Two years ago, I agreed to review a straight to DVD British gangster film called We Still Kill The Old Way for a blog I was writing for at the time. I always loved writing reviews of this genre, because it meant that I got to interact online with people who would never usually engage with my writing. People whose interest in film wasn’t led by how well received it was in Cannes, or by a director with a good reputation. It was usually just average kids who had seen the film at home with their friends and really got something out of it. Because of the preconceived idea that these films were never any good, I never had to fight other writers to cover them, which meant that I got to watch a lot of them. Many were never any good, but I have always felt it very unfair to begin watching something with the assumption that it was going to be terrible. I really enjoyed the film, and wrote a positive review of it. It was through this that I was introduced to the work of the film’s producer, Jonathan Sothcott. Whilst his films may not be the topic of conversation in film circles, everybody seems to know who he is. A prolific producer, he’s made over 30 films with varying success over a relatively short time frame, and over the years I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by his attitude to work. In an industry so obsessed by box office figures and critical acclaim, how does he feel about the positioning of his films within the British film industry? Ahead of the DVD release of his latest film, Bonded by Blood 2, I decided to meet him in a pub in Wood Green near his offices to have chat, and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a relaxed, open and incredibly candid character, and a cinephile to boot. We chatted about some of my favourite subjects; gangsters, screenwriting, and of course, Danny Dyer….
How It All Began
‘I never knew anything else. From when I was a kid, my earliest memories ever are going to see Return of the Jedi and Octopussy at the cinema.’
Sothcott’s journey in to the world of films started like it started for most of us- he just loves movies. But how does a person go from watching huge blockbusters to actually making 30 movies in 8 years? Like a large majority of kids growing up, Sothcott’s parents couldn’t afford to take him to the cinema every week. There was a VHS player in his household, and he had one tape- Jaws, which he watched over and over again.
‘My parents weren’t rich, so we used to rent videos. Renting videos was the cheap, easy form of entertainment. In the 80’s near where I lived was one of those great independent video stores that had all of those crappy American cannibal movies and stuff. So I grew up on this diet of American Ninja and Deathwish, Commando. And somewhere along the line I realised that was what I wanted to do- either that or become a ninja’.
Presumably deciding that being a ninja wasn’t a viable career choice, Sothcott pursued the alternative. His first break in to the world of film was writing articles for a horror magazine The Dark Side. During this time, he went on to meet David Gregory, who was producing DVD extras for films such as the Wicker Man and the Hammer movies. Sothcott was offered the chance to do audio commentary as part of these extras, and through that met several directors including Ken Russell and Bryan Forbes, and absorbed everything they were saying. But it was through meeting David Wickes, director of crime film Sweeney! a movie version of the TV series, that things started to change.
‘David really took me under his wing, and one day just said to me ‘you should be a producer’. At the time, he was developing another project, and in my tea boy capacity, I said ‘Martin Kemp would be good for this’. He liked the idea, and me and Martin met up and just really hit it off.’
Sothcott went on to produce a short with Kemp, with brother Gary in the lead. It was called Karma Magnet, and whilst it was no tour de force by Sothcott’s own standards, the film helped him to raise the cash to make Stalker, which Martin Kemp directed and he produced.
‘And all of a sudden, I was a film producer.’
Straight to DVD
There’s no doubt in Sothcott’s mind who reinvented the genre- the now defunct, somewhat lauded Revolver Entertainment. Sothcott only did one film with Revolver, GBH, a film about the London Riots, which was released the same week as the distributor fell from grace and the film got buried. Sothcott laughs as he recalls their marketing techniques
‘There was one film they did where they had Tamer Hassan and Danny Dyer in the same film, but made the cover look like it was a sequel to The Business- they didn’t even have a scene together!’
But all jokes aside, I ask him how he feels about the general attitude towards the films that he makes
‘My cause of death will be the day that I wake up and get a Guardian review with more than one star and then die of a heart attack. But they’re not my audience’.
Indeed, whilst critically, the majority of his films are easy fodder for a hatchet job, to date Sothcott’s films have sold over a million copies on DVD.. So why does this not seem to count in the press?
One such film he notes as an example (although not one of his own,) is Robert Cavanah’s Pimp, which took just £7 at the box office, and is often featured in listicles entitled ‘the worst grossing British films of all time’.
‘At the time, the only reason Pimp and these films were being put in to the cinema is to qualify for Virgin Filmflex. That’s literally the only reason.’
