Mark Joffe’s Violet Town is one of several films being financed at Essential Media and Entertainment, the production company last night awarded the Independent Producer of the Year Award by the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA).

Goalpost Pictures was presented with the award for feature films on the strength of The Sapphires and Closer Productions received the new breakthrough producer award at a gala dinner held as part of the annual SPAA conference in Melbourne.

Essential is best known as a television producer but is due to wrap Saving Mr Banks, a major production financed by Walt Disney Studios Motions Pictures, in LA next week.

Guy Pearce, Rosamund Pike and Bryan Brown are attached to Violet Town, based on Stephen Carroll’s The Art Of The Engine. The film is written by Matt Cameron and billed as the moving story of a family, community and nascent nation being forged on the frontier, bound together by high hopes and fragile dreams. 

One of the four partners in Essential, Ian Collie, is also developing King Of Thieves with writers Andrew Knight and Adam Shand. Speaking from LA, Collie said it was the story of a small-time crook with big ambitions and a woman who stole the heart of a thief.

Sonja Armstrong is the other Essential partner heavily involved in features. She is currently financing Almost French, based on a popular memoir by Sarah Turnbull and adapted by writer/director Kate Dennis. Troy Lum, from Hopscotch, and Maeva Gatineau, are the executive producers.

Armstrong is also developing Showpony, a comedy based on New Zealand writer Jodie Molloy’s stint as a music publicist. Tim White is executive producer.

Saving Mr Banks, based on the true story of how Disney’s classic Mary Poppins made it to the screen, stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as PL Travers, the Australian writer of the Mary Poppins books.

Collie has many television credits to his name, including the one-hour documentary The Shadow Of Mary Poppins, made about a decade ago.

Saving Mr Banks is Collie’s first feature. The other producers are Alison Owen, Phil Steuer and director John Lee Hancock. It is a Ruby Films and Essential Media & Entertainment production in association with BBC Films and Hopscotch Features.

Essential recently established offices in Los Angeles and Toronto.