Jonathan Sothcott Interview
April 4, 2012
With the forthcoming release of Strippers vs Werewolves in selected cinemas from 27th April, and then on DVD and Blu-Ray on 7th May, we caught up with the film’s producer, Jonathan Sothcott. Fresh from surrounding himself with scantily clad women and very hairy men, Jonathan took time out to answer some questions about films, horror and strippers.
Strippers vs Werewolves isn’t the sort of film that one automatically associates with the UK film scene, what sort of vision do you have for the films that CHATA Pictures will be producing?
I’ve always wanted to have a Hammer/Roger Corman type assembly line of B Movies – horror, crime, thriller, monster etc. It is clear that the appetite is there and they can be made for a reasonable price without huge Hollywood stars. Before I set up CHATA Pictures with Simon Phillips I was at a company called Black and Blue Films – we were involved in some good movies, such as Devil’s Playground and I’m particularly proud of one I produced called Stalker, but it just wasn’t quite right. Simon and I went to hell and back together getting Strippers Vs Werewolves, it was a really tough shoot, and we found that we had a way of working together that was easy and productive. We’d kind of risen up through the ranks in parallel making films with the same talent, at the same locations, so it seemed logical to pool our resources. Strippers isn’t a CHATA Picture but its billed as a Phillips/Sothcott production and I think that’s appropriate.
I agree with you completely that it isn’t what you expect from a British film but in the shallow end of the film industry pool that we’re in if we make a $1 million movie like SVW then we need it to work at an international level. Forty years ago, the Carry On films made a profit – and a good profit – just in the UK. There was no home video, TV had a 6 year holdback and films were rereleased at the cinema for years after the initial run. Nowadays the theatrical release gives the low budget film a profile for the media and raises awareness but the money is made, God willing, from home entertainment. It is possible with these films to go into the black in the UK alone, but it isn’t easy and doesn’t happen often. We will always make films specifically for the British market, we’re very proud of the heritage our industry has, but sometimes it is nice to make something that will sell literally everywhere. Growing up it was as much of a treat to rent a video as go to the cinema – moreso if the rental tape was a 15 or an 18 – so I’m very proud to make films for the video market. I also have to tell you that the idea that a film going ‘straight to video’ is a bad thing is a common but very definite mistake. Aside from huge Hollywood blockbusters, most films today will make any profit from their home entertainment release, not in theatres.
Although this may sound like a really dumb question, what first attracted you to SvW?
Obviously I loved the title – who wouldn’t? I could see the poster as soon as I clapped eyes on it and it had an obvious ‘now’ vibe as films like Bitch Slap and Planet Terror were kicking about. The title wasn’t enough, however, and it just so happened that the script had some brilliant set pieces and dialogue. The original writer, Pat Higgins, has one hell of an imagination and had conceived an utterly bonkers world inhabited by some brilliant characters. Good title, good story – that’s enough to get me started. I’d also always wanted to make a werewolf movie but without a big budget it is really hard to do it convincingly. This framework allowed us to go down a silly route where our lycanthropes could be more Haunted Honeymoon than Ginger Snaps, which worked out pretty well!
Judging from what we have seen in the trailer, Strippers vs Werewolves seems to have a ‘Planet Terror’ and ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ feel to it (both Rodriguez films of course). Were films like these influences on SvW, and what can audiences expect from the film?
From the outset Simon and I wanted to create a moving comic book with monsters, boobs, action and corny quips. I think we just about pulled it off. This is very much a funny action movie that happens to feature werewolves as its villains. I’d actually say that the influences were more things like Fright Night, Vamp and, particularly, The Monster Squad, which we paid homage to quite thoroughly. Simon and I were both 80s children so that informs our casting choices and our in-jokes. We were really pleased to land Sarah Douglas as club owner Jeanette – when I was a kid she was in literally every great sequel – Superman 2, Return of the Living Dead 3, Conan The Destroyer etc. And she was magnificent. If you want a fun, silly genre movie, this won’t disappoint.
The horror legend that is Robert Englund stars in SvW; what was he like to worth with and how did you attract him to the film?
Robert was an absolute joy. A highly cultured gentleman and an out and out anglophile (he’d done some theatre here I think) he really was an absolute pleasure… until he got into his character when he was blood-freezingly terrifying. Initially, Simon and I came up with this idea of a mysterious head werewolf pulling the strings behind the scenes who remained unseen, kind of like Blofeld in the first few Bonds. Then we had a hypothetical conversation about who we’d most like this unseen Lycanthrope to be and Robert was top of the list. From there, a few scenes were written, a conversation was had, an offer made and bingo we’d bagged ourselves a bona fide genre icon. That was a good day.
What sort of films do you enjoy watching for entertainment, and what films have inspired you?
I have about three thousand DVDs so it’s a tough question. My favourite film is Jaws and I actually love the whole series, even Jaws The Revenge. A film being appalling is no boundary for the potential love I can have for it. I love horror films, naturally – particularly the Hammer films and silly 80s ones. I am a James Bond nut – my favourite Bond is Roger Moore and my favourite Bond film is OHMSS. I like action films – big fan of Stallone and Seagal. Daft 80s comedies. The Carry Ons. Star Wars (only the old ones, not that new rubbish). I’m generally not a fan of westerns and musicals. As to films that inspire me – I am inspired by low budget British films that find a real audience – I was on the radio last year with Paul Andrew Williams who made London To Brighton and was totally in awe of him.
