British director Miguel Sapochnik has been touted as the next big thing for so long that it’s a surprise to find he’s only just about to start shooting his first movie.

Five years after his rookie short “The Dreamer” sparked a Hollywood bidding war over the remake rights, Sapochnik will finally make his feature debut next month with “Viewfinder,” a $2.5 million contemporary thriller set in London.

Produced by Keith Bell and Neil Marshall‘s Northmen Films, it stars Sophie Okonedo as a photojournalist who captures an assassination on film, and then finds herself pursued by the hitman (Kevin McKidd).

Script is by Simon Welsford. Lumina Films set to handle international sales, with Verve Pictures taking U.K. rights.

It’s been a long and winding road for Sapochnik, leading to Hollywood and back again, since he started out as a storyboard artist on Brit pics such as “Trainspotting” and “The Winter Guest.”

In 2001 Miramax beat out half a dozen rivals to develop a feature based on “The Dreamer,” about a clone who rebels against the people he was created to serve.

But that came to nothing. So did “Solace,” a serial-killer thriller Sapochnik was supposed to direct for New Line. Working Title picked up his sci-fi script “Wired” and put him onto another genre project, “Patience,” again without result.

He also was attached to “The Crossing” at Focus Features, but ankled last year in favor of “You Can’t Come In,” a chiller for British outfit Little Bird that was due to shoot last fall in Canada. That got as far as pre-production before the financing unraveled. Little Bird is still trying to knit it back together, but meanwhile Sapochnik has seized upon “Viewfinder” as his chance to finally show what all the fuss has been about.

Wright turns to the dark side

One debutant who has already delivered fully on his promise is “Pride & Prejudice” helmer Joe Wright. His next pic will be Working Title’s much darker drama “Atonement,” adapted from Ian McEwan‘s novel about a woman who spends her life trying to make right a terrible sin in her childhood.

But for the first time, the 33-year-old Wright is using his freshly acquired clout to set up his own projects from scratch, as well as waiting for offers.

He has hooked up with DNA Films, the U.K. production arm of Fox Searchlight, to develop Patrick Hamilton’s classic novel “Hangover Square,” which he has long wanted to adapt.

Set around the grimy pubs of west London just before World War II, it’s the story of a lonely bachelor who becomes so infatuated with an unattainable, heartless woman that he decides to kill her. It was previously filmed in 1945 by Fox, which explains why Wright ended up at DNA. Dixie Linder is producing, with David Nicholls writing the script.

Wright also is attached to a Warner remake of “Gaslight,” another Patrick Hamilton psycho thriller. Originally a stage play, it was filmed in 1940 and then more famously by George Cukor in 1944.

A more personal project is “Come Out Eli,” which Wright is developing at FilmFour. It’s the true story of a siege three years ago in the inner London district of Hackney, close to Wright’s Islington nabe, where his parents still run the Little Angel puppet theater.

Eli Hall, a Jamaican wanted by police for violent offenses, barricaded himself in his apartment with a gun and a hostage for two weeks before the hostage managed to escape. Hall died after setting fire to his own furniture.

The incident was dramatized in a hit play by Alecky Blythe, which Wright has optioned and is combining with newspaper reports to develop the movie.

His own tastes evidently tend toward intense and disturbing narratives (he cites “Blue Velvet” as his greatest influence), which made him something of an unlikely match for Jane Austen. But his determination to cut through the romantic froth and expose the raw emotion beneath paid off at the box office and with the critics.

That success has won him the chance to prove that he can deliver tougher dramas to a big audience as well.

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