‘Peppercorn’ short film picks up steam

Producers have big plans for their little film

LONDON — The film biz wasn’t invented by people who think small. So it’s easy to see where wannabe Brit helmer Mike Le Han and his wife and creative collaborator, Helen Rigby, get off suggesting their 24-minute family-friendly fantasy short may one day rival the the work of the genre’s top talents.

Le Han and Rigby are the driving force behind “Mrs. Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room,” a 24-minute family-friendly fantasy short rapidly acquiring a cult following in the U.K. and further afield. The pic’s trailer won $1,000 at last year’s Intl. Movie Trailer Festival in Los Angeles.

The short, preemed at an invite-only audience at BAFTA in London last month, was directed by Le Han as a calling card for what he hopes to be a trilogy of full-length feature films he and Rigby have scripted.

“Mrs. Peppercorn” tells of a lonely child who is forced to move by her adopted parents to a remote and spooky Cornish fishing village in the dead of winter.

Hardly an original conceit, but the story is rich in atmospherics in the way it shows how the child finds solace in a mysterious, dust-encrusted bookshop that satisfies her craving for reading and, more important, gives her a sense of belonging.

Le Han reckons “Mrs. Peppercorn,” the feature trilogy, could fill the vacuum left after the final installment of “Harry Potter” appears later this year.

“There’s definitely a gap in the market,” muses Le Han, a 38-year-old ex-musician whose background is in making commercials and TV docudramas such as “The Great Train Robbery,” nominated for a Royal Television Award in Blighty. “I want to make my first feature film by the time I am 40,” he says, adding, “I have always found TV drama limiting compared to cinema, where it’s possible to be much more dramatically, emotively and visually expressive.”

The scale of Le Han’s ambition to create a successful Hollywood film franchise from a standing start suggests that either he is a rampant self-publicist or an egomaniac — or both.

The truth is that he seems neither. Softly-spoken, with an unfashionable English Midlands accent, and wearing 1970s-style chest-length hair, Le Han looks like everybody’s idea of a hard-working rock band roadie.

Retro his style may appear, but he is clearly a very persuasive man since everyone involved in “Mrs. Peppercorn,” including the cast, crew and technicians, donated their services.

This left the production costs coming in at a miserly £31,000, ($50,500), all raised by family and friends.

Remarkably, “Mrs. Peppercorn’s Magical Reading Room” boasts the kind of performances and production values normally found on a tentpole pic.

The orchestral score is composed by in-demand muso Kevin Kliesch, who recently worked on Disney’s “Tangled,” while the executive producer is best-selling crime writer Martina Cole; the two first met on TV project “Ladykillers” and Cole paid for the cost of developing the feature film scripts for “Peppercorn.”

Flipbook were the main contributors to the visual effects, with Fugitive, whose credits include all six “Harry Potter” pics, and Illusion VFX also doing work on the film.

Citing Tim Burton as an influence, Le Han’s intense love of film and ability to create a what viewers have hailed as a convincing and fully realized imaginative world in “Peppercorn,” comes perhaps, from him being a possible sufferer from Asperger’s syndrome.

“I have difficulty in reading. It’s a very slow process, hence my love for film,” he says. “Reading a full script is easy because it is very visual.”

Le Han claims there’s studio interest for “Mrs. Peppercorn.” But whether that’s family-friendly fantasy or reality, one thing’s certain, this is one director who can do a lot with a little, and isn’t afraid to think big.