Pair of projects for Christopher McQuarrie

Writer-producer signs for 'Champions,' 'Florence'

Christopher McQuarrie has signed on for double duty with United Artists.

UA has brought in the Oscar-winning scribe to write and produce two high-profile projects: "The Champions" and "The Monster of Florence." President of production Don Granger is overseeing both for the studio.

McQuarrie is also a co-writer with Nathan Alexander on UA's Christmas release, "Valkyrie."

"Chris is a remarkable talent who always brings a valuable perspective to the table," UA co-owner and "Valkyrie" star Tom Cruise said. "We are thrilled to be working with him on both projects."

"Champions" is derived from a late-'60s British television series about a group of government agents who encounter a hidden civilization that grants them superhuman talents. McQuarrie is hashing out the script with Guillermo del Toro, who will also produce the film but is not attached to direct.

Cruise and former UA co-owner and CEO Paula Wagner also are producing.

"Monster" tells the strange-but-true tale of popular author Douglas Preston and Italian journalist Mario Spezi, who began investigating a series of unsolved murders in Italy and wound up implicated in the case. Two years ago, McQuarrie optioned the film rights to Preston and Spezi's ensuing best-seller along with producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen ("American Beauty"). Cruise may take one of the leads in "Florence."

" 'The Monster of Florence' is a surreal account of two writers opening a proverbial Pandora's box with their research," McQuarrie said. "They witness firsthand how the misguided good intentions of others allow evil to flourish, eventually becoming a part of the story themselves."

McQuarrie's concrete involvement suggests a new push to accelerate UA's slate. The studio has been sitting on a Merrill Lynch-derived $500 million production fund, but other than the Bryan Singer-directed "Valkyrie," UA has greenlighted no other projects, even though benchmarks built into the financing deal require that two more UA movies must be out by mid-2010.

In the wake of Wagner's departure from UA in August, development activities were expected to accelerate. Her critics had charged that she had created a development bottleneck and the company needed to break the logjam of material to take advantage of its funding. Mary Parent, chairwoman of MGM's worldwide motion picture group, has been keen on getting the "Champions" script, among others, up to filming weight.

With MGM developing a rash of remakes and potential franchise properties, UA, for its part, hopes to spin "Champions" into multifilm material. UA also is developing the children's literature series "Ranger's Apprentice," the first book of which Paul Haggis is adapting with his daughter Alissa into a possible franchise.

Endeavor-repped del Toro is in the midst of reshaping J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" into two screenplays with co-writers Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh. MGM is co-producing those films with Warner Bros.

McQuarrie, who is repped by Key Creatives, is also developing "The Stanford Prison Experiment" as a writer and director. He has a production deal at UA, as does Haggis.