As chairman of the theater, film and TV department, Marston reps the film rights to novelists such as John Le Carre and David Mitchell. His writing and directing clients include John Hillcoat, Rowan Joffe, Hossein Amini and Niels Arden Oplev.
But his most radical and controversial move was the 2008 launch of Cuba Pictures to develop, package and produce for Curtis Brown clients.
The label recently announced plans for a $20 million, seven-part BBC TV series based on Susanna Clarkeâs novel about warring 19th century magicians, "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell."
Thatâs a significant step up following the acclaim for its first two productions: John Crowleyâs telepic "Boy A" (pictured below) which launched the career of Andrew Garfield, and Rufus Norrisâ debut "Broken," which premiered at Cannes last year and took top prize at the British Independent Film Awards.
(Cuba Picturesâ works include "Boy A," the film debut of thesp Andrew Garfield.)Cuba is just one part of Curtis Brownâs expansion. In April, the agency took over lit boutique Conville & Walsh. Christopher Little, the former agent for J.K. Rowling, brought his shingle under Curtis Brownâs umbrella last year.
The acting division, under Sarah Spear, has carved out a lucrative niche repping teen heartthrobs, such as Robert Pattinson, Kaya Scodelario and Tom Holland. âIt was a conscious decision for us to invest in young agents and young clients,â Marston notes.
Unlike in the U.S., British agents are allowed to act as producers â but many, including some of Curtis Brownâs rivals, think they shouldnât.
Marston defl ects talk of conflict of interest. He argues that Cuba champions more challenging material that clients might otherwise be unable to get made, rather than picking the most obviously commercial plums.
âThe most important thing,â Marston says, is âto set a benchmark of quality, to produce films that, if we hadnât put them together, wouldnât exist.â
"Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" was languishing in turnaround from New Line when Cuba rescued the project and reconceived it as event TV.
Marston also points out that Cuba doesnât just package its own material with its own clients. "Boy A" brought together two clients, author Jonathan Trigell and screenwriter Mark OâRowe, but neither director Crowley nor star Garfield were repped by the agency.
âIâm against that word âpackaging,â â Marston says. âA packaged film doesnât sound like a very alluring proposition.â
Vet producer Dixie Linder joined Cuba last year, and Marstonâs longtime sidekick, Tally Garner, recently gave up her agenting chores to work full-time on production.
Upcoming movie projects with BBC Films include "London Road," directed by Norris, based on a musical play; and "The One Below," a chiller that marks the directing debut of playwright David Farr.