Entertainment & Arts

Warp Films' new breed of Brit flick

Warp Films productions (clockwise from top left): This Is England, Tyrannosaur, Four Lions, Submarine
Image caption Warp Films made (clockwise from top left): This Is England, Tyrannosaur, Four Lions and Submarine

With This Is England, Submarine and Four Lions, Sheffield-based Warp Films has become a major force in British film with a vision for innovative, uncompromising films.

Comedy terrorists, 1980s skinheads, lovelorn teenagers, vengeful ex-paratroopers and evil cults - if the subjects of Warp's films have anything in common, it is difficult to spot.

The company has quietly become a creative powerhouse by making films that range from gritty dramas to quirky rom-coms to graphic thrillers.

Often acclaimed by critics and award judges, the relatively low-budget productions are not aiming for commercial success, but nor are they lacking in ambition.

Rather than plumping for a formula involving gangsters or plucky underdogs with floppy fringes, the only thing connecting Warp's films is that each is the product of a distinctive artistic vision.

Warp Films began as a sideline for Warp Records, the similarly uncompromising Sheffield label that launched electronic pioneers like Aphex Twin and Autechre.

The first screen project was a Bafta-winning short film made by comedian Chris Morris, who had released a CD of sketches through Warp in 2000.

Image caption Shane Meadows (left) and Mark Herbert picked up a Bafta Award for This Is England in 2008

My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 starred actor Paddy Considine, who then suggested that Warp Films chief executive Mark Herbert should meet the director Shane Meadows.

"[Meadows] showed me five or six short films where he'd gone out with his camcorder and an idea of a character and let Paddy improvise," Herbert says.

"These were incredible, absolutely amazing, some of the best shorts I'd ever seen. I said: 'Why don't you make films like that?'"

Meadows, who had made his name with Twenty Four Seven and A Room For Romeo Brass, replied that feature films involved too much financial pressure and too little creative freedom.

"I said: 'Well, I don't believe that,'" Herbert says.

Two months later, the pair, along with Considine, a group of largely unknown actors and a half-finished script, were filming the revenge thriller Dead Man's Shoes, Warp's breakthrough feature.

Meadows and Herbert teamed up again on This Is England, the story of a 12-year-old boy befriended by a group of skinheads in 1983, which won the Bafta for best British film in 2008 and spawned a Channel Four spin-off.

'Let's do it'

Another small screen instalment, this time set in 1988, is due on screen this December. How long will the franchise continue?

"Until Shane and Jack [Thorne, co-writer] run out of stories, really," replies Herbert.

One Warp trait is a go-ahead attitude that seems far removed from the stereotype of movie studio development hell.

When filming began on Meadows' latest feature Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee, which came out in 2009, Herbert says they did not quite know how the film would turn out.

Image caption Paddy Considine directed Olivia Colman in Tyrannosaur

"We knew we had a great character, we had a great backdrop, but you don't know until you start that process what's going to happen," he says.

"We just said, well, we'll do it. We'll put our own money in, we'll just go away for a week with a camera and a character and a wig and see what happens. So we do have that 'let's do it' attitude."

The company also produced Richard Ayoade's directorial debut Submarine, the horror Kill List and Chris Morris's first feature film Four Lions, about a group of incompetent Islamists, which also won a Bafta.

Now Considine has gone behind the camera for the first time for Tyrannosaur, a brutal story of friendship and cruelty on a Leeds housing estate, which won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival in January and opened in UK cinemas on Friday.

"I always look back to the original mission statement, which was to make bold and innovative films, and to work with artists over a number of years, not just on one project," Herbert says. "And I think we've kept very true to that."

Warp is admired in the film industry for the way it has grown while staying true to its independent vision, according to Wendy Mitchell, news editor of industry bible Screen Daily.

"It has been - and continues to be - a huge supporter of new British talents and has made some of the boldest British films in recent memory," she says.

Mark Herbert points to an early £20,000 grant from Screen Yorkshire, a Leeds-based regional film development and promotion body, as a key moment in the company's story.

"Without them there wouldn't be a Warp Films to be honest," he says.

That money was used to employ another staff member to run operations while Herbert raised money for the next film in London.

"That small amount of money was the key for our next jump, which was making This Is England, which won a Bafta, and then the rest," he says. "But had we not got that, I don't think I could have got the next film off the ground."

'Precarious position'

However, the regional screen agencies, including Screen Yorkshire, had their responsibilities for distributing National Lottery funding transferred to a new body, Creative England, on 1 October.

The screen agencies also distributed funding from regional development bodies and the European Union, but that has now dried up. And Creative England aims to have "hubs" in three cities, compared to the original eight screen agency offices.

"Screen Yorkshire being in a bit of a precarious position now is really alarming for me," Herbert says.

"We're alright now, but I worry about the next bit of talent. I just hope that they continue to look for the next Shane Meadows and the next Warp. If they look out of those big city hubs then it could be good."

In response, Caroline Norbury, chief executive of Creative England, says it is getting staff in place around the English regions and will announce new talent development funds next month, but admitted the body would have substantially reduced funds.

"Creative England knows that 'boots on the ground' are crucial," she says. "Regardless of where our offices are, we will grow both film-makers and companies wherever they are based.

"We will make sure that, just as Warp Films was helped in those crucial first years, the next generation gets the support it needs."

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