In 2008 our script for British thriller Last Passenger was named on the Britlist, a secret film industry list of the best unproduced screenplays in the UK. It appeared next to the script for The King’s Speech, getting the same number of votes. It was a huge moment for us. Little did we know that it was going to take us three more years and pretty much all of our sanity to get the film up and running. What we didn’t know then is that we could have fixed it all for £500.
We first met Omid Nooshin in 2007 and offered him a chance to direct his debut feature, a different project developed by our production company NDF. The project wasn’t for him, but it just so happened he had another script in his back pocket.
Last Passenger was sensational. It was Hitchcock fused with Spielberg and after a few months ironing out the kinks with Omid and his collaborator Andy Love we thought we were ready to go.
The day the list was published the phone started to ring. On the other end of the line were some of the top distribution companies in the UK. A few hours later L.A. woke up and Hollywood started calling. Ironically, this was where the wheels started to come off.
In an industry where a runaway hit like ‘Paranormal Activity’ can bring a 12,000% return on the cost of shooting, film distribution is an extremely competitive business and the penalties for missing out on a hit are severe. The pressure is on to grab the hot projects, or at least make sure your rivals don’t.
With all the buzz around Last Passenger, the studios were dangling superstar names in front of us. As a result the budget also started to creep up, and before long we were at three times the original starting cost. And while playing fantasy casting was fun, we needed to find the cash to make the film and went out into the marketplace full of optimism, armed with a hot script and a list of some of the most elusive actors in the industry.
But the flames that burn the brightest also burn shortest and buzz can die as quickly as it comes. Two years later we had been rejected by more than a hundred companies, reluctant to fund a picture with a budget size that no longer made sense for a director’s first feature film. All of the financiers and distributors who had been so enthusiastic about the script slowly melted away, but not before leading us up the garden path and back again, pausing only for a brief fumble in the gazebo. We were out of options, low on energy, and out of money.
It looked like the film was going on the shelf.