The premier league of musicvid directors contains a handful of names, and Chris Cunningham has unquestionably been one of them since his surreal and spooky work with acts such as Bjork, Madonna and the Aphex Twins in the late 1990s.
Rumors of his move into features have been circulating among fans for years (at one stage he was supposed to be adapting William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer”), but there have been no firm sightings.
Until now. The U.K. Film Council has awarded him £95,300 ($164,200) to develop “Ranx,” a sci-fi relationship drama inspired by the cult French comicbook series of the same name (originally published as “RanXerox” but forced to change its title after a lawsuit from the photocopier firm).
The elusive Cunningham is keeping the creative concept very close to his chest, admitting only that it’s “the story of a boy, a girl and her big robot.” He’s sharing the writing with American scribe Gordy Hoffman, who wrote “Love Liza,” starring his brother Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and has just made his own directorial debut, “A Coat of Snow.”
The script is at an early stage, and given Cunningham’s visionary and experimental style, with innovative use of special effects, it isn’t likely to be finished anytime soon. Before making his name in pop promos, Cunningham worked as an f/x man and creature designer for pics such as the “Aliens” franchise.
Producer of “Ranx” is the Paris-based Argentinean Fernando Sulichin, whose credits include Oliver Stone‘s controversial Castro doc “Commandante.” Also attached is Brit producer and former FilmFour exec Jim Wilson.
At the same time, Cunningham is working on a pioneering DVD project, already three years in the making, that’s evolved from his work as a musicvid helmer. It’s described by producer Mark Herbert of Warp Films as “a DVD concept album,” made up of eight short films with a strong musical element, some of it composed by Cunningham.
The first two of the shorts — Herbert is adamant that they are not pop promos — will be finished early next year. One of them, “Rubber Johnny,” about a kid with a mean dog, shot in the style of an underground comic, will be released as a “DVD single” and has been sold to the Sundance Channel in the U.S. Cunningham is planning to expand that seg into a 10-part TV series, separate from the album.
Warp, a record label as well as a film producer, has already had some success in this new area of making shorts for DVD release. It produced the Bafta-winning “My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117” by subversive comedian Chris Morris, which sold 18,400 copies in the U.K. as a DVD single at $12 apiece, more than recouping its substantial $200,000 budget.
Cunningham is one of three musicvid auteurs (along with Spike Jonze and Michael Gondry) whose promo work was released this year by Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures as the first in its Directors Series of DVDs.
Joseph gets ‘Girlfriend’
Francesca Joseph is attached to direct “Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About” for Working Title. The project, still in early development, is based on Mil Millington’s comic novel adapted from his own autobiographical newspaper column. Millington is writing the screenplay.
Joseph, a former documentary director, made her feature debut with the semi-improvised BBC telepic “Tomorrow La Scala!,” which screened to critical acclaim at Cannes 2002 but failed to get a theatrical release because the producers could not get Stephen Sondheim‘s music cleared.
Having taken time off to have a baby, she will next direct “Four Last Songs” for BBC Films, a love story set on an enchanted Mediterranean island. She’s also developing a feature version of her groundbreaking BBC reality doc series “Driving School,” with Jessica Stevenson (her star in “Tomorrow La Scala!”) writing the script.
Stevenson, who appeared in hit sitcom “The Royle Family” and co-wrote the cult Channel 4 comedy “Spaced,” wrote the original screenplay “Double Au Pair” for Fine Line, about a nanny/spy in New York, but this project has been put on ice.