YouTube’s ‘Sunshine Girl’ Comes to Print

in Books, Harvey Weinstein, New York Times, Paige McKenzie, Perseus, Sunshine Girl, Television, The Weinstein Company, tv, web series, YouTube

 Nearly five years ago, a chirpy, animated 16-year-old named Paige McKenzie uploaded a 68-second video to YouTube. “Hey everybody, so, I know this is a little strange,” she says, then confides that her house is haunted and she aims to capture the ghost on camera.
More than 130 million views later, Ms. McKenzie’s mockumentary web series, “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” has become a full-time job. Each week, Ms. McKenzie spends 80 hours shooting, acting in and editing the show, and frenetically trading messages with viewers.
“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Google Plus, YouTube, Meerkat, the occasional smoke signals, you know,” she says when asked how she interacts with her audience. “The interaction is key. I’m accessible. My life is on YouTube.”
Now, there’s a nonvirtual place her fans can find her: bookstores. In an odd inversion of the usual page-to-screen adaptation process, Ms. McKenzie is extending her brand into print by turning her YouTube show into a series of young adult novels. The story follows the same arc as the early web episodes, as its teenage heroine and narrator, Sunshine Griffith, investigates the mystery behind a spirit haunting her house and tries to rescue her mother from demonic possession. The first book, “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” comes out this week from Weinstein Books, with endorsements from horror heavyweights like R. L. Stine and the filmmaker Wes Craven.

 Mercedes Rose, left, and her daughter, Paige McKenzie, star in the series “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.” Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times
“Sunshine Girl,” written with a collaborator, is the latest literary adaptation to emerge from YouTube as publishers and agents trawl the site in a race to land the biggest web video stars. In the past few months, publishers have released a flurry of reverse engineered titles, including “The Pointless Book,” by Alfie Deyes; “Girl Online,” by Zoe Sugg; and “Grace’s Guide,” by Grace Helbig.
Some publishers are so bullish about leveraging online audiences into print sales that they have created entire imprints dedicated to YouTube, including Awesomeness Ink and Keywords Press, which is releasing nine books this year by web personalities like Connor Franta, Shane Dawson and Justine Ezarik.
The results have been spotty. “Epic Meal Time,” a cookbook based on a YouTube show with more than 6.7 million subscribers, has sold just 2,192 paperback copies since Gallery Books published it last spring, according to Nielsen, which tracks 85 percent of sales.
“I’m holding my breath,” said Jennifer Bergstrom, vice president and publisher of Gallery Books, which will publish a book by the YouTube comedian Miranda Sings this July. “The concept of people watching videos and wanting to buy the book, I question whether that’s going to be a natural progression.”
With “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” Ms. McKenzie and her publisher hope to avoid similar pitfalls. Rather than banking on a social media brush fire to ignite her fan base, Weinstein Books is running parallel marketing campaigns, one aimed at Ms. McKenzie’s YouTube audience, the other targeting potential readers who have not heard of her. Author and publisher have posted a book trailer on Ms. McKenzie’s YouTube channel and sent galleys to influential video bloggers, but they are also courting booksellers, librarians and readers of young adult and paranormal fiction. Ms. McKenzie sent letters written in the voice of Sunshine to book buyers at Barnes & Noble stores. Weinstein printed 2,000 galleys of the first book and made it available digitally for reviewers on the website Goodreads.
“While she has a tremendous fan base we can market to directly, we didn’t know if the people who love Sunshine and watched her grow up are readers and book buyers,” said Georgina Levitt, the publishing director of Weinstein Books. “We didn’t want people to feel like this was a derivative work of a successful YouTube channel.”
If everything goes according to Ms. McKenzie’s carefully drawn blueprint, the book will establish a multimedia franchise. A television show — based on the novel based on the YouTube show — is in production at the Weinstein Company, and Ms. McKenzie’s contract locks her in as the star.
Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, said he is confident the company has a crossover hit, citing strong results from an informal focus group: “I have four daughters, and three of them are into ‘Sunshine Girl,’ ” Mr. Weinstein said, calling the story “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” for a new generation.
“Sunshine Girl” was never just a teenager messing around with a hand-held camera, despite the spontaneous, home video-feel of the show.
“None of this was by accident,” said Mercedes Rose, Ms. McKenzie’s mother, co-star and business partner. “We always thought the numbers would get so large that Hollywood would have to pay attention.”
The project started in 2010 when a film producer, Nick Hagen, contacted Ms. Rose, an actress and voice-over artist, about collaborating on a YouTube show. He chose the haunted house theme partly because the subject proved popular when he did a reverse keyword search to see what people were looking for on YouTube.
“At the time, the No. 2 search subject was ‘ghost,’ and No. 1 was ‘Lil Wayne,’ and you can’t do a whole channel on Lil Wayne,” Ms. McKenzie said.
Ms. Rose, her daughter and Mr. Hagen formed a production company, Coat Tale Productions. They quickly learned some tricks for luring in viewers, like posting warnings on the videos that say “Don’t Watch!” Rumors swirled, helpfully, that the ghostly apparitions were real. Nearly a year later, the videos passed five million views. The show now brings in around $6,000 a month in advertising.
Ms. McKenzie, who is now 20 and lives outside of Portland, Ore., says Sunshine’s character is “99.8 percent” based on her. She spent much of her adolescence in front of the camera. When she was harassed at school, she spoke about it on camera as Sunshine. She griped on the show about her wheat allergy and her frizzy hair. “I pretty much grew up on YouTube,” she said. “This is my full-time job. This is my life.”
In 2013, the literary agent Mollie Glick saw a feature on Ms. McKenzie in Seventeen magazine, and asked her if she was interested in writing a novel based on her show. Ms. Glick paired Ms. McKenzie with a young adult novelist, Alyssa B. Sheinmel, who wrote three sample chapters and an outline. A book deal quickly followed. Last spring, Weinstein bought a partial manuscript at auction — in a low-six-figure, two-book deal — and separately optioned screen rights. The company plans to expand the Sunshine series, and recently bought a third book.
“When we saw the enthusiasm building from booksellers, we reached out to the agent to get a third book going,” said David Steinberger, president and chief executive of the Perseus Books Group, which includes Weinstein Books.
As Ms. McKenzie prepares to meet many of her fans in the flesh for the first time on an 11-city book tour, she seems comfortable as the face of a new franchise. But she is also careful not to take too much credit. When asked about her writing process, she readily acknowledges that Ms. Sheinmel did the bulk of the writing.
“I can’t do this by myself, are you crazy?” Ms. McKenzie said. “I’ve never written a book. I don’t know how to do that.”

