Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

guilty

pleasures

She is the former west London housewife who has revolutionised the genre of erotic fiction with her bestselling trilogy of novels, Fifty Shades of Grey, whose combination of romantic storytelling and themes of bondage and domination are so steamy they have been dubbed "mommy porn" by the New York Times.

Now EL James is set to conquer Hollywood after securing a multi-million-dollar deal to turn the first of the books into a blockbuster movie in what top producers hope will be the start of a lucrative franchise.

For two days last week, James, a former TV writer, and her literary agent, Valerie Hoskins, were in Los Angeles's Soho House hotel accepting submissions for the first of the series from Hollywood's leading producers.

The British pair were showered with incentives, including one studio presenting a video of its top female executives praising the trilogy.

According to reports, $5m (€3.8m) was already on the table from Sony Pictures. Producers say they haven't seen such a stampede since the auction for Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.

Despite the fever, few producers are willing to talk publicly, though sources point to Sony as probable winners.

The publishing industry has discovered a significant base of women sharing "slash" fiction at online sites where they read and talk about their desires and interests; now Hollywood is eagerly following.

Fifty Shades, say agents and producers, might be only the first of many mined from this new literary seam.

James's literary output may be wildly popular - she has sold more than 250,000 copies since last year - but no one is making claims for its literary achievement, a cross between a Harlequin romance, nine and a half Weeks, and the controversial Mama Liz Drinks Deep series.

"My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot," James writes in one steamy section. "Anticipation hangs heavy over my head like a dark tropical cloud."

"The material is really not very good," says one leading producer who was asked to get involved.

"There are a lot of producers involved in the auction who you can't imagine having any passion for the material but see it as a pure business opportunity."

The most likely outcome, he added, is that someone will wildly overpay for the book and then try to make the movie inexpensively.

But for every Twilight saga, Hunger Games or Harry Potter, there's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which proved to be a disappointment at the box office.

James began the Fifty Shades series - Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed - as a series of postings on fan fiction online.

The forthcoming paperbacks all have bondage related covers, featuring in succession a tie, a mask and handcuffs. The books centre on the dominant-submissive relationship between 21-year-old Anastasia Steele, a university student, and Christian Grey, a rich tycoon in his late-20s. He subjugates her, including whipping her with a leather riding crop, but withholds his emotions. A book deal followed last year and sales took off.

Now the US Knopf imprint Vintage Anchor has snapped up the franchise. When the trilogy is released in the US next month, the print run will be 750,000.

Film producers hope the James genre of "mommy porn" will usher in a new era of erotic film-making.

Several adult-themed films are on the way, including a biopic of Linda Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried and Sharon Stone.

But while James will end up with millions, the film industry is entering relatively uncharted territory. On the literary side Valerie Hoskins predicts that the phenomenon can only grow because people can read this material on iPads and Kindles "without anybody knowing what they're reading".

However, there are widespread doubts that a screen adaptation could live up to the expectations.

"It may be a new phenomenon of women engaging anonymously with erotic literature online, but it's one thing to read these books privately and it's another watching it in a theatre with hundreds of other people," says the producer who turned down any involvement.

One agent says that Hollywood's desire for mommy porn has its origin in the success of Twilight, a project that was initially aimed at 15-year-olds but soon found legions of fans in women of all ages.

Those are the same women who embraced Eat Pray Love, Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, and made successes last year of Bridesmaids and the Oscar-nominated The Help, as well as turning the Belle de Jour books into surprise bestsellers and a hit TV series.

The first part of Fifty Shades Of Grey was published in paperback by Arrow last week, followed by the other two parts on April 26, all at £8.99

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