Press about Ariadne-Buch

This literary agent sells stories to Hollywood Published: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8. January 2018

Why international film companies are interested in the stories of a Munich literary agent.
(Picture: Catherina Hess)

Very few German books make it to the big screen in America. Christine Proske was successful in this endeavor: With the story of a young woman who was the sole survivor of a plane crash.

Interview by Gerhard Fischer Süddeutsche Zeitung, 9.1.2018
Translated by Brigid Wefelnberg

Christine Proske is a literary agent. She has produced books with Liselotte, with Iris Berben and with many other strong women. Proske, 55, has now sold a bestseller to Hollywood: the story of a girl who survived a fall of approx. 3,000 meters.

SZ: You sold the movie rights of the book "When I Fell from the Sky" to Hollywood…

Christine Proske: …which is a great success, as very few German books have managed to be made into movies in Hollywood to date.

"When I Fell from the Sky" tells the story of a 17-year-old German woman who was the sole survivor of a plane crash which occurred on December 24, 1971. She was rescued eleven days later in the Peruvian jungle.

Juliane Koepcke was with her mother on a flight from Lima to Pucallpa, located in the east of Peru. Her parents, who were both biologists, led a research station in the rainforest there. The plane crashed.

Why?

The plane was struck by lightning during a heavy thunderstorm.

Juliane Koepcke plummeted from 3000 meters - and survived.

She was hurled out of the plane with her seat, but the seat belt had held. One of the theories of why she survived is that the seat functioned as a sort of propeller or parachute and broke fall as did the trees of the jungle.

How severe were here injuries?

When she woke up on the ground, she was lying under her seat. She had two flesh wounds, a broken collarbone and had lost her glasses and a shoe. And she then started walking. As a child, her parents had taught her that you should look for and follow streams or rivers in the jungle. That was the surest way to eventually reach an inhabited area.

But she first came across parts of the plane.

Yes, after a few days, Juliane Koepcke did actually discover wreckage of the plane.

Did she also see dead bodies? Her mother, who had sat next to her on the plane, did not survive the crash.

No, only wreckage. She then continued on to search for a watercourse. She could hear the search planes in the sky which had been sent out after the crash. But of course, they could not spot this one little person in the jungle from that height.

What did she live off of the whole time?

She didn’t eat anything. Her parents had taught her that you should not eat in the jungle because you never know what is poisonous or not. Juliane Koepcke only had a few candies with her. She drank water from the river. For eleven whole days and without any food whatsoever, she hiked or drifted in the river.

Was not that very dangerous?

The parents had taught her: The local caimans don’t actually attack humans, and if they do, they only do so when they are on the shore.

How was she finally found?

After eleven days, she found a shelter where she lay down and was eventually discovered by three lumberjacks.

What called your attention to the story as an agent?

Juliane Diller, as she is called today, appeared in a talk show with Markus Lanz in 2009. I saw the talk show and thought this story must be made into a book. I met Ms. Diller and am very happy that I convinced her to work with me.

Did you have to do some convincing?

Yes, Ms. Diller is a very humble person and did not want a hype around her person. She became an instant celebrity in Peru after being found in the jungle in 1971. Reporters followed her every move. Due to the intense media attention, her father even sent her back to Germany to get her out of the public eye.

The book was published in Germany in 2011 and immediately landed on the Spiegel bestseller list.

It was number one for several weeks. Mrs. Diller wrote it together with Beate Rygiert, and it was published in Germany and in nine other countries: in England and the USA, just to mention a couple.

How did your contacts to Hollywood come to being?

I had noticed for some time that there was an increased focus on the “True Stories" there. And at the same time, actresses are demanding more and stronger female leading roles. I thought, I can deliver that!

What was the response?

The appeal was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to have it. Even now, I receive an inquiry a month, asking if the rights are still up for grabs.

The production company "Happily Ever After Films" won the bid

Stan Brooks of "Happily Ever After Films" has been specializing in "true stories" for a long time and convinced Ms. Diller and myself - I had a lot of producers visit my agency, short-listed some after the meetings, and eventually held an auction. "Happily Ever After Films" purchased the option on Ms. Koepcke's book in 2013. This gives the production company the exclusive rights to work on the realization of the film project. Then the waiting began, as after completing an option, it takes between three and seven years to start filming. First the script is written, then the right actress is selected and of course financing is a crucial part of the overall package.

