July 24, 2012

Interview with UK Film Producer Jonathan Sothcott

I recently had the chance to ask UK film producer Jonathan Sothcott a few questions, about his movies, Mark Hamill, the UK film industry and more. Jonathan, along with his company Chatta Films, have recently brought such films as Airborne, The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, Elfie Hopkins and Strippers vs Werewolves to our screens. And from the looks of things, there is no chance of him slowing down anytime soon!

Hi Jonathan! Thank you so much for taking time out to answer these questions.

JS: My pleasure, I really appreciate all the positive coverage your site has been giving my films!

-         Over the past few years or so British cinema, outside of the usual suspects, has seen somewhat of a resurgence, especially with genre-related films such as F and Outcast. When I lived in the UK it wasn’t all that common to see films like these getting too much exposure, let alone playing theaters, now films like The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, Elfie Hopkins and Airbourne are pushing their way into the public eye. Has this been your intention; to bring British cinema, with a bit of punch, out into the public consciousness?

[JS] I love British movies and I’m very proud of the heritage that our cinema has, though I think there’s a certain kind of embarrassment in this country to celebrate a lot of the great movies we make. I’m not into the Ken Loach type movies at all, I love proper old-fashioned popcorn storytelling – I’m a huge fan of Nick Love who has made some amazing movies – there are film-makers out there like him, Noel Clarke, Paul Andrew Williams and more who really should be more celebrated by the mainstream. We make such great mainstream movies, often for peanuts, but all you see in the press is “oh dear the British film industry, what an embarrassment to the establishment it is” which is dreadfully ignorant and insulting. If you read The Guardian you probably think the only independent films this country’s made since the Carry Ons are Lesbian Vampire Killers and Sex Lives of the Potato Men. There’s a lot of talent out there and it is so important to have the internet around to promote and celebrate all the movies we’re making in this country. So yes I’m all about making British movies and banging the drum for British movies – everyone should support the British film industry, God knows the country needs the money!!

-       One British powerhouse that recently made a return is Hammer, however, of their releases not all of them have been filmed, or set, in Britain. With your productions, such as the Airbourne, Strippers vs Werewolves and White Collar Hooligan, have all been firmly set in the United Kingdom. Is this important to your; to keep the films British?

[JS] Well its cheaper, but Hammer were never strangers to foreign locations – Taste of Fear was shot in the South of France, One Million Years BC in the Canary Islands etc… sometimes a foreign location opens a story out and makes it feel bigger, which hopefully Paris did in White Collar Hooligan. The sequel, which we start next month, shuttles between Valencia, New York and London so that’s more international. I love making films in Britain though, and particularly London. London is such a cinematic city, I don’t think there’s anything comparable. I think where I’ve slipped up in the past though is in making too many films that look the same, both in terms of locations and cast and while I think my films will always have a British heart I’m not adverse to changing the wrapping they come in to keep things interesting.
-       Even though they are British movies, you managed to get Robert Englund (for Strippers vs Werewolves) and also Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, for the thriller Airbourne. Firstly, was this to bring a little international recognition to the films? And secondly, how on Earth did you manage to acquire Mark Hamill’s services? This being his first English movie.

[JS] Yeah the idea was totally that an international name from a blockbuster franchise opens up the markets in places that might not otherwise be interested. Englund was a follow-on from Hamill, really – my partner Simon Phillips and I came up with this idea of a big bad super werewolf pulling the strings behind the scenes on SVW. Initially it was going to be a shadow behind a screen ala Blofeld in the early Bonds, then we talked about getting a celebrity impersonator and having it as a werewolf royal or politician. Anyway, we were shooting the shit about who’d be the biggest, baddest werewolf to be behind that screem and came up with Englund… and he liked the material and said yes. Mark Hamill was the brainchild of director Dominic Burns, who’d already shipped over cult movie legend Zach Calligan to do his one-take horror film Cut. Dom is great at pulling these iconically esoteric names out of the bag and then convincing them to come and do the movies. Mark liked the script (it was good, which of course always helps) and I think he liked the idea of coming over and helping some young(ish) film-makers get their movie noticed.

