I were Guy Ritchie, I’d want to be Matthew Vaughn right now. It’s not enough that the Brit filmmaker’s longtime producer has gone on to out-direct and out-marry him (Layer Cake and Claudia Schiffer respectively); now, Vaughn’s MARV Films has just struck a three-year first-look deal with Sony Pictures that could allow him to make two to three "modestly budgeted British" features a year. Meanwhile, Ritchie is doing business with Dark Castle Entertainment – which just finished making a Dominic Sena movie.

Of course, Vaughn’s fortunes could change drastically later this summer if the tough-to-sell Stardust tanks. Word of mouth on the film, adapted from a graphic novel by the tonally tricky Neil Gaiman, is generally positive, but Paramount hasn’t been bumping the film all over its release schedule for the past year because they think it’s a commercial slam dunk (then again, the film to which Stardust is often compared, The Princess Bride, wasn’t a bona fide hit until home video). That’s why this deal with Sony is such a good deal for Vaughn: even if he misses with his first major Hollywood production, he’ll be able to fall back on a studio-financed British film that’s all but guaranteed distribution in the U.S. That’s an awfully nice insurance policy for a guy who’s just completing his second feature as a director.

As a fan of the compulsively watchable Layer Cake (which, in 105 minutes, blew away Ritchie’s entire oeuvre), I’m glad Vaughn’s going to be around for a while. Again, the deal doesn’t give him a great deal of latitude as far as budget is concerned, but he’s already demonstrated that he can stretch a dollar and still deliver a movie with considerable production value. Still, I’d much rather see Stardust catch on in a big way and allow Vaughn to apply his keen visual sense to bigger, more interesting movies. I have a feeling he’s going to be a world-class director before long – which is a whole hellva lot better than being wed to a world-class publicity machine.