Studio's int'l arm agrees first English-lingo deal

Universal Pictures Intl. has inked a two-year first-look deal with Australia’s Hopscotch Features to develop and produce Oz pics with international appeal.

It’s UPI’s first English-language distribution and co-production deal in its bid to extend its tentacles and build presence in local markets across the globe. UPI already has similar pacts with Germany’s UFA and Italy’s Cattleya.

UPI and Hopscotch will develop and produce one to two Aussie films per year using local and international talent.

All titles will be jointly distributed theatrically by the pair in Australia.

No films have yet been identified under the alliance, but Hopscotch is already developing projects with helmer-scribe Stephan Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), Rachel Ward (“Beautiful Kate”), Chris Noonan (“Miss Potter”), Clayton Jacobson (“Kenny”) and Ray Lawrence (“Lantana”). Script development and story ideas are being overseen by scribe John Collee (“Happy Feet,” “Master and Commander”), who penned the upcoming “Walking With Dinosaurs 3D,” a hot title at the American Film Market earlier this month.

“Australia has delivered some of the most critically and commercially successful movies released internationally in recent years and is clearly an important market for us,” said UPI prexy of international production and acquisitions, Christian Grass. He added that Hopscotch was a “commercially and internationally minded local production company,” which makes it an ideal partner for UPI. “We wanted to do something in Australia and make films for the local market that have the potential to have international distribution. Australia has traditionally been a very outward-looking market with a pool of great actors, writers and directors, and Hopscotch has a very professional slate,” Grass said. “Because of the English-language nature of these movies, this deal is a bit more internationally focused.”

Hopscotch principal Troy Lum said: “This partnership is a fantastic outcome for Hopscotch Features as it give us international expertise and muscle to make more larger-scale local features. It is also a great result for the Australian industry as it shows real studio commitment to our cinema landscape and specifically the local talent that makes it happen.”

Hopscotch, which is headed by Lum, Collee, Frank Cox and producer Andrew Mason (“The Matrix”), is a recipient of Screen Australia’s Enterprise Program, one of the flagship schemes of the government-backed film agency, established to build a more commercially sustainable production industry in Oz.

UPI set up its theatrical biz in Oz four years ago.

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