(L-R) Ausfilm CEO Debra Richards, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason, Zareh Nalbandian, ‘Peter Rabbit’ director Will Gluck and the film’s EP Jodi Hildebrand.

After striking pay-dirt with his debut feature The Greatest Showman, which has amassed $US400 million worldwide, Los Angeles-based Aussie director Michael Gracey could well direct one of his next projects back in Oz.

Gracey is attached to direct Naruto, an adaptation of a Japanese manga series for Lionsgate, which Zareh Nalbandian’s Animal Logic Entertainment will co-produce with Arad Productions’ Avi Arad and Ari Arad.

Written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto, the manga follows adolescent ninja Naruto Uzumaki, who dreams of becoming the village ninja, the community’s protector and leader. More than 200 million print copies have been sold worldwide and it sparked two TV anime series.

“It’s a project Michael really loves, a live action/parallel universe fantasy,” Nalbandian tells IF. “I’d love to bring such a big international production to Australia.”

Nalbandian is delighted with the results so for Animal Logic Entertainment and Olive Bridge Entertainment’s Peter Rabbit. The live-action/CGI animated family comedy/adventure directed by Will Gluck has grossed nearly $US150 million worldwide, including $US102.8 million in the US and $US24 million in China.

There is plenty of upside for the Sony release which opens in Australia tomorrow after earning $604,000 from previews and is yet to screen in Japan, Europe and South America.

“I think it will be profitable for the studio and a success for us as the producers,” he said. “Hopefully that success will spark more rabbit tales. The Beatrix Potter books are a rich universe.”

Currently Animal Logic’s Vancouver facility and its Sydney studios are sharing the workload on the sequel to the original Lego Movie, which Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are writing and producing for Warner Bros.

Half a dozen projects, a mix of hybrid and fully animated, are in development at the Imagine Entertainment /Animal Logic Entertainment joint venture.

The slate also includes Fortunately, the Milk, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s children’s novel scripted by Kiwi Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), a collaboration with Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil for 20th Century Fox; and Astro Boy, a live-action sci-fi superhero movie based on the cartoon character for New Line.

Animal Logic is weighing up whether to produce Nemesis, a fantasy set in a world of exotic creatures based on a script by the late Chris Wheeler, as a feature or a TV series, potentially for Netflix.

As the deputy chairman of Ausfilm, Nalbandian is a strong advocate of the campaign to persuade the government to raise the uncompetitive 16.5 per cent Location Offset to 30 per cent.

The industry hoped that would be one of the measures recommended by the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review. That report was handed to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield late last year and is still “under consideration.” The key outcomes may not be revealed until the federal budget.

“We are foregoing the opportunity to bring a lot of investment into our film sector in Australia and to create more consistent employment opportunities and stop the brain drain of Australian talent,” he said.

“We are seeing great people go offshore not just to work, but often to live because there is more consistency in Canada, the UK and other jurisdictions. It frustrates me that we are not putting in place a consistent policy to support our industry so that as producers we can go out and sell our great capability.

“The idea of one-offs (grants) as a way of bringing in footloose productions is just not sustainable. We are not going to give up that fight.”

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