These are hard times to be an indie producer in Blighty, but Damian Jones seems to be doing something right.
His latest film, Noel Clarke‘s “Adulthood,” started shooting this month. He’s in post-production with “Dogging: A Love Story” by Simon Ellis, and had two films released in the past year — Dan Reed‘s “Straightheads” and Nick Hytner‘s “The History Boys.”
That’s prolific by current British standards. Coin has all but dried up for smaller indie movies, particularly where first-time filmmakers are involved, yet Clarke, Ellis and Reed are all rookies. Somehow, Jones keeps finding the hook to make wary financiers bite.
Experience has taught him that these days, even low-budget movies need to start with a high concept.
His upcoming projects include a Margaret Thatcher movie for Pathe and BBC Films, a comedy by “Borat” writer Dan Mazer about the Eurovision Song Contest for Working Title, another comedy set in the peculiarly English world of pantomime by top sitcom scribe Simon Nye for BBC Films, and a biopic of punk legend Ian Dury starring Andy Serkis and directed by Mat Whitecross (“The Road to Guantanamo”).
Cinetic Media is helping him set up “Release,” a satire on U.S. gun culture by first-time writer-director Stephen Leslie; and HBO Films is developing “Belle and Bette,” which Jones pitches as “a black version of Jane Austen.” It’s based on the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race girl adopted by the Earl of Mansfield in the 18th century.
“I’d like to think there is a method to the madness,” Jones says. “My slate is eclectic, and it’s still based on what interests me, but it’s far less self-indulgent than it might have been earlier in my career. It’s based on strong ideas that I’m confident I can find homes for. I have a gut instinct what can sell or might be bought.”
It’s four years since Jones, the son of veteran agent Anthony Jones, left Mission Pictures, the company he originally co-founded as Dragon Pictures with Graham Broadbent, where they made a mixed bag of movies including Danny Boyle‘s “Millions” and Peter Hewitt‘s “Thunderpants.”
Since then, he has flown solo, without even an office or an assistant. He teams with other producers on individual projects, but his company consists of just himself and his BlackBerry.
“I’m enjoying this nomadic existence. I don’t need the resources that were available to us at Dragon and Mission, and I partner regularly with smart people, so I don’t feel isolated,” Jones says.
Jones produced “Straightheads” (as well as “History Boys”) with Kevin Loader. It’s not immediately obvious what unites the movie version of Alan Bennett‘s classy, nostalgic play and former documaker Reed’s nasty little rape ‘n’ revenge thriller starring Gillian Anderson and Danny Dyer.
But both had a strong marketing hook — the first piggybacking quickly on a crowd-pleasing stage show, the other calibrated precisely for young male DVD buyers — so it’s no coincidence both did better commercially than their mixed reviews might have indicated.
“Dogging,” which Jones is producing with Vertigo Films, also seems tailored for the hardcore DVD crowd — a romantic comedy set in the sleazy subculture of people who meet up for anonymous sex in remote parking lots. Yet Ellis has directed several award-winning shorts, so his feature debut could turn out more sophisticated than its tagline suggests. Script is by Michael Groom, who worked as a runner on a previous Jones movie.
“Adulthood” is that rare thing for a low-budget indie pic — a sequel. It follows last year’s “Kidulthood,” a self-consciously “controversial” expose of the drugs ‘n’ sex culture among multiracial West London high- schoolers, which Jones produced with George Isaac.
Directed by Menhaj Huda and written by Clarke, who also starred, the first pic was privately financed. Decent box office and strong DVD sales (though dented by piracy from the delinquent teen audience it was targeting), plus a couple of awards, built enough of a brand to win backing for a sequel from Pathe, the U.K. Film Council’s New Cinema and Independent Film Sales, with Clarke taking over as director.
“The brand was Noel (Clark) himself,” Jones explains.