Twentieth Century Fox Distributors Australia has acquired Australian theatrical rights to Perfect Strangers, its first New Zealand film, with a sale price believed to be the biggest ever paid to sales agent the New Zealand Film Commission for that territory.

While a local distribution deal has yet to be signed, the film could well be one of the first to do substantial business in both countries due to its two leads.

Sam Neill is New Zealand's most famous international star - and is an investor in the film - and Australia has had a love affair with Rachel Blake since she debuted on the big screen in Lantana.

Writer/director Gaylene Preston, who also produced the film with long-time partner Robin Laing, describes the film as a "deeply twisted chilling romance". It is not due to be finished until March next year and she says the sale to Fox at such an early stage justifies the New Zealand Film Production Fund's investment.

This has been the subject of some debate because of the lack of foreign financing. It had some foreign investment at one stage but the New Zealand Film Commission stepped in on the eve of principal photography because of shortcomings in the deal.

"In the normal course of events we would expect to see 40% of the budget from offshore," said fund chair David Gascoigne. "Because it was about to start filming, the budget was modest and we had someone called Sam Neill in the lead role, we went ahead."