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Raising Embargo

A bumper 2012 has seen the UK production company’s films at Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Edinburgh and Toronto. Screen talks to the company’s founders about their projects from Nick Love’s The Sweeney to Paul Andrew Williams’ forthcoming Miss You Already.

With the kind of infectious enthusiasm that courses through the London-based company, Embargo Films producer Christopher Simon says: “It has been the most exciting two years.”

Impressively prolific and energetic, Embargo’s core comprises writer-director Barnaby Southcombe and producers Simon ― whose credits include Boogie Woogie and The Proposition ― and Felix Vossen. Since launching at Cannes 2010, the trio have co-produced four films: I, Anna, which debuted in Competition at this year’s Berlinale; The Sweeney, which recently opened the Locarno Film Festival; Pusher, a Michael Powell Award contender in Edinburgh and a Toronto Vanguard entry; and the Uberto Pasolini-directed Still Life, which is in post-production.

They also executive produced Katrine Boorman’s documentary Me And Me Dad, and their next film, Miss You Already ― one of the buzz titles at the 2012 EFM ― is due to shoot this winter.

To an extent, the diversity of projects reflects their different personalities.

“It feels like we’re all really different,” says Southcombe, who wrote and directed Embargo’s first film, I, Anna, which stars his mother Charlotte Rampling. “Creatively we all have a hand in deciding what we do, be it a film that I direct or the material we produce. But clearly we do have our specialisms.”

Film buff Vossen previously worked in asset management, Simon has a range of acting and producing credits and Southcombe directed a number of popular UK TV shows before I, Anna.

“Maybe some people have creative game-plans about what they want to do but we are very instinctive,” adds Simon. “We do things that we’re excited about.”

‘It feels like we’re all really different. Creatively we all have a hand in deciding what we do, but we do have our specialisms’

Barnaby Southcombe, Embargo Films

The group has forged strong bonds at home and abroad, including with UK producer-distributor Vertigo Films, with which they produced Pusher and The Sweeney; London-based financier Exponential Media Group, which has backed all their films to date; and the likes of sales executive Thorsten Ritter, who worked on I, Anna at Bavaria and now Still Life at Beta Cinema. 

“We are picking people to work with who we know and trust and people we can learn things from,” says Vossen.

But at the same time the team is not afraid to experiment. Miss You Already, the company’s next feature, marks a change of direction from thrillers I, Anna, Pusher and The Sweeney. “After exploring a tougher, urban landscape, we are now moving into a more heartfelt phase,” suggests Simon.

Paul Andrew Williams (Song For Marion) will direct Miss You Already, a comedy-drama about a lifelong friendship that is tested by serious illness. UK comedian and actress Morwenna Banks wrote the script and sales outfit The Salt Company International pre-sold the film to eOne for the UK, Canada and Australia during the EFM. The $10m budget is Embargo’s biggest to date.

Growth is high on Embargo’s agenda. Plans include a new London office, an in-house development fund, an EIS scheme to help bankroll projects and an Australian production base ― which makes sense because Simon is Australian and Southcombe is part New Zealander.

Australia’s attractive tax incentives and the team’s local connections are informing Embargo’s slate. Karaoke road movie What Makes Me Tic is being written by Australian Abe Forsythe and will shoot there.

“Australian films have become increasingly dark in recent years,” says Simon. “What I loved growing up in Australia was the frank, abrupt and original sense of humour, which is why I connected with these projects.”

The team is also developing an action-comedy called Contractors, about five government contractors fighting to the death, from playwright Steven Lally; and Southcombe is attached to direct Embargo’s UK road movie Trivial Pursuits, a BFI-backed script by first-time feature writer Tom Nash.

Embargo Films

  • Barnaby Southcombe made his feature directorial debut with I, Anna, after directing a number of UK TV shows including Waterloo Road, Footballers’ Wives and Bad Girls.
  • Felix Vossen previously worked in asset management.
  • Christopher Simon’s production credits include Boogie Woogie and The Proposition.

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