Oliver Milburn has acted for 15 years in film, theatre and TV projects. His credits include Driving Lessons, The Descent and the UK TV series Holby Blue. Yet he seems most proud of his first credit as a feature film producer, on Gary Love's recently released urban drama Sugarhouse.
Milburn, with his long-time friend Ben Dixon, set up the London-based production company Wolf Committee in 2005. They are readying a new slate of films now that they have established themselves with Sugarhouse. "We want to make commercial films that are original," Milburn says.
The pair had been inspired to move into production in 2003 after seeing Dominic Leyton's play Collision. They worked for several years to help Leyton adapt his story into the Sugarhouse script. Then in 2005 and 2006, they brought on fellow producers Matthew Justice of Lunar Films and new low-budget studio Slingshot.
With Slingshot's speedy digital shooting approach, Sugarhouse was off the ground quickly: it shot in August 2006, screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and had a 40-screen theatrical run via Slingshot's new distribution arm.
The edgy drama about a drug addict who meets a businessman, starring Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters and Andy Serkis, did not fare well at the UK box office, but Milburn remains cheerful about the effort.
"We've got a film that opened on 40 screens, played Edinburgh, is about to get North American distribution, and had enough really good reviews. If you'd told me that a year ago, I would have bitten your arm off," he says of the film, budgeted at just $500,000. "What's important about this is that we got it made and we got it out. Slingshot took a real punt on it, and I think it will make money for them on DVD. What they are trying to do is such a wonderful thing."
Wolf Committee is now developing two other Leyton screenplays (not adapted from plays), either of which could shoot in 2008. One is a $20m-budget story of guerrilla warfare, which may need US financing as well. "We're close to signing up a director," he says. "We don't want to skimp on guns or explosions."
The second is Leyton's script Summertime Blues, "a poignant coming-of-age comedy" about a young man who befriends an outsider at work. "We've got it out with a director now, and if he says yes we'll go for more of a $6m-$10m budget, but it could go lower-budget if needed."
With writer Jonathan Gibbons they have Subculture, a $2m film about a disgruntled sub-editor in Liverpool. Another script, being written by Countryman's Dickie Jobson, is backed by music guru Chris Blackwell; Wolf Committee will produce with David Brook. Milburn says it is "a rock and roll comedy on an epic scale".
Milburn says he and Dixon attempt to set themselves apart as creative producers who want to concentrate on script and story, while also learning the hard work of hands-on producing.
Milburn says: "The way to do it is just to be really good. If a film is just really good, it doesn't matter how rock and roll and edgy it is. Do you have to have a market or do you just have to make a really great film'"