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‘Rouge’ producer goes koala for next pic

Brown is structuring the film as an Oz-U.K. co-production to tap into British tax funds

SYDNEY — “Moulin Rouge” producer Martin Brown is embarking on a different kind of fantasy for his next pic — a tale about a talking koala.

Brown is teaming with L.A.-based Ian Jessel and Brit producer Nigel Thomas of Matador Pictures on “Russell,” a family adventure about an Aussie poacher who gets trapped in a koala’s body and shipped to the London Zoo after falling under an Aboriginal spell.

Befriending a feisty 10-year-old girl who likes to cry wolf gives him the chance for redemption.

L.A.-based Brit writer Simon Kelton penned the script, with a polish by Jim Piddock, a writer-actor whose thesp credits include “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

Russell Mulcahy wants to direct and is awaiting a start date before committing; the producers aim to crank up in March.

Budgeted at $16 million, the project is being launched at the American Film Market by Kathy Morgan Intl.

Jessel, a former prexy of Miramax Intl. and exec producer of Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear,” secured the rights and brought the project to Brown.

Brown is structuring the film as an Oz-U.K. co-production to tap into British tax funds. Balance of the coin will come in part from pre-sales and gap finance from a bank; Brown hopes the Film Finance Corp. Australia will contribute the last 10%.

No cast is signed yet.

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