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Dawn of the ‘Deadly’

Toon studio and indie producer prep skein

SYDNEY — Producer Suzanne Ryan and leading animation studio Yoram Gross-EM.TV are breaking new ground on “Deadly,” a 13-part series based on the children’s novels by Oz authors Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings.

Skein is the first collaboration between Gross and an indie producer, and it’s one of the first projects backed by the new Distinctly Australian children’s drama fund.

The Film Finance Corp. launched the fund to encourage producers to make programs on reduced budgets, without the need for international pre-sales, to maximize the chances of reaping profits from offshore.

The fund caps budgets at A$200,000 ($148,000) per half-hour. Yoram Gross-EM.TV general manager Geoff Watson says the producers will use either Flash software or a simple 2-D process, which entails fewer drawings than normal. Either technique will mean savings of 25%-30% with no loss of quality, he adds.

The Nine net has pre-bought Oz rights to “Deadly,” a humorous yarn about the quest for eternal youth involving such oddities as “marauding botty worms,” two-headed giraffes, whale gizzards and bad hair days. Pre-production has just started for a planned February shoot.

Gross’ studio will handle physical production with Ryan and will represent sales rights outside Oz, in return for a small equity investment.

As for the alliance with Ryan, Watson says, “The FFC is encouraging producers to collaborate to become stronger, and this is our first step in that direction.”

The other Distinctly Australian project to get the greenlight is Perth-based producer Paul Barron’s “Streeetsmartz,” a scripted drama shot in docu style that follows the adventures of a wannabe music entrepreneur, his friends and family.

Gross’ burgeoning DVD game business looks set to accelerate after Watson revealed he’s sealed a deal with the U.K.’s Chorion to develop games based on Agatha Christie’s novels. He says the first game will be released late next year, with the major push to come in 2006.

That follows the success of “Atmosfear,” a game developed by Gross in conjunction with Couple of Cowboys’ Phil Tanner, which is being marketed in the U.S. via the Pressman Toy Corp. Watson has just signed a deal with Hasbro to release “Atmosfear” in Europe, excluding Spain.

At Gross’ Sydney studios, production is under way on a second series of “Seaside Hotel,” a “Fawlty Towers”-ish tale of an eccentric couple and who run a hotel and their two kids, for France’s TF1 and Oz’s Seven.

In development is “Diary of an Alien Princess,” a skein about a 13-year-old princess from another planet who gets stranded on Earth.

Created by American Naomi Janzen, the project was brought to Gross by L.A.-based YG USA, a co-venture with Coote/Hayes Prods. Watson is looking for a co-production partner.

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