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Blogs move from monitors to TV and movie screens

Projects that prove hits online can become hot commodities in Hollywood but don't always click there. Sometimes you get 'Julie & Julia,' sometimes 'I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.'

August 15, 2010|By Randee Dawn, Special to the Los Angeles Times

"Obviously, you have a big advantage if someone has already created something," says Alterman. "You're seeing so much more from that than if someone came into your office and pitched an idea."

That said, he adds, "There are some people on staff who are scouring the Internet all the time though. It's a merging of personal and business interests."

The great idea found, most blog writers become book authors before Hollywood takes a real interest. And good press doesn't hurt. A New York Times story on Powell sent her blog — a chronicle of her attempt to cook Julia Child's entire "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year — into the stratosphere. Agents wanted a book, and almost simultaneously they wanted a movie.

Cooking and another major newspaper — in this case The Times — has put Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman blog into the spotlight. Drummond's site details her life on an Oklahoma ranch after her move there from Los Angeles and features tips on home-schooling, photography, home and garden — and recipes. The last led to a cookbook called "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl," and its review in The Times piqued the interest of Sony Pictures' Amy Pascal, who contacted producer Laura Ziskin.

The pair connected with Drummond and her publisher, William Morrow — which is slated to publish Drummond's memoir, "Black Heels to Tractor Wheels" (a version of which can also be found on Drummond's website), in February. Meanwhile, Ziskin and Columbia Pictures are in development on a film version, with Reese Witherspoon potentially starring.

"She's a great voice and a great character," Ziskin says of Drummond. "It's romantic, and there's conflict, and it's kind of got everything; it's a wonderful tale."

For her, finding feature ideas on the Web makes sense.

"There are different mediums from which to get ideas, and not everything out there is worth developing," says Ziskin. "But we're all hungry machines, and we need to find products and stories. Blogs are just another hunting ground — we'll take a good story where we can find it."

Another Western woman with a story to tell is Shreve Stockton, who began raising an orphaned coyote pup that landed on her Wyoming doorstep. The life and times of Charlie Coyote (and the rest of Stockton's menagerie) are detailed on her Daily Coyote blog. Stockton has had a book published based on the site, which receives around 30,000 hits per day, and says there has been "interest" from Hollywood in a feature film.

But, adds Stockton, "It's taken me a long time to be really comfortable about that. I am definitely open if the right thing came along. But it's not about me; it's about Charlie and everything he has to share."

Not every story picked up by Hollywood has a memoir aspect to it; Ruiz is working with clients who run a technology blog and would like to turn it into a TV show. A treatment and a sneak peek "sizzle reel" are making the rounds.

Then there's Heather Armstrong, who has a daily blog and website called Dooce, in which she details her life with two dogs, two kids and a supportive husband. It earns her a full-time living and about 1 million unique viewers each month. But the industry came calling for her secondary blog focus on style and design — she now has a development deal with HGTV and is producing packages for the channel's online audience.

"What this medium has done is it's given a lot of us who wouldn't have been paid attention to, whose resumes or transcripts would have been tossed aside, and given us our own platform to say, 'I have something to say and I want to see what happens if I put it out to people,'" says Armstrong.

Not every popular site on the Web works for a mass audience. Producers and agents looking to develop concepts are still looking for the same traits as they would from non-Internet-based creatives: artistry, consistency, talent and innovation. Internet content creators can sweeten the deal by coming to the table with a couple hundred thousand loyal readers.

"I want to work with people who are pushing boundaries and using new tools to tell stories in new, exciting ways," Ruiz says. "If we can help them create relationships with more traditional companies, that's what gets me excited."

Nor is the blog-to-book-to-film-or-TV model likely to stick around for long; the agencies are learning how to adapt more directly based on the individual project, Malone says.

"Now more people are recognizing that great new voices can come out of the Internet, so they're exerting more conscious, thoughtful effort into what is the next best step for this blog or Twitter feed. Sometimes, it's more than one thing," she says.

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