Warp X sets its own high standards

Herbert takes to experimental slate

Eighteen months after it launched, Sheffield-based digital film studio Warp X has two films in the can, two more in pre-production and a fifth greenlit.

Strange to relate, then, that topper Mark Herbert confesses he was disappointed with how little they managed to achieve in their first nine months.

The studio opened its doors in the former steel town 160 miles due north of London in March 2006, with $6 million from the U.K. Film Council, Optimum Releasing, Screen Yorkshire and EM Media. Herbert intended to make a slate of seven movies and was expecting to find a couple of viable projects among the deluge of submissions.

“But once we scratched the surface, there really wasn’t anything,” he says. “We realized that what we were looking for needed starting from scratch.”

The agenda for Warp X is experimental, but not arthouse. “We don’t want to make anything that people aren’t going to see, and I don’t mean just in the U.K., but around the world,” Herbert explains.

He believes that being based in Sheffield, albeit with a satellite office in London, gives him a clarity of vision. “If you look places where no one else is looking, you find gems. New talent outside London is fresher and newer; they haven’t got an agent yet.”

On the other hand, there’s nothing “regional” about the Warp X slate. “We’ve got an office in Nottingham and in Sheffield, but we don’t make films about Nottingham and Sheffield.”

Indeed, the lineup backs up his philosophy: “Donkey Punch” is a psychothriller set on a yacht in the Mediterranean shot in South Africa; “Complete History” is a personal documentary about the filmmaker’s romantic failures; “Hush” is another thriller set on the freeway linking Sheffield to London; “Release” is a small-town American drama; and “The Bunny and the Bull” is described as “a road movie about a guy who never leaves his apartment.”

The Darklight funding plan, for horror projects authored by women, should generate one or two productions, which would complete the studio’s seven original slots.

But its development slate is proving so fertile that Herbert is planning to raise a new tranche of financing, some of it potentially from America, to fulfill his vision of a self-sustaining, low-budget powerhouse, pumping out unconventional movies for the international market — from a town previously better known for its cutlery than its cutting-edge pics.

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