Jonathan Sothcott is best known as the producer behind a whole host of British horrors. Strippers vs Werewolves, Elfie Hopkins, Stalker, Dead Cert, Devil’s Playground and the upcoming Airborne.
We got a chance during his busy schedule to quiz him on his love of horror, his favorite leading ladies and his updated re-imagining of the Poe classic The Mask of the Red Death.
Love Horror: How did you get into producing?
Jonathan Sothcott: In a kind of arse-backwards, decidedly lucky fashion. I knew I wanted to work in movies but had no idea how or doing what. I grew up in the middle of nowhere and aside from a fairly disastrous term doing A-Level film studies had no background in or connections with the industry. So I started writing, initially for the DarkSide magazine.
I wasn’t bad, despite the massive inexperience that goes with being 17 or 18 and one thing lead to another and I ended up interviewing people for the DVD extras of lots of cult movies. People like Sir Roger Moore, Bryan Forbes, Robert Fuest, Ken Russell and so on and so on.
This in turn lead me into blagging myself a job as Head of Programming for the (then) new Horror Channel. I had no idea what I was doing really and the buying budget was a roll of string and some buttons but it got up on air and has now become a big success. Anyway I left the Horror Channel when it became clear they had no budget to acquire new programming and decided that I wanted to be master of my own destiny. A friend I’d made through the DVD work, David Wickes, kind of prodded me towards producing, recognizing that
I was entrepreneurial and I guess a natural salesman. I learned a great deal from him and so decided to give it a go. After a lot of false starts, eventually I met the actor Martin Kemp and we became mates and decided to set up a production company together. I don’t think Martin ever had any ambitions to run a film company, but he very graciously lent his name to my enterprises which opened a lot of doors, which I’ll always be grateful for. And since then there’s been no looking back.
Love Horror: You have made a lot of horror movies over your illustrious career including Strippers vs. Werewolves, Elfie Hopkins and Devil’s Playground. Is horror a genre close to your heart?
Jonathan Sothcott: Absolutely, its my favourite. I have a ridiculously huge horror DVD collection. Ever since I saw the Hammer Dracula at age 7 I’ve been attracted to the gothic horror genre – I’d love to have been making films in the 60s and 60s in that Hammer and Amicus period.
Having said all of that I am not blind to the fact that not all of my forays into the genre have been classics, and I sometimes think that my enthusiasm for that type of movie has clouded my judgement a bit!
Love Horror: Which of the horror movies you have made is your favorite and why?
Jonathan Sothcott: I guess Stalker – if you consider it a horror movie, its really a kind of psycho-thriller. There are so many happy memories and even though it was a very tough shoot it was a lot of fun and I think the film turned out pretty well too. I really enjoyed working with Martin Kemp – we have that natural rapport on set that comes from a close friendship, but we don’t get self-indulgent about it.
Martin is a really great director too – impeccably prepared, has an eye on the budget and isn’t afraid to listen. We had a lovely cast too, all of them good mates who pitched in and travelled to deepest darkest Suffolk and got amongst it.
Love Horror: Having made so many British horror films how do you think the UK does it differently to the rest of the world?
Jonathan Sothcott: I think – for better or worse – our horror films are a bit more restrained, a bit more classy. Even the messy micro budget films.
In this country just getting a film made is a miracle so that complacency that can creep in where there are real film industries just isn’t present here.
Love Horror: In your many movies you have had some amazing actors from Mark Hamill in Airborne to Sean Pertwee to Steven Berkoff to Ray Winstone to Robert Englund and more. Who has been the best of all your male cast members and why?
Jonathan Sothcott: That’s a tough one because the list is so long – so with all due respect I’d have to pick two, Danny Dyer and Craig Fairbrass. Partly that’s because they’re two guys who I’ve had so much fun with and partly because they are both underrated talents.
Craig and I have had some mad adventures together, travelling abroad and getting into all kinds of trouble but I’ve always believed that he has the potential to be a serious player in the action genre. He has the physique, he has the acting chops and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, even though he’s a big softy at heart. He hasn’t stopped working and I’m so pleased that he’s now getting the parts in the big action movies that he deserves. He’s got to be a shoe-in for The Expendables 3.
Danny on the other hand I met when he was at the height of his fame and to be honest I didn’t really know who he was – the Nick Love films had passed me by (that gaping omission has since been rectified). What struck me though was how much charisma he had – the guy has star quality by the bucket load, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been through Danny’s ups and downs with him – I was with him the night that bullshit about the advice column in Zoo broke and I’ve been with him when he’s gone to visit sick kids with cancer.
He’s not the kind of actor who does that when there’s flash bulbs and TV cameras, it was all completely on the quiet – frustratingly so from my point of view as he gets so much negative publicity. At heart he’s a seriously talented screen actor and people have forgotten that because he’s had a glut of bad films come out lately. But only a fool writes off a serious talent after a bad run and he’ll be back at the top before long.
Love Horror: There have also been a lot of brilliant and beautiful leading ladies such as Jaime Murray, MyAnna Buring as well as Jaime Winstone and the entire cast of Strippers vs. Werewolves. Who was your favorite female and why?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes I’ve certainly been blessed on that front. I loved working with Jaime Winstone, she’s brilliant and so much fun. She’s a one off – I literally can’t think of anyone like her. She has this kind of very modern, urban beauty and she looks all tough and kick-ass but then she has this brilliant Sid James type earthy laugh which is utterly captivating. I really hope Elfie Hopkins gets a good reaction on DVD as Jaime deserves it.
