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Britflicks talks with prolific British independent film producer Jonathan Sothcott about his upcoming features WE STILL STEAL THE OLD WAY and BONDED BY BLOOD 2, his film production company Hereford Films and the British film industry.
Q) Its looking like an exciting year for you Jonathan! Starting off with WE STILL STEAL THE OLD WAY, which is out now on Digital and on DVD 17th April. Can you tell us about the film?
JS: Yes it’s a sequel to a film I made a few years ago called We Still Kill The Old Way which did very well on DVD and television here. The studio was after a sequel so the director and I cooked up a prison break story, scripted by Simon Cluett. Its another fun does-what-it-says-on-the-tin (Empire, I think, once described my output as ‘Ronseal cinema’) geezer movie that’s perfect viewing for Easter bank holiday Monday, when it hits DVD and Blu Ray.
Q) Are there any plans for a further addition to the franchise?
JS: Yes we’ll be making the third and (for now, anyway) final one, We Still Die The Old Way, this summer. There are loose ends I want to tie up and it will be darker in tone, more like the first film, with a refresh on the creative team. The second, by virtue of not having a revenge theme, is a little more capery and fun, which of course suits Ian Ogilvy well, but he can do the darker stuff too and the third film is very much focused on the relationship between him and Chris Ellison’s character.
Q) There’s some great seasoned actors in there, what’s it like working with these guys?
JS: Oh I love it. What’s not to love. Across these two films I’ve had a Bond villain, 2 Bond girls, a Saint, the 2 best actors from The Bill, the star of Sleeping With The Enemy… you can just sit and listen to them tell stories all day (well, you could if we didn’t have a film to make). I always say that working with all these wonderful actors is like getting out all your favourite childhood toys and playing with them again.
Q) How did you and director Sacha Bennett get together?
JS: Tinder. No, we met at a Film London party in 2009 when he was doing Bonded By Blood but never kept in touch. Then a mutual friend at Universal suggested we should work together and we bonded (not by blood) over a mutual appreciation of white wine. Sacha’s a very warm, pleasant guy to be around, he has a nice energy. I think the second film benefits from his naturally lighter touch – its very much his film, I left him to get on with it really beyond casting a few of the guest stars (Vas Blackwood, Deborah Moore, Patrick Bergin).
Q) Next up in May you have the release of BONDED BY BLOOD 2, directed by Greg Hall. Now having seen the film I must say that’s a master stroke, how did working with Greg come about?
JS: Thank you. Greg was recommended to me by our mutual friend Nick Nevern, who has been in many of my films. He came into the office one day and we had a chat. He’d made a rather good bank heist movie which was bizarrely (and thoroughly misleadingly) released here as Dangerous Mind of a Hooligan. I liked him, he had a real, gritty style. So when we decided to go that way with Bonded 2 he was a natural choice. He’s a very good director and he delivered exactly what I wanted on that film.
Q) Producing a film which is still very much current as BONDED BY BLOOD 2 is with boys still inside, families bereaved etc. did that effect how you approached the film?
JS: That’s why Simon Cluett, who wrote it and Greg the director, worked closely with Bernard O’Mahoney, who wrote the book on which it is based. Bernie is the only surviving member of the Essex Boys gang and he’s a really nice, funny guy. He believes that this is the best film in the cycle because it is gritty and realistic. The story line is more reflective of the actual crime scene in Essex than certain other films. The thing is, the good ones all bring something to it – Rise of the Footsoldier was so well directed and had that powerhouse performance by Craig Fairbrass. Bonded By Blood had Vincent Regan. This film sits up there with these two – it isn’t some daft cash in. They’re getting a bit silly now – Essex Boys The Musical will be next!
Incidentally, several people have asked why we call it Bonded By Blood 2 when most of the main characters died in the first film. Terry Stone and Rebecca Ferdinando reprise their roles in flashback scenes. But the reason I wanted to call it that is that Bonded By Blood is a powerful brand – the first one sold 45,000 DVDs in its first week alone. If we’d called it Essex Boys The New Generation it could have been misconstrued as one of those terrible £20,000 films. Bonded By Blood was a quality film and I think we’ve made a worthy sequel.
