Writer Ronald Harwood and producer Mark Milln, the creative team that ignited the Oscar-nominated “Being Julia,” are reuniting for a biopic of another stage diva, legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn.
This is the first project from Hogarth Pictures, an ambitious new U.K. production venture launched by Milln with attorney Kami Naghdi.
Milln and Naghdi (previously with law firm Bird & Bird) are seeking to raise up to £6 million ($11 million) via a private placement, partly using the tax shelter of an Enterprise Investment Scheme. The coin will be split equally between script development and production finance for projects from their own slate or from outside producers.
They have gathered a heavyweight advisory board to support them, including Harwood (whose other pic credits include “The Pianist,” for which he won an Oscar, and the upcoming “Oliver Twist”), former FilmFour chief David Aukin, HanWay Films topper Tim Haslam, top Brit agent Anthony Jones and, most eye-catchingly, Hugh Grant.
This unpaid group will offer expert opinions on Hogarth’s slate and could bring projects of their own into the company.
Grant, for example, is an old friend of the 44-year-old Milln, himself a former actor.
“We want him to give his view on scripts that come to us — after all, he sees hundreds of them and he can tell what’s good,” Milln says. “And who knows, we might find something for him. There’s a remake of a Rex Harrison movie that we’re looking at, and he’d be perfect for that.”
Starting out in fringe theater a decade ago, Milln spent several years developing movie and stage projects before making his breakthrough with “Being Julia” and the play “See You Next Tuesday,” adapted by Harwood from the French farce “Diner des Cons.”
“As a producer, you’re always trying to find someone to fall in love with something you’ve fallen in love with,” Milln says. “It’s been frustrating to sit on projects I think are exciting, without the wherewithal to develop them in a way that leaves me in a position to benefit them. But now that I’m seen to have picked one or two things that worked, there’s an opportunity to do that.”
Milln has already developed a handful of scripts with Aukin, some of which will become part of the Hogarth slate. The lineup won’t be fixed until the coin starts rolling in, but Milln has projects under discussion with Tom Stoppard, Julian Fellowes and Peter Benchley.
The Fonteyn movie is based on the bio by Meredith Daneman. It delves into Fonteyn’s turbulent marriage to a Panamanian hoodlum, which saw her arrested for his part in a coup plot, and explores her extraordinary late-flowering onstage partnership with Rudolf Nureyev, which lasted until she was 60.
It’s one thing to seek investors, but actually finding them is another, even with the tax attractions of an EIS. But Milln and Naghdi have reason for optimism. Milln has been down the EIS route before, raising around $325,000 from 37 backers to fund the “Being Julia” script. They all saw a healthy profit, and many are now eager to step up to the next level.
One of these 37 is Alexander Wilmot-Sitwell, co-head of European Investment Banking at UBS, who has become chairman of Hogarth.
Half of the money is earmarked for scripts, with the rest used to finance low-budget pics, either by investing equity, acquiring territory rights or putting up sales guarantees for projects handled by HanWay or other sales agents.
Naghdi previously dealt with HanWay when the 31-year-old lawyer negotiated the complex financing package for Woody Allen‘s upcoming “Match Point.” He says his ambition was always to cross over into producing himself.
Also joining the Hogarth team is development exec Beth Richards, formerly with Uberto Pasolini‘s Redwave Films.