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Guest column - Score! Celebrating ten years of Warp Films

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Clearly putting out cutting edge music wasn’t enough for Warp so ten years ago Warp Films was born to perform a similarly innovative take on British cinema. Marking their first decade, the film company are staging a special screening of Shane MeadowsDead Man’s Shoes which will be re-scored live this Saturday (17 November) at Magna in Sheffield by Gavin Clark (Clayhill, UNKLE), Joel Cadbury (UNKLE, South), Ali Friend (Clayhill), Jah Wobble, Ted Barnes (Clayhill), James Griffith (UNKLE), Marc Layton-Bennett and Helen Boulding. Andrew Weatherall and Tom Ravenscroft are among those DJing – see Warpfilms10.com for details and tickets.

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Mark their first ten years, Senior Producer Mary Burke (below) has written us an eye-witness account of ten years at Warp Films, and explains why they’ve always tried to uphold the spirit of record label that inspired them.

I starting working at Warp Films as a production assistant, blabbing loudly in my New York accent in a sound-proofed cubbyhole at the back of the Warp Records office in London. That was ten years ago this August. In that time, I managed to fumble my way up the company stepladder to produce five feature films and two television series.

When we first set up the company in 2002, it was about as low budget as it gets: Mark Herbert, the boss, and Barry Ryan, his right hand man, were sitting on space heaters instead of chairs in their shed office at the top of a Sheffield garden, while I was fishing out paper from the recycling bin to print copies for scripts. I never wanted to be a producer, (I didn’t even know what one did!) I just knew that I felt most comfortable when bumming around with funny people who made weird stuff.

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For the first couple of years, I worked with Chris Cunningham: I learned so much from him about in-camera effects and editing and how incredibly important music is to film. I remember auditioning juiced up muscle men for the Rubber Johnny DVD artwork and taking pictures of them in their mini Speedos in my kitchen, thinking all the while, “This is crazy. I get paid money to do this.”

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Most of my time after work was spent raving. Meeting artists like Broadcast and Aphex Twin was so exciting for a young American who had to import their records via mail order and wait weeks for them to come to my college dorm room in New York. This love of music is what made me want to work for Warp in the first place, and I think for a lot of the directors who I have produced films with like Peter Strickland, Paul King and Richard Ayoade, that stamp of quality is what made them feel comfortable bringing their films to us in the first place.

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After we won the BAFTA for Chris Morris‘s short My Wrongs 8245-8249 & 117, our first ever production, we seemed to know we were onto something and felt the power that the label could bring. We knew that being director-focused and taking risks on unconventional stories would eventually pay off. Our first feature, which we shot in three weeks with as many people who we could fit in the back of a minibus, was Dead Man’s Shoes directed by Shane Meadows. The relationship with Shane and this just-muck-in-and-do-it approach to production shaped the company most.

It hasn’t always been rave ups and glamorous champagne receptions; we’ve worked incredibly hard to produce about 20 features, a million shorts and five television series in ten years. Last year alone, we had four films on worldwide release, Submarine, Tyrannosaur, Snowtown and Kill List, plus the This is England 88 television series. The company has grown into something much bigger than I think any of us could have ever imagined. And although it’s often been a difficult, sleepless and obsessive lifestyle, I look back on the last ten years and think how I’ve had an amazing decade and been adopted by a weird and wonderful family here in the UK.

Mary Burke@WarpFilms

For more on the celebrations and Warp generally head to Warp.net/films.


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