Steve Luby and Mark Ruse of Melbourne's Ruby Entertainment and UK producer Deb Balderstone from Haystack have started casting and financing the romantic comedy The Wish.

News of the project came as the Screen Producers Association of Australia, at their annual conference, today declared Luby, along with Mick Molloy, as independent feature film producer of the year thanks to the success of their film Crackerjack. Crackerjack predated the creation of Ruby Entertainment and Molloy is developing his own slate.

The Wish, by first time feature writer Paul Dennis, is about a disillusioned young Irishman who escapes from his dismal life in Ireland - and his father - to a beautiful Australian seaside town, where he exorcises his demons and falls in love.

Ruby is also working on an ambitious drama based on the life of Will Dyson, Australia's first official wartime artist, and on how he and his wife dealt with the trauma of Dyson's experience in France documenting the war.

The writer is Steve Luby's brother, Peter. The artist Arthur Streeton will also be depicted in the film.

"We want to expand beyond low-budget comedies - but have three or four of them in development, including This Is Filthy Day, written by brothers Stephen and Peter Curry," said Luby. "We are more and more interested in co-productions."

Already financed under the Nine Macquarie Film and Television Fund, Film Finance Corporation Australia, and Film Victoria, is The Extra, another vehicle for the comedian Jimeon (The Craic) and to be directed by Kevin Carlin.

A March start date is planned and Bruno Charlesworth is producing alongside Luby and Ruse. Hoyts will handle the local release and negotiations continue with a sales agent.

Ruby is developing comedy and drama series and light entertainment, and signed a joint venture with Southern Star in September: "Speak to any producer about how much time is spent on administration, accounting and legals. We get that from the deal without being in any way constrained," said Luby.

The Maura Fay Award for the recognition of an individual's continuous and outstanding services to the industry went to Jane Corden of accountants Moneypenny Services and Lemac's Sue Greenshields was singled out in the services and facilities sector.