Spending Time With Jonathan Sothcott ( @sothcott )

With over 50 scredits to his name so far (Info take from the IMDB) Jonathan Sothcott is perhaps best known as a film producer on the likes of ‘Vendetta’,’ ‘The Rise and Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan’, ‘We Still Kill The Old Way’ and the up and coming crime thriller ‘The Krays:Dead Man Walking’, but Jonathan has also written ( Dead Cert, Stalker, We Still Steal The Old Way’) as well as directed ( Directing The Beast) and is now CEO of the production company Hereford Films. In the past 16 years he has produced over 40 projects and shows no sign of slowing down. Jonathan was one of the first filmmakers I spoke to when I first started focusing more on the UK film industry and whilst we did lose touch for a while there, I always kept an eye on the films he created and his career in general. We recently had time to catch up again (albeit by email) and I persuaded him to take a breather and take a look at the questions for my online Spending Time With… article series. So it was a lovely surprise when I saw these great answers drop into my inbox.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

You can follow Jonathan on Twitter at @sothcott 

When people ask you ‘so, what do you do?’ How do you introduce yourself?

It depends how long I want the conversation to be – black cab drivers, God love ‘em, have a habit of critiquing every film you’ve done and actor you worked with, whilst also pitching you their idea for a movie which is normally either Carry On Brexit or Vigilante Cabbie. So I think of some elaborate lie about the most boring job I can think of, something like an interim finance transformation director, because who wants to know about something deathly dull and entirely unnecessary like that?! But generally I just say I own a company that makes British films. We Still Kill The Old Way is the one that resonates with most people, especially in London. But you must never expect people to know your work – its just a job after all. Sir Roger Moore used to tell this great story about being approached on location in Venice For Moonraker (so when he was the most famous Englishman in the world) by an older lady who asked what he was doing “I’m an actor” he said “oh really who do you play?” she demanded “well I sort of try to play James Bond” he replied “Oh you’ll be very good,” she enthused, “of course I know Ian Fleming.” Fleming had been dead for more than a decade.

What’s the first thing you do when you get on ‘set’

Have a bacon roll and a cup of tea.

Do you have any traditions that you have when you are involved in a project?

Trying not to let it go over schedule? No – I think every job is different, really

What was the most recent book you read?

I’m currently reading ‘My Indecision is Final’ which is a book about Goldcrest Films by its founder Jake Eberts and ex Screen International editor Terry Illot. It is one of the best books I have read about the business side of the British film industry and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone wanting to actually understand production. Very little has changed in the 30 years since it took place and it really is very interesting. I am an avid reader of film history books and have a library of hundreds of them – I have learned so much from them.

Out of all the projects you’ve been involved with which one do you feel the most proud of?

I think it has to be Vendetta – it really was one of those films where all the right elements came together at the right time and we got a bit of lightning in a bottle. I loved working with writer/director Stephen Reynolds, we had a fantastic creative relationship (and still do – I would love to work with him again), Dyer was at the absolute top of his game and we had a really fantastic cast and crew. I’m very proud of We Still Kill The Old Way too, particularly the wonderful cast, but I think Vendetta is definitely the best film I’ve made. In terms of more recent stuff, I am very proud of an American horror movie we did called Aura which comes out in the US on 6th August through Sony – it’s a solid, well-acted old school genre film with an (I hope) unique central concept – Kirlian Photography – and I think the horror buffs will really enjoy it.

What’s the most ‘starstruck’ you have been?

I don’t really think I have ever been ‘starstruck’ as such – over the years I met most of my childhood idols – Sir Roger Moore, Sir Michael Caine, Sir Christopher Lee, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Cushing etc. I was pretty in awe of Mark Hamill when I worked with him on Airborne. He was such a cool guy and a masterful anecdotalist and I really enjoyed spending time with him. The only person who has ever left my truly tongue tied is my girlfriend Janine who reduced me to a nervous wreck when I met her!

What was one of the most memorable films you saw as a child?

I think it has to be Jaws. It really was the film that made me love movies. My parents had a Betamax video of it and I watched it again and again. I also loved Jaws 2 and Jaws 3 and – when I eventually saw Jaws The Revenge I even loved that too. Its very curious – I was 7 when ‘The Revenge’ came out at the cinema and it was a ‘15’ but somehow my parents managed to get me into the cinema to see it – I guess because it was a flop and we were the only people there! I still think, despite it being pretty hokey on the whole, that the shark attack in Amity harbour at the beginning is one of the best scenes in the series.

What do you find the hardest part of your creative process and how do you deal with it?

The only thing I struggle with is some British filmmakers’ inability to recognise quality or commercialism. There are so many writers and directors who want to make the films they want to watch themselves rather than see films that the public will enjoy. I would never knowingly set out to make a film that people won’t feels satisfied that they’ve spent their £10 on – what is the point? Yes we make genre films but that’s because they get released. People don’t realise the power of the supermarkets in the film industry – yes digital is great and the future but a LOT of people still buy DVDs and if they can’t get them in Tesco here or Wallmart in the States they will buy a different film instead. It’s a very simple equation – if you want people to see your film, make a film that will get decent distribution.

