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Essential Pictures has launched development of “Outlander” as a potential franchise based on the Diana Gabaldon series of fantasy novels.

The newly minted shingle’s out to directors with an adaptation from Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”); the goal is to start production next spring. Gabaldon’s series of six novels center on an 18th century Scottish Highlander and his time-traveling wife.

Essential made the announcement in conjunction with disclosing that it’s expanding operations from financing-sales shingle Essential Entertainment. The production arm’s headed by equity firm maven Jim Kohlberg and former Trilogy Entertainment president Neil Kaplan.

Essential Pictures aims to develop, finance and produce two to three films a year in the $10 million-$40 million budget range, with some financing coming from foreign sales and domestic partners.

Move comes nearly two years after Kohlberg joined with veteran sales-acquisitions exec Jere Hausfater to launch Essential Entertainment (Daily Variety, Jan. 23, 2007). Essential has since been involved in financing “Defiance,” “Point Break: Indo” and “My One and Only.”

Essential’s also developing romantic comedy “Bronwyn and Clyde,” with Barry Sonnenfeld in negotiations to direct from a script by Tom Vaughan and Kristy Dobkin. Kohlberg and Kaplan are producing along with Chris Uettwiller and Dolly Hall.