Fledgling production company Hopscotch Features is quickly fulfilling its mission to make films in Australia with international reach. Sandy George talks to the four partners.

The first productions from Hopscotch Features certainly meet the company’s key aims: to make films in Australia with Australian talent and international scope. Los Angeles-based Aussie Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow, When The War Began) is directing the gothic epic I, Frankenstein starring Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy, and France’s Anne Fontaine is directing Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville in the Australia-France co-production The Grandmothers (working title).

“There is no better indication of the spread of films we will make than these two,” says Andrew Mason, a producer on both. “The Grandmothers is a performance and character piece based entirely around that director and that cast. I, Frankenstein is a very high-concept film… it has another layer.”

Mason’s three equal partners in Hopscotch Features are Troy Lum and Frank Cox from distribution company Hopscotch Films/eOne, and writer John Collee. Rachel Okine oversees development.

Lum sees the move into production as an extension of acquisitions: “As an aggregator of content, you have to be open to as many projects as possible.”

Australian directors Gregor Jordan, Stephan Elliott, Clayton Jacobson, Robert Luketic and Ray Lawrence are attached to some of the dozen features in development; two or three are expected to go into production annually. Next in line is likely to be Paris-set The Seduction from director Rachel Ward, about a French woman reunited with the son she left in Australia years earlier.

Also well advanced is The Water Diviner, the debut feature of Anthony Maras with a script by Andrew Knight and Chris Anastassiades. It tells the story of a man returning to Gallipoli to seek reconciliation three years after the First World War battle.

“There is a shortage of projects that come to us with real international appeal, but part of our task is to look at them and see if we can give them international appeal,” said Mason.

The 2008 introduction of Australia’s producer offset, a rebate giving producers equity in films, was a factor behind the establishment of the company, which accessed funds from Screen Australia’s Enterprise Program in 2009. This backing (part loan, part grant) has principally gone towards development.

eOne, the new parent company of distributor Hopscotch Films, is not officially tied to Hopscotch Features but is influencing production. Mason was a producer on The Cave with Lakeshore Entertainment, and was looking for a project for Stuart Beattie at the same time Lakeshore was looking for a director for I, Frankenstein. When eOne did an output deal with Lakeshore, it seemed obvious for Lakeshore and Hopscotch Features to join forces. Lakeshore has sold most territories ― including the US to Lionsgate ― and Hopscotch Films/eOne will handle Australian distribution.

The Grandmothers (sold internationally by Gaumont) came to Hopscotch via French producer Philippe Carcassonne, who had another project simmering with Mason at the time he began considering Australia as a location. The Grandmothers is about two lifelong friends who fall in love with each other’s teenage sons. “It is a story that breaks social taboos but everyone looks good, the landscape looks ravishing and it all seems very natural,” says Lum.

This film has investment from Screen Australia and, while difficult to predict, Hopscotch Features executives hope to secure finance for up to half of its projects from the government agency.

Hopscotch Features

  • John Collee wrote, with others, Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, Happy Feet, Creation and animated feature Walking With Dinosaurs, which is in production. He has written three novels and worked as a doctor in five countries.
  • Frank Cox established distribution company New Vision Films in 1983. Its library was folded into Hopscotch Films when he formed that company in 2002 with Troy Lum and Sandie Don.
  • Troy Lum spent six years at Dendy before opening Hopscotch Films in 2002. He remained managing director after eOne’s 2011 purchase of Hopscotch.
  • Andrew Mason began his feature film career on Dark City and The Matrix. He has since produced or executive produced films including Queen Of The Damned, Silent Hill and Tomorrow When The War Began.