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Warp speeds into bigger budgets

Brit shingle sees first fruits of Euro initiatives

London: Warp Films has taken some canny risks in the past 16 months. Its comedy “Submarine” was one of the hottest properties at the Toronto fest and sold to the Weinstein Co. there for just shy of seven figures. It established a European arm for bigger-budget films with high-profile helmers, adding to its low-budget studio Warp X and Warp Australia, which ramp up its co-productions Down Under.

All of this activity at Warp came after years of establishing itself as a lean indie focused on British stories, like its 2007 hit “This Is England.” That Shane Meadows pic took in more than $7 million worldwide and spawned a four-part TV sequel that aired on Channel 4 in the U.K.

Peter Carlton ankled his post as senior commissioning editor at Film4 to head the Warp Euro unit, which cements an overall first-look deal among Warp, Optimum Releasing and Film4.

“We’ve got a sassy, different look at the world now,” he says. “We’re making bigger stories and bigger films, and we’re kick-starting a

lot of projects.”

Carlton, whose focus is on films with non-U.K. talent, says the past year has been encouraging in terms of developing a wide range of European co-productions; the aim for the shingle is to make bigger, international titles.

First up on the slate is German co-production “The Wanderers,” co-financed by Film4 and Optimum with a budget of $8 million-$10 million. Carlton is co-producing the pic with Hermann Florin of German shingle Florin Film-und Fernsehproduktion. Script by Malcolm Campbell is a true-life tale about a shambolic Brit soccer team that gets accidently invited to play against a top Bundesliga team.

The label is also working on an Anglo-French co-production with U.S. producer Carole Polakof, called “Waiting for Bardot.” The $8 million pic, penned by Andrew O’Hagan and helmed by Will Frears, sees two working-class kids set out on a road trip to St. Tropez in search of Brigitte Bardot, with whom they are obsessed.

And the outfit is dipping its brush into French animated fare, developing $6 million project “Ugly But I Like You.” Written by Marie Amachoukeli, it’s the story of Death, repped by an ugly 8-year-old girl, who goes on strike until someone tells her they love her.

At a time when the indie sector is not at its strongest, and with Warp based in a territory whose finance rules aren’t structured to make European co-productions easy, some might call the company too ambitious.

Carlton doesn’t think so.

“I think the big mistake would be for us, as a European producer, to repeat the mistakes of the mini-majors,” Carlton says. “It’s very possible to make very competitive films in the $8 million-$10 million range where you’ve got a decent cast and smart backend packages.”

Perhaps this confidence stems from the success the Warp-Optimum-Film4 trifecta has had in the past year with “Submarine” and with Chris Morris’ jihad comedy “Four Lions.” “Lions” took in $4.7 million at the Blighty B.O. and moved 70,000 DVD units in the territory to date.

Carlton says “Submarine” sold in a very tricky market. “But we’re still looking at financing things out of Europe and not depending on making things work in the U.S. for our bottom line.”

He says that although many of Warp’s pics have sold well internationally, most have been targeted to the Brit market, and he notes that returns haven’t been huge outside Europe.

“We’re interested in developing stories with the U.S. as well, but everyone has to be very real about any market these days,” he says. “We know the U.K. market and Europe well. We’ve got reason to believe that we can make films in the European market, and we’re not counting on domestic deals or domestic finance.”

The relationships with Film4 and Optimum are crucial to the business, Carlton says.

“We’re fortunate to have these relationships,” he says. “And we’re here to build a business, and not just make good work, but make distinctive work.”

He adds that extending the Warp brand across the Channel will not compromise the type of product Warp fans are so used to seeing.

“We’ll always want to make British films for British audiences and international films for international audiences,” Carlton says. “But you have to look at where the money is now. In France, for instance, there’s more clout and more vision. I can go to a whole range of companies there for support. It’s a bit of a shame that the British film industry isn’t more sorted (out).

“Right now, the important thing is to develop really good stories and really solid projects,” Carlton says, “and you can do that in the U.K. and Europe. Ideas have legs and ideas have a market.”

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