Q) As well as the usual faces, Terry Stone, Chris Ellison and Tony Denham who always produce the goods, I was impressed by Mark Harris playing Mr X, how did the casting of Mark come about?
JS: I’ve known Harris for years he has been in many of these films – Anuvahood first and then he did one for me called either Gbh or Riot – good little film that, it was sort of lost when Revolver collapsed. Its still on DVD from Lionsgate. Anyway, I like Mark, he’s a funny character. This part suited him – he’s a naturalistic South London actor. He’s in good shape. So it was a good fit. He’s in The Hatton Garden Job by my mate Ronnie Thompson at the minute too and Terry Stone’s upcoming Once Upon A Time In London.
Q) Being an Essex Boys: Next Generation film, BONDED BY BLOOD 2 features a host of young and up and coming actors; George Russo, Josh Myers, Sam Strike, Martin Delaney, Johnny Palmiero, Kirsty J. Curtis, Dani Dyer. There are some actors in there who are destined for the top! How did you go about casting?
JS: Well this was one of the joys of having a new generation – we could actually get in a load of new, younger, faces to balance out all the old favourites and give them bigger parts. We did some auditions with Greg and Lee the casting director but a lot of them I already had in my mind.
Johnny and George had both worked for me before on Top Dog (and Johnny again in We Still Kill The Old Way). Both leading men who should work more and both of them absolute gentlemen, really good guys. Josh’s father I have known for years and I liked him (Josh’s grandfather is Michael Myers who owned UK distributor Miracle Films. They released John Carpenter’s early films here and as an in-joke Carpenter named his Halloween villain after Michael!). Delaney and Kirsty Curtis I knew socially and wanted to work with. Dani Dyer had already done 3 films for me and it was nice giving her something meaty to play rather than her usual damsel in distress. Her father marked my card about Sam Strike as soon as he joined Eastenders. I met him properly at Dyer’s son’s christening and I remember Craig Fairbrass saying to me he thought Sam would be a movie star. As usual Craig was right. He’s great in the movie (they all are) and of course has gone on to play Leatherface in the new Texas Chainsaw massacre. I also think Casey Batchelor is great in the movie and will surprise people with how well she holds her own.
Q) What’s up next?
JS: Our first American film – a horror movie called Tormented, which is a supernatural spin on sleep paralysis. Its very The Conjuring/The Babadook in tone which I think will play really well internationally. Obviously we have We Still Die The Old Way this year. We also have a Shakespeare movie, a war hero biopic, 2 more horror movies, a reboot of an 80s American comedy franchise and a whole lot more.
Q) Tell us about Hereford Films?
JS: Hereford Films will, I hope, become an international business that started in London. Its named after Hereford Road in Notting Hill, where I spent a couple of very happy years living with an actress named Lisa McAllister. I started it initially with a strict idea of which kind of films I did and didn’t want to make but as the business model has evolved I have realised that to adapt is to survive, hence our slate being so diverse.
Last year I invited a long-time friend, Damien Morley to join the board and we are now partners. Damien is a successful businessman who owns the model agency Girl Management and, like me, loves movies. We had often talked about doing something together and Hereford, as a new venture, seemed like a good start. We’re very similar and very different at the same time & I am lucky to have him as a sounding board and a steadying influence on some of my wilder impulses. He’s a very, very smart guy.
We also work with a wonderfully eccentric young film-maker named Adam Kelly who does quite a bit of development for us and has written Tormented and We Still Die The Old Way. There’s also Paul doing nuts and bolts production - budgeting and cracking that whip and our lovely sidekick Lana who looks after us all (and is secretly in charge).
We’re based in Wood Green in North London which is great – I was in South Audley Street in Mayfair for years but there were so many distractions! As well as the film company we have launched a television division and are now actively developing formats for the small screen. We have a couple of other, non-film businesses too.
