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|Type||Subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer|
|Founders||Arthur B. Krim
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, United States|
Orion Home Video
|Subsidiaries||Motion Picture Corporation of America (1996–1997)
The Samuel Goldwyn Company (1996–1997)
Orion Pictures Corporation is an American distribution company that produced and released films from 1978 until 1999, and was also involved in television production and syndication throughout the 1980s until the early 1990s. In 2013, MGM revived the Orion name for television; a year later Orion Pictures was quietly relaunched by MGM. It was formed in 1978 as a joint venture between Warner Bros. and three former top-level executives of United Artists. Although it was never a large motion picture producer, Orion achieved a comparatively high reputation for Hollywood quality. Woody Allen, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Oliver Stone, and several other prominent directors worked with Orion during its most successful years from 1978 to 1992. Of the films distributed by Orion, four won Academy Awards for Best Picture: Amadeus (1984), Platoon (1986), Dances with Wolves (1990), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Only two other Orion films, Hannah and her Sisters (1986) and Mississippi Burning (1988), were nominated for that same category.
- 1 History
- 2 Notable films
- 3 List of Orion Pictures films
- 4 Orion's library today
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
In January 1978, three executives of Transamerica (TA)-owned studio United Artists (UA) – Arthur B. Krim (chairman), Eric Pleskow (president and chief executive officer), and Robert S. Benjamin (chairman of the finance committee) - quit their jobs. Krim and Benjamin had headed UA since 1951, and subsequently turned around the then-flailing studio with a number of critical and commercial successes. Change had begun once Transamerica purchased UA in 1967, and within a decade a rift formed between Krim and TA chairman Jack Beckett regarding the studio's operations. Krim suggested spinning off United Artists into a separate company, which was rejected by Beckett.
The last straw came for Pleskow when he refused to collect and deliver the medical records of UA department heads to Transamerica's offices in San Francisco for the sake of confidentiality. The tensions only worsened when Fortune magazine reported an article on the clash between UA and TA, in which Beckett had stated that if the executives disliked the parent company's treatment of them, they should resign. Krim, Benjamin, and Pleskow quit United Artists on January 13, 1978, followed by the exits of senior vice presidents William Bernstein and Mike Medavoy three days later. The week following the resignations, according to the website Reference for Business, "63 important Hollywood figures took out an advertisement in a trade paper warning UA that it had made a fatal mistake in letting the five men leave. The 'fatal mistake' came true following the box office disaster of Heaven's Gate" which led to Transamerica washing its hands of the movie business by selling UA to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
In February 1978, the five men forged a deal with Warner Bros. The executives formed Orion Pictures Company, named after the the constellation, which they claimed had five main stars (it actually has seven). The new company intended to only finance projects, giving the filmmakers complete creative autonomy; this ideal was implemented with great success at United Artists. Orion held a $100 million line of credit, and its films would be distributed by the Warner Bros. studio. Orion, however, was contractually given free rein over distribution and advertising, as well as the number and type of films the executives chose top invest in.
In late March 1978, Orion signed its first contract; a two-picture deal with John Travolta's production company. In mid-April, the company announced a two-picture deal with actor Jon Voight.[clarification needed] Contracts with actress and director Barbra Streisand; actors James Caan, Jane Fonda, Peter Sellers, and Burt Reynolds; directors Francis Ford Coppola and Blake Edwards; writer/director John Milius; singer Peter Frampton; and producer Ray Stark quickly followed. Orion also arranged to finance and distribute films for British entertainment giant EMI. By the end of its first year, the company had put 15 films into production,[clarification needed] and had an additional 12 directors, producers, and actors set to sign on, making Orion a major Hollywood studio from its very inception.
