EXCLUSIVE: In one of the wildest book rights auctions the town has seen in some time, Warner Bros. production co-heads Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy tonight landed screen rights to the upcoming T.J. Newman novel Drowning: The Rescue Of Flight 1421. Studio paid $1.5 million against $3 million, and there were five seven-figure bids on the table, sources said.
It’s the second splashy thriller novel set in the world of aviation written by Newman, who worked as a flight attendant as she wrote her debut novel Falling, which sold in three 7-figure deals: a worldwide publishing deal with Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster; foreign rights in more than 30 countries; and a $1.5 million movie deal with Universal and Working Title. The debut novel became the fastest-selling fiction debut for Simon & Schuster since 2004.
In her second novel Drowning, a plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean six minutes after takeoff and is flooded after an explosion during evacuation. A dozen survivors sink in a sealed part of the aircraft as it perches precariously on an undersea cliff 200 feet below the surface. Among them is an engineer and his 11-year-old daughter. His estranged wife — she’s also the girl’s mother — is part of the elite rescue team that races to save the passengers before their air runs out.
As Deadline divulged last Tuesday, the book leaked in Hollywood, and the page-turner caught on quickly with prospective buyers. Among those circling as things heated up were Steven Spielberg, Alfonso Cuaron, Damien Chazelle, Nicole Kidman, The Russo Brothers, M. Night Shyamalan and producers including Jerry Bruckheimer, Peter Chernin, and 21 Laps. The bidding came down to five offers: Apple with Jerry Bruckheimer; Paramount with Damien Chazelle; Warner Brothers; Legendary, and Universal Television.
The film will be produced by Shane Salerno and The Story Factory. Salerno took on Newman when she was a flight attendant who filled the downtime on flights scribbling an aviation thriller, only to see her get rejected by 41 agents. Newman will be an executive producer on Drowning, which will be published on May 30 by Simon & Schuster.
It is a spirited win for Warner Bros, whose DeLuca and Abdy are looking to make big films that can succeed on a global theatrical level. Drowning has strong roles for the rescuer/mom, and the engineer/father struggling to keep their daughter alive. It is the kind of film the late director Wolfgang Petersen made his stomping grounds in his heyday.
The Story Factory and CAA brokered the sale. By the way, the author stopped being a flight attendant, so she can write books full-time. She is also adapting her debut novel Falling, her first script.