Southern star quality

Oz outfit inks with thesp for Showtime pix

SYDNEY — In a breakthrough for its TV division, Aussie producer-distribber Southern Star on Wednesday unveiled a joint venture with Bryan Brown’s NewTown Films to produce a series of movies for U.S. pay TV channel Showtime and Kerry Packer’s top-rated Nine Network Australia.

The deal draws on Showtime’s rapport with Brown, the Oz-based international actor-producer who starred in last year’s “Dog Boys” (helmed by Ken Russell) for the cable channel. The pact also builds on the relationship between Brown and Southern Star, which last year sold “Twisted,” Brown’s popular series of 12 self-contained offbeat whodunits, to more than 60 nations.

A step forward

“This is the first step in really bringing Bryan into the Southern Star family,” Southern Star Group exec chairman Neil Balnaves told Daily Variety, adding the deal “was a substantial step forward” for his publicly listed company, which has “lots of TV drama, kids and entertainment, but not A-plus TV movies.”

Return to U.S. projects

Southern Star Entertainment chief exec Errol Sullivan, who envisages co-producing three telepics annually with Brown if the first three click, said the pact marks a return, after the best part of a decade, for Southern Star to U.S. co-financed projects.

The first three movies, which will go into production this year, are:

– “Kill Sophie,” a romantic thriller about the terrorization of a protected witness on a remote tropical island off Oz;

– “Sun’s Gateway,” a mystery drama from TV scribe Paul Leadon about paddocks of sheep dying in odd circumstances and a small town vet investigating if an experimental virus unleashed by a fanatical sect is responsible;

– and “Needlepoint,” a psychological drama in which a couple trying to escape their past find horrendous things happening to them in a claustrophobic small Oz coastal town.

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