Australian distributor Hopscotch has enticed two of Sydney's most successful international filmmakers, producer Andrew Mason (the Matrix trilogy) and screenwriter John Collee (Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World) to help attract investment and talent to pump into its new production division.

The pair will work closely with Hopscotch managing director Troy Lum and production and acquisitions executive Rachel Okine to source and develop films. They will option books, seek out true stories, mentor talented new filmmakers and partner with other production teams.

'We are looking to develop an initial slate of five to six titles within Hopscotch Productions, and then two per year,' said Lum. 'Both of them will be advisers on every project and have a first look as producer and scriptwriter.'

Lum and Mason have not worked together on a project but realised they had similar taste and instincts after serving together for several years on the board of the New South Wales Film and Television Office.

'Various people approached me about putting together some sort of production entity and for quite a while there was some equity floating around but I kept saying that it was not going to work unless there was a distributor involved in the equation,' said Mason.

'I want to make less introverted movies, which have been a continual problem in this country, and would welcome films that reach out and play to a wider audience,' he said. 'It is no-one's fault. Everyone has just been writing to the capacity of the industry: there has been no point writing Pirates of the Caribbean because it would never be made here.'

The 40% producer rebate is seen as an opportunity to allow the Australian industry to make bigger films and this is the most significant production partnership formed since it was introduced.

Mason and Collee worked together in the very early development of Happy Feet and came together again about a year ago for Onimusha, an epic fantasy based on a samurai video game and set in Japan. It is to be directed by Frenchman Christophe Gans in China with Samuel Hadida producing. Mason was executive producer on Gans' previous film Silent Hill.

'Both John (Collee) and I have been lucky enough in the last few years to work on projects from everywhere and it gives you a different perspective,' said Mason. ' Australia has a distinct way of looking at the world and it should be interesting to the rest of the world.'

Collee said he hoped to short circuit what he describes as an 'incredibly inefficient' system of development in Australia in which writers are treated in a very 'touchy feely' fashion.

'I love the chaotic nature of the Australian film industry and the notion that it is a realm in which people can express themselves, but most people spend their lives barking up the wrong tree,' he said. 'What needs to happen with a small number of films with potential, is to be very prescriptive. We will find them and fix them. The film business is a business. In America they do not have that kind of sensitivity toward the writer.'

Hopscotch's ambitions are discussed in this week's issue of Screen International.