Eagle Pictures, the cash-rich Italian company, is solidifying its credentials as a Hollywood player by paying $2 million to Ron Bass to write a script and produce a film based on the Robert Mawson bestseller “The Lazarus Child.” Eagle paid $1 million for film rights to the book.

Eagle, a 14-year-old company run by brothers Ciro and Stefano Dammicco and Gianpaolo Sodano, began as a buyer and distributor of films and television in Italy. The company now has loftier aspirations — it will be doing an IPO in Italy in December — and a major goal is to be on the ground floor of star-studded projects that are usually the exclusive domain of Hollywood studios.

Earlier this year, Eagle picked up film rights to screenwriter Scott Steindorf’s adaptation of the bestselling Tom Tryon novel “Night Magic,” which deals with a young New York street magician who makes a pact with the devil and a sinister old master sorcerer eager to milk the upstart’s youth. Eagle hopes to begin production next spring, with a budget in the $45 million to $55 million range (Daily Variety, Oct. 16). Eagle is also prepping the historical-religious epic “The Cross and the Crescent,” an original screenplay by Oscar winner John Briley (“Gandhi”) and Roger Beaumont.

“We want right away to be in the blockbuster business,” said Ciro Dammicco, who wouldn’t comment on the IPO. “For a company like ours, it is very hard to be get blockbusters unless you make them yourself, and we would like to do one or two projects like this a year.”

With that in mind, he picked one of his favorite books, the Mawson novel which was published in 1998, and then set out to hook Bass. After a protracted negotiation in which Eagle put hundreds of thousands of dollars in escrow to prove its serious intentions, Bass was in. “I went to Napa Valley to meet with Ron,” said Dammicco. “He loved the book, which … will make an amazing movie. We’ll get the best director and cast.”

“The Lazarus Child” has a mind-meld premise reminiscent of “The Cell,” only this one’s a family drama.

After she’s hit by a bus, a girl goes into a coma. Her only hope comes from an eccentric researcher, who tries to get an outsider to bond with the girl and bring her back to consciousness. Authorities are ready to pull the plug on the research, but the girl’s 12-year-old brother enlists to be hooked up to travel into his sister’s mind, in hopes of bringing them both out alive.

Eagle will fully finance the feature, using existing relationships with studios that have laid off foreign rights on them to set up the Eagle pic for U.S. distribution and foreign territories. “We already have the financing in place, with offers from a major German company to have the license for international sales,” said Dammicco. “When we talk to people, they seem shocked that a European production company has made a deal for a major book and a writer like this. But that’s what Eagle has to do, the only choice we have, to make blockbusters.” Bass was repped by CAA.

GETTING AHEAD OF THE BOOK BUZZ: The new Michael Chabon novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” hasn’t created a stir with the movie crowd: They realized it was bought long ago. Scott Rudin bought rights about four years ago, paying north of $1 million when Chabon had jotted his idea for the book on a single sheet of paper. Rudin knew the author because he produced the Curtis Hanson-directed adaptation of “The Wonder Boys.” “Kavalier & Clay” turns out to be Chabon’s most ambitious and celebrated work yet, and Rudin has set the author to write the script himself.

WOODY SETS TITLE, CAST: Woody Allen, who’s always secretive about the identity and content of the films he’s making, has nonetheless chosen a title and set the cast for his new project. The comedy, which will be distribbed domestically by DreamWorks, is titled “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” It stars Allen, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Dan Aykroyd, Wallace Shawn and David Ogden Stiers. The pic’s shooting in New York, obviously.

FRENCH FRY AT FRANKFURT: Forget the $20-million-a-pic star — the most coveted resource at studios the past few days is anyone who can read French. Studios and producers have been trying to get English-language translation in order to decipher whether the Dider Van Cauwelaert novel “The Education of a Fairy” is this year’s equivalent to the Marc Levy novel “If Only it Were True.” That book was also translated in a frenzy and resulted in a flurry of screen bids before Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks won the property in a $2 million deal. “Fairy,” which is being repped by Lisa Rounds of the French Publisher’s Agency, was published last month in France, but it has created a Frankfurt frenzy for screen and U.S. pub rights. The book’s about a toymaker who falls in love with a recently widowed woman and her charming son. Their blissful union goes awry as the woman begins to stray. The son tries to remedy the relationship with the help of a checkout cashier he’s convinced is a fairy in disguise. Rounds, who’s making the rounds at Frankfurt, has set a Friday deadline for screen bids, with a decision to be made Monday. Publishing rights could take a bit longer to crystallize.

BLETHYN PICKS “PUMPKIN”: British actress Brenda Blethyn (“Secrets and Lies”) has signed to join Christina Ricci in the Zoetrope-produced “Pumpkin,” which will be co-directed by Adam Larson Broder and Anthony Abrams. She’ll then segue to Nicole Holfcener’s next pic for Good Machine. Blethyn’s repped by ICM’s Brian Mann and manager Judy Hofflund.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more