FOX GOES ON HUNT DOWN UNDER

Add 20th Century Fox to the growing list of major players that have joined the hunt for Australian films and talent.

The studio’s rekindled enthusiasm for Aussie creativity isn’t founded solely on its plans for a $30 million studio complex in Sydney.

After the Cannes fest, Fox senior VP acquisitions and production Clifford Werber made his first trip Down Under to spread the word that Fox is aggressively looking to produce and acquire Aussie films.

“We’re looking to create a stable of relationships, which could involve development assistance, production (coin) or assistance with overheads,” said Werber, who’s spending two weeks here meeting more than a dozen producers.

“With the new facility, it creates a tremendous opportunity to help grow this market. The plan is to create a real buzz and hubbub of activity around the facility. We owe it to ourselves to be more active here.”

With Tom Rothman heading Fox’s new specialized domestic distrib Searchlight, and a global machine to feed, Werber says, “We have the capacity and the capability to market and distribute more films.”

The message was well-received by producers, some of whom have already been courted by Miramax, Samuel Goldwyn, Polygram, Ciby and others. Fox is “very keen to create a presence here and to get involved in development. They recognize you have to get in at an early stage because you can’t acquire finished films,” said one producer who met with Werber.

Werber characterizes Fox as an “existing (Aussie) player that intends to get a lot more aggressive.”

As examples of the studio’s existing Aussie connections, he cited “Strictly Ballroom” helmer Baz Luhrmann’s deal to do a modern version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Connections with an upside

Other examples include Gillian Armstrong’s pact to direct “Oscar and Lucinda,” and the pickup of Jerzy Domaradzki’s “Lillian’s Story” for Australian distribution.

Werber says his quest is to find and export “films which offer an upside and entertainment value.”

Seeking to dispel Aussie producers’ fears of Hollywood encroaching on their creative autonomy, Werber said, “We don’t know how to make small, quirky Australian pictures or how to do films in the $2 million to $6 million budget range.”

The exec was quick to add that there’s no cap on budgets, suggesting Fox would be equally ready to back a $20 million pic helmed by someone like Alex Proyas, the Aussie who scored with “The Crow.”

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