Orion also began snatching up novels before publication at hefty prices in order to develop them as motion pictures. In 1979, the company paid $1 million for Sphinx (1979), a book by Coma author Robin Cook, and purchased The Wolfen (1978), Whitley Strieber's story of a group of supernatural wolves advancing on New York City. In line with its leaders' reputation for developing quirky, more sophisticated, and less commercial movies, the company also bought the rights to Final Payments (1978), an acclaimed first novel by Mary Gordon.
In 1979, Benjamin died. Orion's first film, A Little Romance, was released in April that year. By April 1980, Orion had only one successful film on their roster: Blake Edwards' 10. Other films released in that period included The Great Santini, a critically praised but underpromoted adaptation of a Pat Conroy novel, and Promises in the Dark.
Acquisition of Filmways: 1981–1983
By early 1982, Orion had severed its distribution ties with Warner. As part of the deal, the rights to Orion's films made up to that point were sold to Warner. Orion was now looking to have its own distribution network by acquiring another company with such capabilities. The four partners looked into Allied Artists and Embassy Pictures before settling on Filmways. Orion subsequently purchased Filmways and reorganized the flailing company. New employees were hired and all of Filmways' non-entertainment assets (Grosset & Dunlap and Broadcast Electronics) were sold off In June 1982, Filmways was renamed Orion Pictures Corporation.
Another result of the merger was that Orion entered television production. Orion's biggest TV hit was Cagney and Lacey, which lasted seven seasons on CBS. In 1983, Orion Pictures introduced art-house division Orion Classics with executives who had previously run United Artists Classics.
According to Reference for Business: "Of the first 18 movies the company had released as Orion Pictures Corporation, ten had been profitable, five had broken even, and three had losses of less than $2 million." One such film, Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club, was mired in legal troubles and Orion lost $3 million of its investment. '"We've had some singles and doubles [but haven't] had any home runs", lamented Krim. In September 1984, Orion distributed Amadeus, which garnered much accolades, winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
For Orion, 1985 was a dismal year; all but one film made less than $10 million in the United States box office. Orion's haphazard distribution channels and unsuccessful advertising campaigns made it impossible to achieve a hit. In January 1986, Warburg Pincus limited its 20% stake in Orion to 5%; the remaining stocks were acquired by Viacom International. Viacom hoped to use Orion's product for its pay-TV channel Showtime. Orion also expanded into home video distribution with the formation of Orion Home Entertainment Corporation.
Metromedia era: 1986–1990
Orion gained a second set of new investors on May 22, 1986, when Metromedia, a television and communications concern, purchased a 6.5 percent share. Metromedia was owned by John Kluge, a billionaire reputed to be the richest man in America, and an old friend of Krim. At the time of the Metromedia purchase, Orion announced that its quarterly income had fallen by more than a third. During the summer of 1986, however, the studio's luck began to change, as Back to School, an aggressively advertised film starring comedian Rodney Dangerfield, fared well at the box office. The movie would go on to become one of the year's biggest money-makers, taking in $90 million.
In December 1986, Kluge and his partner Stuart Sabotnick spent $20.4 million to increase their stake to 9.3 percent, and eventually to 12.6 percent. Orion got a fourth major shareholder one month later, when National Amusements, Inc., a Massachusetts-based chain of movie theaters, purchased 6.42 percent of the company's stock. These moves fueled speculation that the company might be the target of takeover attempts.
Overall, despite the success of Back to School, Orion's revenues for fiscal year 1986 dropped dramatically from those of the previous year. The company reported a loss of $32 million, after releasing such expensive flops as The Bounty, starring Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh. By March 1987, however, the situation had improved, and the company was able to bask in the glow of a string of critically acclaimed hits, including Platoon, which would go on to win an Academy Award for best picture, Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, and the basketball epic Hoosiers. With a total of 18 Academy Award nominations, Orion's revenues soared to a level substantially higher than that of any other studio, and the studio had the second-highest revenues from ticket sales at the start of the year. Though by the end of 1987, Orion had slipped to fourth overall in box office receipts, the company had won seven Oscars and scored box office hits with Platoon, RoboCop, and No Way Out.
