STILL WORKING IT OUT: In February, Suzanna Andrews had a red-hot story on her hands. Just as the Leveson Inquiry had restarted hearings on News Corp.’s hacking scandal, Andrews had a profile of Rebekah Brooks in Vanity Fair with all the makings of a Hollywood thriller.
Gene Kirkwood, the producer behind “Rocky” and “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” saw the potential for another movie about a tough-as-nails slugger, and two months ago approached the writer to develop it as a biopic.
The news on Monday of a deal to option the story was the kind of announcement that the Condé Nast Entertainment Group was supposed to brag about, capitalizing on a much-discussed piece from one of the publishing company’s signature brands. But the new corporate division had nothing to do with it.
RELATED STORY: Condé Nast Names First President of Entertainment >>
The deal highlights CNEG’s growing pains. Eight months after it was launched, positioned as a cornerstone of Condé’s future, it is still searching for its niche at 4 Times Square, and a strategy on future collaborations with the company’s magazines. With Vanity Fair hot on the Murdoch beat, Andrews’ 8,000-word profile filled in the blanks about the trusted lieutenant, chronicling Brooks’ rise from a “very, very, very ambitious” secretary at a British tabloid to feared Rupert Murdoch capo and kingmaker.
The story was a natural movie vehicle — relevant, ripped from the headlines, and full of intrigue, “like ‘All the President’s Men,’” said Ross Elliot, Kirkwood’s producing partner. Elliot approached Andrews directly about two months ago, and they reached “a deal to allow them to shop the piece around,” David Forrer, one of Andrews’ agents, said Tuesday.
But as president of Condé’s entertainment division, it’s supposed to be Dawn Ostroff’s job to funnel these stories into the Hollywood pipeline, grabbing a slice of the profits for Condé in the process. Last fall, she said it was a “big problem” Condé wasn’t milking dividends from the movies and TV projects inspired or adapted from its magazines, including “The September Issue,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Eat, Pray, Love.” The new division is a key component of Condé president Bob Sauerberg’s plan to grow revenue outside of advertising, including ventures in licensing and e-commerce.
The way the Andrews deal was hammered out underscores some of still-unresolved questions about the new division inside and outside Condé. Contributing editors at Vanity Fair “traditionally” own the rights to their stories, but it’s not clear if that will change with the new entertainment division, said magazine spokeswoman Giulia Melucci. Because Andrews retains all intellectual and screen rights under her contract, she negotiated directly with the production company, Forrer said.
Elliot said he didn’t reach out to Condé Entertainment because he wasn’t aware the division existed. And he prefers a one-on-one relationship with an author.
“We like the least amount of roadblocks as possible,” he said. “It would have been harder to make a deal with a larger entity.”
Nothing to see here though, said Condé Entertainment spokeswoman Maurie Perl. She brushed aside the suggestion the new division was moving slowly, pointing out that Ostroff promised in March the first half of the year would be taken up by hiring an executive team; the first programming executives joined last month.
Unclear still is whether magazines are under any obligation to consult with Ostroff on overtures from Hollywood, or whether the division will pitch independently, allowing the magazines wide latitude in how to configure their writers’ contracts.
Perl emphasized the eight-month-old division is new, discussions with the different Condé titles are ongoing, and Ostroff’s future strategies are taking shape.
“It’s just premature for us to have any of those conversations and go into details,” she said. “Within a reasonable amount of time, we will have more to share.”
Meanwhile, the Brooks movie is moving forward, with or without Condé. Elliot is now pitching to writers and actresses and so far has had “significant interest by some big players.”