IP Finds🔎: If You Like 'The Bear', 'Better Call Saul' and 'Tehran'...
...you'll love this sample of our new newsletter about available material just waiting to be made into the next hit show
Welcome to The Optionist! This is a very special free weekend peek of the new weekly newsletter from Ankler Media. Written by former Hollywood Reporter books editor Andy Lewis, The Optionist brings subscribers carefully curated picks from the world of available IP. The Optionist scours the latest material — books, articles, podcasts — ready for their big or small screen close-ups, but also plumbs back catalogs for hidden gems. We believe Andy has a great eye. Since launching a few months ago, more than half a dozen projects that we know of (we don’t ask, but some of you tell) have been optioned straight out of The Optionist by managers, producers and studio executives.
Enjoy this special view into this week’s edition of The Optionist. We consider it like having an extra set of eyes to help you as you develop (we know it can be a lonely pursuit and no one can read everything). We hope you’ll subscribe on your way to finding your next big hit. Here’s this week’s edition (reminder: it’s a separate subscription from The Ankler). Let us know what you think. We’ll let Andy take it away below. - Janice and Richard
Getting this newsletter off the ground has been an amazing experience for me as I’ve dug into pockets of IP far and wide, new and old, and found forgotten treasures begging for their chance on the screen. I can’t wait to see what comes of the more than half a dozen projects already optioned out of The Optionist.
Some of you may have seen the news yesterday about Jim Thorpe being reinstated as the sole Olympic champion of the 1912 Pentathalon and Decathlon and his gold medals restored. Recently, I highlighted a fantastic new biography of Thorpe by Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss and a great book about the Carlisle Indian School football where Thorpe played in college. (Several people have asked about the status of both; subscribe for info on their reps, included in every post, and reach out right away. “Competing projects” anyone?) Every week you’ll get a great selection of optionable IP like these recent offerings:
I’ve loved doing this and also have loved personally helping some of you chase down material. I hope you’ll continue to support my work. The Optionist is offering solo subscriptions for $250 a month (or $2,500 a year — two months free if you buy the year up front). We believe this is a great value, like having an extra set of hands in your organization deliver curated material to you every Friday. If you break down the cost, it’s $62 a week. We’ll soon be rolling out a corporate subscription for multiple users within a single organization. I’ve already talked with several companies about it. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Now on to this week's picks. We’ve got a great story below for anyone looking for the next Better Call Saul, Mindhunter or even The Bear. Read on!
BOOKS I LIKE (current)
* For fans of: Into the Wild, Tehran
The Rebel and the Kingdom: The True Story of the Secret Mission to Overthrow the North Korean Regime by Bradley Hope (Crown, Nov. 1) This is a wild story about Yale student Adrian Hong who, after learning about what life in North Korea was like in the early 2000s, devoted his life to changing the regime — first as an activist lobbying for political change and then, when that wasn't enough, as something more. Of Korean descent but born in Mexico, Hong traveled to China where he surreptitiously worked to help get North Korean defectors to safety while outwitting Chinese security. He founded a secretive group called Free Joseon that sought to convince North Korean diplomats to defect, tracked senior leaders in the regime and drew up plans for a government-in-exile. After Kim Jong Un assassinated his older half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia, Hong helped get Nam's family to safety. Hong also organized a failed — depending on your point of view — raid, defection or kidnapping at the North Korean Embassy in Madrid in 2019. The publishers are pitching the book as in the vein of Into the Wild and Hong as akin to Chris McCandless, the subject of that book who rejected a conventional life to pursue his dream. I like that comp, but Hong takes that idealistic journey and layers it on top of this great adventure/spy thriller. These kind of idealists — really zealots — make for fascinating central characters. I think a limited series that mixed a psychological portrait of Hong's radicalization with a thriller about helping defectors and plotting to take down the North Korean regime could be really great and evokes not just Into the Wild but Apple's riveting spy series Tehran. REPS: UTA
Campus Thriller/Historical Mystery
* For fans of: National Treasure, The Secret History
The Bequest by Joanna Margaret (Penzler Publishers, Oct.) This is a fun, twisty college-set gothic mystery that's a bit National Treasure-meets-"dark academia" thriller, with a dash of The Secret History thrown in. There's fantastic world building here, and sumptuous locations from Scotland to Italy to France. The story finds Isabel Henley trying to leave behind a failed affair in the States to start a PhD in Scotland, only to find her would-be mentor dead on arrival (from a fall that may or may not be suspicious). Shortly thereafter, another scholar working on her proposed dissertation disappears, followed by Rose, the one friend Isabel has made. At first, Rose’s disappearance is a suspected suicide, but Isabel learns later she's been kidnapped. As Isabel follows Rose’s trail across Europe trying to find her, she gets caught up in a 400-year-old mystery of a legendary lost and cursed emerald, and revelations about family secrets. She must also evade her dangerous pursuers — unscrupulous academics who (what else?) will stop at nothing to solve the mystery of the emerald first. This would be perfect for a producer or screenwriter looking to tackle a good treasure hunt thriller, especially for a female writer looking for a story with a strong female lead character. It is easy to see this unfurl as a limited series
* For fans of: Watchmen, Lovecraft Country
Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks (Algonquin Books, Jan.) This is a fascinating and provocative novel inspired by the true story of Freedmen’s towns — Black-run communities founded after the Civil War by former slaves — to offer an alternative vision of the civil rights movement. In 1957, Alice Young, arrives in New Jessup, Alabama, a Black-run town, where residents are skeptical of the idea of integration and dedicated to holding on to their autonomy and power. She falls in love with a young activist named Raymond Campbell, who is discontented with New Jessup's status quo and is secretly organizing for change. Alice feels caught between her love for Raymond and her appreciation for New Jessup's unique attributes as the civil rights movement begins to seep into the town offering new opportunities but also threatening Black control of the town. This is another story that does a great job with the world building. We often don't get a look at the rich lives of Black communities "behind the veil of segregation" (to quote a phrase academics use). It’s also a fresh way to look at the debate (usually simplified to Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X) about whether integration or autonomy was the best path forward for Black Americans. Obviously, this lacks the genre elements of Watchmen, but if you pull out the parts of that show that dealt with racism in America (the Tulsa Race Massacre, etc.) and put them into a more true-to-life story, you'd have some idea of what an adaptation of this story could look like. Great for a Black creative looking to explore the history of segregation and integration in a provocative way. This is Minnicks' debut novel and an early draft won the prestigious PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction in 2021. REPS: Trellis Literary
Second Chances (older material worth a new look)
* For fans of: The Bear, Always Sunny
“As Hot Dog Battle Rages: A Close Look at the Meat That's Caught in the Middle” by Mimi Sheraton (The New York Times, Dec. 13, 1975) There are a few threads in my head that brought me to this story: I've been thinking a lot about the value of newspaper IP since my chat with Brian Grazer, especially archival material; I just finished bingeing The Bear on FX; and my brother, who likes to think of himself as a die-hard New Yorker (even though he grew up in the suburbs of Boston), is a fan of the only-in-New-York combo of a cheap hot dog and a tropical fruit drink. And then I was reading this story about how the city’s famed Papaya King might go out of business because its building is being sold. That story linked to this gem about the war between Papaya King and Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs that erupted in 1975. Nathan’s opened a location across from Papaya King at 86th Street and 3rd Avenue and a price war broke out between the two, with each trying to undercut the other. (How cheap was a dog and a drink in 1975? How about a quarter for a dog and 30¢ for a papaya juice!) Rivalries ensued. Customers were asked to choose. It was war. This could be the basis for a fun doc about a slice of New York life, or the inspiration for a period series — think a mix of The Bear and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia with a great gritty ‘70s New York period setting. REPS: Anonymous Content
* For fans of: Mindhunter
“Poison Pill: How the Tylenol killer got away with murder” by Michael Solomon (Truly Adventurous, July) If you’re a child of the ’80s, then every time you struggle with the tamper-proof packaging on a bottle of aspirin, you think of this story. If you’re younger than that, you probably wonder why the hell opening an Advil or Tylenol package is such a pain. Well, here’s the reason. In September 1982, someone started opening Tylenol packages, spiking the pills with cyanide and closing them back up. Seven people died. No one was ever convicted of the crime. The FBI still considers it an open case. (Unabomber Ted Kaczyniski was once rumored as a suspect). This story revisits the crime and actually points to the likely perpetrator. It features a series of great characters like Dr. Thomas Kim, the physician who helped figure out what was making people sick, Jim Bell, the prosecutor who is still haunted by the crime and key suspect James Lewis, a grifter who would later spend 10 years in prison for mail fraud but not for this crime. This could be the basis for a worthwhile period procedural limited series that taps into the interest in both true crime stories and the opioid crisis. REP: New Leaf Literary
* For fans of: Better Call Saul
“The Lottery Lawyer Won Their Trust, Then Lost Their Mega Millions” by Simon van Zuylen-Wood (Businessweek, July 1) Everyone has dreamed about what it would be like to win the lottery. Of course, the nightmare is that you'd squander the money or that someone would steal it all from you. The winners in this piece all did the right thing — they consulted a lawyer with a sterling reputation and practice built on helping lottery winners, and then followed his advice and invested it conservatively. They thought. Only the lawyer, a Long Islander named Jason Kurland, wasn't the reputable guy he seemed to be. Teamed up with a couple of two-bit mobsters with ties to New York mafia families and his plastic surgeon brother-in-law, DrBFixin the Brazilian butt-lift king (seriously some stuff is just almost too good to be true), Kurland and crew bilked his clients of millions to fund their lavish lifestyles and prop up their own shady investments. They got busted by the FBI and now they're engaged in what the story calls a "Reservoir Dogs-style circular firing squad" of cross-accusations as to who exactly was responsible. Kurland, for example, portrays himself as a victim of the machinations of his unscrupulous mob partners. This could be a fun black comedy that mixes The Sopranos with the story of the people who scammed the McDonald's Monopoly game. (Imagine what the Coen Brothers could do with it). In addition to this story, there are tons of wiretap transcripts and other court filings to help build out the tale. REP: Gersh, repping the writer who controls the rights
Thanks for reading the latest issue of the Optionist. Subscribe now and we’ll see you next week with a new roundup of our picks of great optionable IP.
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