EXCLUSIVE: “The future is a fix” in Narcopolis, a thriller set in a city where the manufacture and use of all recreational drugs is legal. Director Justin Trefgarne, a former story editor at Working Title Films who has also worked with the UK’s Ruby Films, Ridley Scott Associates and Film4, makes his feature helming debut here. Heading into the AFM, Narcopolis, which employed an unconventional financing method, has been acquired by the UK’s Altitude Film Distribution and by Canada’s Mongrel Media. (See trailer above.)

In the film, Elliot Cowan (Da Vinci’s Demons) plays Frank Grieves, a police officer and former addict, who is called to investigate an unidentifiable corpse and pulled into a world infected with corruption and in which the only person upon whom he can rely is himself. Jonathan Pryce also stars with Elodie Yung (GI Joe: Retaliation), Harry Lloyd (Game Of Thrones), Cosima Shaw (V For Vendetta), Molly Gaisford (Unborn), Adam Sims (Band Of Brothers), Josef Altin (Les Misérables), Gethin Anthony (Game Of Thrones), Nicky Henson (Syriana), James Callis (Battlestar Galactica) and Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey).

The film was financed in the UK using a stealth approach that kept the production under wraps. Internet entrepreneur Eldar Tuvey and Trefgarne produced through their TSquared Films which has a slate of projects in active development all looking to build on and refine the experience gained in making Narcopolis.

Trefgarne tells me that on Narcopolis, which was made for less than $5M, Tuvey was keen to apply the classic Silicon Valley model of angel investors for emerging start-ups. The key criteria for the investors was that they supported the film “through thick and thin, and crucially were flexible on time frame for delivery of the finished film and a return,” Trefgarne says. “In practical terms this meant that once the film was greenlit and went into production, the investors were prepared to make more money available, effectively increasing the film’s budget, when certain elements started to emerge. For example when we managed to cast Jonathan Pryce and James Callis, this then triggered a second and third wave of investment allowing us to pay them a decent fee and go after bigger locations, set building, etc, for those characters’ scenes.”

The schedule for filming was also broken into two main shooting blocks, “allowing for actors to take well-paid work and for me to work on the edit and present work-in-progress to our backers, and in specific cases make adjustments to the script to incorporate what we had learnt and fold that into the second shooting block,” Trefgarne expands.

Tuvey says, “We have tried an unconventional financing and production strategy which seems to be paying off in spades. We are very pleased that Justin’s dreams and aspirations for the quality of the finished film are all coming true.”

Trefgarne wanted his debut “to have scale to match the kinds of films that inspire me like Blade Runner and District 9. With the legalization debate currently raging, it felt apposite to imagine a world where this was a reality and then play havoc with the consequences… We pushed ourselves to create a film that would satisfy hardened genre aficionados and, at the same time, attract the top tier of sales and distribution partners and enable us to reach the widest possible audience. With Altitude and Mongrel joining us we have the best chance of realizing that dream.”

The Mongrel deal was negotiated on behalf of the producers by Nate Bolotin of XYZ Films who is handling North American sales, and Andrew Frank of Mongrel Media. Raven Banner’s James Fler is representing the film for international sales and is presenting it at the AFM.