So when reports appeared in the press last June that Paul Brooks was trying to raise completion finance for a movie called Clockwork Mice starring James Fox and Patsy Kensit, we read them with a small degree of scepticism. Punters with at least pounds 1,000 to spare were being courted with the promise of a role as an extra and (for anyone prepared to stump up pounds 100,000) a couple of seconds' immortality in the closing credits as "executive producer". Such was Brooks's zeal, apparently, that he had spent the previous Christmas Eve outside Charing Cross station bombarding commuters with prospectuses.
All of which sounds a bit sad and desperate, but that impression would be much mistaken. Fox and Kensit might have since dropped out of the frame. But, just shy of a year later, Clockwork Mice is in the can (it now stars Ian Hart and Catherine Russell) and opens tomorrow at 60 cinemas; it is reviewed on page 9.
"I had to kick, bollock and scramble to get the money together because it was a film that no one believed in," Brooks cheerfully admits. "I refused to let it die and now it's up there. Everyone said to me that the Charing Cross lark was crazy. Well, I thought it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I'd run naked down Oxford Street if I thought it would help finance a film. The problem with this country is that we're a very negative culture, a can't-do culture. I believe that anything is possible."
Brooks, you will gather, can do. Has done, in fact, since Clockwork Mice is his fourth picture in three years (a fifth, a horror movie called Proteus, at $4m his most expensive venture yet, has been completed and lurks in the shadows). A slight, low-key but energetic man, he scurries to hang a Mice poster behind the couch where he will be sitting in the hope that it will figure in his photo. He talks a blue streak with utter conviction. His favourite verbal tic is "simple as that."
His latest move is to float his company, Metrodome, under Rule 4.2 (ie the shares will not be listed on the Stock Exchange); the offer opened on 5 June and will close next Tuesday. "Now is the time, now is the time. We were advised by our stockbroker that now is the time to get in there." The minimum subscription is pounds 1,000, although there have also been some single investments of six figures. And while he's not, strictly speaking, supposed to comment on the response, he would like twinklingly to hint that the lines have been hot.
Now aged 36, Brooks started out in the property boom of the Eighties as a dealer, investor and developer until the bubble burst. "I saw the aggravation coming but I was under-capitalised; there was nothing I could do. But I was in good company since many people got caught. Happily, while I may have lost myself money, I made a lot of money for a lot of other people. And they're back supporting me."
Right now, compared to the crumbling market for bricks and mortar, celluloid looks to Brooks like a solid blue-chip investment. "Feature films are essentially where property was 12 or 13 years ago. They're at the root of the audio-visual industry, which will be the biggest industry in the world within a decade. We're going to have the most astonishing seven or eight years. And I think I can build something substantial within that."
All the same, a major hit continues to elude him (which could be a blessing: so many companies have been tempted to leap too far, too soon, on the back of a single winner). Brooks also produced Beyond Bedlam and Solitaire for Two, but his biggest success remains his first film, Leon the Pig Farmer. And, though that was made on a shoestring (pounds 130,000) and performed well in Britain, it did, Brooks concedes, "crap" in America and failed to score much of a final profit.
The investors made their money back, but there have been dark mumblings from some of the production crew, many of whom worked for deferred payments. Brooks is frank on this point, too: "I would be very surprised if all the deferees get paid, no question. But we told everyone, `Look, the reason we're doing this is that it's a shop window for us all.' Brian Glover, for example (who played Leon's genial pig farmer), hasn't earned a penny out of the film, but it's the most profitable thing he's ever done. Leon legged up so many people involved on it, or pushed them along when they wanted to change direction. So I would say people earned a lot of money out of that film, albeit not directly.
"And each time we push up in budget, we push up what we pay. The director of photography on Leon got paid 20 quid a week, which was all that we got. On Clockwork Mice he got about pounds 600. I'm not saying it's a fortune, but it's a lot more than pounds 20. And it's another film for his portfolio."
Brooks has made no secret of his eagerness to sell Clockwork Mice in America, and preferably open it there before bringing it to Britain: last week The Business, a BBC documentary, showed him hustling to that end at February's American Film Market and again in Cannes last month. But he has not yet sewn up that all-important deal and has reluctantly decided to unleash Mice in Europe without an American buyer in place. "I have some interest in the film, but with figures that don't appeal to me. But I'm relaxed about it because I've got a spectacular deal in Canada and some very good ones all over the world. I'm very bullish.
"Most people assume they're going to have the next big hit, which is nonsense. I predicate all my deals on `this won't work'. I've structured a deal that will give my investors a return of around 30 per cent, even if the film loses money. It's about everybody sticking their prejudices in the cupboard." Simple, one might say, as that.
n For details of Metrodome's flotation, call Durlacher on 0171-628 4306Reuse content