Publishing world braces

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- If the writers strike continues for a long period, some book agents fear that many option deals will be nixed, causing major disruptions in the business. Others worry that the market for new literary materials will dry up altogether, as the major studios dig in for the long haul.

These fears are especially acute in the larger Hollywood talent agencies, which traffic in high-end deals matching promising literary materials with well-known screenwriters, directors and producers. Many of these agents, on both coasts, were scrambling to nail down option deals in the days leading up to the strike.

“I’ve already begun getting force majeure letters on several deals,” said Lisa Callamaro, an independent Los Angeles literary agent who handles book-to-film deals. “It’s all utterly depressing. The problem is, nobody knows how long this strike will last.”

Under the legal provision of force majeure (which means “greater force”), a movie studio or production company can revise or cancel deals for film rights to books in the event of an unforeseen development, such as the current writers strike. As the strike enters its third day, studios have been sending out force majeure letters to agents, mainly to extend the length of existing option deals. They want to stop the clock, since they cannot sign up screenwriters for new work.

Some observers already see signs that the books-to-film pipeline has been affected: “I don’t think there are going to be any major negotiations concluded, maybe not even any offers tendered, while the strike is on,” said Richard Curtis, a New York literary agent.


The one exception, he and others suggested, is that studios will still be in the hunt for the rights to literary blockbusters, should they come on the market during the strike. Given the potential payoff, Curtis said, “someone will always find a smart way to get around it [the strike]. It will be a handshake between a studio and an agent, an understanding that basically says, ‘We’ll have a deal [on optioning film rights] subject to the conclusion of the strike.’ ”

If all else fails, many Hollywood writers may be looking to New York for steady work. Indeed, the publishing world is gearing up for an influx of proposals for new book deals from screenwriters.

“Writers are writers, after all, and there’s nothing stopping them from dusting off that novel they’ve meant to get back to when they had time,” said Simon Lipskar, an agent with Writers House in New York. “Obviously, they now have the time.”