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Times Staff Writer

The deal

Les Franck (co-producer of “Loggerheads”) and Tracy Kilpatrick (local casting director for “The Great Debaters”) option Barbara O’Connor’s children’s novel “How to Steal a Dog,” the story of a homeless girl in rural North Carolina who steals a dog to pocket reward money and get her family into a real home.

The players

O’Connor is represented on literary rights by Barbara Markowitz and on film rights by Sean Dailey of Hotchkiss and Associates. The book is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The back story

When it comes to adapting books for film, small is in the eye of the beholder. Dailey was instantly struck by the cinematic potential of O’Connor’s book, and he pitched it to a dozen studios and production companies. Although the novel was aimed at young readers, he described it as a timeless story about making the right choices -- and the scourge of rural homelessness -- as seen through the eyes of a plucky fifth-grade girl.


Hollywood deal-makers gave him the same answer: “It’s too small.” Producers loved the story but didn’t bite because O’Connor’s novel had no wizards or gremlins. Nor did it hold out the promise of “Harry Potter”-like profits. Never mind that low-budget adaptations of dog-friendly novels make money. (“My Dog Skip” cost $6 million and had a domestic gross of $34 million; “Because of Winn-Dixie” cost $14 million and earned $33 million.)

Franck and Kilpatrick didn’t think the book was small, either. They decided the novel was a perfect fit for their production company, Going Again Films, which specializes in low-budget, Southern-based movies that appeal to wide audiences. “I’m from the South, not Hollywood, and I know this is a powerful story,” Franck said. “It doesn’t have a fairy tale ending. It’s about larger truths.”

O’Connor was also puzzled by the notion that her book was too small for the movies. “I wanted to get inside the head of a child and tell a story that would resonate with adults too,” she said. “Every author has red carpet fantasies, but I can hear the soundtrack music. I really can see this as a film.” To Markowitz, the Hollywood verdict was bizarre: “Too small?” she asked. “I guess they’d say the same thing today about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ”