Jonathan Sothcott Interview

Jonathan Sothcott
With several movies coming out this year alone, the future’s looking very promising for fledgling British production company Black & Blue Films. Recently, I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask one of the men behind the company; Jonathan Sothcott, a few important questions about some of his upcoming productions and his love for horror movies.

GP: So, having dabbled in journalism, had a book published, enjoyed a stint as The Horror Channel‘s Head of Programming and now producing films through your own production company, you obviously have a love for the industry. Was it a happy accident or is making movies something you always aspired to do?

 

JP: In a nutshell I always LOVED movies – some of my earliest memories are of seeing films like Jaws, Octopussy and Star Wars at the cinema. When my parents got a Betamax player I was thrilled – I always liked monster and action movies. The only thing I was any good at in school was English and I was a lazy student. I didn’t fancy University so dropped out at A-Level stage to become a film journalist – such unrealistic ambition! I wrote bits and bobs for a couple of magazines like DarkSide and Fangoria and managed to knock out a not very good biography of Christopher Lee and contributed to a few other books. I then somehow got picked up as a journo-for-hire on DVD releases of old movies – in the ‘making of’ documentaries and on the commentaries. I was pretty dreadful at them I think but was so excited to be learning about how films were made. I think it was pretty arrogant trying to pull off sounding like I knew what I was talking about at 20 but I had a lot of fun. I then got offered the job buying for The Horror Channel – dream job by any film buff’s standard. What I hadn’t anticipated was an acquisitions budget of about 37 pence, so I had to park that up fairly swiftly. And that was really what made me realize that I wanted to MAKE films rather than writing about or trading in other people’s. A long-standing pal of mine, David Wickes – a mentor, really – offered me the chance to learn the ropes of film production for a year. I jumped at the chance and learned so much from him. And then I decided to toddle off and actually have a go at this film making.

 
 

Your first feature film, Wishbaby; an urban British horror film directed and written by Stephen W. Parsons came out in 2007. How did that project come about?

Through a friend of mine named Simon Sprackling, who I’d worked with on the DVD extras previously. Simon was producing for Steve, who was an old pal of his, and he roped me in to help out. Steve is a real maverick film-maker, a bona fide one off and Wishbaby definitely was a one-off. I’m proud of what Steve achieved as a film-maker on a very low budget and I think it is a film that will grow in stature in time. It actually got pretty good reviews when it came out on DVD but hasn’t sold particularly well. Maybe it wasn’t the right time for the movie. It’s a pretty bleak portrait of London. I was terribly impressed to be involved with Steve because he was the punk singer in classic 80s cheesefest Howling 2 – Your Sister Is A Werewolf!

 
 

You have a few other projects on the horizon including thriller Gunned Down and mockumentary Just For The Record. You seem to be dipping your toe into quite a few other genres but the majority appear to be horror or an amalgamation of horror and something else. Would you say this is your preferred genre?

Just For The Record was picture locked last week. It’s a very quirky mockumentary about the film industry and was a lot of fun to make. It was a real change of pace. It should be out in the next 6 months. Gunned Down is an incredibly stylish crime script set in London and Marbella that I’ll be making in the Summer with Craig Fairbrass. It will be my fourth film with Craig and I’m so excited because he is at his absolute peak – I can’t think of another actor in London who is as good at the action stuff as him and after bashing zombies and vampires in Devil’s Playground and Dead Cert, Gunned Down is a real departure for him as a multi-layered leading man in a complexly plotted story. I can’t wait!

Craig Fairbrass Dead Cert

 

So what inspired your love of the darker side to cinema?

 

I love horror movies! I grew up on Peter Cushing Hammer House of Horror movies and had seen them all by the time I was twelve. In my teens I got into 80s and then modern horror. It’s a genre I really enjoy because it’s fun – monsters, action, scares, etc are the reasons we enjoy cinema. They might not be the most heavyweight topics but I like to be entertained!

The forthcoming Dead Cert combines gangsters and vampires. At first glance, the premise sounds a little like From Dusk ‘Til Dawn via Guy Ritchie, which could be an explosive combination of ideas. Who or what would you say are the main influences for this piece?

Yeah, or as I said to someone yesterday it’s Dracula AD 1972 meets Rise of the Footsoldier! The film does owe a debt to Guy Richie and I have two of the best actors from his rep company in it – Dexter Fletcher and Jason Fleymng. The film’s director Steve Lawson is really into his gangster stuff and when we were writing the script his knowledge of that stuff shaped that part of the script. My input was much more the vampire lore stuff – I love all that shit and when we were coming up with ideas about a secret order of vampire killers and adding all our new bloodsucker mythology to the mix I was having the time of my life. One thing I was very keen on though was that our vampires would be scary and evil rather than all romantic and misunderstood. I can’t have that in vampire films – they drink blood, sleep in graves and turn into rats… that’s pretty scary stuff in my eyes, never mind all that old love never dies bollocks.

 
 

Why do you think the Brit-crime sub-genre is so popular at the moment? And are you hoping to pave the way for a new batch of movies with the interesting combo of vampires and the criminal underworld?

 

I don’t think its at the moment, I think its evergreen, or has been since the 70s – Get Carter, Villain, Sweeney!, Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, The Krays, Sexy Beast, Lock Stock, Football Factory, The Business, Rise of the Footsoldier and so on. I think it’s a genre we do particularly well and one that makes great actors iconic, be it Caine, Dyer, Statham or Stanley Baker. I do think that crime and horror are great crossovers – two different types of underworld and I am looking at another genre crossover called Feral.

Did you consider anywhere else for the location of Dead Cert, or was London always the obvious choice?

 

Absolutely, but I didn’t want it to be a full on geezerfest where every other word was ‘cunt’ and all the characters do is drink lager and fight at football matches. There’s a bit of that in it but there’s also a real horror story in there too.

 

You seem to re-use the same actors in a lot of your output (Danny Dyer, Billy Murray, Colin Salmon, etc.). Do you find this creates a better rapport amongst the cast members and makes for a more enjoyable time on set?

 

I like the idea of a company of people both in front of and behind the camera. I have an incredibly talented regular crew including DOP James Friend, production designer Sophie Wyatt, costume designer Millie Sloan and my make-up girls Natalie and My who I try to use on every film – why change a winning formula? With the actors I am lucky enough to have good relationships with people I think are the best – as a punter as well as a producer I love the work of Lisa McAllister, Craig Fairbrass, Danny Dyer, Sean Pertwee, Colin Salmon etc etc and so it only seems logical to keep using them. And also the fact that we’re all mates and all go out together obviously makes it very enjoyable!

Jonathan Sothcott Billy Murray
 

How did such a large number of hugely recognisable British talent get involved? Did you seek them out, or did they come to you?

I’m incredibly lucky to have Billy Murray as a partner in my company Black and Blue Films. He’s a British icon and everyone loves him. Aside from being a highly skilled screen actor he’s a very credible Exec Producer – Rollin With The Nines, Rise of the Footsoldier, Doghouse, Freight etc – and everyone wants to work for him. Through Bill I met and got to know Dyer, Fairbrass etc and we’ve all become very good friends. Other people I knew already – Lisa McAllister is one of my best friends. Victoria Silvestdt who was in Just For The Record, I have known for years. And some people we were lucky enough to have met as we went along such as Steven Berkoff, Phil Davis and Colin Salmon.

  

On the subject of your affiliation with Danny Dyer and Billy Murray, what did you think of Jake Wests’ Doghouse?

 

I really, REALLY enjoyed it. Dyer’s “bird flu” line was my favourite in a film last year. I thought it was funny, scary, very well acted and put together. Jake West is a very talented boy and I’m very proud of him. Everyone should go and buy it on DVD if they haven’t already!

 

Another of your forthcoming projects is the remake of 1976 video nasty Expose, directed by your Black and Blue Films cohort Martin Kemp. Where do you stand on the age-old censorship issue?

We shot that last year and I’m very happy with it. It was very low budget and Martin did a terrific job on it – he’s a brilliant director. Our version isn’t a gorefest really – I reckon it’ll get a 15 when it comes out. And the old one’s pretty tame now. But censorship is a hot topic always – I look at stuff that I wasn’t allowed to watch when I was a kid, or even a teenager – like The Exorcist – and it all seems incredibly tame next to Call of Duty! I think I’m pretty liberal. I think adults have a duty to censor what their kids see – in some ways I think it is better for people to have a sense of responsibility for themselves and those in their care, but I also see the flipside that not everyone IS responsible. It is certainly a tough one!

 
 

Finally, what else does 2010 have in store for you? Can we expect even more in the way of exciting British horror or would you like to explore a different direction?

Well I’ve just wrapped a big zombie movie at Elstree called Devil’s Playground with Craig, Danny, Lisa and Jaime Murray and that’s being released by E1 in September/October. We are currently out there raising the finance for Gunned Down and then it’s another horror remake, this time The Asphyx, a quirky 70s horror about scientists trying to trap the spirit of death. I’ve got an incredibly talented writer/director in Matthew McGuchan and he’s just about to start the second draft. That will star Alison Doody, who is an amazing actress and I can’t wait to get going on it. I’m looking at a couple of other 70s remakes too and I have a new spin on the Bram Stoker book Jewel of 7 Stars in development. And who knows – maybe sequels to Dead Cert and/or Devil’s Playground. And a non-horror, non-gangster romcom!

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