LONDON — Richard Holmes is unusual for a British film producer. For a start, he admits that making money is his greatest motivation for producing movies. And then there’s the fact that all of his four films have either made a modest profit or are on course to do so.
So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the accumulation of wealth, often by dubious means, is the dominant theme of his oeuvre to date.
His low-budget debut, Stefan Schwartz’s “Soft Top, Hard Shoulder,” featured a man desperately racing home to Scotland to claim an inheritance. “Shooting Fish,” also by Schwartz, detailed the comic adventures of two scam artists. “Waking Ned Devine,” directed by Kirk Jones, depicted an Irish village trying to claim a lottery windfall in the name of a dead man. Only his sophomore effort, Gary Sinyor’s “Solitaire for Two,” a romancer about a mind reader and a body-language expert, departed from this trend — and it was the film that made the least box office impact.
“Stanley Kubrick has the expansion of man’s horizons and I have global greed,” jokes the 36-year-old Holmes. “I want to be a successful film producer even more than I want to be an admired film producer.”
Certainly, his pics so far have proved quicker to tickle the fancy of the paying public than of critics or juries. But with “Waking Ned Devine” Holmes has started to win the industry approval and the international success to match his commercial instincts.
Holmes started out as half of a “very physical, prop-free” comedy act with Schwartz, and still retains a certain unpretentious, knockabout quality to his professional demeanor. Billed as the Gruber Brothers, they segued into writing and then making short films before raising finance from a rich man for “Soft Top,” scripted by Peter Capaldi.
Holmes co-wrote “Shooting Fish,” but says he realized that he is a producer at heart and not a scribe “when I felt physically sick when I had to rewrite it for the 25th time.”
Holmes since has bought out Schwartz, who has departed to direct films for Miramax, and now works with co-producer Neil Peplow. “Waking Ned” also was produced by Glynis Murray.
Despite delivering financial success to his investors, albeit on very modest budgets, Holmes says the job of roping together indie finance gets no easier. He’s close to setting up another Brit comedy, “Raving Beauties,” to be directed by Paul Hills, and has projects in development with Miramax HAL, “Angry White Pyjamas,” and UGC, “The Abduction Club.”
He worries about how much luck and timing has shaped his career, wondering whether producing is really “a job for an adult.” But such self-deprecation cannot mask the fact that Holmes has proved his instinct for what audiences want to see at a time when the British film industry is starting to accept that populism and profit are not contradictory.