Nicolas Cage in The Surfer

Source: Radek Ladczuk

Nicolas Cage in The Surfer

Tea Shop Productions, whose psycho-thriller The Surfer starring Nicolas Cage premiered in Cannes Midnight, has unveiled a dynamic development slate featuring Ruth Paxton and Nicolas Winding Refn projects.

Paxton is lining up her next directing feature after Toronto 2021 title A Banquet with Brock Norman Brock attached to write, while producer Refn and Vertigo are collaborating with Tea Shop on a long-gestating remake of horror classic Witchfinder General.

Also in the pipeline are a co-production with Merman and Searchlight and the debut feature from Jimmy Dean based on the Julia Armfield short story Manti

Tea Shop, co-founded in 2010 by Los Angeles-based James Harris and London-based Mark Lane and run with Leonora Darby, has notched up a credits roster that includes 47 Metres Down, Into The Deep, A Banquet, and Nassem Hamed boxing biopic Giant, which is shooting now in the UK.

“Bold, commercial, authored genre” is what Darby describes as the essence of a Tea Shop project.

Projects soon to go into production include horror-thriller The Cycle, which has pre-sold to Shudder for the US, UK and Australia; a third from the 47 Metres Down franchise; a feature based on Joe Hill short story Abraham’s Boys that will shoot in LA in around a month; and the second instalment in the Fall franchise.

The set-up 


Source: Sam Taylor


“We were a sole UK-based company [when first launched],” noted Harris. “Because of the way the UK industry was set up, even films that on paper could be commercial, were made small and in a box. We thought – why don’t we make quality films with interesting filmmakers, but with an American-skewing feeling?”

“The UK has a strange relationship with commerciality – when I speak to filmmakers, it’s almost like a dirty word,” added Darby.

Harris and Lane knew each other from university. Harris worked his way up through the industry in production, while Lane cut his teeth in sales, working for UK veteran Simon Crowe. Cockneys Vs Zombies was their first feature.

While Tea Shop has some projects that are supported by soft money, they endeavour to not be dependent on it. John Maclean’s upcoming survival thriller Tornado, starring Tim Roth and sold by HanWay, was developed with the BFI, who did not then provide production funding. Screen Scotland upped its support for production.Lionsgate will release in UK-Ireland.

The key to building the company, said Harris, was rooted in not having an ego about taking on franchise projects outside of their slate, like Green Street 3, to support their own vision. “It is a business, we want to be sustainable. By doing projects for commercial reasons, it allows you then to make interesting projects,” he said.

“We’ve been approached numerous times about various deals. We have preferred partners we work with. Phil Hunt [at Head Gear] has always been very supportive. But we’ve never needed someone to look after us in that way – we’ve always found a way to get movies made.”

“We get stuff done,” added Lane. “Projects don’t sit in development, it quickly gets done. It’s a very small team. We have small overheads. If we want to make a film, it’s three people in a room, nice and simple.”

The pomp and circumstance after a film’s release is also not Tea Shop’s happy space. “I don’t think as a company we enjoy the after bit of the film. We don’t revel in it and celebrate it – we move onto the next one,” said Lane.

Tea Shop mostly work within the £15m budget range, which means the introduction of the enhanced UK tax credit for films budgeted under that mark has been music to their ears, and encouraged them to bring Giant’s shoot back from Malta to the UK, which is currently in production in Leeds. They have projects with US outfits XYZ and Thunder Road that they are also planning to now shoot in the UK.

The trio plans to produce around seven films this year. The company has also signed a production venture with AI pioneer Flawless, for a $100m fund, to produce and fully finance up to 10 commercial genre features in its first year. While Tea Shop isn’t looking to expand its core headcount to cope with the heft of its growing slate, on certain projects, line producers will step-up to lead production on the ground.

And despite their expansive slate, “Our goal is not to churn them out,” confirmed Lane. “We always keep the value of making good movies.”