From legendary westerns director John to the world’s former box office king Harrison, it’s no bad thing to be called Mr Ford in the movies.
Now Birmingham is about to add another one to the list.
In just 10 years, he’s gone from dropping out of university to being able to round up £600,000 of funding to back a hunch that families will want to see the country’s most talented dog performing on the silver screen.
When Pudsey: The Movie (U) opens tomorrow (Friday), it will be more than just a test for the ability of Britain’s Got Talent to develop new acts in the most unlikely of ways.
It could also be the start of a glittering career for this Wolverhampton-born son of a shoe-trade father and a mother who is a secretary in a GP’s surgery.
As we chat in a cafe close to Michael’s Jewellery Quarter office, the year’s most critically-derided release, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, is sitting at the top of the box office charts.
After just three weeks in cinemas, it has grossed more than Warner Bros’ Hollywood blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow has in two months.
Eat your heart out, Tom Cruise.
If everyone could second guess the market, we’d all be movie producers. But, for Michael – who has called his two-man company Infinite Wisdom Studios – that is just one of the fascinating challenges to meet head on.
“Film is definitely not an exact science. A big challenge for me as a producer is spotting trends ahead of the curve,” he says. “Typically if you spot them too quickly you’re ‘not what people are looking for’. “If you spot them too late you’re at saturation point or yesterday’s news.”
Michael’s passion for film is exceeded by his ability to want to understand the business.
It’s refreshing he is willing to counter the old adage that you should never work with children or animals by offering ordinary family audiences the chance to enjoy 87 minutes in the company of a dog that won Britain’s biggest talent show.
“When you watch the Pixar films, some of the jokes go over the kids’ heads,” says Michael.
“I thought that was one of the strengths of the script when I read it.”
After leaving school, Michael took a media course at the University of Wolverhampton but he quit after his first year and stayed in town – opting to take a course at the city’s Lighthouse media centre instead.
“I learned more in one day than I did in a year at university,” he explains. “I don’t want to run the university down, but it felt like nobody else wanted to work.
“I wanted to pursue filmmaking properly and, at Lighthouse, it was really practical, hands on stuff. Everyone was really keen and at least half of us have ended up working in broadcasting.”
In 2006 he won a Screen West Midlands grant of £20,000, beating many more experienced people. The money was to be repaid if he did well, but it was a launching pad incentive to do just that. “That was a fantastic time in itself, and I set out how to learn to produce features, setting up my own company Infinite Wisdom in 2007.
“Since then I have been trying to break in and learn how it all works, to understand the business side of it all.” Starting to move inside circles within circle, he found he had a natural fit with film production company Vertigo.
Next, he then had enough investors to work on a film that would star Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty).
Except he ended up in US TV series Once Upon A Time while intended co-star Luke Evans found the call to join The Hobbit one that he could not resist. In the end, it didn’t matter that it never happened. “Nobody had given us any money so we didn’t lose anything,” smiles Michael.
After climbing that learning curve, loss free, he put himself back on the starting blocks ready to go again. Now he’s got two pictures, Pudsey and a daring live action thriller called Base in which jumpers risk life and limb to make extreme dives.
Just watching clips of the latter on his mobile phone sends a shiver down my spine (the tagline is “only two kinds of people step off a cliff. Those that wan to die and those that want to live”, but Pudsey is on such safer ground there is already talk of a franchise.
Michael adds: “Base has been shot with a small crew travelling around, rather like Monsters by (Nuneaton director) Gareth Edwards who has gone on to make Godzilla.
“It stars Julie Dray and Alexander Polli one of the best wing suit flyers in the world. Nobody has ever tried to make a feature about it as a fictional story before. Health and safety was a major issue.
“We got an aerial co-ordinator in from The Dark Knight Rises, experts in parachuting came with us so it was a real learning curve in terms of trying to make a feature film.”
Base has cost less than £1 million but Michael raised 90 per cent of its finance as well as £600,000 for Pudsey.
“If that’s a hit, I’ve got a back-end deal for those who have invested in it,” he says.
“Pudsey is a way for our investors to get a return to raise fresh capital for the next films.
“We shot Pudsey in six weeks in and around Rickmansworth and I think there’s a lot more to come. The dog is the actor, but owner Ashleigh Butler had to teach him in a new way and she hasn’t had the credit for what she has done.
“I thought he was brilliant and knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing – half of actors can’t hit their first mark never mind the last one.”
Michael may not champion university courses but he does believe in work experience and training. “Even if you do a degree, when you come out after three years you have to start at the bottom again. You are not a director. After three years (of not going to university) you could have been somewhere. I am a big advocate for work experience and training.
“I’ve taken on George Davies through an apprenticeship. At 22 he’s hungry, passionate and pragmatic.
“George didn’t go to university and he’s been brilliant – his family has a wealth management background and he understands small family companies.”
Between them, they have worked with a crew of ten to 15 on Base and more on Pudsey.
If this George Michael team – or rather Michael and George – can push Infinite Wisdom up to blockbuster level, there could be hundreds or even thousands involved.
“We can’t make any project with just the two of us,” smiles Michael. “As a producer, you have to understand it’s a business or you just want to make films. “I wanted to make it a career.”