I’ve also just worked with two actresses on my Essex Boys film who definitely go straight into the favourite category – Kierston Wareing and Kate Magowan. Kate was in Elfie Hopkins of course, but I didn’t get to know her well until after and I’m a huge fan, she’s brilliant. Kierston is amazing too, there’s nobody else like her and she brings such gravity to everything she does. We’ve had a lot of great actresses in our films lately – Kellie Shirley, Jenna Harrison and the inimitable Lorraine Stanley are all terrific in Riot.
But there’s only one I can pick as my favourite and that’s Charlie Bond, who I’m engaged to. In a blatant bit of casting couchery I offered her a part in Strippers Vs Werewolves the night I met her! She was the magic act at a charity ball I’d ended up at and as soon as I saw her I fell in love – back then she had long jet black hair and porcelain skin and was like Dracula’s hot girlfriend. She was living with me within a week and we’ve never looked back and she has done small parts in quite a few of my films. She’s the least actory person I’ve ever met, refreshingly free of desperation and she’s my rock. So Charlie wins that one!
Love Horror: Is there anyone left you would still love to work with?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes of course – Sylvester Stallone, John Simm, Vincent Regan, Bill Nighy, Sharon Stone, Sean Bean, Sophia Myles, Liam Neeson, Billie Piper, Sir Michael Caine and Hugh Grant.
Love Horror: You won Best Producer at the 2010 British Horror Film Awards. How did that feel?
Jonathan Sothcott: It was great – I shared it with the other producers of Devil’s Playground of course, Bart Ruspoli and Fred Hutton Mills. They worked their arses off, those two lads and literally sweated blood to get that film made. They got let down on the money so badly and it aged them both about twenty years – they were only 12 when we started. But they got that ship to port and made a decent film. To be honest winning 3 awards for Stalker the following year was a bigger thrill as I consider that film to be a hundred percent mine and I was delighted that all of Martin’s hard work was recognized.
Love Horror: You write a regular column for The DarkSide Magazine called ‘Confessions of a Horror Film Producer’. How did that come about?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes – though I am beginning to think it might need retitling ‘Confessions of a Gangster Film Producer’ after my recent output.
Allan Bryce, the editor/publisher has been a friend of mine for about 15 years, gave me my first break as a journalist and has always been a big supporter. He asked me about writing the column when the magazine relaunched and I was of course delighted – the DarkSide is a key part of the genre landscape in the UK and I’m really pleased to see it is still selling so well when so many other, lesser, publications have fallen by the wayside.
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes, its an idea that a very talented film-maker named Robert Pratten and I dreamed up – it is set in 20 years time after a huge nuclear war has devastated London and people seek refuge in the fortress of our Prospero figure, Marzo. A gypsy girl from the wasteland fascinates Marzo and he grants her sanctuary but a V-type avenger known as the Red Death stalks the city and Marzo is his next target.
It is much more complex than that and I think it will be a great movie but we just have to get the script right, as it is a bit more sophisticated than some of my previous stuff. Robert made a film I really admired called Mindflesh and I’m hoping it will be as good as that.
Love Horror: As well as producing, you also wrote the story for Dead Cert and the screen story for the aforementioned The Mask of the Red Death. Have you thought about writing more movies?
Jonathan Sothcott: Absolutely not, I know my limitations and the industry already has enough terrible writers. It is quite beyond me. All these story credits reflect is that I come up with an idea and then work on the treatment with the writer. Most recently I’ve had a very enjoyable time collaborating with a very talented writer named Stephen Reynolds on our Essex Boys script. I knew what I wanted and we brainstormed for a few days and he delivered a very strong script, quite different to the previous versions of that story.
LoveHorror: Your next two upcoming movies are also horrors – The Warning and Shame the Devil. Any chance of some insider info on those two films?
Jonathan Sothcott: These two projects were both dreamed up by my business partner Simon Phillips. Simon is one of the best producers in the UK right now – but we’re so prolific that he sometimes doesn’t get the credit that he is due on each film. There’s nobody who can squeeze more value out of a pound note in this game at the moment. We both came into the business at about the same time and shared many cast and crew when making films in parallel.
The joke was that as my lot left a location, his turned up and set it up from a different angle. We’ve been friends a long time and I’d admired what he was doing, particularly The Last 7 which was a really solid film. His (now) wife Riita had been pushing for us to work together for a few years now – she’s recognized that we had complimentary skill sets and eventually we partnered up on a couple of projects and it just worked. Simon’s also recently really hit his stride as an actor, after stealing the show in Strippers Vs Werewolves he’s come into his own in White Collar Hooligan and I was really proud seeing him get well-deserved plaudits.
Anyway, I digress – The Warning is a micro budget found footage horror movie – we tried something very different and we’ll see if it works when it comes out.
Shame The Devil is a serial killer movie set in London and New York which starts shooting next month. And that’s about all I can tell you!
LoveHorror: Thanks for your time. We can’t wait to see what you have for us next.
Jonathan Sothcott: Thank you very much, I’ll try and make it watchable!!
Airborne is out now and you can read our review right Here.