Jones makes Material progress

Robert Jones has kept his head down since leaving his high-profile job at the U.K. Film Council’s flagship Premiere Fund in early 2005 to launch Material Entertainment, a joint venture between Entertainment Film Distributors and New Line.

Instead of making the flurry of nebulous announcements that usually accompany new outfits trying to make themselves more substantial than they are, Jones has opted for virtual invisibility.

Material bowed with ambitious plans to make up to four movies a year, but a year and a half later its development slate remains a closely guarded secret. It quietly started shooting the first movie last month, David Schwimmer’s “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” but took three weeks, and a certain amount of chivvying, to admit the fact.

Five years in the unforgiving glare of public scrutiny at the UKFC has evidently cured Jones of any desire for the spotlight.

He’s a robust fellow, but no one enjoys being doorstepped at their home by tabloid hacks and splashed over the front pages for backing a “vile sex film,” as he was by the Daily Mail over “Sex Lives of the Potato Men,” which the Premiere Fund co-financed (ironically with Entertainment).

Only last month, veteran auteur Terence Davies, still smarting from his failure to get funding for his project “Sunset Song,” told a newspaper, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t become Robert Jones.” Typically combative, Jones immediately phoned Davies to protest.

His job at the UKFC was to say no often, and yes rarely. Forceful with his creative opinions, Jones didn’t always bother to sugar the bitter pill of rejection. The unfortunate legacy is that there’s no shortage of bruised people willing him to stumble at Material. He didn’t get much sympathy when the Premiere Fund turned down “Run, Fat Boy, Run.”

Privately, Jones admits he just wants to knuckle down and get some movies made. The start of principal photography of Material’s first movie, he argues, is just the beginning of a long journey.

Fortunately for him, and perhaps not entirely by coincidence, he has chosen to work for two of the most publicity-averse individuals in the U.K. film biz, Nigel and Trevor Green of Entertainment.

The brothers Green are widely admired as the U.K.’s savviest distribs, borne out by years of box office success. But so reluctant are they to take the credit they deserve that they once asked Variety to stop describing their company as “Nigel and Trevor Green’s Entertainment.”

Nonetheless, it’s a sign of the esteem in which they are held that New Line Intl., whose pics the Greens have long handled, was willing to support their wish to launch a production arm.

With the backing of Entertainment and a first-look deal with NLI, Jones has the potential to get movies greenlit without going out to the marketplace for co-financing. That’s why he doesn’t need to tout around his development slate, which reportedly contains 15 projects, of which only Anthony Capella’s book “The Wedding Officer” has been announced.

“Run, Fat Boy, Run,” starring Simon Pegg as a slob who enters a marathon in a last-ditch effort to win back the girlfriend he dumped at the altar several years earlier, will be released by Picturehouse in the U.S., with foreign sales handled by NLI.

Thus, by backing Material, New Line has constructed a sophisticated two-pronged approach to U.K. production that’s starting to prove, well, notably productive.

While Material is supplying a quirky comedy for specialty label Picturehouse, New Line’s own London production office under senior veep Ileen Maisel is shooting two big-budget franchise movies, “The Golden Compass” and “Inkheart.” Both are intended to be the first installment of trilogies, based on bestselling children’s books by Philip Pullman and Cornelia Funke, respectively.

With Daniel Craig and Eva Green, hot from “Casino Royale,” in “The Golden Compass,” Helen Mirren, hot from “The Queen,” in “Inkheart,” and cult comedian Pegg in “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” NL has quietly maneuvered itself into an impressive position to cover the waterfront of Brit talent from two very different angles.

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