Graham King tapped for Variety's U.K. Achievement in Film

Graham King has guts.

He backs expensive movies that don’t revolve around franchises or brands. And he gets top stars and directors to say yes to projects even when distribution hasn’t been locked down.

Yet King, who is receiving Variety’s U.K. Achievement in Film Award at Edinburgh, does not consider himself a risk taker. Is it really so risky to make a movie with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, he asks, alluding to “The Tourist,” his upcoming thriller for Sony. How about Martin Scorsese’s first 3D film?

King, who produced Scorsese’s Oscar-winning “The Departed” along with “The Gangs of New York,” is beginning production on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” with the director in London this month. That, too, will be released by Sony under King’s output deal there.

“I think there’s an audience out there that wants quality entertainment,” King says. “They don’t just want to see a superhero running up a wall.”

King’s three-year-old GK Films shingle has several other projects at or nearing completion, including “London Boulevard” (“Departed” screenwriter William Monahan’s directorial debut), Ben Affleck’s “The Town” and “The Rum Diary,” an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel starring Depp.

The shingle’s first pic, “The Young Victoria,” debuted in theaters last year and earned an Oscar for costume design. It was the first King film shot in his native land — he had wanted to do that for a while — and it flew together. Domestic distribution was a much harder sell.

“I couldn’t get anyone to release it,” King admits. “In the end Bob Berney released it through Apparition and did a good job with it.”

Distribution for “London Boulevard” and “The Rum Diary” remains a question mark. Monahan just shot a couple extra scenes for “London Boulevard,” a crime romance starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley; once the picture’s locked, King will worry about distribution. “The Rum Diary” was originally slated for the now-shuttered Warner Independent label.

These experiences helped steer King toward his Sony output deal. Under the pact, inked last October, GK Films will develop, produce and finance a minimum of two pics a year that will be marketed and distributed worldwide by Sony. Previously, King had a first-look overhead deal with Warners.

This new arrangement gives King more independence — and financial responsibility. In return, Sony gives him precious domestic distribution slots and helps market his films worldwide.

“I’m not looking for a greenlight, but I am looking for their blessing,” he says. “It’s a real good challenge, and that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, I’m too entrepreneurial to be a producer on the lot.”

King got into showbiz through international TV distribution, later financing and selling pics through Initial Entertainment Group. Among the projects IEG backed: “Traffic,” “Ali,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Blood Diamond.”

He credits Scorsese with giving him the passion for hands-on producing, and his partner Tim Headington, a Texas billionaire with oil and real estate interests, for financial backing.

“I go with my heart, but I am very careful not to overspend,” King says.

He’s also gotten back into TV: His shingle will produce “Camelot” for Starz.

And soon the “Young Victoria” producer will be in Buckingham Palace for real, accepting the honor of officer of the Order of the British Empire.

“It’s very surreal, like everything else in my life,” he says. “I almost think I’m not worthy.”

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