The main role will be played by the "Game of Thrones" actress Sophie Turner.

It's a fantastic role for an actress, and Sophie Turner is a big win for the film. Not only does she play Juliane Koepcke, she is also a hands-on producer.

Where do things stand today?

The last remaining roles are currently being filled and the financing is in its final phase. Filming is scheduled for 2018. If all goes well, this film should hit the box office around the Berlinale in 2019.

Christine Proske gets up and returns to the table with three other books.

"When I Fell from the Sky" is just one of four of my agency’s books, the film rights of which I have successfully mediated. These three have also been optioned: one in Germany, one in London and another, again in Hollywood. And aside from movies, I am currently working with some international production companies on making TV series based on some of my agency's books.

Which of the three books will be filmed in Hollywood as well?

"The Girl Who Beat ISIS" by Farida Khalaf and Andrea C. Hoffmann. Farida is one of the Yezidi girls whose village was wiped out by ISIS. The men were all killed, the women and girls sold as sex slaves. Farida is an extraordinarily strong young woman who did not bow to her fate, but actively orchestrated her and five other girls’ escape. When I read about the fate of the Yazidis in the summer of 2014, I immediately knew that I would produce a book with one of these young women. The book was written during the time Farida’s found refuge in the in the Dohuk refugee camp in northern Iraq. She now lives in Germany.

A dramatic story.

As with my author Neda Soltani, whose book "My Stolen Face" was optioned by a London-based production company; or the book "Freedom for Raif Badawi" by Ensaf Haidar, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, who was flogged in Saudi Arabia and is still in jail. Without Ensaf Haidar's active commitment to her husband, no one here would know Raif Badawi.

Juliane Diller, Farida Khalaf, Neda Soltani and Ensaf Haidar are women.

The focus of my work consists of making the public aware of strong women and their stories. Women who due to extraordinary circumstances were forced to grow above and beyond themselves. They are true role models and an inspiration to all of us. It means quite a lot to me to being able to contribute to making their stories known.

That sounds good.

(laughs) In my eyes, I have the nicest job in the world. And I must say, my engagement here is not random, but converges with a trend: stories of women doing extraordinary things are selling very well right now - think of the Oscar nominations for the movie "Hidden Figures - Unknown Heroines", in which three black female mathematicians work as part of a NASA program, but first have to fight against racism and discrimination towards women in general.

Your books also all have an explicit political dimension.

The commitment to women is in and of itself political, and each fate has a political dimension. Juliane Koepcke's plane crash led to stricter airline regulations in Peru, Ensaf Haidar is fighting for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia and for her husband's release, Neda Soltani's story depicts the situation of the Iranian people. And anyone who has read "The Girl Who Beat ISIS" can no longer safely turn a blind eye to the taking in of refugees from war zones.

[Read full interview]
Hunting for Bestsellers Published: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2. July 2010

Christine Proske is a literary agent of a very special kind: always on the prowl for ideas for nonfiction books, then mediating their authors, her search is often met with success

- by Matthias Stoffregen -

Christine Proske can be very persistent. As in the case of Lieselotte Vogel, the wife of former SPD chairman Joachim Vogel. Proske had read in the paper that the couple had already decided to move into an assisted living facility, although both were still fit and by no means in need of care. Thinking that was a good topic for a book, Proske, a literary agent by profession, wrote a concept and sent it to Liselotte Vogel. "Not long after that, Mrs. Vogel politely declined my offer," Proske recalls.

Not about to give up, she repeatedly courted Liselotte Vogel with her idea until she finally agreed. The book "My life is still self-determined," which describes a way to dignified aging, became a bestseller, and the Vogel couple toured the German TV talk shows for weeks.

A stroke of luck for Christine Proske, and not the only one. Those who visit her in her agency Ariadne-Buch in Munich can’t possibly overlook the successes. Ten titles that have made it to the bestseller lists in the last two years alone and in which Ariadne-Buch was more or less involved - mostly more - are proudly presented on the reception counter. Proske not only mediates authors to publishers, but often delivers the complete book, the creation of which she worked on from the beginning.

