted Hollywood execs including Alexa Amin, vp development at Sony Pictures Animation. Amin brought the books to company president Hannah Minghella.

At the same time, the scribes had shown the book proposal to Stars Road exec Russell Hollander, with whom they were working on "The Transplants," an action-adventure project that Stars Road set up last year at Disney.

Hollander, who will be an exec producer for "Familiars," brought the project to Raimi. Stars Road's Ben Cook will be working on the project.

Epstein and Jacobson, who directed and co-wrote Dimension's "Extreme Movie," starring Michael Cera, are about to turn in their first "Transplants" draft to Disney.