Congrats to our client Headline Pictures on the pick up of their Amazon Original series, Man in the High Castle.

in Amazon, Frank Spotnitz, Headline Pictures, Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Scott Free, Television

Amazon Orders ‘Man In The High Castle’


During Amazon Studios’ latest pilot season, The Man In The High Castle became the most-watched since the original series development program began. Amazon has now greenlit a full season of the drama from Frank Spotnitz.

The Man In The High Castle is based on Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel in which Nazi Germany and Japan were the victors of World War II. Almost 20 years later, much of the globe has been split between the two countries. But tension is mounting for the Axis powers, and the stress is playing out in the U.S. where fascism rules and the few surviving Jews hide under assumed names. (Check out a clip below.)

The drama pilot starred Alexa Davalos (Mob City), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars), Rupert Evans (The Village), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat Legacy), Joel De La Fuente (Hemlock Grove), Rufus Sewell (Eleventh Hour) and DJ Qualls (Z Nation). David Semel directed and exec produced with X-Files alum Spotnitz. Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker are also exec producers with co-executive producer Jordan Sheehan of Scott Free. Executive Producers for Headline Pictures are Stewart Mackinnon and Christian Baute. Isa Dick Hackett will also executive produce and Kalen Egan will co-executive produce on behalf of Electric Shepherd (the production arm of Dick’s estate). Christopher Tricarico is also executive producer.