In terms of quality we have been going through a bit of a creative doldrum in my sector – the only really good British genre films I can think of in the last year are The Hatton Garden Job, London Heist and Rise of the Footsoldier 3. And a lot of their success comes down to good directors and good actors. I am forever having new actors on Twitter complaining to me that we use “the same old faces” in these films and that we should “give new actors a chance” but familiar faces – stars, for want of a better word, give retailers and customers comfort that they are buying a ‘proper’ film and not one of these semi-amateur bits of drivel with a photoshop cover of a football hooligan with a baseball bat. The audience is still there for the British genre films but they will not have the wool pulled over their eyes by mis-sell covers and Am-dram actors. These catchpenny titles ‘Hooligan On The Run,’ ‘Red Letter Hooligans’ ‘Hooligans Vs Essex Boys’ or whatever they are, are made without thought or care and you can’t insult the people by trying to sell them that crap.

What is one of the best pieces of advice you can remember being given and from whom?

A very long time ago when I was in the TV channel management business, I remember Noel Edmonds telling me that “everything in this game takes twice as long as you think and costs twice as much as you’d like” – and that applies equally to the film business. There is no quick fix and if you want to do good work then you have to commit the time and energy required. Patience is a virtue.

If you could change one thing about the industry you are in, what would it be?

The culture of failing upwards. We have very little belief in the British film industry – indeed, I hesitate to call it an industry as it barely qualified as one. People are more preoccupied with promoting their message than with making films that entertain and succeed. There is this (not so) great culture of people sitting around in Soho or at the bar in BAFTA grumbling about how hard done by they are and how difficult the film industry is, without ever accepting the fact that the blame for their not being where they want rests solely with them. I have never been part of the film industry establishment here and I would never want to be – and I know that rubs a lot of people up the wrong way but that’s just how it is. They should be focussing on their lives and careers not worrying about other people – jealousy just contributes to the lack of productivity.

Do you read reviews of projects you work on?

Yes I do. And I am well aware that my cause of death will be having a heart attack after reading my first good one in The Guardian! But you know what, I don’t take them particularly seriously. I know from experience (I was once a film journalist) that they are rarely written with any personal malice. I used to get wound up by Mark Kermode ripping everything I did to pieces though and one night I bumped into him on the tube – I went up and tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself… after he’d got over the initial shock, he was lovely and I certainly have a respect for everything he has done as a critic and a historian – he’s a highly intelligent chap, he just doesn’t like what I do… and that’s quite alright.

If you had to make a ‘bucket list’ of people you’d love to work with, tell me one name who would be on it?

I can’t chop it down to one. I have a group of film makers I really, really enjoy working with – Nick Moran, Zack Adler, Ronnie Thompson and so on – they are all at the top of their games and we are developing some really great movies with them that will make a lot of noise. I’m also very proud that I have coaxed Adam Stephen Kelly back into the director’s chair for our home invasion movie Reckoning Day. His short film Done In was terrific and he got a great performance out of Vinnie Jones in Kill Kane so I know he’s going to deliver something special.

Do you prefer day shoots or night shoots?

Day shoots – I loathe night shoots with every fibre of my being as they leave you completely out of whack and I can never sleep properly in the day. They always tend to be in the winter too, eg when the nights are longer, which just strings out the horror!

What is one of your most favourite locations you have filmed in?

I loved going to Marbella for We Still Kill The Old Way – in fact I had already been on holiday there with Craig Fairbrass, but it’s a fun place and I really enjoyed hanging out there with Ian Ogilvy and Nick Henson… it made a real change from East London and Essex which, while not without a certain charm, are not exactly sun traps! I must say I also always enjoyed working at Wimbledon Studios – it was a great little place with everything under one roof.

What film always makes you laugh?

I am generally a sucker for silly 80s comedies – Police Academy, Teen Wolf, The Burbs, The Goonies, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Scrooged, Ferris Bueller, Haunted Honeymoon, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels etc. As a kid I was absolutely devoted to the Carry On films and I still am, they always make me smile.

What film scares you?

I think the film that scared me the most was probably An American Werewolf in London – even the VHS box was scary!! That was a film that pushed all my buttons when I saw it. Poltergeist was pretty spooky, the original Pet Semetary. On TV that bloody Ghost Watch was absolutely terrifying. Recently The Babadook got under my skin – that was a really unsettling, uncomfortable watch: expertly made.

What film do you love that you feel most people might not be aware of?

There are so many. I love obscure movies! The Man Who Haunted Himself. Miracle Mile. Count Yorga Vampire. Dolls. The Fourth Protocol. The Naked Face. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom. Waxwork 2 – Lost In Time. Horror Express. The Sorcerers. Angel Heart. Most recently a film I loved that should have made a bigger splash was the contained thriller Burning Bright – 2 kids trapped in a house during the New Orleans hurricane with a Bengal tiger. That was wonderful.

In your creative roles? What is the longest day that you’ve ever had?

On films they can all blur into one. But it is what it is – if you have to stay up for 3 days to get the job done then you have to do what you have to do. If you’re making a living from your passion then there’s no excuse.

Do you have any ‘props or keepsakes from your films?

No, not really. I used to have posters for them all and things like that but they were all stolen in a burglary. I suppose the only sort of prop I have is my watch which Danny Dyer wore on screen in Vendetta! 

Have you ever gotten someone’s autograph? Which is the most memorable for you?

No – I have never really understood autographs, it doesn’t do it for me. Are they even a thing any more? I thought they had been replaced by the random celeb selfie.

 

 

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