We caught up with Jonathan Sothcott, the most prolific producer of British geezer films in the last decade, to see how 2018 had treated him and what he has coming up.
So, Jonathan, how was your 2018?
It was fantastic. Obviously the huge home entertainment success of The Krays Dead Man Walking was the icing on the cake but I really have got my passion back for British gangster films and 2018 has been the year of preparations and planning – finessing my team, working on an absolutely brilliant development slate and laying the foundations to make 2019 a massive year for Hereford Films.
You haven’t been as active recently as you were between 2012 and 2015 – why’s that?
Sadly when Starz sold Anchor Bay UK my output deal with them came to an end and while I sort of worked out what to do next, there was a deluge of ridiculously low budget, semi-amateur crime/gangster films which I think really hurt the market. I mean these things were made with no care, usually starring the film-makers and the public very quickly got fed up with them. You can’t make hooligan films without hooligans or gangster films without gangsters. And I was proud of the films we were making like Vendetta and We Still Kill The Old Way and wanted to protect the brand I was building. So I took some time out and took a long hard look at the market and figured out how to adapt to reflect the changing economic times. But believe me after The Krays I’m very much back with a bang.
What’s your view on the current state of the British film industry and do you think Brexit will have a significant impact on it?
I think its predictably perilous and ridiculously under supported. UK box office is at a 50 year high, the money spent making (mostly American) films here is through the roof. But there’s still a dearth of actual British films. In my view – and I wrote an article about this for Europe Today recently (link) whatever we think of Brexit we should use it to promote and support our indigenous film industry – give a new rebate to producers who make British film rather than just using our facilities. And to cinemas who screen them. I love the Marvel films as much as anyone else but I won’t pay the same to see a British indie film as I do for them – we all understand getting bang for your buck. So let’s have an Odeon British Film Friday where the tickets are cheaper and the exhibitors actively promote home grown films – so that the public can see how good British films can be.
Were you surprised by the success of The Krays – Dead Man Walking?
I was surprised by how good some of the reviews were – when The Mail On Sunday gave us 4 stars I nearly passed out! But no I wasn’t surprised – I think Rita Simons is a fantastic actress with a huge fan base and casting her made the difference between it selling through OK and breaking out. She’s one of my favourite actors to work with and I can’t wait to do another one with her. There’s a formula to making these genre films and it hasn’t changed much in the last few years.
What was your favourite part of making the movie?
The premiere probably! It was a thoroughly vile shoot, the axis of evil of too cold, idiots and not enough time but you just have to get that ship to port. The highlights for me were Rita coming on board (that was when I knew we had a movie) and working with mates like Guy Henry and Chris Ellison, who is a real rock for me in these films – he’s so supportive and he was a massive hero of mine growing up when he was in The Bill.
Your first American horror Aura was released in the USA by Sony this year. When can we see it in the UK?
It’s being released on DVD and digital as The Exorcism of Karen Walker by 4Digital Media in February. If you are a horror aficionado and like your chillers old school then I genuinely think you’ll like it. Obviously it isn’t going to get as wide a release as my gangster films – horror is so over-saturated on DVD but I hope it can stand out from the crowd.
Tell us more about the film?
It’s about Kirlian Photography, something I became aware of in my teens watching the largely forgotten Omen IV: The Awakening. Over the years I have tried to develop a whole movie around it but it took an interesting film-maker – Steve Lawson – to get the right handle on it. Its set in the USA and is about a couple (Shane Taylor and Janine Nerissa) who inherit a house with a basement full of Kirlian photography apparatus – which is (supposedly) used to photograph a person’s spiritual aura. They piece together a back story that Shane’s sister, who is committed in a local mental hospital, may have been possessed by something released by the photography and enlist a local medium (a brilliant turn by Rula Lenska) to help her. Needless to say there’s a very evil spirit involved and nothing goes to plan.
It is a little bit retro – if you like your Amicus and Hammer horror movies from the 70s, with a little dash of 80s American horror, then this could be right up your street. One thing that makes it stand out from the crowd is the acting – Shane Taylor is an actor I worked with on Devil’s Playground nearly a decade ago and always wanted to use again and he plays everything very low key and real. Very believable actor. Rula Lenska has been on my ‘to work with’ list for ages and was absolutely terrific – and a lot of fun. But my favourite of course is Janine Nerissa, and while I am totally biased since she is my partner but the second I met her I knew she had star quality (and I’m talking tonnes of it) and I love the fact that we can work together because she’s such a talented, nuanced actress.
What can you tell us about the Krays sequel ‘Marked For Death’?
That the script is bloody brilliant. It really is a cut above the standard genre fare. Its really a serial killer movie as much as a gangster film and it will be a completely different movie to the first one. Its blends The Krays, Freddie Mills, The ‘Jack The Stripper’ Murders and the huge police investigation into all three. I think this will be a film that crime genre fans will absolutely love. We are shooting early Spring and it will be out before the end of 2019.
What else do you have coming up in 2019?
2019 is going to be an amazing year for Hereford Films! We have the Roy Shaw biopic Pretty Boy, gangland home invasion thriller Reckoning Day, We Still Die The Old Way, casino heist movie Swipe and a whole load more. We will be making at least 5 films next year, probably 6 and giving a huge amount of opportunities to new talent as well as delivering the well-loved faces that audiences like to see. Watch this space, as they say.
You’re quite a prolific Tweeter: what do you like about that platform?
At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump, it’s the best way to interact with your audience. I love the people who buy my films – and the ones who like them even more. So if there’s an opportunity to thank them you kind of have to seize it. And the supportive messages we as film-makers get really do mean an awful lot. Of course you get the idiots and the lunatics too but that’s what the block and mute buttons are for. I learned long ago that if you stick your head over the parapet and put yourself in the public eye then you have to be ready for people to call you names and write shit about you, particularly when your business is entertainment. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest though, its part of my job – and sometimes constructive criticism can be really useful. So yes I love Twitter: it’s the only social media I do like really and @herefordfilms is planning some really innovative ways to engage our audiences via the platform in 2019… like I say, watch this space!