14 Dec 2017

Making Movies Is a Class Act

Sectionmate partnership produces star-studded new Agatha Christie film
Re: Paul Edgerley (MBA 1983)
by Jill Radsken


Glenn Close in Crooked House (photo by Nick Wall)

Crooked House, an Agatha Christie mystery published in 1949, was one of her favorites, yet it had never been adapted for film or television. Now, however, HBS sectionmates Joe Abrams and Sally Wood (both MBA 1983 E) have brought the story to life as a feature film that is scheduled for digital and theatrical release this month.

“Among the things that attracted us to Crooked House was that it hadn’t been filmed before, which meant the ending would be a surprise to most of the audience. And, as it didn’t include one of her well-known detectives, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, it had both a freshness and an edge to it, which fortunately translated to the screen,” Abrams observes.

Crooked House tells the story of a young detective called by his former lover to solve the murder of her wealthy grandfather. As he gets to know her ruthless family, however, the detective realizes that she, too, is suspect. Written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), the film was directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) and boasts a star-studded cast led by Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Max Irons, and Christina Hendricks.

Joe Abrams (photo by David Beyda)

Sally Wood (photo by Russ Campbell)

Abrams served in various executive capacities at CBS, Columbia, MGM, and ABC, before setting up his own consulting business in the media and entertainment industries. After producing Noël Coward’s Easy Virtue (starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, and Jessica Biel), he had the idea to collaborate with Wood, a longtime publishing executive who had worked with Agatha Christie’s family while at Bantam Doubleday Dell, on seeking film rights to classic literary properties.

“I got to know Christie’s daughter and grandson, and they later asked me to join the board of Agatha Christie Limited,” explains Wood.

Now the chief operating officer for the Council for Economic Education, a nonprofit focused on financial literacy for children in kindergarten through high school, Wood stayed connected with the Christie family.

Though Christie is enjoying a resurgence of attention of late—the film Murder on the Orient Express premiered last month and the BBC is adapting several stories for TV—when Abrams and Wood were exploring the potential for Christie projects there had not been a theatrical film in many years. After reading every Christie book for which the film rights were available, they each wrote down their favorites and sealed them in an envelope.

“We exchanged envelopes, and we both had put Crooked House at the top of our list,” Wood says. “Clearly spending a year in the same section, solving hundreds of cases, provided us with a similar view of assessing mystery stories!”

The lasting friendships Wood and Abrams formed at HBS extended to a network of other alums eager to help bring the clever whodunnit to the screen.

Early in the development process, Abram recalls, “we told sectionmate Paul Edgerley about the opportunity, and within 30 seconds he said, ‘If you and Sally are in, I’ll match you on the terms.” Edgerley serves as an executive producer of the film.

Then, at a later point, when Abrams and Wood were bringing together the other elements, many of the additional investors had at least one outstanding characteristic in common: Class of 1983, Section E.

Abrams notes, “Crooked House took a long time to greenlight because it is an ensemble piece. We had many exceptionally talented actors who wanted to be in the film, but they were rarely available at the same time. We were eager to get as many starring names as possible, but the real challenge was having them available over the same six-week period.

“Often in the world of independent filmmaking you don’t know who you really have until they show up on set,” Abrams adds. “What’s important now is for everyone to see Crooked House and to tell all of their friends to do the same.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1983, Section E
Class of MBA 1983, Section E

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