I hope that by the end of 2017 we’ll have an office opened in LA and operate between there and London. Damien and I are back and forth to the US pretty regularly and are building our stock over there.
Q) Do you think there’s a lot of snobbery in the British Film Industry?
JS: An insane amount. The prevailing attitude is one of failing upwards, these silly snotty people who sit and whinge over coffee mornings rather than getting on and making things. I think there’s no shame at all in making commercial films that people actually want to see. I realize that I’m the exception – someone once asked me if I thought about how I’d die and I said yes, I’d wake up, get my first good review in The Guardian and die of a bloody heart attack.
Q) With British independent films finding it almost impossible to get a Cinema release, what do you think should be done to address that?
JS: This is a difficult question. Any film can get a cinema release, you just have to pay for it. The question is do people want to see these kind of films on the big screen? A trip to the cinema is very expensive, especially with all the ancillary bolt ons – food, drink, travel etc. So people want bang for their buck with the movies they see there, they want Justice League and Rogue One.
The bigger problem is piracy – because cinema is expensive, people think that piracy is acceptable and that just isn’t the case. Just because a Mercedes is expensive, should you steal a Fiat? Nobody’s particularly interested in educating or enforcing the piracy problem and its slowly but surely killing the industry (much more than Netflix is, that’s just a sexy alarmist headline). People think it’s a victimless but ultimately the correlation between piracy and diminishing returns will spike and there’ll be no more indie films. Even the term piracy is frustrating as it has a sort of glamorous, Johnny Depp connotation. Its theft, simple as that.
Q) Being a producer prolific in the British Gangster Film genre, do you think the BFI (British Film Institute) give any backing?
They do not. And that’s no bad thing – I’ve never applied for soft (eg public) money in my life because I don’t want a quango of Tarquinns sitting round giving me their script notes about how Danny Dyer’s character should be a troubled vegan coal miner with one leg.
Q) Have you any ambitions to work in the US or are your feet firmly set on Blighty?
JS: I will never, ever stop making British films but I do want to have a crack at Hollywood – who wouldn’t? If you want to build cars you go to Detroit, right? I love it out there. But I’d be sad if I wasn’t coming back to make films in London.
Q) Who in the industry either in front or behind the camera you would like to work with?
JS: Behind the camera – Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, Noel Clarke, Nick Moran (as a director), Ronnie Thompson and Brian Blum. Actors (limited to British so as not to send you to sleep) – Billie Piper, Sir Michael Caine, Pierce Brosnan, Ross Kemp, David Tennant, Danny Mays, John Simm, Colm Meaney, Kate Beckinsale, PH Moriarty, Michelle Ryan, Thandie Newton, Gemma Chan, Andrew Scott and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. And that’s literally off the top of my head.
Q) Now you’ve been given $50,000,000 to produce a film, what genre’s it going to be?
JS: Low budget with lots of long location recces to tropical holiday destinations.. haha. I mean with my producing hat on I’d make 50 x $1 million movies because that way you spread your risk and if one breaks out it allows you to be more bold with your choices on some of the others. Two for the money and one for me, as Michael Caine used to say. I would love to do a big period gothic horror movie one day – a new take on Dracula. I’d love to do a Marvel comics movie too but $50 million doesn’t get you very far on one of those!
Q) OK so we always hear of your ‘Death Row’ meal, what would be your ‘Death Meal’ film be?
JS: The Long Good Friday. There’s no other scene in cinema which shows a man being resolved to his fate as well as the late Bob Hoskins in the back of that car, which seems appropriate for the question.
Q) Anything you would like to add? …..
JS: Only to say thank you for Britflicks – it has been a unique resource for both film-makers and fans since I started I think – your support and encouragement for the, well, Brit flicks is very much appreciated and long may you continue.
Thank you Jonathan Sothcott for taking time out to talk to Britflicks!
WE STILL STEAL THE OLD WAY is out now on Digital and on DVD 17th April.
BONDED BY BLOOD 2 is released on DVD/Blu-Ray & Digital 22nd May, 2017.
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