In light of these positive results, Kluge raised his stake in Orion even further in 1987, to nearly 20 percent of the company's stock. Soon Kluge was engaged in a full-scale bidding war with Orion's other major stockholder, Sumner Redstone of National Amusement Corporation. National Amusement had purchased all of Orion investor Viacom International, bringing its share of Orion to 21 percent, and then added another 5 percent for a total of 26 percent. Shortly thereafter, Kluge raised his stake to 31 percent. In February 1988, Redstone filed for permission to increase his share to 36 percent. Kluge responded by proposing to raise his stake to 57 percent. Outsiders wondered at the wisdom of such a duel. Orion's stock price was driven to perhaps unjustified heights, given the studio's high rate of long-term debt, which had reached 64 percent of capitalization.
Finally, Kluge triumphed on May 20, 1988, when he bought out Redstone's share in Orion for $78 million. Holding nearly 67 percent of Orion, Kluge became the owner of what was, in effect, a private company. Given that Orion's assets did not seem to merit the price paid, and that control of the company would have remained in friendly hands even without the buyout of Redstone, Wall Street observers were puzzled by Kluge's expenditure. "This amount is probably so small to Kluge it doesn't matter", one analyst suggested to the Wall Street Journal. "He probably burns that up in a weekend."
Orion had reason to hope this was the case, as the studio released a series of box office bombs in 1989. Orion's offerings that year included Erik the Viking, Heart of Dixie, and The Package. The company came in last in market share among the major Hollywood studios, after the 17 films it released notched less than five percent of domestic box office revenues, pulling in just $60 million. Among its most expensive flops were Great Balls of Fire!, starring Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis and Winona Ryder as his teenage bride; She-Devil, a domestic horror comedy featuring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Arnold; and Valmont, a remake of Les Liaisons dangereuses, an eighteenth-century novel and twentieth-century play that already had been adapted and released as Dangerous Liaisons just a few months earlier. "Weird Al" Yankovic was viewed somewhat as a potential saviour by Orion based on test screenings of his comedy UHF, but that film also proved to be a flop.
After releasing several busts the previous year, Orion announced a distribution agreement with Columbia Pictures Entertainment in February 1990, in which the much larger studio would release Orion's movies overseas. Columbia paid the studio $175 million as an advance against future earnings from all the films the company produced in the next six years, its next 50 videocassette releases, and some Orion television properties. Orion had previously relied on a patchwork quilt of distribution deals to get its movies into theaters in lucrative overseas markets, and the arrangement with Columbia allowed it to streamline and consolidate its distribution operations.
A week after the Columbia deal closed, rumors began circulating that Metromedia would sell its share of Orion. Adding to this uncertainty, 1990 soon developed into another bad year for the studio. After releasing such disasters as The Hot Spot, State of Grace, and Eve of Destruction, Orion racked up losses of $15.6 million on revenues of $134.9 million. In addition, creative accounting, which had allowed the company to postpone acknowledgement of its losses, began catching up with Orion.
The studio was in dire financial straits when it got a big break in December 1990 with the release of Kevin Costner's Western epic Dances with Wolves. It won seven Academy Awards, including best picture, and became a massive hit, generating over $400 million worldwide. In March 1991, Orion followed this up with The Silence of the Lambs, a thriller starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins which also did very well.
Despite these two bright spots, the bulk of Orion's offerings fared poorly, and Kluge, who had kept the studio afloat through periodic injections of cash, announced that his stake in the company was up for sale. With little to offer, Orion began actively seeking a willing investor.
Signs of financial trouble at Orion were growing. Two high-profile hits were not enough to make up for several years of money-losing projects. In addition, the company had spent large sums in an attempt to begin producing shows for television, raising its long-term debt to $509 million and accepting the attendant heavy interest payments. The television unit never turned a profit. Strapped for cash, Orion began selling off promising film projects, such as The Addams Family, at fire-sale prices in an attempt to stay in business. The Addams Family was sold to Paramount Pictures for roughly $22 million.
