When Manchester-born Yehuda Avner became Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's English speechwriter and note-taker nearly 50 years ago, he never imagined that the minutes he jotted down would one day be the stuff of a book, let alone a movie. But earlier this month, the film rights to his bestselling English-language political memoir were sold to not one, but two film production companies.
In "The Prime Ministers," Avner recounts the highlights of his career working for Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, showing these politicians in moments of conflict and crisis and often describing their meetings with world leaders in astonishing detail.
Moriah Films, the film division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has acquired the rights to produce a documentary, which is scheduled for release toward the end of 2012. Silver Spring, Maryland-based Crystal City Entertainment, which recently came out with "The Ides of March," directed by and starring George Clooney, bought the rights for a dramatic adaptation for television or screen, slated for the end of 2013.
Toby Press, owned by New York-born Matthew Miller, published the 700-page tome in 2010.
"Both companies loved the book and within a week of each other, they contacted Yehuda and me, because we control the film rights together, and they both wanted it, and they both wanted it for slightly different things, which did not conflict," Miller said. "In fact, [Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin] Hier said they're happy that someone is making a commercial movie out of it, because it's all for the good as far as he's concerned. So it worked out beautifully, it was a dream deal."
"The Prime Ministers" has received widespread critical acclaim, with the Wall Street Journal calling it "a front-row drama of Israeli statecraft" and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praising its "important lessons for the future."
A finalist for the 2011 National Jewish Book Award, it sold more than 30,000 copies in the U.S., about 10,000 copies in Israel and thousands of digital versions on Kindle.
Miller, who lives in Jerusalem, refused to state the sum he received for the book's film rights but hinted that he was satisfied with the deals.
"I had no intention of writing a history of the early days of Israel, but this is what happened," Avner, 83, told Anglo File. "I set out to bring back to life people and dramatic episodes - prime ministers under tension. I feel a profound responsibility that this is going to bring history back to life rather than to simply tell another [fictional] dramatization."
Avner said he conducted intense negotiations with Crystal City to ensure he has "a very potent advisory role" in the production of the film. For the documentary, he will give extensive interviews; for the dramatized version of the book, he will record some narration but will not make a cameo, he said.
"I am an inveterate diary keeper," Avner said about the genesis of his book, adding that it is "based totally upon the actual transcriptions of the conversations that took place between the various previous prime ministers." Avner, who also served as Israel's consul in New York and ambassador to Britain and Australia, said he is currently doing research for his next book project, which will similarly draw on personal records. "Whatever I write about, I try to be the fly on the wall," he said.