HOLLYWOOD -- The eye-popping rise in star salaries is not the only thing driving up the cost of movies these days.
Last week, Warner Bros. shelled out a whopping $8 million for the latest John Grisham best seller, "The Runaway Jury."
The sale may be an aberration, yet it points up the industry's ferocious appetite for hot literary material, particularly by such brand name authors as Grisham, Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy.
Given Grisham's marquee value, agents weren't surprised by the kind of money his new novel fetched. But they're sure buzzing over a rumor that Michael Crichton's agent, Robert Bookman, plans to ask $20 million for his client's next book "Airframe," a timely story about an airline disaster. The thinking is that if Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise can demand that kind of money because they can sell tickets, why not authors like Crichton?
Bookman says he's neither read nor priced the new Crichton book yet, which won't be delivered to the publisher until next month, but he admits, "Michael Crichton should be viewed as a bankable star because he opens movies." The biggest grossing movie of all time, "Jurassic Park," was based on Crichton's book.
Studio executives acknowledge they're dishing out big bucks for movie ideas. But, in most cases, the big money is primarily being spent either on properties from proven authors and screenwriters or on a high-concept idea like "Independence Day" that is visualized as an instant movie with mass appeal.
While executives say the market is particularly hot for books, Hollywood's collective fever for the once irresistible spec script seems to have cooled considerably.
In the early '90s, some writers became very rich by selling their screenplays at auction to the highest bidder, rather than solely working on assignment for movie companies.
Hal Lieberman, production president at Universal Pictures, which has been spending liberally on projects, says companies still spend "if the material is there and the idea is great but, you have to think twice today about the marginal buy."
Pub Date: 8/26/96