At the 63rd Annual Academy Awards on March 1991, host Billy Crystal made reference to Orion's financial problems in his opening monologue, joking that "Reversal of Fortune [is] about a woman in a coma, Awakenings [is] about a man in a coma; and Dances with Wolves [was] released by Orion, a studio in a coma." In April 1991, Kluge, who still owned the bulk of the company, removed Orion's two top executives, including his friend Arthur B. Krim, and appointed younger executives from within the company to try to turn the studio around. One month later, Orion reported a loss of $48 million in its last year of operation, ceased making interest payments on its debts, and entered negotiations with its unhappy bondholders. As Orion disclosed that legal but questionable accounting practices had hidden the full extent of its losses for much of its existence, angry shareholders launched a series of lawsuits. By November 1991, Orion's losses had continued to mount, and its debt had reached $690 million. Although the company was trying desperately to reach an agreement with its creditors that would allow it to release films it had finished, talks broke down early the next month.
On November 25, 1991, Orion sold its Hollywood Squares format rights to King World Productions after Orion closed down its television division. On December 11, 1991, Orion filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and continued to operate as "debtor in possession" of its business, according to the legal papers.
Later in December 1991, New Line Cinema Corporation, a company that had grown successful with its Nightmare on Elm Street series and the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), put forward a plan to take over Orion. In February 1992, Orion reported that it had worked out a deal with New Line Cinema, but talks foundered on the issue of price and were finally called off in April. ABC, PolyGram, Republic Pictures, and the then-new Savoy Pictures also attempted to buy Orion, but no deal materialized.
At the Academy Awards ceremony, broadcast on March 30, 1992, Crystal yet made another reference to Orion, this time about its demise:
Take a great studio like Orion: A few years ago Orion released Platoon, it wins Best Picture. Amadeus, Best Picture. Last year, they released Dances with Wolves wins Best Picture. This year The Silence of the Lambs is nominated for Best Picture. And they can't afford to have another hit! But there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Orion was just purchased, and the bad news is it was bought by the House of Representatives.
The Silence of the Lambs swept all five major Academy Awards, but by then, most of its top executives, as well as the actors and producers with whom it had done business, had left the company. In their absence, Orion struggled to come up with a way to renew itself by releasing completed movies. Hollywood observers held scant hope that Orion could be resurrected in anything resembling its previous form. At the time of the collapse of the New Line Cinema deal, one executive told the New York Times, "the only other plans I'm aware of ... are tantamount to liquidation." At the end of Summer 1992, it was uncertain whether Orion would survive.
The bankruptcy of Orion delayed the release of many films the studio had produced or acquired, among them RoboCop 3 (1993), The Dark Half (1993), Blue Sky (1994), Car 54, Where Are You? (1994), Clifford (1994), The Favor (1994), and There Goes My Baby (1994). It was not until 1993 and 1994 that the films were finally shown.
Final Years: 1996–1998
Orion was eventually able to exit bankruptcy by 1996, but few of the films released during the four years after bankruptcy protection were successful either critically or commercially.
In the years ahead, Orion produced very few films, and primarily released films from other producers, including LIVE Entertainment. Orion Classics, minus its founders (who had moved to Sony Pictures Entertainment and founded Sony Pictures Classics), continued to acquire popular art-house films, such as Boxing Helena (1993), before Metromedia merged the subsidiary with Samuel Goldwyn Entertainment in 1996.
In July 1997, Metromedia shareholders approved the sale of Orion (as well as Samuel Goldwyn Entertainment and Motion Picture Corporation of America) to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This led to the withdrawal of 85 employees, including Krevoy and Stabler, while 111 other employees were to be laid off within nine months, leaving 25 of them to work at MGM. One Man's Hero (1999) was the last film released by Orion.
