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Fox exec questions sharing film rights

Studio fostering diverse slate

SYDNEY — It may be in vogue in Hollywood, but 20th Century Fox acquisitions and productions senior VP Tony Safford has questioned the trend of selling off foreign rights, which, he says, may be “misguided.”

Delivering Wednesday’s opening speech to the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia confab — Oz’s largest gathering of producers, directors, writers and screen policy makers — Safford, on behalf of Fox Filmed Entertainment chief exec and chairman Bill Mechanic, suggested that split rights deals can actually increase costs and lead to a creatively less focused film.

“At Fox, we’d rather own 100% of a movie we believe in than 50% of a movie we don’t believe in,” said Safford, adding it might be better to “control costs and get the upside from international, which is one of the few growth areas today.”

Seeking diversity

Safford told the audience Fox wants a diverse slate including Australian films, such as the just released “Soft Fruit,” exec produced by Jane Campion, and the upcoming “Bootmen,” inspired by dance phenom “Tap Dogs.”

He announced that the first project from the 3-year-old Rupert Murdoch-Mel Gibson joint Oz venture Fox-Icon would be “Loving You, Loving Me” by Ned Lander and Rachel Perkins, which is expected to be co-financed by government financier the Film Finance Corp.

The confab coincides with the release of two government reports, which acknowledge the fragile state of Oz’s screen industry.

The reports note that while the overall value of production reached a record A$678 million ($434 million), local TV drama production slumped after the scaling back of government assistance and collapse in foreign sales. And a 52% jump to $176 million in foreign-financed films lensing Down Under masked a 27% nosedive to $178 million for production of local films, for which the box office share is at a painfully low 4%.

“Whilst the offshore productions are tremendously beneficial to crews and actors, they’re not really assisting the independent producer to grow his or her business,” says SPAA prexy Tom Jeffrey, who admitted the industry had to ask itself if “it was making films that people want to see.”