Davoli Law Client, Headline Pictures, reveals their TV slate

in Baltasar Kormakur, Cybercrime, Film, Headline Pictures, Michael Douglas, Microsoft, Miniseries, Peter Pan, Philip K. Dick, Reykjavik, Ridley Scott, Ronald Reagan, Scott Free, Television, Tony Marchant, tv

1205573_The-Man-in-the-High-CastleLondon-based Headline Pictures, the outfit behind Quartet and The Invisible Woman, has revealed further details of its slate of high end TV dramas. 

One of the company’s long gestating projects, Philip K Dick adaptation The Man In The High Castle, is now shooting in Seattle.

Headline has partnered with Amazon Studios, which is wholly funding the project, and is being filmed in the first instance as a pilot.

This will be broadcast in December and a decision will be taken as to whether a 10-part series will follow.

The drama, set in an alternate future in which Germany and Japan won the Second World War, is scripted by Frank Spotnitz and is being directed by David Semel.

The Man In The High Castle has been put together as a production between Scott Free, Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd, the production arm of the Philip K. Dick estate.

“Headline created this show, secured the rights, financed the original scripts and then, with Scott Free and Electric Shepherd financed the Spotnitz scripts,” said Headline co-founder Stewart Mackinnon.

He declined to reveal the budget of the project but said “it was on a scale no-one in Europe would spend”.

Marchant commits to Cybercrime

Headline has signed up award winning writer Tony Marchant (Holding On, The Mark Of Cain, Recovery) to write its new drama, Cybercrime.

Marchant has already been researching the drama with Microsoft, which has given him access to the company’s huge cybercrime unit.

“Microsoft, over a period of three years of discussion, finally agreed to allow us access to their key people and to the unit itself,” said Mackinnon.

The Microsoft cybercrime united was set up to protect the IP of the company. “Over the past few years, this unit has grown and has given them an insight into criminality which I think is quite unique,” added Mackinnon.

The Headline boss suggested that Microsoft’s interest in supporting the drama was “to show the world that those involved in cybercrime are not the odd individual living in a back room in Birmingham, hacking into this company or that company…the major crime syndicates in the world see this as an opportunity.”

Governments, Mackinnon added, were also intimately involved in the nefarious world of cybercrime.

Marchant is working on a pilot for a 10-part series. Headline is partnering on the project with Munich-based Odeon Film, led by Mischa Hofmann. Odeon recently launched an international division.

The aim is to go into production by late 2015. The “modern spy thriller,” described by Mackinnon as “a global initiative,” will be based in Europe, Russia and the US.

Other Headline projects

The company has also developed Last Man Standing, written by Alan Whiting and to be directed by Ciaran Donnelly. This is a series set in the world of the international drugs trade.

Meanwhile, Adrian Hodges has completed his adaptation of Three Stations, the first of the TV films to be based Martin Cruz Smith’s Renko cop novels, for Headline.

The Renko dramas will be shot in Russia next year. The idea is to follow the Wallander formula. Hodges also scripted Headline’s new TV version of Peter Pan, due to shoot next year for delivery Christmas 2015.

Another Headline project, mini-series The Heavy Water War, is in post-production.

Made for Norwegian broadcaster NRK, this is based on the true story of the Allied Forces’ 1943 commando raid on a Norwegian factory plant to stop production of heavy water for Nazi Germany’s atomic bomb. Svensk is handling sales.


Alongside its TV endeavours, Headline will continue to develop feature films.

“We want to make one feature a year,” commented Headline’s production executive Christian Baute.

Reykjavik, the new Headline film about the Reagan/Gorbachev summit in Iceland in 1986, will shoot in the spring of 2015. Baltasar Kormakur is now on board as director. Michael Douglas is playing President Reagan.

Kormakur is currently finishing Everest for Working Title and will then move on to tackle Reykjavik. The Icelandic director was reportedly attracted to the project by his own childhood memories of the summit, credited with hastening the end of the Cold War.