Orion Returns: 2013
In 2013, MGM revived the Orion Television brand (after its original TV unit was shut down during its bankruptcy era) with a new syndicated series, Paternity Court.
In 2014, Deadline Hollywood reported that Orion would release the MGM-backed remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown in October. Bloody Disgusting's article on the same issue reported that Orion was "recently revived." Orion is also releasing the Brazilian film Vestido pra Casar. Deadline later reported that Orion will serve as MGM's multiplatform distribution unit focusing on specialty films.
During the 1980s and early '90s, Orion's output included Woody Allen films, Hollywood blockbusters such as the first Terminator and the RoboCop films, comedies such as Throw Momma from the Train, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Something Wild, UHF, and the Bill & Ted films, and best picture Academy Award winners Amadeus, Platoon, Dances with Wolves, and The Silence of the Lambs.
Following is a list of the major Academy Awards (picture, director, the two screenplay and four acting awards) for which Orion films were nominated.
|Film (Year)||Major Oscars||Nominee||Outcome|
|The Great Santini (1979)||Best Actor||Robert Duvall||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actor||Michael O'Keefe||Lost|
|A Little Romance (1979)||Best Adapted Screenplay||Allan Burns||Lost|
|Arthur (1981)||Best Actor||Dudley Moore||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actor||John Gielgud||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Steve Gordon||Lost|
|Prince of the City (1981)||Best Adapted Screenplay||Jay Presson Allen and Sidney Lumet||Lost|
|Amadeus (1984)||Best Picture||Won|
|Best Actor||F. Murray Abraham||Won|
|Best Director||Miloš Forman||Won|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Peter Shaffer||Won|
|Broadway Danny Rose (1984)||Best Director||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Lost|
|The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)||Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Platoon (1986)||Best Picture||Won|
|Best Director||Oliver Stone||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Oliver Stone||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actor||Tom Berenger||Lost|
|Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)||Best Picture||Lost|
|Best Director||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actor||Michael Caine||Won|
|Best Supporting Actress||Dianne Wiest||Won|
|Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Won|
|Hoosiers (1986)||Best Supporting Actor||Dennis Hopper||Lost|
|Throw Momma from the Train (1987)||Best Supporting Actress||Anne Ramsey||Lost|
|Bull Durham (1988)||Best Original Screenplay||Ron Shelton||Lost|
|Mississippi Burning (1988)||Best Picture||Lost|
|Best Director||Alan Parker||Lost|
|Best Actor||Gene Hackman||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actress||Frances McDormand||Lost|
|Married to the Mob (1988)||Best Supporting Actor||Dean Stockwell||Lost|
|Radio Days (1988)||Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Lost|
|The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)||Best Adapted Screenplay||Jean-Claude Carrière and Philip Kaufman||Lost|
|Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)||Best Director||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actor||Martin Landau||Lost|
|Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Alice (1990)||Best Original Screenplay||Woody Allen||Lost|
|Dances With Wolves (1990)||Best Picture||Won|
|Best Director||Kevin Costner||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||Graham Greene||Lost|
|Best Supporting Actress||Mary McDonnell||Lost|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Michael Blake||Won|
|The Silence of the Lambs (1991)||Best Picture||Won|
|Best Director||Jonathan Demme||Won|
|Best Actor||Anthony Hopkins||Won|
|Best Actress||Jodie Foster||Won|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Ted Tally||Won|
|Love Field (1992)||Best Actress||Michelle Pfeiffer||Lost|
|Blue Sky (1994)||Best Actress||Jessica Lange||Won|
|Ulee's Gold (1997)||Best Actor||Peter Fonda||Lost|
List of Orion Pictures films
Orion's library today
Almost all of Orion's post-1982 releases, as well as most of the AIP and Filmways backlogs and all of the television output originally produced and distributed by Orion Television, now bear the MGM name. However, in most cases, the 1980s Orion logo has been retained or added, in the case of the Filmways and AIP libraries (except the Streamline Pictures library).
