Hopscotch ramps up in Oz

Distributor busy with 'Boys Are Back,' 'Dancer,' 'Bright Star'

SYDNEY -- This week's release of Scott Hicks' new Australia-U.K. co-production "The Boys Are Back" is part of a hectic few months for Hopscotch Film Distribution, sandwiched between the release of Bruce Beresford's "Mao's Last Dancer" last month and Jane Campion's "Bright Star" on Dec. 26.

If those three films mark a high point for the Australian company's distribution biz, they're also providing a pathway for its evolution into a production and financing operation.

One of Oz's leading distributors, Hopscotch is a private partnership of managing director Troy Lum, director of acquisitions and marketing Sandie Don and president and industry pioneer Frank Cox. The outfit set up shop in 2003 with the release of "Bowling for Columbine," the highest-grossing doc in Australia. But its biggest success is "Mao's Last Dancer."

"Dancer" marked the first time it has co-released a title with another distributor, and the partnership with Roadshow Films has paid off.

Last week, the dance epic became the 12th-highest-grossing Australian film of all time, with AUS$14 million ($12.7 million) to date. It has accounted for 30% of Australian films' take at the local boxoffice this year.

The deal with Roadshow on "Dancer" was not a formal partnership but a relationship born of the need for extra distribution "muscle" for a bigger picture, Lum said.

Hopscotch financed the development of the film's screenplay from Li Cunxin's book and brought Roadshow in to "build a bigger campaign, run a larger number of prints and advertising, help take a bigger risk," Lum said.

The pair also will unite for the release of "Bright Star."

But it is Hopscotch's new role in development financing, which includes "The Boys Are Back" -- that has fueled broader aspirations.

Previous production and development funding has been done inside the distribution business. Now Hopscotch Features is a stand-alone business with Lum, Cox, producer Andrew Mason and writer John Collee as principals, aiming to be a "one-stop shop" for film finance, development, production and distribution.

To that end, Hopscotch Features recently received a $1 million grant from federal agency Screen Australia.