Q&A: New venture El Jefe aims to bring novelists to TV

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Even before FSG Originals had gotten Brian McGreevy’s debut novel “Hemlock Grove” on shelves, it was announced that it was coming as a Netflix series. McGreevy didn’t just sell the option; he’s a producer on the show, along with his friend Lee Shipman.

The two, along with Philipp Meyer (a Pulitzer Prize finalist and L.A. Times Book Prize winner), have founded El Jefe, a new company designed to turn novels into series. In its report Wednesday, Variety emphasized the new company’s partnership with Slingshot Global Media and its connections in Hollywood. We asked McGreevy to explain it from a more bookish perspective; he answered our questions by email.

Variety reports that El Jefe will develop TV projects from novels/novelists. How big a range does that cover — from finding and optioning a book to … bringing it to Slingshot Global Media? Something else?


We will be finding the books that coincide with our tastes and Slingshot’s needs, and work together on packaging them for networks. Ideally for us the author is a part of that package: the premise behind this entire deal is for us to nurture and empower novelists who want to transition into TV, where there is greater opportunity than there ever has been for writers from different disciplines. Traditionally the model for adaptation has been to disenfranchise the writer who has spent several years of their life devoted to a given idea, which, much like our gun laws, would be considered completely insane given reasonable appraisal.

Do you want novelists to send you their books?

Yes. Though it’s preferable if they intend to be an active agent in the adaptation process. There is, in our experience, a profound culture gap between the publishing industry and the film industry, thus creating obstacles that are not inherently necessary to high quality minds who might otherwise be interested in the medium. As there are more than enough inherently necessary obstacles (money and timing chief among them), it is our goal to create an environment run and driven by artists. Calling it “El Jefe” is aspirational — we want to help people take a more dynamic approach to how their work is handled rather than hand it off and sort of hope for the best.

Are agents part of the picture?

The structure of the deal can largely be credited to our agent at CAA, Pete Micelli. But it is our intention to remain agnostic when it comes to dealing with other agencies and their literary departments. In fact both of our first titles are books repped by ICM.

Your announced projects are the novel “American Rust” by Philipp Meyer, who is a partner, and Wil S. Hylton’s nonfiction book “The Vanished.” Is Hylton also connected to El Jefe?


Wil was the first convert to the model. He researched and wrote the hell out of a fascinating and unexplored side of war, and we have high hopes to come out of the gate strong with it.

Did some of you meet studying creative writing? Where was that?

Lee, Philipp, and I all went to the Michener Center for Writers at [the University of Texas] Austin. Philipp’s master’s thesis was “American Rust,” mine was “Hemlock Grove.” The crop of other writers there roughly at the same time also included Kevin Powers, Smith Henderson, and Domenica Ruta — it was to put it mildly a creative prosperous time, and El Jefe absolutely plans on capitalizing on that.

“American Rust” is set outside Pittsburgh, the same as your books/series “Hemlock Grove.” Should we expect a juggernaut of series-from-books coming from Pittsburgh?

It’s been a goal for a long time to find the right project concerning the steel barons Carnegie and Frick, principally known now for libraries and art collections, but who lied, cheated, and profiteered their way into building — literally — the America which currently exists. So that one’s on the vision board.

In June it was reported that you and Lee Shipman were developing Meyer’s “The Son” for AMC. Is that an El Jefe project? Is it still happening?


Yes, we are deep into that currently.

Many writers who don’t know much about Hollywood assume that once something is optioned, the film/TV project is a done deal. Do you have any idea what percentage of projects that get into development will eventually be produced?

My guess is one-tenth of 1 percent. But that might be liberal.

What are your favorite series right now? Are any literary adaptations?

It’s not especially daring to say “Mad Men,” but obviously “Mad Men” — which in a sense can be viewed as John Cheever fan fiction. “House of Cards” is a superlative literary adaptation, though it tends to get sort of disappointingly overlooked that that series is based on a novel. “Rick and Morty” gets quoted a lot at the El Jefe HQ, in case anyone thinks we’re just sitting around talking about Dostoevsky or something.

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