Today: Heidi Fleiss Redux, The Lindbergh Baby + 7 More Picks
A newsletter about available IP; I do the reading for you
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Summer movie season is upon on us and this week has been all about studios wooing theater owners — and by extension fans — at CinemaCon with lots of cool footage and new trailer drops. If your Twitter feed is anything like mine it has been all oohs and ahhhs and topping the list has probably been Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar 2. But those two movies are exceptions in one way: Both are original IP. (Yes they’re sequels, but sequels of original-to-screen material.) Run down the list of summer movies and you’ll see how dominated it is by material adapted from other mediums: There’s Dr. Strange and League of Super Pets based on comic characters, the animated feature Bad Guys comes from a kids’ graphic novel, and from books we have Where the Crawdads Sing, Bullet Train, Jurassic World: Dominion, Firestarter, Bullet Train and Black Phone. And that’s just a partial list. It’s just another reminder of the importance of underlying IP to Hollywood no matter the season.
Now let's get to this week's selections which includes a fictional retelling of the Lindbergh kidnapping, a podcast about Hollywood Madam, Heidi Fleiss, a #MeToo novel and a cute romcom set against a home-renovation reality show.
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
Complicit by Winnie M. Li (Atria Books, August) This #MeToo story was originally pitched as "Anatomy of a Scandal meets Disclaimer with a dash of Daisy Jones and the Six,” which actually kinda works. The story centers on Sarah Lai, whose dream of working in the movie business went sour when she was sexually assaulted by a financier brought in by her producer boss. Fast forward to the present when Sarah, now 39 and a film professor at a community college, is interviewed by a reporter digging into multiple allegations against the financier. The interview structures the story (hence the Daisy Jones comp) and allows Sarah to tell her story in flashback, which is an effective device. It gives her the perspective to talk about what happened to her in a way that she might not have been able to as a younger woman. It also allows Sarah to articulate her guilt at feeling at least partially complicit in what happened to her (a characterization that the reporter and by extension the reader will reject). The title and the idea of complicity might really go wrong in lesser hands but Li, a sexual assault survivor, an activist and a scholar of the issues (she's gettin a PhD from the London School of Economics), handles it deftly. There's also a rich supporting world. For one, Sarah's parents are immigrants from Hong Kong who run a restaurant, providing a sub-theme around race. And Sarah's boss, Sylvia, is both a successful producer and a woman marginalized by men. Ditto with Holly, an actress who also was assaulted by the financier but has become a big star. The book drops in England in June and in the U.S. in August. If you're at all interested, inquire stat. There's interest already and with publication imminent I don't expect the rights to this juicy and timely book to last long. REPS: The Artists Partnership
The Tomorrow Game: Rival Teenagers, Their Race for a Gun, and a Community United to Save Them by Sudhir Venkatesh (Simon & Schuster, June) This could be a Traffic or maybe The Wire for guns. Taking place on Chicago's South Side, this true story centers on Frankie, a kid who has been in the foster care system, who takes over his jailed cousin's drug business, and Marshal, a quiet video gamer who gets drawn into the violence when Frankie decides he needs to show his toughness by attacking Marshal and his friends. They get wind of Frankie's plan and decide their best defense is a good offense. Both groups race to acquire weapons first. As the story moves forward it brings in a large cast of characters from the drug bosses to black market gun dealers to local clergy to a veteran beat cop, some of whom are fueling the violence and some of whom are trying to defuse it. This story has propulsion and a novelistic feel to it. Like The Wire it immerses you in a community and avoids feeding readers a simplistic story. Venkatesh, a Columbia professor who has been studying the South Side as a sociologist for two decades and has been an advisor to the FBI director, brings a huge amount of expertise to the story. This could be great source material for anyone interested in doing a limited series in a David Simon vein. REPS: WME
Small Game by Blair Braverman (Ecco, Nov.) For a new reality TV survival show, five strangers agree to spend six weeks in the wilderness for a six-figure payday. There's the grizzled outdoorsman, the Eagle Scout, the math teacher, the beautiful wannabe star and the narrator Mara, who runs survival training workshops for suburbanites but isn't so good with people. A bit into the filming, the production crew vanishes. The contestants aren’t sure what's going — is this just part of the challenge? — but they soon realize that they've really been abandoned. Survival is no longer a game but a real life or death challenge. The heart of the story comes from observing if the group can work together to survive. There's real stakes and authentic drama here. It's Braverman's debut novel but she's a writer for Outside and was a contestant on Naked and Afraid, so she brings a lot of lived experience about both wilderness survival and the weirdness of reality TV to the story. There's a Yellowjackets vibe here minus the supernatural mysteries, but with the survival elements turned up to 11. Think of it as the Survivor version of Unreal. REPS: WME
The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks (St. Martin's, Nov.) The Lindbergh baby kidnapping is one of those super famous 20th-century events whose notoriety has faded over the last couple decades as it has has receded into the past. The actual kidnapping was in 1932, 90 years ago, and Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, just isn't as well remembered now (though he did figure prominently in David Simon's adaptation of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America on HBO). Still I think of the kidnapping less as forgotten and more as submerged — a good adaptation could bring interest back to the surface. This fictional telling of the kidnapping of the first child of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, the hunt for Charles Jr., and the subsequent discovery of his dead body centers on Betty Gow, a Scottish immigrant who was the boy's nanny. She's determined to find the killer to clear her own name and to get justice for a child she loved. REPS: Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary
