Facing the silver screen

Agent Ivan Mulcahy merged his eponymous agency with Milburn Browning Associates in 2016 in order to position the new agency at the centre of the new world of books and TV. Based in London, MMBcreative recently brought in an agent to work on dramatic rights and Mulcahy also wants to appoint someone to take on script projects not originally from books.

Merging with Milburn Browning Associates also meant he can now leverage more of the company’s connections with commissioners and producers. “It’s a strategic decision related to the healthy growth of TV drama,” Mulcahy explains. “There are many more drama hours being filmed in English than a decade ago. Most agents will have noticed a vast pick up in the sales of their dramatic rights. It’s certainly more than twice what it was five years ago.”

“One of the things I’m most excited about is Lisa McInerney’s adaptation of her Baileys Prize- winning début, The Glorious Heresies (John Murray). It’s an example of how the multi-episode TV drama is allowing a complex story like that to be brought to the screen in a way which would have been difficult as a film,” he says. Mulcahy says the presentation for dramatic rights (an umbrella term incorporating rights such as film, stage and radio drama), from the Endemol Shine Group-owned production company Fifty Fathoms was the best he had seen. Nevertheless, he was surprised the producers asked his client to be primary scriptwriter.

“This is rare,” he says. “Before this, all Lisa had written was a blog and a short story.” Mulcahy says the resulting script for the first episode is “exceptional” and they will discover if the project has been given the green-light this summer.

Mulcahy is fascinated with how the market engages with “outliers” rather than just frontlist titles. “Martin Pistorius’ Ghost Boy was published in the US in 2011 [and is also now published by S&S UK] and was ‘orphaned’ in the sense the editor left the company just before it was published and disappeared,” he says. “But then there was a feature on national public radio that led it to being a New York Times top five bestseller and it sold in 22 other countries.” The book went from having no dramatic rights interest to an auction with six Hollywood bidders. Mulcahy sold the option for a “significant six-figures” and he hopes this will also get the green light. “The lesson from Ghost Boy made me look over our backlist of fiction and non-fiction with a fresh eye on what would work for film or TV,” he says.

The agent also believes market-shapers such as Netflix and Amazon bring opportunities and risks. “They are fresh buyers in the market, they have deep pockets due to successes. But there is an interesting battleground around rights and royalties around what you get from older and newer players. It’s wonderful, of course, to be commissioned by Netflix and Amazon, but the classic BBC model could result in the people involved in the production seeing more income down the line in rights and residuals [fees paid when it is repeated]. There’s a shift with these newer companies trying to buy out all the rights.”

He also says the industry could soon reach saturation. “Are we in a bubble here? In the US in 2015, you could have chosen from 409 different English language scripted shows. That means you could spend every day watching every episode of a different drama or comedy across an entire year and still not have time to finish them all. This represents a 94% increase in the past six years and a 1,000% increase since 2000.

“So, is this a peak from which we would soon start to fall? Netflix said they are spending $5bn on 600 hours of original content, 25% of it outside the US, and $1bn on marketing. And Amazon and Hulu are just two of 18 streaming platforms which are also expanding. The volume of good stuff being produced is so great, there’s more than people can consume.”

The Bookseller

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