HBO & Playtone Take On Battle Against Offshoring With ‘Factory Man’ Miniseries

in Beth Macy, Factory Man, HBO, John Bassett, Miniseries, Playtone, Television, Tom Hanks
Factory Man Tom Hanks

EXCLUSIVE: One of U.S.’ biggest economic stories of the 21st century, how to save American jobs in the face of outsourcing, is getting a personal treatments in Factory Man, a miniseries in development at HBO. The project, produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone, is based on Beth Macy’s nonfiction book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – And Helped Save An American Town. It tells the story of the Bassett family: Throughout much of the 20th century, generations of the family oversaw the rise of their furniture manufacturing company, Bassett Furniture, the biggest employer in their Virginia hometown. HBO blue logoBut with the onset of the 21st century, global capitalism threatened the future of the company, and the family scion, John Bassett III, was forced to take on China — as well as his own industry — in order to keep his family’s legacy alive. Hanks and Goetzman will executive produce the miniseries, with Steven Shareshian serving as co-executive producer and Peter McGuigan as co-producer.

Factory Man marks the first book for prize-winning journalist Macy. Since its July 15 release, it has garnered strong reviews and sales, debuting on the New York Times bestseller list at No. 10 and staying on it for seven weeks and counting. Macy received the J. Anthony Lukas Award for work-in-progress while writing Factory Man.

CAA-repped Playtone is the go-to miniseries producer for HBO. The company was behind Band Of Brothers, The Pacific and John Adams, all Emmy winners for best miniseries. It also is producing HBO’s upcoming Olive Kitteridge miniseries; the Lewis And Clark mini, which is moving towards production with the recent casting of Casey Affleck; as well as the long-gestating followup to Band Of Brothers and The Pacific. The deal for Factory Man was negotiated by David Davoli of Davoli Law Firm and Peter McGuigan of Foundry Literary + Media.

New Times Managing Editor Tim Elfrink to Consult on Showtime Drama Dope

in Alex Rodriguez, Miami New Times, Showtime, Television
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Friday, Deadline reported that Showtime is developing an hourlong drama about athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs and a South Florida doctor who provides them. The site also reported that New Times managing editor Tim Elfrink will consult on the series, along with former New Times reporter Gus Garcia-Roberts, who now writes for Newsday in New York.

Last year, New Times published Elfrink’s report, which presented evidence indicating athletes like Alex Rodriguez and others had received banned substances from Miami clinic Biogenesis. As a result, over a dozen MLB players were banned for 50 games or more, including Rodriguez, who was hit with a 211-game suspension. Elfrink’s reporting has earned him a shelf full of awards.

Dope, according to Deadline, “is timely in light of the Alex Rodriguez scandal, but it is fictional and not based on recent events.” But Elfrink and Garcia-Roberts, as consultants on the project, would provide plenty of real-world context. In addition to their extensive reporting on the Biogenesis scandal, they also have a book on the subject due out this July: Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era.

If it goes into production, Dope won’t be the first Hollywood project with a connection to New Times. Last year’s Pain & Gain, Michael Bay’s film starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was an adaptation of a New Times story about a botched murder by a gang of bodybuilders.

Dope will be written by David Hollander of Ray Donovan; he’ll co-produce with Michael Costigan, Deadline reports. Few other details about the project have been announced.

Negotiations between Elfrink and the network are still ongoing.

Showtime Developing Drama About Business of Doping Pro Athletes

in Television, tv

costiganhollanderEXCLUSIVE: Showtime has put in development Dope, an hourlong drama about the business of performance-enhancing drugs for athletes and the doctor who popularized it in South Florida. The project is timely in light of the Alex Rodriguez scandal, but it is fictional and not based on recent events. David Hollander (Ray Donovan) is writing the script and will produce with Michael Costigan (Prometheus). showtime4Serving as consultants are two journalists who have covered that Major League Baseball doping scandal extensively: Tim Elfrink, managing editor of the Miami New Times, who broke the story about the link between big names in MLB, including Rodriguez, to an anti-aging clinic in Miami, and Gus Garcia-Roberts of New York Newsday, who uncovered a report about MLB’s alleged involvement in the acquisition of stolen documents as part of its investigation into the Florida clinic. Elfrink and Garcia-Roberts are repped by Gersh, Davoli Law Firm and Foundry Media; Hollander is with CAA.