U gives scribe seven-figure deal to adapt story

NEW YORK — David Hayter has signed a seven-figure deal at Universal to adapt DC Comics’ “The Watchmen,” with an eye toward directing the film.

It’s the latest development in a remarkable career rise, as Hayter has become one of Hollywood’s preeminent scripters of macho superhero fare — beginning with his sole screen credit on “X-Men.”

Hayter is now working with director Bryan Singer in finalizing the sequel script at Fox, and has since written on such Universal franchise fare as “The Hulk,” “The Scorpion King” and “The Chronicles of Riddick,” the latter of which is the “Pitch Black” sequel that landed Vin Diesel in a $12.5 million deal.

Hayter’s also in the homestretch on a pilot script for “Lost in Oz,” a primetime series for Warner Bros. TV and the WB Network that’s based on the series of novels by L. Frank Baum, remembered for penning books that became the basis for “The Wizard of Oz.”

Hayter’s volume of writing moved Universal to give him a blind deal, and he used it to pursue his passion project, the DC Comics series “The Watchmen.”

U is in discussions with producer Larry Gordon to option the rights to the series, which he owns. Gordon would then produce the pic for the studio.

Hayter’s take on the material got Gordon and Lloyd Levin to back him, and Hayter’s reps, WMA and attorney Dave Feldman, closed a deal for a project that becomes a priority at U, shepherded by Scott Stuber and Donna Langley.

The comic series was originally published in 12 parts in 1986, and became a cult favorite that was eventually re-released in graphic novel form.

Story begins in the 1950s, when a seemingly ordinary guy puts on a mask and superhero costume and starts kicking criminal tail. He’s joined by others who take on the same pursuit, until a law is passed that forces them to hang up their capes.

Film’s storyline begins with the mysterious murder of a couple of the former crimefighters.

“Just the way we tried to make the characters in ‘X-Men’ real and show that their superpowers were a curse as much as a gift, ‘The Watchmen’ has a very high and intense level of character development,” Hayter said. “The series deconstructed the superhero mystique and took a literate look at the comic book genre. It goes way beyond the standard hero and villain stuff and has the makings of a richly developed mystery.”

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