Manhattan Transfer Story 03 The First Offer

A talented team helmed by award-winning producer Sky Conway, including actor fan favorites such as Walter Koenig, plan to embark on a television pilot next year for John E. Stith’s MANHATTAN TRANSFER, the Tor Books novel about the kidnapping of Manhattan by aliens.

We asked John to write a series of short pieces to chronicle this thirty-year journey.

Here is part three.

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Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997. With her in the car, and in death, was her romantic partner, Dodi Fayed, the Egyptian film producer and son of billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed.

This ties into my story because the initial interest in making a film of MANHATTAN TRANSFER came from Allied Stars, a production company headed by, you guessed it, Dodi Fayed. He was executive producer of CHARIOTS OF FIRE, F/X, HOOK, and others.

The initial film offer came in June 1993, even before the book was published. The offer came from a team including Allied Stars and Davis Entertainment. John Davis had credits that included PREDATOR and THE FIRM. Michael Ricciardi, my film agent at the time, was so full of enthusiasm he would often lead into a phone call with “Are you sitting down?” even if the event was just a company asking to see a book. This time his excitement was really justified.

There was initial discussion of making MT an event movie. Michael didn’t feel the offer reflected that goal or his estimation of what the film rights were worth, so we responded with a counter offer. This went on the three very long weeks, back and forth, until we agreed and signed the contract.

As things moved along, I generally had no contact with anyone at Davis Entertainment. My primary contact was Dodi Fayed’s key person at Allied Stars. I’m not going to name her because I understand that she left the business after Dodi’s death.

At this point, I think I became something of an adrenaline junkie. This was rarified atmosphere for me, and it gave me entirely new things to complain about. As aside. Early on in my career, I realized that as a group, we writers represent a lot of complainers. At the bottom level, we would all grouse about form-letter rejections. Up a step and people would be complaining that they killed yet another magazine, because a story that sold would not make it to print because the market was folding. Up another step came complaints about being given only a week to respond to copy-editing. Or getting a crappy cover for a book. Or having apparently zero support from the publicity folks. In stages people would bemoan busy signing schedules. And in the media we’d see reports of authors disappointed by the movie star selected for the film. It’s always something. But if you go into writing with a thin skin, you either adapt or quit. You can go to Amazon and look at reviews for any writer you consider the world’s finest, and you will find people who strongly disagree. Really strongly.

So we were off and running. I’d heard all the stories about film options that never resulted in an actual film (most of them) so I tried to be calm about things. It probably helped to get some reactions. One writer farther up the food chain, when hearing about the MT film option, said, “Been there. Done that.” But occasionally I would hear things like the following. To say thanks, I sent the producers a signed copy of the Tor Books MT hardback when it came out in July 1993. I was informed that Dodi was quite pleased and that he put the book next to his signed copy of Mario Puzo’s THE GODFATHER.

The producing team didn’t have the budget to just go out make the film. (Most people like to use other people’s money anyway.) So they went to work looking for the right director.  I got occasional updates on this process. Reportedly, Richard Donner said MT was “Fantastic” but it was too big. (We’re living in great times for science fiction that uses exotic settings because being “too big” is less and less of an issue when we have tools like LED background screens and Unreal Engine.) At that point I was told Dodi made a $50K bet with Richard Donner about how much the MT film would gross. My parents might have bet that much on me when you think about the costs of raising a kid, but this was a stranger.

The team also approached writers. By early 1994, they had contracted with Ron Shusett and Martin Olson. I started getting occasional updates from Martin also. They both knew science fiction well and talked about optioning a Robert Sheckley short story that would somehow fill a gap they sensed they needed to fill.

In parallel the book’s reception was good. MT sold to the Science Fiction Book Club and translation rights went to publishers like Hayakawa in Japan, Nord in Italy, Bastei-Lubbe in Germany, Presses Pocket in France, and AST in Russia. I received a great letter from NYC Mayor David Dinkins saying he was putting a copy of MT into the City Hall Library.

MT became a Seiun Award (Japan) nominee, and here in the US it became a Hugo Award Honorable Mention. Yes, I know there is normally no such thing. But for that award year, the convention committee looked at the voting and saw an unusually tight spread, one that had MT and another book just missing the nomination cutoff. They therefore decided to throw us a bone and named a couple of Honorable Mentions.

Bones are good.

But also in 1994, Davis Entertainment left the producing team. That didn’t seem like a huge factor, since my dealings were all with Allied Stars, but it was a cloud on the horizon.

To be continued.

Copyright © 2023 by John E. Stith

***

John E. Stith is the author of REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS, a Nebula Award nominee, MANHATTAN TRANSFER, and numerous other novels and short stories. His works with Ace Books and Tor Books have been bought by the Science Fiction Book Club, optioned for film, and translated into many languages. He has optioned feature-film screenplays and has sold to television (Star Trek). Find him at www.neverend.com. His latest novellas are TINY TIME MACHINE and TINY TIME MACHINE 2: RETURN OF THE FATHER from Amazing Stories. His latest novel is PUSHBACK, a mystery-suspense novel. and a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. In 2024, look for TINY TIME MACHINE 3: MOTHER OF INVENTION, and his new SF novel, DISAVOWED, both from Amazing Stories.

To be on John’s list of occasional writing updates, visit http://eepurl.com/bGL4kj.

The Facebook page for the streaming series is https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=61552675967552

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