This will be heartening news for writers who have hitherto assumed that film producers are interested only in "high-concept" screenplays which yoke two successful films into a promising hybrid ("Sort of Home Alone meets Reservoir Dogs"), or update classic texts like Little Women ("The unexpected movie triumph of the year!").
Working Title made headlines last week after they signed up the film rights to Philip Kerr's The Gridiron (published by Chatto on 8 June) for a million dollars. The success of the book - a thriller about a "smart building" in Los Angeles that turns on its occupants - follows the news about Nick Evans's The Horse Whisperer, which was sold to Robert Redford's Sundance studio for $3 million.
Can anyone join in? What kind of books is Hollywood looking for, these days? I asked Mr Kerr, who was chosen as one of the 20 Best of Young British scribes in 1993 and is more au fait than most with the ways of Hollywood, what goes down well these days.
"A guy from Creative Artists Associated told me lately, `The only treatments the big studios are reading these days are called novels . . .' and you can see why: all the work's been done, the `I's dotted and the `T's crossed. America's very big on the classics now. All the Merchant-Ivory mining of the works of Forster has led them to rediscover their own literature: Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne [The Scarlet Letter is out soon, with Demi Moore]. I'm working on a screenplay of Moby Dick at the moment.
"Getting a star interested in a meaty central role is a guarantee of funding, as with Redford and the Horse book; Craig Thomas apparently wrote to Clint Eastwood to say he wrote Firefox with him in mind, and the film got made. There's far more chance for an English writer to sell to Hollywood if you set your book, at least in part, in America - as with Green River Rising by Tim Willocks (in the Deep South), or The Horse-Whisperer (Montana) or The Gridiron (LA). And the world of business is a hot subject. I was asked by Renaissance Films to write a movie around the Lloyds `Names', about a cross-section of people in a Syndicate that failed."
Four Weddings . . . Gridiron . . . meaty role . . . commerce. . . I started straight away. My new novel concerns a christening inside a gradually imploding cathedral, where an idiot-savant is about to sign a contract. . .Reuse content