Former UKFC and Film4 book scout Kate Sinclair discusses uncovering gems Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Q and A and her current slate as a producer, which includes a comedy series from writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley and an adaptation of a Giles Foden novel about the D-Day landings.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen spent seven consecutive weeks among the UK top ten on its way to £5.8m, making it the fifth biggest UK film of the year to date.

However, the Lasse Hallstrom-directed romance-drama was a risk from the outset - an unknown novelist [Paul Torday], an unusual structure and an unwieldy title are not necessarily harbingers of success. It fell to book scout Kate Sinclair to take the first step in Salmon Fishing’s eventful journey to screen:

“I was working for the UK Film Council when I first came across Salmon Fishing in its manuscript form”, she recalls. “At the time there was a bidding war between publishers to buy it but I was the first person in the film industry to read it and I knew we had to option it. However, no one had ever heard of Paul Torday, of course. As we couldn’t buy things for ourselves per se we took the project to Paul Webster at Kudos and to BBC Films.”

Sinclair is considered among the UK’s most respected book scouts. Her role as books executive and literary consultant for Film4 and the UKFC respectively posited her at the frontline of film development. She previously struck gold when she discovered the manuscript Q and A (which became Slumdog Millionaire) from another first-time and unknown novelist, Vikas Swarup.

“Optioning an Ian McEwan novel is a no brainer even if the story isn’t filmic because he is such a brand. As is a Stephenie Meyer, JK Rowling or even a David Nicholls. The trick is to get in early when the writers are relatively unknown.”

Optioning properties in the UK can cost anywhere between a couple of hundred pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds. That ceiling meant that Sinclair didn’t always get the one she wanted:

“I remember being in a bidding war with Scott Rudin for the rights to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. He and I were among the only people to have read it and we were both talking to the agent at the same time. I remember going to Tessa Ross and saying ‘I really hope we can do this one’. But it was hilarious because we were offering thousands while Rudin was probably offering millions of dollars. We weren’t in that ball park, of course”.

Sinclair, a former theatre director, has also consulted for Kudos, Iain Canning and Emile Sherman’s See-Saw and Kevin Loader’s Free Range Films. She developed particularly strong ties with Loader with whom she is developing a number of projects under the banner of her own production company Feet Films.

Sinclair’s slate includes her own adaptation of Richard Askwith’s novel Feet in the Clouds, which she will direct and produce alongside Red Productions, Free Wheeling Films, Free Range and the Film Agency for Wales, and BFI-backed White Rose Rebel, a £10-12m-budgeted project she describes as “The battle of Culloden from a female perspective.” Peter Berry, writer of feature The Luzhin Defence and BBC TV drama The Last Enemy, is developing the script which has had backing from the BFI. Loader co-produces.

Newer projects include Turbulence, an adaptation of a Giles Foden novel about the D-Day landings, which Sinclair optioned and is fashioning into a TV special (at least one broadcaster is interested) with Berry and Loader also on board, and a comedy series adaptation of Paul Robert Smith’s novel Up a Tree at Night in a Park with a Hedgehog. Black Books and Gnomeo and Juliet writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley are attached to the latter.   

The connection between literature and film is as strong as ever. With that in mind, Sinclair says her work as a book scout will continue to inform her direction as a producer:

“Other than Turbulence, most of the books I pick up for films are from first-time writers. It’s often about going with your gut.”