Most ancillary rights to Orion's back catalog from the 1978–1982 joint venture period remain with Warner Bros., including such movies as 10 (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Arthur (1981), Excalibur (1981), and Prince of the City (1981). Some post-1982 films originally released by Orion - Lionheart (1987), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) and Amadeus (1984) (the latter two being Saul Zaentz productions) - are currently distributed by Warner Bros. as well. HBO also owns video distribution rights to Three Amigos (1986), which co-produced the film and owns pay-TV rights. However, MGM owns all other rights and the film's copyright.
Woody Allen's films A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) and Zelig (1983) are the only Orion films from the original joint venture period now owned by MGM. Orion releases produced by the Hemdale Film Corporation and Nelson Entertainment are included in MGM's library as well, and are incorporated into the Orion library. MGM did not acquire the Hemdale films, (which include The Terminator, Hoosiers, and Platoon) or the Nelson films (including the Bill & Ted films), until MGM bought the pre-1996 library of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, which included both companies' libraries, although the television and digital rights to certain Nelson films are now held by Paramount Pictures, with television syndication handled on behalf of Paramount by Trifecta Entertainment & Media.
Many of the film and television holdings of The Samuel Goldwyn Company have now also been incorporated into the Orion library (with ownership currently held by MGM), and the copyright on some of this material is held by Orion, except The New Adventures of Flipper now carries the MGM Television Entertainment copyright.
In popular culture
In an episode of Family Guy, mayor Adam West writes an unprovoked, angry letter to the constellation Orion's Belt. He then flies to the constellation and punches it, and the stars form the Orion Pictures logo. West then says, "That's right. All you are is a failed production company."
- Easton, Nina J. (1990-07-19). "Whither Orion? : The Last of the Mini-Major Studios Finds Itself at a Crossroads". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- Medavoy and Young, pp. 83-90
- "Orion Pictures Corporation."] Reference for Business
- That's a Wrap: End of MGM/UA That Was - Los Angeles Times. Articles.latimes.com (2008-08-02). Retrieved on 2013-08-16.
- Medavoy and Young, pp. 95-97
- Associated Press. "Top Stars Join Orion Pictures" Wilmington Morning Star (November 22, 1978; page 10-A). Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- Medavoy and Young, p. 104
- Medavoy and Young, p. 122
- Tzioumakis, Yannis (2006). AMERICAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 228–229.
- Medavoy and Young, p. 181.
- "COMPANY NEWS; Orion Pictures Stake Increased". The New York Times. 1987-12-17. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- "A 6.5 % Stake In Orion Pictures". The New York Times. 1986-06-03. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Ramirez, Anthony (1992-02-21). "BUSINESS PEOPLE; Chief at Orion Pictures Is Joining Paramount". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Billy Crystal Oscars Opening -- 1991 Academy Awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-YouTube Channel. Retrieved on June 11, 2013.
- "COMPANY NEWS; Orion Pictures' Stock Increases". The New York Times. 1991-02-09. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- "KING GETS THE SQUARE". Broadcasting: p. 26. 1991-11-25.
- Stevenson, Richard W. (1992-04-22). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; New Line Breaks Off Talks On Buying Orion Pictures". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- "COMPANY NEWS; 2d Company Makes Bid for Orion Pictures". The New York Times. 1992-04-10. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Billy Crystal Oscars Opening -- 1992 Academy Awards. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-YouTube Channel. Retrieved on June 11, 2013.
- "Orion Pictures' Losses Widen". The New York Times. 1992-04-08. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Weinraub, Bernard (1992-04-01). "MEDIA BUSINESS; Can Ninja Turtle Owner Rescue Orion Pictures?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
- Medavoy, Mike and Young, Josh (2002). You're Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot. New York City: Atria Books