-       How was Mark to work with? Was it tempting to make Stars Wars related comments to him? I jest, of course, but he really is a legend in the world of cinema.

[JS] Listen I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan (the first three, anyway) – Jedi was one of the first movies I saw at the cinema – and Mark’s very proud of being a key part of three of the biggest movies ever. He really is an absolute sweetheart – one of life’s nice guys and the ultimate professional. We had dinner with him at Wheelers in St James and he wanted to go there because its where he used to go with Alec Guiness. Mark’s Star Wars stories are even better than you’d hope and I really do think he needs to write an autobiography.
He thought we’d stitched him up royally though, on his last night when we were shooting at the Space Museum in Leicester – we were under huge pressure to be out by 7pm as the venue was booked for a private party. We wrapped on time and I went back to Mark’s caravan with him. He got changed and did some bits of press and then we walked out… to be confronted with a human sea of Jedis, Wookies, Stormtroopers and Sand People – it was a Star Wars fancy dress party! He gave us this ‘Wait a minute….’ Look and then burst out laughing. It was a brilliant moment!
-       I have been fortunate enough to see some of these films, White Collar Hooligan, Airbourne and the 2010 zombie flick Devil’s Playground, and wondered what the plans are for giving them a release Stateside? Even with region-free hardware it is still nice to get the domestic release whenever possible.

[JS] Devil’s has been out in the States for over a year. It went straight to DVD and didn’t seem to catch fire over there, sadly. There were a LOT of zombie movies out around that time. Airborne is out on DVD in the States in October and I’m hoping that will go down really well, I think it will travel well. White Collar Hooligan we are talking to various American distributors – I’d like to see it get a decent release there as I think it is the best film I’ve made.

-       With the movies you have produced they all seem to share the same high production values, without having incredibly high budgets. How have you managed this?

[JS]By making them cheaply!! We work backwards from a realistic market view – and we cut our cloth accordingly. What makes the difference is the incredibly talented crew who work on these movies. These guys work very long hours for very little money and still do an amazing job, turning sows’ ears into silk purses again and again. They really are the backbone of the film industry and we’re lucky that they like working for us – and I think they do because we’re prolific. We make at least 6 films per year whereas a lot of other ‘producers’ just talk about it.
-       Of your future projects, that I have seen listed, a couple jump out at me. The first being Once Upon a Time in Essex. Being an Essex boy myself, I am intrigued as to whether this is a film based on the Rettendon Murders, or is it a fictitious plot?

[JS] It is indeed based on the infamous range rover murders in 1995. There’s an unending appetite for this story, which regularly attracts outrageous conspiracy theories. Its like a modern day Jack The Ripper – it will never be solved and people don’t want it to be because they have this gruesome kind of fascination with the mystery. I’m a huge fan of Rise of the Footsoldier, the guys who did that made a remarkable hard-hitting film, a real piece of cinema. Bonded By Blood felt like a bit of a retread, though I rate Sasha the director: sometimes these things just don’t work out, I’ve had more than my fair share like that. Anyway, we decided to come at it from a completely different angle, focus on different characters and the result is a very different film from the other versions, though I hope it will prove satisfying for the hardcore fans too.

-       The other project is The Mask of the Red Death. What can you tell us about this film? Is this a new version of the Poe tale?

[JS] It’s a post-apocalyptic version of the Poe story, set in a deserted wasteland London. Its an idea I dreamed up with a very talented film-maker named Robert Pratten and I really want to get going on it, but the horror market is so glutted with product right now, so it will really need to stand out – and I have every faith in Robert to achieve that.

-       Finally, and once again I appreciate your time, what does the future hold for yourself and Chata Pictures?

[JS] Well White Collar Hooligan 2: England Away starts filming on August 6th and we’re busy casting that right now. We have a hooligan/horror crossover that we’re looking at, an urban-themed family film and a period gangster movie that has an amazing story which I’m very excited about but on which my lips are sadly sealed for now.

The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan is available now on R2 DVD from Momentum Pictures.

Airborne is released by Chelsea Films on R2 DVD on July 30th.

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