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By James Whittington, Saturday 18th April 2015
Fans of British cinema will need no introduction to Jonathan Sothcott. This prolific producer of movies (pictured here with Martin Kemp) is carving out an exciting resume of movies that cross genres and always deliver. So as we’ve recently shown his movie Devil’s Playground recently we decided to catch up with one of the busiest men in the industry.
HC: How did you start off in the business?
JS: With great difficulty! In my pre-Internet teens the film industry was a closed shop - but I got very lucky when Allan Bryce at The DarkSide Magazine bought a couple of articles off me. Suddenly I was a film journalist! This was exciting. Then I got really lucky and worked in the blossoming DVD industry, producing bonus material. These two opportunities introduced me to a lot of film industry legends and I was very fortunate to count David Wickes, Bryan Forbes and Brian Clemens amongst my early mentors. The latter two have sadly left us recently but David is thankfully still very active and indeed came to the premiere of my new film Age Of Kill the other week. David gave me an opportunity to work for him and I learned the ropes of producing. I then met the actor Martin Kemp and we became fast friends. He wanted to direct and we put together a short film with that aim -- it starred his brother Gary and Adele Silva. From that we managed to put together our first feature - Stalker - starring Jane March and Colin Salmon. Nearly a decade on I still work closely with Martin and consider him one of my best friends. I also owe a lot to Billy Murray who starred in Stalker and went on to become one of my partners and really put his faith in me and backed me. Billy also introduced me to Danny Dyer and I've had a very successful working relationship with him, which has spawned more than half a dozen films, a football video, a book and a stage show. And Danny and Billy have both become very close friends of mine. I think people on Twitter think we all live in a cave together in Whitstable, we've become a little gang.
HC: How did Devil's Playground come about?
JS: I met two other young producers, Bart Ruspoli and Freddie Hutton-Mills who were looking to make a feature. Bart had written a short which formed the basis of DP and it was decided to expand that into a feature. In a lot of ways I was as much a casting director on the film as a producer: they were running the development, financing and distribution and I was essentially securing the talent. I like Bart and Freddie and was recently Executive Producer on their new zombie film World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen.
HC: Did the script change much?
JS: Oh massively. We went through at least a dozen drafts I'm sure. It was conceived as a one location £200,000 zombie siege film a la Night of the Living Dead with a Martin Kemp cameo and no other star names... And ballooned into a £1.5 million zombie action film with an all-star cast! At one point the virus was going to be a sneaky chemical attack by North Korea!
HC: How did you get such an interesting cast together and was it a tough shoot?
JS: Danny Dyer, Lisa McAllister and Jaime Murray were friends of mine. Danny of course was Mr DVD at the time, which helped and hindered the release in equal measures. Lisa and Jaime have both gone on to huge TV success in Sherlock and Dexter etc. Sean Pertwee and Colin Salmon graciously did cameos for me. Anna Buring and Craig Conway both auditioned and were of course superb. The toughest part to cast was Cole. Everyone was on the list from Vinnie Jones to Dominic Cooper. One day Lisa McAllister, who I lived with at the time, and I were out with our actor friend Craig Fairbrass. Lisa had a eureka moment - Craig *was* Cole. And she was bloody right - nobody on our radar had that blend of genuine physicality and the chops to pull off the sensitive acting required. Sadly Craig and I haven't found another film to work on together since which is a shame as I love him. I still see him pretty much every week but it's just finding that bingo project we both love. The shoot was a bloody nightmare - we were filming in the worst winter I can remember and the film was plagued by financing problems which Bart and Freddie took a lot of flak for. I think Bart actually remortgaged his house. But they got it all together and made a very good film.
HC: How difficult is it to get a picture into production these days?
JS: Well if it was easy everybody would be doing it! Horror is getting harder and harder because the market is so saturated, though quality will always find an audience.
HC: You are described as being one of the most prolific producers around, how do you balance so many projects at once?
JS: With a very steady hand! My film business inspiration had always been Hammer who turned out 6-8 films per year. I've not quite matched that yet but expect to this year. I'm lucky to have great support from my producing partners Neil Jones and Billy Murray and our amazing regular team lead by the indefatigable Trish. We've just taken on our own studio too in Docklands, more details about which we'll be announcing soon.
HC: Censorship has been making headlines recently, where do you stand on this subject?
JS: On the fence, but slightly on the anti-censorship side... The biggest problem of course is that everyone has a different opinion on what should or shouldn't be censored. To put it in perspective, I thought The Human Centipede was hilariously daft. But on the other hand nothing in the world would make me want to watch A Serbian Film. But I think if parents exercise sensible judgement then the current system kind of works. And hey - it always makes for a good debate!
HC: What condition do you think the British film industry is in?
JS: Bitched, buggered and bewildered but hanging on in there. It's so hard to make British films travel and consequently for them to make a profit. What works here, particularly on DVD, rarely translates into good business overseas. My business model works on low budget films purely down to volume: if I was making one of these films every two years it wouldn't work. But 4 or so per year works out OK. We're now making some bigger budget films with WWE studios, which is an amazing opportunity to boost employment in the UK film industry.
HC: What advice would you give to budding film-makers?
JS: Try and be commercial! And nail your budgets to the floor! I think one of the most inspirational film-makers around is Andrew Jones in Wales. This guy is making micro budget horrors which get full supermarket distribution here and sell all around the world. I have so much respect for him. He's now branching into action movies with Kill Kane starring Vinnie Jones and directed by a very talented lad called Adam Stephen Kelly. At this rate I'll be asking Andrew for a job soon.
HC: So what are you working on at the moment?
JS: I've just wrapped Bonded By Blood 2. That was fun, I really enjoyed working with director Greg Hall and breaking some new film talent like Sam Strike and Casey Batchelor who are both great in the movie. Sam has just got the lead in the Texas Chainsaw reboot. I'm starting We Still Steal The Old Way in a few weeks which is the sequel to my film We Still Kill The Old Way which was a success on DVD at Christmas. I love this little franchise: director Sacha Bennett and leading man Ian Ogilvy are a joy. Then it's onto Eliminators which we're making with WWE and which stars Scott Adkins and WWE superstar Bad News Barrett. Working with WWE is a fantastic experience. I've another great director on that in Jimmy Nunn who did Tower Block. After that there's 52 Pickup, Vendetta 2 and hopefully Age of Kill 2: Rogue. And I have the first Age of Kill out in June, which is a sort of British Taken with Martin Kemp as a kind of North London Bryan Mills if you will. I'm very proud of that - it premieres at the Southend Film Festival next month. It's a really strong movie, not your typical Britflick. And a holiday would be nice!
HC: Jonathan Sothcott, thank you very much.
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