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Amazon gambles in film

In its first feature-film venture, Amazon has optioned screen rights to Keith Donohue's bestselling novel "The Stolen Child." Amazon will move to secure a filmmaker and then a studio partner to turn the fantasy into a live-action feature.

Move marks the first foray of the world's biggest online retailer into content creation not limited to its Web site.

Company isn't looking to co-finance the film but does bring an intriguing variable to the table: a pledge to use the clout of its site as a marketing tool for the theatrical and DVD launch.

Novel by first-time writer Donohue combines literature and fantasy and covers issues of identity. A 7-year-old is kidnapped by forest-dwelling changelings, who replace him with a look-alike. Book tracks the changeling's attempt to meld into a family and the boy who roams the woods with a pack of feral children.

Author's pic deal was made by UTA, which has guided Amazon into such recent showbiz ventures as "Amazon Fishbowl With Bill Maher." Donohue already appeared on that show, part of an ongoing Amazon.com campaign to propel sales of the book. That enthusiasm led to the movie deal, said Laura Porco, Amazon director of merchandising.

"We are always trying to innovate, based on listening to customers and the things they're passionate about," she said. "This was a book we passed around to our editorial and merchandising teams. Everybody was excited by Keith's voice and felt this could be a great movie."

Amazon.com's clout is no guarantee of a hit movie. Lionsgate made Starbucks a partner in "Akeelah and the Bee" in exchange for a marketing campaign; the effort produced no discernible benefit for the film.

Still, Joe Regal, whose Regal Literary made the book deal for Donohue with UTA, said the chance to try something new with an eager partner was persuasive.

"This is all a gamble, but if you're going to gamble, why not do something that nobody has done before?" he said. "We could have set an option deal with a studio, but Amazon just understood the book and moved quickly. Having a billion-dollar company with such marketing might behind you is appealing. If they cross-promote the DVD with the book, these are compelling things."

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Chatelin Bruno
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