[FoRK] Variety.com - H'wood plots a political thriller

bill at whump.com bill at whump.com
Tue Apr 27 22:52:09 PDT 2004

Bill Humphries (bill at whump.com) has sent you an Article.
Personal message: Looks like there'll be a movie version of
_Against All Enemies_. 

Variety.com <http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=front_page>

Posted: Tue., Apr. 27, 2004, 6:22pm PT
H'wood plots a political thriller
Guest column

If you want to change the world, consider writing a book.

Richard Clarke wrote "Against All Enemies" because he knew that the Bush
administration hadn't been honest about the state of our national

Almost no one in our government has the credibility, experience or
expertise to make such a charge. Clarke has been in government service
for 30 years and has served four presidents. During the Clinton
administration he was so aggressive in pursuing Osama bin Laden that he
wore a gun to work.

How does a film agent in Hollywood come to be associated with the
leading expert in terrorism, who lives in Washington and rarely goes to
the movies?

Clarke entered my life when his literary agent, Len Sherman, a lone gun
from Phoenix, called and asked if I would be interested in Clarke. Much
to Sherman's surprise, I knew who he was. I recently read about him in a
book I was representing called "The Age of Sacred Terror."

Some months later, Clarke came to town, and he was not at all as I had
imagined him. My assumption was that an antiterrorism expert would be
stiff, militaristic and arrogant. We had lunch at the showbiz hangout
Orso, and he was surprisingly entertaining.

In early October, the manuscript was delivered to the publisher, but
because Clarke had top-secret clearance, various intelligence agencies
had to check the pages to make sure there weren't any breaches in
national security. I was left with the impression that this process
wouldn't take more than a couple of weeks. Much to everyone's amazement,
the White House sat on the book until February.

As the film agent, I wanted to read the book as soon as possible. I
assumed I would be getting an early copy. I was wrong. Sherman called to
say the publisher wasn't releasing the manuscript. Since I knew the
publisher, I boldly said that I would call her. My call was met with a
fiery speech about how there was no way that I would get the book, about
how all Hollywood did was leak material and finally, that this book
didn't need a movie deal anyway.

I hung up, thinking to myself, "What is in this book?"

Clark was booked to appear on "60 Minutes" on March 28, the day before
the book was scheduled to go on sale. Monday, March 29, was a remarkable
day. It is as if the heavens had opened and bombs went off. It was clear
that the Bush White House was shaken. Condoleezza Rice was on TV, Dick
Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Rumsfeld weighed in. They all
attempted to discredit Clarke. The book made front-page news around the

Finally, a copy arrived. As someone who sells books, I am aware that
most books get little attention and vanish quickly. But here, people
were begging for copies, though to my utter frustration, I didn't have
any to send out!

I read the book that night. What I hadn't been prepared for is how good
a writer Clarke was. The opening chapter was incredibly cinematic. He
knew how to set up a scene, make a point and move on. In addition, he
revealed how government works or doesn't work in a way I had never seen.

I knew that despite all of the overwhelming attention, this would not be
an easy book to sell. The book was political; it didn't have a love
story. The producers are always afraid that between the heat of the
moment and the release date, the public has cooled. I was aware that it
could be done for cable, but I wanted to see that the deal reflected the
book's importance and its popular success. I had to ensure that the
absolute best talent be brought to making this. I was convinced then
that this would have to be done as a feature film.

Then came Thursday, April 1, and with it Clarke's appearance in front of
the 9/11 Commission. His opening apology to the 9/11 families was
stunning. Much of the questioning that followed turned out to be very
partisan in nature.

Of almost equal importance -- at least to me -- that same day a handful
of books arrived. I sent out this meager handful to the people who had
expressed the greatest interest.

By Monday, I was beginning to have serious discussions about the book
with several studios and cable outlets.

One cable exec asked me if Richard was the guy from Survivor. "No," I
said. "That's Richard Hatch." By Wednesday, the only copy of the book I
had was my own.

Something went off in my head that day. I remembered that John Calley
was somehow involved with the film "All the President's Men." I found
him in Toronto and asked if he was interested in reading the book. He
wanted to see it as soon as possible. I sent him my last copy.

The phone rang late the following day. It was Calley saying that this
was a movie he had to make. He said that he knew how to do it, and that
he was the right person. I thought about it and felt that indeed he was.
Also, Sony didn't own any radio or TV stations and I wouldn't have to
worry about the potential of government influence in getting the film
produced and distributed.

I found Clarke and Sherman, and made a very hard sell of why the movie
had to be made with Calley. The other interest I received didn't seem to
matter. We now had the ideal studio and the ideal producer.

I called Clarke over the weekend to go over the practical terms of the
deal and explain to him what this deal meant. I also made it clear that
if he didn't want the deal, I would also understand. The deal was closed
the following Tuesday.

Ron Bernstein is head of the ICM book department on the West Coast.
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