Argo Films’ Johns and director Merhige set up TV & film label
March 28, 2023
British TV and film producer Richard Johns, founder of Argo Films, has established a new production label with E. Elias Merhige, one of America’s most influential auteur film directors. Called Promethean Pictures, the new UK-based venture launches with a varied slate of TV and film projects in development, the first of which is revealed as survival story Howl.
Merhige and Johns first worked together as director and producer on Shadow of the Vampire (2000), starring Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich, which was nominated for two Oscars and a Golden Globe award, amongst others. Merhige went on to direct Sir Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart in Suspect Zero (2004).
Merhige first captivated arthouse audiences with his influential film, Begotten (1991). Initially conceived as an operatic theatre piece, it has garnered acclaim as an avant-garde masterpiece. Renowned philosopher and activist Susan Sontag hailed it as “one of the ten most important films of modern times.” Begotten was succeeded by Din of Celestial Birds in 2006, the second instalment of a triptych film series. After overcoming a prolonged period of severe ill-health, Merhige made a triumphant return with a third sci-fi creation, Polia & Blastema: A Cosmic Opera, which premiered at Opera Philadelphia in 2022. Merhige himself provided the direction and libretto for the cinematic opera. These three trailblazing films were showcased together last weekend as a single, immersive experience called ‘The Screen of the Sky’ at the Brussels Planetarium—one of Europe’s largest domes—serving as the grand finale for the Off Screen Film Festival.
Johns has recently concluded filming The Shepherd starring John Travolta for Disney+ and has announced that his Argo Films prodco is developing the limited series Biafra with a team that includes actor David Oyelowo. He is also working on a slate of projects with Sympatico partner Min Lim of Double Vision in Malaysia. Promethean Pictures is the latest expression of a growth strategy that is focused on creating exciting and varied partnerships to deliver original and authentic content.
Johns commented: “The words unique and original are thrown around a lot in this industry – but they certainly apply to Elias Merhige. He is, without a doubt, a true visionary, seeing things that nobody else sees and always pushing boundaries. As a result, Promethean – meaning rebelliously creative, innovative and visualising the unseen – was the only name for us. I am very excited to be formalising our long-term friendship in this way and re-igniting our working relationship. Promethean Pictures will be targeting mainstream commercial audiences with its projects but with Elias in the mix, these projects will be anything but ordinary.”
Merhige added: “Richard and I had a brilliant creative partnership more 20 years ago and that spark never went away, binding us over the decades. Despite being forced off-radar for a while, I’ve never stopped generating concepts and working out new ways to bring them to life. Partnering with Richard again in Promethean Pictures is the perfect vehicle for so many of these ideas and I am so pleased that we are now in a position to talk about the business and our plans.”
Howl, which is advanced development and already being reviewed by selected studios and streamers, is a beautiful, heart-breaking drama about love and survival. It tells the moving story of Harry, a friendly family dog that inadvertently gets left at home during an extreme winter after his owners die in a car crash. Told from Harry’s point of view, he goes through a rollercoaster survival ride, until he meets his greatest challenge, an orphaned wolf-cub. Eventually, they overcome their mutual fear and suspicion and learn to cooperate and collaborate, becoming the closet of friends. A rare, scripted film that treats animals as the main characters, calling to mind classic movies such as The Bear and The Black Stallion, Howl will use innovative, naturalistic and cutting-edge motion picture technology to tell a story about man, animals and nature, told not from a human viewpoint looking in, but from the animals’ point of view, looking out, at us.
Howl is written by Christopher Monger (Temple Grandin, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain), with Doug Allan (Frozen Planet) on board as cinematographer, and Andrew Simpson (The Revenant, Game of Thrones) as the wolf whisperer.