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Trading on author Jeffrey Archer's controversial reputation

Jeffrey Archer on a visit to Toronto in 2008

Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

With TIFF for a backdrop, a Toronto businessman with long-time Tory connections has signed a deal for the rights to make film or television versions of 10 novels by controversial former British politician and life peer Jeffrey Archer.

Jeffrey Steiner, a former head of the Toronto Economic Development Corp. - which spearheaded the creation of a new film studio on the city's waterfront - says he plans to announce a deal to adapt some of Lord Archer's novels to the screen on Thursday. And he predicted that a trilogy of thrillers that begins with 1986's A Matter of Honour could rival the movie blockbusters made from Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne series.

"I was thinking what a great fan base he has, a great name, a great storyteller," Steiner says.

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Steiner, a Conservative Party operative who is currently president of Toronto's Albany Club - a Tory institution once presided over by Sir John A. Macdonald - says he met the author in the late 1980s, when Lord Archer was deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Steiner's role in Canada's Conservative party then was to manage international connections, and he says he organized receptions for Lord Archer's visits to Toronto, when he came through town on book tours.

The two kept in touch even when Lord Archer's political reputation hit rock bottom - he was jailed for two years for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 2001. The conviction stemmed from a 1987 libel action he launched against a London tabloid over allegations he had slept with a prostitute and paid her £2,000 to leave the country.

"That was a very rough patch in his life, obviously, which he takes responsibility for. Certainly, because of his celebrity status, they really threw the book at him," says Steiner, who sent Archer messages but did not actually visit him while he was serving his sentence. "That was a humbling experience for him."

Steiner says the controversy around Lord Archer actually makes his novels more enticing: "You can call it scandal, or kind of intrigue - that seems to be quite attractive in Hollywood."

Steiner first put forward the idea of making movies of Archer's books at a breakfast in London last year. While Steiner has no experience producing films or TV, he says he learned a lot about the industry and made good connections overseeing the establishment of Toronto's waterfront film studio, now operated by Pinewood Studios Group.

Steiner's company, New Franchise Media Inc., was created with fellow investor Mark Romoff and former Warner Bros. Canada executive Dianne Schwalm, based on the model set up by producer Albert Broccoli to control Ian Fleming's James Bond franchise.

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New Franchise Media Inc. will develop the scripts for Lord Archer's books and seek partners to produce the film or TV shows, Steiner says, adding that he's already met with film and TV executives in Hollywood and London, including the U.S. network showcase. Next up: meetings with HBO.

Steiner says one model for making Lord Archer's novels into made-for-TV dramas could be The Tudors. The steamy historical series, which airs in Canada on CBC, was produced with Canadian, Irish and U.S. partners. Such productions can take advantage of tax credits and other incentives offered in Canada for film and TV, Steiner says, while marketing to a worldwide audience.

The first of Lord Archer's stable of massive bestsellers that could be made into a film, Steiner says, is the 2005 novel False Impression, which he describes as an "action crime caper story" for which Archer has already written a script.

Lord Archer, a multi-millionaire from his books, could not be reached for an interview. But his office has issued a statement of support for Steiner.

"Anyone who can get a major new film studio built, especially without any government subsidy, is just the type of chap that can navigate through the madness of Hollywood and bring together the finest talent from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.A. to make these projects into commercial successes," the statement said.

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About the Author
Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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