For a Hollywood talent agent looking for somebody hot to sign up, the winner and even some other nominees (see below) for BAFTA’s Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer fits the bill. Previous winners have been Duncan Jones, who’s currently making Source Code starring Jake Gyllenhaal for Summit, Steve McQueen (currently filming Shame in New York), Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights), and Joe Wright (Atonement). So the most recent winner is Sunday night’s writer/director/actor satirist Chris Morris for his feature film debut and black comedy Four Lions, about an inept group of Jihadi suicide bombers from Sheffield, England. Both the BBC and Channel 4 rejected his pitch even though Moore was a seasoned British TV satirist with several shows to his credit. (His The Day Today anticipated Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show by 3 years.) And one right-leaning UK tabloid had dubbed him “The most hated man in Britain”. But, when it came to funding his film, “a lot of people were unable to think beyond their jumpy gut reaction” said Morris, who spent 5 years researching and making his pic. Screenwriters Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, whose other credits include Bruno and Channel 4 comedy Peep Show, came on board. In the end, Film4 and UK distributor Optimum came up with the $3.8 million budget. Drafthouse released Four Lions domestically on November 5th. So far it has grossed $4.2 million worldwide:
Director Clio Barnard was a nominee and made a film called The Arbor about a bleak housing project in the north of England that teenage playwright Andrea Dunbar grew up in the 1970s with graffiti everywhere and piss-stinking lifts. After a promising career, Dunbar died a booze-sodden death in her local pub having drunk herself into a brain hemorrhage. Barnard, a video art director, wanted to find out what had happened to The Arbor in the 20 years since Dunbar’s death. Art organisation Artangel provided most of the budget along with the UK Film Council and More 4, Channel 4’s documentary channel. Barnard spent 16 days shooting the film back in 2009. In addition to being nominated for a BAFTA, Barnard won a Best Debut Director award at the British Independent Film Awards in December. She’s also been nominated for Best Screenplay at the Evening Standard British Film Awards on February 5. Strand Releasing is due to debut The Arbor in New York at the Film Forum Triplex on April 27th. “I never even expected The Arbor to get a theatrical release,” Barnard says. For now she’s ignoring the siren call of Hollywood. Her next feature for Film4 is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant about an ogre who won’t let children play in his garden.
legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull has called another nominee, Monsters director Gareth Edwards, “the next Chris Nolan”. Like Nolan, Edwards has bypassed the Wardour Street film establishment completely and made Monsters on a micro-budget. Vertigo Films, the small Brit company behind Streetdance 3D, had been looking to make a CGI film. Edwards was a jobbing visual effects director who wanted to break into features. His agent sent Vertigo a show-reel of various natural disasters he’d created for the Discovery Channel. He’d also won a Sci-Fi Channel competition to make a short film in 48 hours using a title picked out of a hat. His five-minute short, Factory Farmed, “was just brilliant”, Vertigo CEO Allan Niblo tells me. “Gareth came to us and said he wanted to make the most realistic monster movie ever – and this was before Cloverfield and District 9,” says Niblo. Edwards shot the feature on location in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala over 5 weeks before spending another 8 months editing 100 hours of improvised footage in his tiny London studio flat. It won three British Independent Film Awards for Best Director, Best Production Achievement and Best Technical Achievement last December. Magnolia released it in the U.S., and the film has grossed $3.5 million worldwide. Now Tull and Legendary Pictures have hired Edwards to direct its new version of Godzilla, due to be released in 2012.
Another nominee was writer-director Nick Whitfield whose first feature Skeletons won Best New British Feature Film at last summer’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Whitfield made a short version first as a calling card and sent it to London-based producer Forward Films. In the end, local screen agencies EM Media and Scottish Screen split the $500,000 budget between them. Indiepix released Skeletons on DVD in the U.S. last year after it premiered at SXSW. Whitfield told me: “Americans seem to love it because they’re charmed by its very English sense of humour, yet it also delivers an emotional promise to the audience which a lot of European films do not.” Whitfield is currently writing two more features for Forward Films. One is Trenchmen, a bittersweet comedy about WWI soldiers returning home, and the other is My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time, based on Liz Jensen’s novel about a Victorian girl who uses a time machine to arrive in present-day America.