The success of StreetDance 3D has given UK producer-distributor Vertigo Films ambitions for larger-scale films. Wendy Mitchelltalks to Rupert Preston and James Richardson.

Before StreetDance 3D became the British success story of the year, there were some nailbiting moments at Vertigo Films. The London-basedproducer-distributor, which has 25 employees, had never handled such a big release.

Head of distribution Rupert Preston says: “There was a huge amount of pressure for us to go with a bigger distributor on StreetDance, but we said, ‘No, this is what we want to do.’ It was a big gamble for us.” James Richardson, who co-founded Vertigo with Allan Niblo in 2002, adds: “It was like betting the house on it.”

Thankfully, the $6.7m (£4.5m) film has made $17m (£11.2m) after six weeks on release. So the house is secure and thinking big about its next moves. “With the StreetDance experience, we’ve learned to make films that have a bit more international ambition and just a bit more ambition in general,” says Richardson.

Vertigo was established eight years ago and quickly became known forlad-friendly films such as Nick Love’s The Football Factory and The Business, followed by gritty fare such as London To Brighton and Bronson and lower-budget indies such as In Search Of A Midnight Kiss. Vertigo is still working those smaller films ― including Guinea Pigs, a co-production with the UK’s National Film and Television School ― but also has bigger projects in the works. These include the inevitable StreetDance sequel; Nick Love’s The Sweeney, which was put on hold but is now set to resume; and the first film in a planned Horrid Henry franchise, co-produced with Novel Entertainment, which is being readied for a summer 2011 launch. All three will be shot in 3D.

The company’s other major release later this year ― Monsters ― is a quite different project, but another which was developed with Vertigo from the beginning. The company met film-maker Gareth Edwards in 2007 and made the film in 2009 for “a few hundred thousand pounds”, according to Richardson, with a crew of three and a cast of two. Since its debut at SXSW, Monsters has gone on to seal a slew of deals in Cannes via Protagonist. “You can make an immense-looking film on a low budget,” Richardson says. The picture will launch on about 250 UK screens in November.

Concentrating on such key releases for the year means the company has done fewer third-party acquisitions for distribution only. Preston says: “The revenue generated on StreetDance is worth 30-50 times that of a small independent film ― it’s a quantum leap.”

For other releases, the value of ancillary is key. The Vertigo-produced Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, had a very limited theatrical release but Preston notes it will “be one of the top-performing independent DVDs of the year”.

The street-dance phenomenon

Vertigo came up with the idea of a dance movie in May 2008. “Very soon we realised this was going to be something quite special,” says Richardson. “What’s fantastic is that Vertigo is production, distribution and sales [via sister company Protagonist], so everything is questioned in the right way, in terms of how we’re going to approach it and the audience we’re going to target.”

The street-dance phenomenon had begun to go mainstream thanks to reality TV competition Britain’s Got Talent, which featured George Sampson, Diversity (the winners of the second and third series respectively) and Flawless ― all of whom went on to star in StreetDance 3D.

Preston notes: “It has certain unique ingredients ― it was the first British dance movie, it was the first British 3D movie, it was anti the British inner-city milieu film everyone else was making. Plus you have that combination of Britain’s Got Talent talent, which had a massive following and a built-in audience.”

Vertigo was not alone in seeing the potential of the theme ― the UK Film Council’s Premiere Fund put in $1.5m (£1m), then BBC Films also came on board. An eight-minute promo at the 2009 AFM inspired bidding wars, and the team knew they wanted to get the film out before Summit’s Step Up 3D. They also capitalised on a pivotal UK release date (May 21) six weeks before the next studio 3D launch, Shrek Forever After. UK exhibitors were also keen, and ran the teaser and trailer on every 3D release from November.

The film premiered on 340 3D screens and 70 2D screens in the UK, with a DVD release set for September. The film was also an international success, sold by Vertigo sister company Protagonist to most territories worldwide, and showing on more than 2,000 3D screens in Europe this summer.

The sequel is already in the works with writer Jane English and directing duo Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini back on board (the pair also have a deal for another project with Vertigo). “We’re having a chat now about the story. It’s going to be a little more global, not just set in the UK,” Richardson reveals. “We’re still working on which characters are involved.” The sequelis likely to shoot in early 2011 for release in late 2011. StreetDance will also become a live show at the end of the year, based in London’s West End and touring.

The budget for the sequel will be similar to the first film’s $6.7m (£4.4m). Richardson notes: “It’s important to us with the second one to keep every­thing at the right level and the right price. That’s an ethos that’s been very important to Vertigo.”

That ethos applies to the whole life of the film, carrying over to sister sales outfit Protagonist and post-production company Post Republic in Germany. Also, Vertigo, Post Republic and the UK’s Paradise FX have started a one-stop UK and Germany-based 3D production house, Paradise FX Europe, which worked on StreetDance 3D.