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Writers Strike: New York Goes Boom

July 31, 1988|STACY JENEL-SMITH

The Writers Guild strike may be bad news for Hollywood, but not for the New York publishing biz. It's busy handling the literary pursuits pouring in from strikebound film and TV writers.

Such as:

"L.A. Law" co-creator Terry Louise-Fisher, whose development deal at Disney is strike-stalled, is writing a novel about a female attorney who specializes in entertainment industry law. "She would never have had the time to think about it if it hadn't been for the strike," noted literary agent Arthur Pine, who boasted that publishers are "already lining up" to buy the yet-untitled tome.

E.P. Dutton just bought an as-yet-untitled novel from Hollywood TV writer Rick Mitz, on the basis of two chapters and an outline. Mitz, who's never written a novel before, started the project just last month. Reported Dutton Editor-in-Chief Joyce Engelson, "There are many, many very talented screenwriters who've dusted off that novel in the bottom drawer--the book they always wanted to write but probably wouldn't have otherwise because it's potentially less remunerative. We're seeing a lot of those."

Simon & Schuster Editor-in-Chief Michael Korda related that as a result of the strike, Joan Collins has been pouring her energies into fiction writing. She's in the South of France, where "she is well into her second novel," Korda said.

Next month S&S is bringing out Collins' first fiction effort, "Prime Time."

The strike also accounts for a jump in business between publishers and studio and production company executives. Or, as New American Library Vice President Maureen Baron put it: "Hollywood is actually cordial these days. Everyone is available."

Executives in charge of development--including Alex Siskin of Ron Howard's Amblin Entertainment, Sarah Colleton of 20th Century Fox and Pam Bottaro of Aaron Spelling Productions--have also headed to NYC to do the rounds of meetings with publishers.

Other producing entities have ventured into the publishing world with less noble goals in mind.

"Sneaky things have been going on with Hollywood people trying to get our authors to scab-write scripts," said the editor of a top publishing house.

"In two instances, producers called our writers directly--that is, they didn't go through us or their agents--trying to make deals. The writers, of course, turned to us and we had to explain the ramifications of taking this work." Ultimately, she said, "they turned it down."

Another publishing executive reported witnessing widespread attempts to secure scab-writing services at the recent American Book Assn. convention in Anaheim.

Lynn Hendee, Chartoff Productions vice president for development, said the strike has made Manhattan unusually active this summer for Hollywood deals.

Instead of sitting around waiting for the scriptwriters to come back to work, Hendee spent the past five weeks in NYC scouting new projects and shmoozing with subsidiary-rights executives along Publisher's Row.

"Because we're one of the four or five major book buyers (in Hollywood), I had already dealt with most of these people--but never at this level, for this long," Hendee said.

Manhattan publishing reps are used to production houses sending in someone for a few days of chitchats at the Russian Tea Room, related Hendee. Jaded subsidiary-rights executives from major houses tend to pore over the upcoming publication lists by rote and then nod off during dessert.

"When they realized I was going to be there for five weeks, they woke up," she said.

Hendee came back with three manuscripts: "a period drama, a black comedy and a buddy saga."

Ruth Pomerance, NYC head of Scott Rudin's production company, said, "In L.A. there is nothing to do, but the activity level here has skyrocketed. I have about six meetings a day and I'm reading two books a night."

According to Pomerance, "rights to nearly all the recent and current off-Broadway and adaptable Broadway shows" have already been optioned. Those include Stephen Metcalfe's "Emily" and Howard Korder's "Boy's Life"--both of which were optioned by Rudin last April for a reported $50,000 each.

Both Metcalfe (who wrote Robert DiNiro's currently filming "Jack Knife") and Korder plan to adapt their plays for the screen.

"The playwrighting community is being approached much more than usual" for film work, noted Pomerance--including scab scripts. "Some producers think they can get away with it."

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