New ownership is proving a boon for Australian distributor.
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20 Jun 2011 - 10:38 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 3:30 AM

The management team at Australia's Hopscotch had plenty of reasons – more than 20 million, in fact – when they sold the company to multi-national production/distribution concern Entertainment One.

But the deal wasn't just about the money: Armed with a bigger acquisition budget, Hopscotch can afford to buy more higher-budgeted titles to complement its bread-and-butter fare of commercial art-house films with crossover potential.

“It's all about expansion, the reason why we sold the company, not just because it was such a great deal,” Hopscotch managing director Troy Lum told SBS Film.

“This is going to take the company to a place where we couldn't have taken it by ourselves, and a lot faster. It gives us more confidence and money to go out there and get what we want.”

The plan is to enhance its release schedule with five or six major titles (like Source Code, pictured) per year, instead of two or three as in the past.

In April, eOne paid more than $20 million in cash and shares for Hopscotch while retaining its management team: Lum, president Frank Cox and marketing and acquisition director Sandie Don.

Being part of a network of distributors which spans the UK, the US, Canada, Benelux, Germany, France, Scandinavia and South Africa gives Hopscotch more clout in buying sought-after titles in competition with other indies and the US majors.

At this year's Cannes Film Festival Hopscotch nabbed a slew of titles including Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris; competition entry This Must Be the Place, which stars Sean Penn as a retired rock star who sets out to find his father's executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal; Seven Psychopaths, a black comedy from In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh featuring Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken; We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsey's confronting drama about a sociopathic monster and his mother (Tilda Swinton); Taylor Hackford's Parker, a thriller written by John J. McLaughlin, who co-wrote Black Swan, starring Jason Statham; and Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?

Its upcoming release schedule includes Wim Wenders' 3D dance film Pina; Mike Mills' semi-autobiographical drama Beginners, about a graphic artist (Ewan McGregor) whose life is turned upside down when his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) reveals he's gay; and Africa United, the story of three Rwandan children who aspire to take part in the opening ceremony of the 2010 Football World Cup in Johannesburg.

Lum is taking a very selective approach to buying 3D titles, noting, “The 3D brand has been somewhat tarnished after a few pretty bad movies; it doesn't have the wow factor that it did a year or two ago. People won't go to see a film just because it's in 3D.

“The difficult thing as an independent with 3D is that because the studios are so behind the 3D concept you really can't get the screen space, particularly at school holidays.”

Highly active in supporting Australian films, Hopscotch pre-bought three pics that will soon go into production: Drift, a 1970s-set surf drama starring Sam Worthington, directed by Morgan O'Neill and Ben Nott; The Sapphires, the story of a female singing group from a remote Aboriginal mission who fly to Vietnam to entertain the troops, inspired by the hit stage play, directed by Wayne Blair; and Satellite Boy, the tale of a boy who tries to save his home from developers, from writer-director Catriona McKenzie.

Hopscotch will also distribute Wish You Were Here (formerly Say Nothing), an Australian psychological drama/mystery starring Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer, directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith; and the Guillermo del Toro-produced, Melbourne-shot horror film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which toplines Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Gary McDonald and Jack Thompson.

Hopscotch Features, a joint venture with writer John Collee and producer Andrew Mason, which signed a two-year first-look deal with Universal Pictures International last November, is getting close to confirming its first production, if the project gets the green-light at Screen Australia's September board meeting.