“The authors just have to write – we take care of the rest.”

She searches for ideas and topics, draws up concepts, looks for - prominent and less prominent - authors, takes care of the editing and sometimes the marketing as well. "The authors only need good ideas and to focus on the writing," says the 47-year-old, "we do the rest”.

Proske specializes in nonfiction books - health guides as well as biographies or travelogues. She has produced books with Iris Berben, Nina Ruge or Friedrich Merz. But the authors’ prominence is not everything, she emphasizes. "It might ensure the media’s attention, but it’s the topic that is decisive." This goes as well for the other way around, of course. "The more convincing my concepts are," says Proske, "the more likely celebrities are to get involved in my book projects."

20 years ago, Christine Proske set up her own business, her agency Ariadne-Buch in Munich. Back then, it was a one-woman operation. "For the first five years, I was also working through the weekends," she says. The effort was worth it. She now employs five lecturers and 25 freelancers. Photo: Alessandra Schellnegger

Christine Proske knows her profession. She herself was a non-fiction writer and worked during her studies - German, Politics, and Theater Sciences - for the Heyne-Verlag in Munich. She was very lucky, she says. "Back then, I was occupied with the topic of friendships between women. Heyne Publishing House was interested in my manuscript and hired me as a freelancer." So she got to know the ropes of the publishing business and made contacts with a host of authors - from which she later benefited. In 1991 she became self-employed, founding her own agency: Ariadne-Buch.

She was then able to take advantage of the fact that publishers had begun to outsource more and more of their operations from proof-reading to book production, at the same time increasing their demands on subcontractors. There was a great demand for specialists who could quickly pick up on current topics and turn them into manuscripts – and, if possible, deliver the ready-to-print book. "Without an agent, authors have little chance of selling book manuscripts to publishers," says Proske. From a static point of view, there is a manuscript rejected by a publisher in every second German desk."

Nevertheless, setting up Ariadne-Buch was not easy. "For the first five years, I worked through the weekends," the agency boss recalls. "The contacts to prominent authors emerged in the course of time." In the meantime, she employs five lecturers and 25 freelancers at Ariadne-Buch: lecturers, graphic designers, marketing experts, advertising specialists and multimedia professionals. Since the agency has been in business, she has worked with more than 700 authors and published 900 titles with 30 publishers. Many authors knock on her door, quite a few of them in vain.

She rejects 80 percent of the manuscripts presented to her.

"I too am choosy," says Proske, who rejects up to 80 percent of the manuscripts presented to her. At the same time, she rightly brags that in the past 18 months, she has sold all the projects she accepted to publishing houses.

The reviewing of unsolicited manuscripts is only part of their business. "80 percent of our turnover is made with books we invent ourselves," says the Ariadne boss, as for example, the project with Lieselotte Vogel or as in the case of Osama Bin Laden. While the television was still showing the images of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the collapse of the World Trade Center, Proske decided to redraft a nearly finished book on Islamic Terrorism: she commissioned the authors Michael Pohly and Khalid Duren to write a biography about bin Laden. The book on the Al Quaida boss became a bestseller, also due to its hitting the market so quickly.

And how else does she come up with ideas? By reading a lot of newspapers, leafing through magazines, watching talk shows on TV, traveling and meeting with friends, Proske explains. In short: "I’m always observing social trends and developing topics which the book market needs." You simply have to be persistent in this business. And self-confident. Proske also finds time to invest her knowledge the next generation. Since 1999 she has been lecturing at the Munich Ludwig Maximillian University in the field of Book Sciences. "I want to pass my experience on to posterity," she says.

[Read full interview]

[Ariadne-Buch] works with authors, publishers and film companies from across the world to create non-fiction and biographical bestsellers. Our offices are located at Asamstrasse 4, 81541 Munich, Germany. Founded in 1991 by Managing Director Christine Proske, the agency has since developed into a global professional network. To get in touch, please call +49 (0) 89 / 444 490 - 0 or email info@ariadne-buch.de.