As Warp Films marks its 10th anniversary, founder Mark Herbert [pictured] speaks to Wendy Mitchell about the iconoclastic UK company’s decade of growth
The traditional 10th anniversary present is aluminium. Far too boring for the likes of Warp Films, which recently celebrated its first decade with a live rescored screening of Dead Man’s Shoes at Sheffield’s Magna Science Adventure Centre followed by a DJ party and screenings that lasted until dawn.
“It turned into a giant rave in a steel-mill with 1,500 people,” says Warp founder Mark Herbert. The anniversary celebrations are a loose, year-long affair. The November 17 Sheffield party followed an October 19 screening at London’s BFI Southbank of This Is England with a live score by original composer Ludovico Einaudi and Gavin Clark.
As the celebrations continue, Warp is offering limited edition merchandise, a reprint of the Dead Man’s Shoes graphic novel and a planned book that will be “like a big scrapbook” (more info at Warpfilms10.com).
Such idiosyncratic offerings are par for the course for Warp Films, a company that has continually innovated.
Mark Herbert founded the company in Sheffield in 2001 (famously working out of his garden shed) as an offshoot of record label Warp. “I thought if we just make one film that’s amazing,” he remembers. In 2002 the business produced its first short, My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117, directed by Chris Morris.
The company’s features have since included This Is England, Four Lions, Submarine, Kill List, Tyrannosaur and recent multiple-BIFA winner Berberian Sound Studio. Warp X, the low-budget digital slate, was launched in 2005 with the UK Film Council, Film4, EM Media, Screen Yorkshire and Optimum Releasing, and is now finished (Seaside Stories is the final Warp X production).
Surveying that decade, Herbert sees more than just the work on screen: “What’s really made me the proudest is looking at the people who started as assistants and interns and runners who are now producing their own stuff. All these people have just flourished. That’s the best thing for me looking back, seeing all these people develop.”
For instance, Mary Burke started as a production assistant 10 years ago and has gone on to produce features including Submarine and Berberian Sound Studio. Ally Gipps started as Burke’s assistant and has grown to an associate producer on Submarine and Kill List. Libby Durdy started as Herbert’s assistant and has now co-produced Shane Meadows’ forthcoming Stone Roses documentary and This Is England ’88.
The Warp team is now structured with four senior producers — chief executive and founder Herbert, managing director Robin Gutch, head of Warp Europe Peter Carlton, and head of Warp Signature Burke. Key staffers also include head of production Barry Ryan, business affairs head Alex Marshall and finance director Niall Shamma.
Herbert is not sentimental about Warp’s work. He says his usual approach is: “I finish a film and I think about the next one. What’s been amazing [with the 10th anniversary] is making myself and people within Warp look back.”
He says that the diverse range of films “all still feel like they are from the same company but are also totally different”. If there is a common thread running through Warp’s productions, he says, it is that they are “made with incredible film-makers”.
Warp has been a big supporter of new talents with debut film-makers such as Richard Ayoade on Submarine or Paddy Considine on Tyrannosaur. One aim is to then “make sure we’re a home for second and third features”.
The company doesn’t shy away from difficult or controversial subject matter: “Some of the more difficult films might look tough sells, but we’re reaching an audience,” says Herbert.
Current projects include the Stone Roses documentary and Paul Wright’s Seaside Stories now in post; Belfast-set thriller ’71, set to shoot in spring 2013; and Falklands War drama Destroyer, now at financing stage. Meadows is developing his biopic of cyclist Tommy Simpson (William ‘Billy’ Ivory is now adapting the script).
Of the Roses film, due for a mid-2013 release, Herbert says: “It doesn’t feel like a music documentary, it feels like a Shane Meadows film.”
Going places fast
Warp has branched out into television, with Meadows’ This Is England moving on to the small screen for This Is England ’86 (2010) and This Is England ’88 (2011), with This Is England ’90 in development. Another recent TV project is E4’s The Midnight Beast. Tony Grisoni’s supernatural thriller mini-series Southcliffe is in development.
“TV’s becoming a big part of the company, taking the producing quality we have in film and translating that to TV.” Herbert continues: “I love the immediacy of TV. There’s something really amazing to know that three million people are watching at once.”
Another new direction will be family oriented projects and the company has optioned Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones, a novel set in Victorian England.
But don’t expect puppies and rainbows. This is a story about a murder mystery at a freak show. “It’s about classic Warp outsiders,” Herbert says with a smile. It will be shot in 2014 at an “ambitious” budget level. A writer is being attached (Film4 is on board for development) and no director is yet on board.
“I got the manuscript and read it on the train [between London and Sheffield] and I sat on the train and finished it while people were cleaning up around me,” he says. “It’s got an amazing pace. It’s a page-turner, so filmic you can just see it in your head.”
The book is published in March 2013 (by Walker in the UK and Candlewick in the US) and the author is already writing a second novel, so a film franchise could be possible.
Another area of growth has been international expansion, with Warp Australia set up in 2008 with Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw.
“That came about very naturally, there was a passion and appetite for our kind of films,” Herbert says. Warp Australia produced Justin Kurzel’s acclaimed Snowtown and has Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland’s Shopping in Sundance in January.
And of course Warp’s relationships in the UK continue to be crucial. Film4 has long been a partner for the company. And distributor StudioCanal (formerly Optimum Releasing) also has close ties.
“Those relationships we’ve had from day one have grown and become even stronger,” Herbert says.