UK production outfit Warp Films has a reputation for innovative, low-budget film-making. Now the 10-year-old company is shifting up a gear with international partners, bigger budgets and intriguing titles.
There have been Baftas, Sundance hits and Cannes awards, yet Warp Films still has the same principles as when Mark Herbert started the company in his Sheffield garden shed nearly 10 years ago. “The ethos is exactly the same, we want to be enabling directors rather than disabling directors,” he says.
Following the critical and commercial success of films including This Is England, Four Lions and Submarine, Warp now has the resources to do more of that enabling on projects such as Lynne Ramsay’s Scottish drama Rocking Horse, Bobcat Goldthwait’s US co-production Schoolboys In Disgrace or an ambitious Falklands War-set ensemble called Destroyer.
Sheffield and London-based Warp occupies a unique position within the UK, making smart low to medium-budget films that win awards and connect with audiences. As the head of Warp Europe, Peter Carlton, puts it: “It’s not a sausage factory nor are we only making arthouse fodder.”
The company is now optioning more high-profile books, aiming for slightly bigger budgets, and moving beyond UK borders with European films and a new sister company in Australia. It is a far step from when Herbert set up the company in 2001, as an offshoot of the Warp record label.
The Warp team is now structured with four senior producers — CEO and founder Herbert, managing director Robin Gutch, head of Warp Europe Carlton, and head of Warp Signature Mary Burke. Key staffers also include head of production Barry Ryan, business affairs head Alex Marshall and finance director Niall Shamma.
“It’s a bunch of headstrong individuals but that makes for a very creative environment,” says Carlton. “There’s a lot of trust in each other.”
The company may have expanded but Herbert says it retains the spontaneity. “[Director] Shane Meadows came up with the idea for [new TV mini-series] This Is England ’88 over Christmas and we were in prep by January 6,” he explains. The series is now in post and will air on Channel 4 over Christmas.
Gutch adds: “The challenge is how you grow capacity and ambitions without throwing out what was special in the first place. The growth has been organic, it’s not driven by a corporate masterplan.”
Crucial early backing
Key to the company’s identity is it having started up in Sheffield before opening a London office. And Herbert says a deal with Film4 and backing from Screen Yorkshire were both crucial in establishing Warp in the early days and ensuring it remains sustainable.
Meadows himself continues to be a driving force. The film-maker is now set to direct what Herbert describes as “Shane’s Raging Bull”, which is about cyclist Tom Simpson and is based on William Fotheringham’s book Put Me Back On The Bike, being adapted by William ‘Billy’ Ivory. “It captures the sheer horror of cycling,” says Herbert.
That is one of a number of books now being developed by Warp. Gutch and Burke are working with Angus Lamont of Crab Apple on an adaptation of Sum: 40 Tales From The Afterlives, by neuroscientist David Eagleman.
TFI International is co-producing Numbers, a supernatural thriller, which is being adapted by Paul Fraser from the book by Rachel Ward.
Carlton has also optioned The Dervish House, set in Istanbul, which he says “has the possibility to be a high-octane thriller in one of the world’s most amazing cities”.
Carlton joined Warp from Film4 to spearhead European collaboration and is now seeing some of the first projects he brought in bear fruit. They include a planned 2012 shoot for Lonely Werewolf Girl, based on the book by Martin Millar, which is being made with Los Angeles-based Untold Productions.
“It’s about a 15-year-old angry, addicted werewolf. Twilight it ain’t,” says Carlton. The project will go out to directors soon.
One ambition for this title, as well as with a number of other — particularly genre — projects, is to work with European directors who aspire to English-language projects on an international scale but without Hollywood restrictions. “We love working with UK directors but we also think fresh blood can be a good thing,” says Carlton.
‘It is a bunch of headstrong individuals but that makes for a very creative environment. There is a lot of trust in each other.’
Peter Carlton, Warp Europe
Warp is also developing a UK-Germany football comedy called Wanderers, set in the 1970s, about an amateur English football team mistakenly booked to play FC Mainz in front of 35,000 people. Written by Malcolm Campbell, it is a co-production with Berlin’s Florin Film.
A further big international project is the $14.7m (£9m) Destroyer, written and to be directed by Tom Shankland, about warship HMS Coventry during the 1980s Falklands war. This project is also being planned with Crab Apple.
Destroyer should start casting soon and sales company Ealing Metro has had a strong early response from buyers. “It’s an unusual proposition, it has a Warp-like quality to it,” Gutch says. “A ship is a microcosm, old traditions and class relationships breaking down, old Britain vs new Britain.”
Warp is also on board Schoolboys In Disgrace, a fiction film based on the 1974 Kinks album, spearheaded by New York-based producers Howard Gertler and Tim Perell.
Warp’s international ambitions don’t shut the door on UK voices. Lynne Ramsay, fresh from her Cannes success with We Need To Talk About Kevin, could be ready within months to shoot her Scottish drama Rocking Horse with Warp. “She has so much vision,” says Herbert. “We just want to support her to make the film she wants to make.”
Chris Morris, who made the black comedy Four Lions with Warp, has “a lot of things bubbling away. He’ll come to us when he’s ready,” adds Herbert.
Working with emerging and first-time feature directors is part of the Warp ethos. Warp X, the low-budget digital slate, was launched in 2006 with the UK Film Council, Film4, EM Media and Screen Yorkshire. It has had a string of recent hits including Paddy Considine’s Sundance award-winning directorial debut Tyrannosaur and Ben Wheatley’s SXSW hot-seller Kill List. Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio is now in post.
Burke’s Warp Signature strand works with talents from different disciplines such as the art or music worlds. Projects are planned with comedian Matthew Holness, artists Jake and Dinos Chapman and creative outfit Shynola.
Burke is gearing up for an early 2012 shoot of Paul Wright’s Seaside Stories, set in Scotland, and starting Warp’s first animated feature, with Bafta winner Michael Please (also with Film4).
Films are the focus but the company is also working on a number of TV projects including Tony Grisoni’s supernatural thriller Southcliffe, which is likely to be a four or five-part mini-series, plus a series about international criminal gangs to be made with Haut Et Court and Canal Plus. For Warp Signature, Burke has an E4 comedy series to star viral-video kingpins The Midnight Beast.
Warp has also made a booming start with new operation Warp Films Australia, which is a separate entity headed by Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw. They licensed the Warp brand and are set up with Australian financing but share the Warp UK ethos and communicate regularly with their UK peers.
Warp Australia’s first production — Justin Kurzel’s Cannes Critics’ Week hit Snowtown — has already sold via Protagonist to the US (IFC Midnight) and UK (Revolver), and also France (ARP).
Up next for Warp Australia is Partisan, the story of a child assassin to be directed by Ariel Kleiman, who won the short prize in Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2010; as well as the latest project by Justin and Jed Kurzel, Ivan Lendl Never Learnt To Volley, about an obsessive, sports-mad father who pushes his son too far.
The companies are separate, but McLeish notes: “We share that Warp methodology and we collaborate creatively.”
Founded Warp Films in Sheffield in 2001.
Prior to that, Herbert produced TV projects including Phoenix Nights and worked as a location manager.
Joined Warp in autumn 2005, and helped launch Warp X in March 2006.
Previously worked at Blast Films, Film Four Lab and Channel 4.
Joined Warp in June 2009 after serving as Film4’s senior commissioning editor.
US-borne Burke started at Warp in 2001 as a runner and then became a script consultant and producer before heading Warp Signature.