BFI-Pinewood backed thriller starring Dougray Scott, described as “a micro-budget Tony Scott film”, gets underway today.

Shooting on writer-director Omid Nooshin’s feature debut Last Passenger gets underway today at Shepperton Studios.

The £1.6m ($2.5m)-budgeted thriller stars Dougray Scott, David Schofield and Kara Tointon in the story of a group of passengers battling to stay alive on a speeding London commuter train.

However, the ride to production was almost as fraught as the film’s plotline, requiring a “heroic effort” on behalf of the film’s creative elements and supporters, according to executive producer Kwesi Dickson of Future Films, who boarded the film early.

After receiving development backing from the UK Film Council in 2007, the film made the Brit List [of hot unproduced scripts] in 2008. At the time NDF International were the film’s main champion. But a proposed budget of £4m ($6.2m) was a stumbling block: “The script was gripping and economical,” says Dickson, “but the asking price was unrealistic. It’s about making a film that fits the market. When we later dropped the price from £4m down to £1.6m ($2.5m) financiers and distributors were willing to take that risk on a first time director trying to make a commercial thriller. The sweat was getting it there.”

As ever, the script saw countless revisions. And it wasn’t until Nooshin, Dickson, and NDF producers Zack Winfield and Ado Yoshizaki pooled together £500 ($780) to shoot a teaser trailer over Christmas 2010 that the project kicked into another gear:

“The trailer really kicked things off,” says Winfield. “We borrowed a train from the Bluebell Railway company but only had it for one day. We got friends to stand in as cast and guys from Future came down as crew. We had a big, dark, empty train, there was 6 inches of snow on the ground and it was freezing. But we were determined to get it done in the one day. We had aimed for 20 shots but got to 19 when the generator died. Then we did a day in a studio for close-ups.”

A few weeks after the December 24 teaser shoot the finished article caused a stir after being posted online and went on to become the key bargaining chip. The impressive quality captured by the makeshift unit belies its meagre budget and it wasn’t long before the requisite funding came together (the film’s visual effects supervisor is described by one investor as “a Dutch Gareth Edwards”) .

NDF chairwoman Michiyo Yoshizaki secured Japanese investment from the Fel Corporation at the beginning of the year and Winfield and Yoshizaki tied up a presale with German distributors Square One.

Pathe came on board to handle sales in March, around the same time as lead actor Dougray Scott, and the BFI committed further production funding in May through the BFI Film Fund.

BFI senior production executive Chris Collins comments: “Supporting the film felt completely right. It was something we wanted to be a part of. We had worked with Omid before on his impressive short Panic. He’s a very exciting talent and we wanted to give him a shot at making his first movie.”

The teaser trailer went down a storm in Cannes, says Mike Runagall, SVP Pathe International: “At the time we referred to it as a micro-budget Tony Scott movie. Films like Monsters and Buried have shown that dynamic and ambitious films can be made for a price. There has been, and continues to be, a huge interest in the film.”

Pathe closed deals for Brazil (Playarte), Poland (Best Films), CIS (Paradise), Middle East (Phars), Portugal (Lusomundo), Indonesia (PT Camila), Turkey (Chantier), Thailand (M Pictures) and a pan Asian pay TV deal. “All for good prices,” adds Runagall.

Pinewood were the final piece in the puzzle, coming on board in June of this year as an equity investor and crucially providing the studio location for the 27-day shoot. The film is the second in the studio’s Pinewood Films scheme launched earlier this year, through which it will support a number of UK independent productions.

Nick Smith, commercial director at The Pinewood Studios Group recognised the film as a perfect fit for the new initiative: “Last Passenger is an exciting step forward for Pinewood Films and is exactly the sort of project we had in mind when we launched the initiative earlier this year. We are thrilled to be supporting some exciting and creative British filmmakers and wish the entire cast and crew every success.”

UK and US deals are pending. Pathe intends to show material at Berlin next year.