I ask him whether he ever thinks a theatrical release is worth it for the films that he’s making.
‘Never- we did it once, with Vendetta (the Danny Dyer starring crime movie which featured on Film 2013, much to Sothcott’s surprise). We did four screens and we took a £1,500 screen average which is solid. But really the only reason people came to the cinema is that Danny Dyer and I did Q&As. They came to get a selfie with Danny in the cinema, not because they wanted to see it on a big screen. The cinema is too expensive for a lot of people.’
Danny Dyer comes up a lot in our conversation. When asking Sothcott is he thinks his own name helps get movies made, he’s very keen to point Danny’s involvement.
‘People will say now ‘oh it’s a Sothcott movie’ but really, my name was carved out with the help of Danny. I met this guy who I could get movies green lit off the back of, so I just started being known for making this genre of movie.’
We discuss at length the trajectory of Dyer’s career, and how his new-found status of National Treasure has come about. I, ever the cynic, think that it’s unfair that Dyer has had to prove his talent, despite other, far less hardworking actors seemingly having it handed to them on a plate. Sothcott’s attitude is far more optimistic
‘In the 60s and 70s, Michael Caine was a joke in this country. He was universally panned and vilified, and all throughout the 80s, and then bang! He does the Cider House rules and he’s a National Treasure. And the same thing is happening with Danny now. Since he’s been in Eastenders, builders will come down from the ladders to shake his hand, birds will come down from the sky to sit on his shoulders. And he deserves it.’
Indeed, and as Danny’s career flourishes, we ponder whether the time has come for people to accept a broader range of working class characters on screen.
‘These things are cyclical. You and I both know that Guy Ritchie and Nick Love make great films, but it’s like The Long Good Friday- that hardly made a big noise when it came out either’.
Blocks in the Road
As the chat starts to turn in to more of a gossip (the interview went on for over an hour), I ask Sothcott what he perceives to be the biggest problems in the industry. As someone who has never shied away from saying exactly what he thinks, there are one or two things that gripe him- the first being piracy. He speaks of a time where he was on a panel, and was specifically told not to use the word, so as not to upset the apple cart. He of course, did the exact opposite of this.
‘Everyone thinks piracy is fine. People actually tell me that they’ve done it which is what I think is crazy. People actually tweet me to say they liked my film, but when I ask them where they saw it, they tell me they ripped it offline- there’s no shame in it.’
And particularly within this area of the industry, where DVD sales count for everything, piracy is particularly troubling. At the last count just before Christmas, We Still Steal The Old Way had been illegally streamed over 20,000 times. If they were all converted to DVD sales, there wouldn’t be an issue, and the fact that they aren’t does highlight how damaging the problem can be to films which rely on those DVD figures.
Sothcott is also frustrated by the alarming new trend of making films for a fraction of the budget and sticking them straight online with a St George’s flag on them. Whilst he’s quick to point out that making a film on such a small budget is a huge achievement, he still stresses the importance of taking pride in your work. Throughout the interview, he gives more than one example of a time that a totally unqualified team are offered the chance to make a film on that budget, and the film then goes on to get a release when it is, even by generous standards, appalling (as someone who watches so many of these films, I can indeed attest that some of the more recent ones I’ve watched have ranged from totally abysmal to downright offensive.)
In fact, during the interview, we come back time and time again to the importance of taking pride in your work. Sothcott touches many times on the need to refresh his creative teams and on the sore lack of female directors, particularly in his area of the industry. It can sometimes feel, to the outsider looking in, that these films are all a bit of a laugh, and not to be taken seriously. And whilst they’ll never be respected on the same level within the film industry, it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who likes films wants to, or can afford to go to the cinema. Many thousands of people, the same ones who will save up to watch a trashy action movie at the cinema (the type that get regular coverage in the press) will just as happily grab a film from the shelf to watch at home. Sothcott’s plans are to branch out to LA, where there’s a slightly more positive attitude towards the sorts of films he makes, but he’ll always stay making films homegrown stories alongside. I ask him if he ever wants to change the attitude to his films over here.
‘We’re just the peasants down in the corner. I think sometimes you’ve just got to accept your place in the system. I’ve made over 30 movies, sold 1 million copies on DVD, I’m quite happy with that.’
Bonded by Blood 2 is now available to buy on DVD and Blu Ray on Amazon.