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Amazon Studios may have found its space opera.
In a competitive situation with multiple production companies bidding, Amazon has acquired the global television rights to adapt Consider Phlebas, the first book in author Iain M. Banks’ so-called Culture series. Amazon will partner with writer Dennis Kelly (Utopia) and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, which will produce the potential series, with the estate of the late author set to executive produce. The drama has received a sizable script-to-series commitment, meaning should the script come in well, it would be ordered straight to series. (Or Amazon would have to pay a sizable fee if it passed on the project.)
Here’s how Amazon describes Consider Phlebas: “a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas. The book draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy. The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture “Mind,” an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human — something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks’ trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it.”
Sources tell THR that several big-name producers sought to option the Culture series, which consists of 10 books that were released between 1987 and 2012. Ultimately, Banks’ estate said yes to Amazon, in a deal that was led by current head of scripted Sharon Tal Yguado. (Banks died in 2013.)
“The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen,” Yguado said. “We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebas into a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come.”
Consider Phlebas arrives as Amazon has been on a mission — a mandate from CEO Jeff Bezos — to find its Game of Thrones. The streamer has since spent $250 million on global rights to a Lord of the Rings TV series in a deal with the J.R.R. Tolkien estate that started with outreach from ousted head Roy Price but ultimately was sealed by Yguado. Other genre plays at Amazon have included Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Boys and Ringworld, among others.
“Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humor and humanism shines through these novels,” Kelly said. “Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for — rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning.”
For Plan B, Consider Phlebas marks the company’s latest TV foray following FX’s Feud and Starz’s upcoming Sweetbitter. On the film side, the company’s slate includes World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, The Big Short and Moonlight.
“We revere the work of Iain Banks and continue to be moved by his inimitable spirit and his commitment to imagining a better future even in the darkest of times,” the company said in a statement. “Consider Phlebas simultaneously explores the deepest questions concerning humanity and our future. We are so grateful to the estate of Iain Banks for the opportunity to bring his work to life, and to Amazon for the scope of their ambition to building Iain’s prescient world.”
The series arrives a week after Amazon tapped NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke to serve as its head of content, replacing Price. In the interim, Yguado has been serving as head of content during the months-long search for a new exec during Bezos‘ mandate to find big, broad and global hits. Yguado has done that with Lord of the Rings, among other projects, while also cleaning house of niche comedies like I Love Dick and passing on a handful of comedy pilots.
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