Entertainment takes “Potato Men”

Entertainment Film Distributors has teamed with the Film Council’s Premiere Fund to co-finance “Sex Lives of the Potato Men,” a $3 million sex comedy (natch) by first-time writer-director Andy Humphries. Shooting starts later this month.

It stars two of Britain’s hottest young comic actors, ultra-slob Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook (brilliantly geeky in hit sitcom “The Office”) as two unreconstructed blokes who regard themselves as Birmingham’s answer to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They spend their time either chasing women for sex, or being chased by them for revenge. Other cast include Lucy Davies (also from “The Office”) and Mark Gatiss (one of “The League of Gentlemen”).

Script, developed by producer Anita Overland with Film Council coin, caused a big buzz among U.K. distribs when it went out last year, with Entertainment quickest on the draw. For Overland, it’s certainly a change of pace and style from her last credit as a producer, Michael Winterbottom‘s searing refugee drama “In This World,” described by the Daily Telegraph’s critic as “the finest British film of my lifetime.” “Sex Lives of the Potato Men,” the first film she will produce under her banner Devotion Films, isn’t exactly aiming for such an artistic pinnacle, but it’s likely to reach a much wider audience.

Bardem sets sail for Ithaca

Javier Bardem is lining up to play the ancient Greek hero Odysseus in Neil Jordan‘s “The Return.” The $18 million pic is being produced by Uberto Pasolini and financed by Michael Kuhn‘s Qwerty Films under its distribution deal with 20th Century Fox. Script by Edward Bond deals with the homecoming of Odysseus to his island kingdom of Ithaca, 20 years after he left to fight in the Trojan War. He finds his wife, Penelope, besieged by suitors who believe he is dead. The producers are trying to firm a start date around the availability of talent, but it now looks unlikely to start in the first half of this year as originally planned.

Ministry scares up pix

The Ministry of Fear is open for business. The horror label of Anglo-Irish production outfit Little Bird Films has greenlit its first movie — the Marc Evans chiller “Trauma,” starring Colin Firth and Mena Suvari — and is readying two more projects to start by the end of this year.

“You Can’t Come In” is an original screenplay by Muriel Gray, the Scottish TV presenter-turned-novelist, about a woman who sells her soul to a demon in order to save her dying child. Novelist and film critic Kim Newman has written “An English Ghost Story,” a haunted-house tale set deep in the English countryside. Both are currently closing deals with directors.

Lizzie Francke, the former director of the Edinburgh Film Festival who heads Ministry of Fear, says all three projects embody the label’s ethos of “smart psychological horror that can attract strong talent, not low-budget gore fests.”

“They are all chamber pieces, based on character, not special effects, with the idea that the budget can go either way, from $2 million to $10 million, depending on talent,” she explains.

“Trauma” which starts shooting at the end of April in London and the Isle of Man, is at the upper end of that range. Script by Richard Smith is about a man who wakes from a coma after a car accident to discover his wife has died in the same crash. Or has she?

Evans shot his previous low-budget horror hit, “My Little Eye,” on digital video, but “Trauma” will be shot on film by Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Mathieson (“Gladiator”). Evans places the pic in “that Hitchcock tradition, about an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation, someone to whom strange things happen in a landscape that’s modern and urban and familiar.”

Pic is being sold worldwide by Myriad Pictures, with Warner Bros. taking U.K. theatrical and video rights. Co-financing also comes from BBC Films, the Isle of Man Film Commission and Grosvenor Park’s First Choice tax fund.

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