Independent Australian distributor Hopscotch is reinventing itself. The company's ambitious managing director Troy Lum wants to transform Hopscotch from a theatrically-focused distributor to a vertically integrated, content-driven entity.
'When the digital era really hits, producers will reap the rewards,' says Lum. 'Distribution is changing because people consume content in different ways - it's no longer about lugging prints but all about global marketing and promotion, and smart deals across platforms.'
The Sydney-based outfit plans to be in on all of these. With producer Andrew Mason (The Matrix) and writer John Collee (Master And Commander), it is raising equity investment in Australia for a production fund to back a slate of local films with international appeal.
Hopscotch is already involved in two high-profile international productions featuring Australian talent. It has pre-bought Australian rights to Jane Campion's Bright Star, which stars Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw and is now shooting in the UK.
The company will also have a production credit. With the Australian Film Commission, it has also funded the development - a first for Hopscotch - of Bruce Beresford's Mao's Last Dancer.
Lum also introduced the project's producer, Jane Scott, to sales agent Celluloid Dreams, put up half the $900,000 (a$1m) distribution guarantee for Australian rights and is executive producer.
'Independent distributors have always relied on being faster and smarter but now we have to take bigger risks earlier,' says Lum. 'If you are crucial to getting a film up (and running), you deserve equity.'
After leaving Dendy Films, Lum founded Hopscotch in 2003 with Frank Cox (formerly of distributor NewVision). Rachel Okine is the production and acquisitions executive. In the past five years, the company has made a name for itself handling commercial arthouse titles such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Mrs Henderson Presents, Bowling For Columbine, The Lives Of Others and Pan's Labyrinth. Its 15 annual releases generate about $23.5m (a$25m) theatrically.
The new production drive sees Okine co-producing two projects from first-time Australian directors: Joel Edgerton's thriller The Professor and Kate Dennis' Almost French, a romantic comedy set to star newcomer Emma Booth and co-produced by Sonja Armstrong. 'We want to be hands-on with local film-makers and we have the international contacts to provide a bridge into the world,' says Okine.
Hopscotch is also co-producing US-based Joel Soisson's comedy biopic The Back Of Nowhere. Richard Sheffield is co-producing and The Little Film Company is handling international sales.
Lum is excited by branded content - a French brand could sponsor Almost French, for example - and Hopscotch has signed a joint venture with Sydney-based advertising agency Three Drunk Monkeys. To date, the two companies have produced DVD quiz shows and financed an Australian television series.
'Advertisers are having trouble nailing audiences because people are watching content differently,' says Lum. 'This is not advertising, because people watch voluntarily. It's a whole new frontier and a space where things can move very fast.'
Hopscotch certainly aims to keep pace.
THE CULTURAL LIVES OF TROY LUM AND RACHEL OKINE
Favourite recent film Rachel: Persepolis. Troy: Children Of Men.
Newspapers Both: The Sydney Morning Herald
Website Rachel: stuffwhitepeoplelike.com. Troy: rottentomatoes.com.
Magazines Rachel: Gourmet Traveller. Troy: Four Four Two.
(Recently-read) book Rachel: Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse. Troy: A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.
Current inspiration Rachel: up-and-coming Australian film-makers who are almost hyperactively creative. Troy: Watching my parents dance together at a wedding last week - very sweet and totally inspiring.