Sydney outfit April Films has struck an deal with investment bank Babcock & Brown to finance around two films a year for the next five to seven years. The films are likely to be in the US$5.7m-21.4m (A$8m-30m) budget range.

The deal is highly significant for the cash strapped Australian market, which has seen film investment levels plunge over the past year.

April has poured US$2.1m million into film development since late 1999 when the company was formed. The company has not, however, yet made a film.

The deal with Babcock & Brown will see April looking to finance its own films as well as films from other producers.

"This is about building a serious business financing films. We have seven or eight films in development and financing each one on a stand-alone basis did not make any sense," said Garry Charny, executive director of April Entertainment.

"Film is speculative but we believe it can also be a good commercial investment for intelligent investors who understand risk and reward."

Very little private money currently goes into Australian films although Babcock & Brown has often raised money in Australia on behalf of the Hollywood studios.

Babcock & Brown director Steven Matusko said the deal with April is exclusive within Australia so does not affect Hollywood relationships. He will be targeting high net worth groups and individuals.

Charny says April is "brutal" in its assessment of projects - just as America is. His mandate is to run with "fantastic scripts with the ability to make money", which means ensuring they work internationally. He believes culturally important films should be made - but that they won't be on his slate.

Two April films are likely to go into production next year as a result of the deal High concept comedy The Next Big Thing is written by and stars much loved comedian Magda Szubanski (Crocodile: Collision Course and Babe), and is directed by Glen Goei (Forever Fever) and will be shot in Paris.

Billed as My Fair Lady but with a fat girl, Szubanski's character wins a trip to Europe after winning a chocolate eclair eating competition and meets a world famous fashion designer.

The second film is a teen action movie with a difference, written by Helen Bandis (Love And Other Catastrophes) and to be directed by Jonathan Ogilvie.

Chief executive Philippa Bateman is the creative heart of April Films and is one of about a dozen shareholders.

The principal owners are advertising guru John Singleton, Mark Carnegie and Charny, who has a background in theatre, a corporate advisory business and media interests.

April has a first look deal in a certain budget range with Universal and an increasingly close relationship with MGM/UA - Bateman represents MGM/UA in Australia -- but no other parties are formally attached to this deal with Babcock & Brown.