You have been in the film business for a number of years now, is there anyone who you would dearly love to work with, and why?
I’d love to make a film with Sir Michael Caine. He’s my favourite actor. My friend Daniel Barber directed him in Harry Brown and I’m inordinately jealous . I think I need to make Harry Brown 2 with them immediately. I’m also a big admirer of John Simm, I think he’s an amazingly talented actor. His wife Kate is also absolutely brilliant and was in my film Elfie Hopkins. Others on my wishlist – Michael Keaton, Christopher Walken, Kierston Waering, Stallone… it goes on and on.
What has been your most rewarding work to date, and why?
Probably the film I have just wrapped, Riot directed by Simon Phillips – I think its an incredibly powerful and emotive subject, last year’s London riots and I think it will make a splash. I enjoy working with the leading man Nick Nevern, – it was his fourth picture fot us, we think he has a huge future in front of him and there was a nice vibe on set. Great cast – Kellie Shirley, Lorraine Stanley, Steven Berkoff. Look out for that one. I also have a very fond place in my heart for Stalker – I love working with Martin Kemp, he’s one of my best mates, and pretty much everyone on it was lovely. It was my first film as a fully fledged producer and it was a bit of a baptism of fire, but we got through it, Martin and I, and I’ll always be very grateful to him for entrusting me with his first film as director.
How did you get into the business and get your first break?
Well I always knew I wanted to be in films, but growing up in the middle of nowhere without any connections to showbiz I hadn’t the first clue how. I had very supportive parents and a solid grasp of English so thought writing might be the way forward, So I blagged my way into being a film journalist – the editor of top horror mag The DarkSide, Allan Bryce, liked the cut of my jib and gave me a chance. Quite extraordinary really. Then I got a series of other chances – I blagged a job as Head of Programming at the Horror Channel aged 24 despite knowing nothing about broadcast. Then the director David Wickes really gave me the idea of being a film producer – he was very stylish and entrepreneurial and had quite a no-nonsense attitude having made shows like The Sweeney and The Professionals. Then Martin gave me a break but teaming up with me and opened a lot of doors with his name. But I guess my real break as a producer came when I met the British actor Billy Murray. He really took me under his wing and introduced me to a whole load of people who took me to the next level – Danny Dyer, Craig Fairbrass, Steven Berkoff – all those guys. Billy really took a chance getting behind me and supporting me and I’ll always be very grateful for that.
We understand that your better half, Charlie Bond, makes her debut in SvW – what was it like working with Charlie as one of your cast members?
Yeah it’s a funny one, but it’s a lot of fun. It actually wasn’t me who offered her the part in SVW – it was Billy Murray. It’s all his fault, really! We were out one night and met Charlie who was doing a freakshow magic gig. She and I were instantly smitten and to help his lovestruck mate out he suggested she should play a magician in SVW… and so she did. It is, of course, total nepotism, but this whole business is based on nepotism (well, maybe 50% nepotism and 50% bullshit) and its nice having her come and do bits in the films, she’s a cracking little actress and incredibly easy on they eye which in some of the films I make is half the battle! She’s really making a nice impact on the horror scene too – she’s already been on the covers of Scream Magazine and more recently the next issue of The DarkSide. I’m very proud. It’s also quite nice because, unlike all the other actors who I have to fawn to a bit, if she complains about her dressing room being cold or the catering being awful I can tell her to belt up!
We understand that you’re a big Hammer Horror fan, and that one of your future projects is a new version of Dracula. What is it like working on something that obviously means so much to you, and what can we expect from this version?
Yeah I am a huge Hammer fan, and Charlie is too thank God – we have original posters from things like Twins of Evil and The Devil Rides Out on our living room wall. Dracula has always been my favourite classic horror story. I love the Hammer version and have a lot of time for the Frank Langella version. But my one will be very, very scary – going back to the roots of a creature that can turn into rats at will. We’re at the very early stages of planning it – but rest assured there’ll be no cod-Romanian accents, sparkling in the sun or all that Love Never Dies bollocks.
What advice do you have for the thousands of people in the UK who aspire to be where you are, making films, whether they be writers, producers or directors?
Basically you have to be a self starter. The industry is massively overpopulated and carries a vast amount of dead bodies – people who just talk. I’ve never had any kind of grant or subsidy, I’ve done everything myself. You have to focus on what you want to do, and then approach as many people as you can to make it happen. BUT be realistic – look at similar projects and how, and by whom, they were made. You’re not going to direct a £5 million movie straight out of university. Write (don’t call) to everyone, but don’t hassle. If they don’t reply, they’re not interested. If that’s the case, move on – there’s plenty more fish in the sea. If you’re a writer you need to earn your spurs and pay your dues – try and get your script optioned by someone with a busy track record, even if they won’t give you a signature payment. Getting paid a grand up front is very exciting but if it still hasn’t been made 3 years later, it wasn’t worth it. Make LOTS of shorts, I wish I had – they’re great fun, cost peanuts and give you tons of experience. Alas I don’t have the time now. And the absolute golden rule – don’t try and add people on Facebook who you don’t know but think you’d like to work with. Its really irritating and chances are if they accept you then they aren’t busy enough to be useful. It isn’t networking, its being a nuisance.