The Limelight Index: Jonathan Sothcott – Producer/CEO
I’m incredibly thankful for getting an interview with Jonathan Sothcott, one of the UK’s leading film producers! He has over a dozen feature films under his belt and shows no sign of slowing down. Here is what he had to say about himself, his films and the British film industry. Thank you Jonathan.
Have you always had your mind set on being a successful film producer?
In the last year, yes, since I started Richwater Films in January of this year I have had a very clear and precise game plan. Before that I think I was drifting from idea to idea, which is why my output was variable to say the least. I always knew that I wanted to be in films, but was never quite sure what as, though I never had that desire to be an actor or a director. Still, you only learn by doing and I think I have spent my time in the trenches and paid my dues in the industry and now know where I’m going.
How did you find your feet in the film industry?
Slowly! I entered the business in 2007 and essentially a friend, a filmmaker named David Wickes, said to me that I should think about producing. He was very much a mentor to me at the beginning and I learned a lot from him. The person who really gave me a break though, was the actor Martin Kemp. He lent his name to my endeavors, which opened doors I could never have dreamed of getting near. Nobody wanted to meet a new producer with a load of ideas, but a lot of people wanted to meet Martin Kemp. He’s an incredibly generous man and I’ll never forget that. Once I had a toe in the door I thought I’d be making horror films, I was drawn to the genre personally, but I think that was a mistake and I made some real howlers. I was beginning to think that maybe I was more suited to a kind of Executive Producer role as I was getting increasingly disenchanted with films and the people I was working with, I even moved out of London thinking a slower pace of life was in order. But late in 2012 I got talking to Danny Dyer, who’d been a pal for a long time and we were both in the same boat, his film career was on the ropes and he’d had enough. So I got a writer/director I liked, Steve Reynolds, to put together this script called Vendetta, try and have one last hurrah, both for me and Danny. And to say it was something pretty special was an understatement. It gave me more passion about film than I’d ever had and we assembled an absolutely amazing group of people to make a very special film. The results speak for themselves and suddenly I’d found my way. I’m now in a position where I’m working with some major acting talent – people like Leo Gregory, Ricci Harnett and Vincent Regan – and the fact that these guys want to come and make films with me is very satisfying.
Who influences you in the film industry?
Historically I’m a big fan of Hammer Films and I love what they did from the mid fifties to the mid seventies. They made so many different types of films and were incredibly productive. However, they failed to adapt to market changes and by 1970 they were 5 years behind the times. To adapt is to survive and that’s a lesson I have learned. I’m also a huge admirer of the late Albert Broccoli who produced the James Bond films, what an incredibly perceptive, shrewd guy he was. More recently I think you have to respect Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn because they made British film cool again after a 20-year wilderness period.
You have been hailed in the Digital FilmMaker magazine as the man who could potentially save British filmmaking. Does this inspire you?
Well I never really expected to be on the cover of a magazine so that was very flattering and what a magazine too, it’s a totally essential read! It was incredibly flattering and obviously I write this monthly ‘Ask The Producer’ column for them now that completely keeps me on my toes!
How do you feel about the state of the British film industry?
I don’t think its in bad shape at all, and the problems affecting it are no different to anywhere else, namely the death of the $10 million – $20 million indie – pictures made at that level need to perform theatrically but can’t compete with Avengers Assemble and Skyfall. Increasingly audiences want bang for their buck at the cinema so go and see these huge studio blockbusters in their millions but not dramas, romcoms etc. Low budget straight to video stuff like mine makes its money back in that market; we don’t need a box office as such. But those high end indies are struggling.
You recently set up your own independent production company, Richwater Films, what exactly are your plans and direction for the company’s future?
Its nice being the master of my own destiny. In the past I think I had always been the backroom partner, the guy who was dealing with distributors and financiers but with Richwater it’s all on me… and I relish that. Part of the thinking behind Richwater is to be flexible, I don’t just want to be ‘the horror company’ or ‘the gangster producers’ – our first film Vendetta is a vigilante movie, we’re just wrapping up hitman film Assassin and then I’m going into two gangster movies – Reign of the General and Top Dog. But in early 2014 I have a couple of action movies coming up. So I guess the core aim is quality blokey popcorn entertainment but ultimately I want to make the films that people want to see. As to the future, I hope that in 2014 we can branch out into television and open an American office – those are my goals.
Have you always had a desire for action related films? Can you see Richwater Films branching out into other genres?
Yeah I grew up in the 80s which was the decade of the action movie so of course I wanted to, I just didn’t really have the self-belief to think big and make things happen. Next year we’re making a picture called Renegades, which is basically Steve Reynolds and my love letter to the action movies of our childhood, Commando, The Wild Geese, Predator, Die Hard etc. It’s a kind of British Expendables. And that’s a space I love being in.
You also have interests in multimedia and other areas. Is this largely a business motive?
When I was a kid I used to love paperback tie in books to movies, even better when they had stills from the film. It made the film feel bigger before we thought about merchandising the way we do now. I wanted to go back to that. So I partnered up with a really cool indie publisher called Caffeine Nights, initially for a novelization of Vendetta. We got a terrific writer named Nick Oldham to pen it and we were so pleased with that that we agreed this first look deal which works two ways – Darren at CN gives me first eyes on film rights for what he publishes and I give him first refusal to publish books from our films. Before the end of the year we’ll have a Vendetta graphic novel in shops and something I’ve co-written, The Films of Danny Dyer, which is a companion book for the fans. We’ve already agreed to move ahead on an Assassin novelization in Spring 2014 and of course CN are publishing a movie tie-in of Dougie Brimson’s book Top Dog.
Once the publishing deal was in place I began looking at other areas to build our intellectual property portfolio – we are doing a digital soundtrack for Vendetta with Big Sky Song Records. It’s a fantastic soundtrack and I think people will love it. In the future I’m very interested in moving into partnerships for Apps and Video Games – Richwater product is a natural companion for games brands such as GTA and Call of Duty.
Can we expect any big release dates for your feature films currently under production?
Well Vendetta’s in selected UK cinemas on November 22nd and DVD on boxing day (the day after Danny Dyer bows in Eastenders, which is an incredibly powerful profile raise for the film). Assassin is penciled for an April release and I think Top Dog and Reign of the General are looking like late spring. The Vendetta novelization is out on 21st of October.
Any parting advice on the industry for those starting out?
Only to repeat what I said earlier – roll with the punches, be adaptable. This business is changing at an alarming rate and there are no 10 year plans. I think unless you’re a big studio there aren’t even 2 year plans. But good stories need to be told and will always find an audience, so get out there and tell them!