The next James Bond?

A Canadian startup thinks it's found the next Bond franchise in books by British author, politician and perjuror Jeffrey Archer.

Jeffrey Archer should be a heavy hitter in Hollywood by now. He has sold 250 million books in 63 countries, and his novels, which include political thrillers, spy novels and crime capers, could easily translate to the big screen. Yet while the works of similar authors — folks like Michael Crichton and Dan Brown — have frequently become blockbusters, Archer’s work has never graced the multiplex. True, there were three television projects based on his novels, but the last one, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, aired in 1990, and its biggest star was Ed Asner.

In an industry constantly starved for raw material, the 70-year-old author’s work stands out as an untapped resource — a fact that’s now been recognized by a new Canadian company created for the purpose of turning the British writer’s bestsellers into box-office hits. “It didn’t make sense that these very popular books, which I know are quite good, aren’t on the silver screen,” says Jeffrey Steiner, president and CEO of New Franchise Media.

Steiner’s Toronto company last month announced it had acquired the rights to 10 Archer novels, including Kane and Abel, perhaps his best-known work. The company partly models itself on Danjaq, the firm founded by Hollywood producer Albert Broccoli to manage Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise. New Franchise wants to develop scripts based on Archer’s work and partner with studios to transform them into feature films, TV movies or even television series.

Working alongside Steiner on the project is Dianne Schwalm, a respected former marketing executive with Warner Canada who left the studio earlier this year after 25 years in the field. She says Archer’s catalogue lends itself to adaptation into everything from high-brow cable series to video games.”We’re not going to have Jeffrey Archer Happy Meals at McDonald’s, but if you create the right content, there’s a platform for everything,” she says.

Steiner leads a group of private investors funding the project. While Schwalm offers show-business savvy, neither Steiner nor Mark Romoff, the company’s executive vice-president, have experience as producers. During his tenure at Toronto Economic Development Corp., Steiner did spearhead construction of a film studio, but he met Archer through political connections. A longtime Conservative, Steiner entertained the author more than two decades ago when Archer was deputy chairman of the U.K. Conservative Party. The two Tories remained in touch, and Steiner last year proposed the notion of reinvigorating the writer’s film career. “He was quite busy between his political life and being quite a prolific writer, so the idea of doing television and films was never front and centre,” Steiner says.

Also likely hampering Archer’s aims was a two-year prison sentence. The author, who served as a member of the British Parliament and once ran for mayor of London, was convicted in 2001 of committing perjury during a 1987 libel trial. The author’s convict past will probably only enhance interest in his work, says Mark Young, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “Scandal follows him around, and in today’s environment, that’s helpful,” says Young.

Much more problematic is the two-decade gap in Archer’s cinematic resum?. “There’s been a steady stream of James Bond films, which keeps the general public very aware of that particular franchise,” says Young. “It’s been 20 years for Archer. That makes things really tough.”

But Steiner argues the underdeveloped Archer brand is a boon. “It’s an asset that was just sitting there, great stories that need to be exploited,” he says. “We see that as a business opportunity.”