The Homewreckers by Mary Kay Andrews (St. Martin's Press, May 3) This is just fun escapist entertainment. It’s the kind of thing you could just kick back and enjoy. Hattie Kavanaugh lost her husband at just 25 and to cope with her grief she threw herself into home renovations with her father-in-law and some friends. But after one disastrous project nearly bankrupts her she’s adrift again. She agrees to go on Homewreckers, a new beach house renovation reality TV show, but what she doesn't know is that the show's also secretly got a romance element that involves trying to get Hattie and the male overseeing the renovation paired off. On top of that, the demolition of the beach house uncovers evidence about the unsolved disappearance of a young mother. So we've got a take on reality TV, a potential romance and a mystery all rolled together. It's a lot but it works. In fact, it is all of the above plus a large cast of interesting secondary characters that makes me think there's enough here to develop this as a limited series for a streamer rather than a single movie. REPS: APA
True Crime/Hollywood Scandal
Heidi World podcast created/hosted by Molly Lambert (iHeart Radio, April) The story of Heidi Fleiss, the nice LA Jewish girl turned Hollywood Madam, was one of the great sensations of the ‘90s. Fleiss grew up in Los Feliz as the daughter of a well-known pediatrician, and started working for Madam Alex in 1987 at 22. By 1990 she had started her own successful prostitution service (she made $1m in just a few months and by 1993 she'd been busted by the feds). The trials generated huge coverage in the hopes that names from Fleiss’ “black book” would leak, but the only celebrity client to be revealed was Charlie Sheen, who testified on her behalf during the trial. Amazingly, there's only been one scripted take on Fleiss (a USA network movie starring Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and a few docs. It feels like the time could be right for another take, especially one that aims, in Lambert's words, to feel "like Valley Of The Dolls or a Jackie Collins novel but also takes a pro sex-work.” Indeed, Fleiss would end up being the only one criminally prosecuted as part of the prostitution ring — not a single “John” would face repercussions — making a ripe environment for a look back at a “tabloid” story with the benefit of hindsight (think about how O.J.’s trial was reassessed through the lens of race). Heidi World uses actors to voice the main characters (listen for director Rian Johnson in a small part) using dialogue mainly sourced from reporting on the scandal so there's a nice immersive feel to the pod and a way to imagine what it would look like on the screen. REP: WME
“The Worst Boyfriend on the Upper East Side: For decades, a man has romanced New York women, persuading them to invest in questionable business deals. How did he keep running the same scam?” by Lauren Markham (New Yorker, April 27) Is everyone in New York either a scam artist or someone who has been scammed? I'm beginning to think yes. Meet Nelson Counne, an aging lothario (I've got Pierce Brosnan in my head) who has serially seduced and scammed women across the city. You would think it would say "rich old women" or just "rich women", but Counne's targets were mostly middling to well-to-do types but not super rich. His m.o. was basically always the same: Charm, brag about his multiple home and wealth, always seem to be in the middle of a deal and then ask to borrow money because his broker was out of town or something. And it worked. Over and over. It’s like a Dirty John for our new age of cons. REP: Conde Nast Entertainment
“The Revolutionary: The Secret Fight of Brazil's First Female Hero” by Ana Franco (Truly*Adventurous, April) In the 1820s when Brazil fought Portugal for its independence Maria Quitéria de Jesus, one of seven daughters of a poor farmer, faked her way into the army as a man. She was such a good soldier that even when her father discovered the deception, outed her and demanded she be thrown out of the army, her commanding officer let her stay. This Brazilian Joan of Arc distinguished herself in battle, rose in rank from cadet to lieutenant and was decorated by the Emperor for her bravery. Her only request of the king was a letter ordering her father to forgive her. With independence gained, she returned to the family farm where she married the love of her life – who her father had rejected because of his poverty. This story is a little tricky because it is a period piece and it's not familiar story to Americans, but it has a compelling heroine, great adventure and a basic plot – the fight for freedom – that anyone can grasp. Is this any less likely a success than say Braveheart? Also for streamers with an international footprint this strikes me as a story that would play well not only in Latin America but around the world. REP: New Leaf
“The Rich New York Women Who Love Their Fake Birkins Among a certain set, counterfeit luxury bags may be more popular than the real thing” by Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz (New York magazine, April 28) I love this story that takes you inside the world of counterfeit – replica please – high-end designer bags, y'know the $10,00 Birkins and such and the wealthy New York women who buy them even though they can afford the real stuff. There's a Facebook group called RepLadies, a legendary socialite who hustles fakes at bag "Tupperware parties" in her Tribeca townhouse and the mom making $5K a month selling the knockoffs to her status anxious Long Island friends. They're hooked because they love the hunt, the thrill of getting away with something and the feeling that they're just shrewder than the suckers who pay retail. There's a doc to do here but also a scripted take that centers on one of big dealers and explores the tension between being a rich socialite and a bag hustling gangster. Rich ladies loving counterfeit bags is funny but it also gets to a deeper truth about the grifter culture we live in now. Everybody is faking it 'til they make it, cutting corners, pretending, lying in one way or another about who they are. Of course this has always happened, but it feels more brazen and shameless now. And wealthy people not only having counterfeit stuff but celebrating it feels like a part of that story.. REPS: Scoop Wasserstein
Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and happy reading. See you back here next week. Remember, the free beta period is coming to a close.
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