Vendetta: Interview with producer Jonathan Sothcott
December 20, 2013
We recently caught up with film producer, man about town and all round very nice chap Jonathan Sothcott to ask him some questions about his latest film, Vendetta, starring the new hard man of Albert Square, Danny Dyer.
With Vendetta being a modern take on Death Wish, and following films such as White Collar Hooligan and Fall of the Essex Boys, it looks like you’ve firmly made the transition from the horror genre to the action genre. What prompted this change for you as a producer?
I love horror movies but the market is insanely crowded and British horror in particular is virtually impossible at the minute – it just doesn’t work theatrically and there’s so much competition on video. Even really solid Brit horror like The Seasoning House can’t compete with the likes of The Purge and its $87 million US box office. So horror was getting hard but to be honest I was losing my passion for the industry making stuff like White Collar Hooligan and Fall of the Essex Boys. There are worse films out there but they were made without care and attention and scraped by on sexy trailers and good cast. There’s so much mis-selling in the business, be it in trailers, DVD covers, whatever and I literally found myself feeling like I was flogging dead horses. I was ready to pack it all in and do something else (and based on my previous output I wouldn’t have blamed critics for cheering). But then Vendetta came along at exactly the right time. I had been developing it quietly in the background because I really liked the writer/director Stephen Reynolds, He’s a proper film-maker and we were on the same page. I was talking to Danny Dyer one day and he was pretty much in the same position as me, he’d been churning out crappy films to pay the bills and he was close to burn out from disenchantment. So we decided to have one last roll of the dice together. And it appears to have paid off. When we were filming there was a buzz amongst cast and crew but distributors were initially sniffy. Then when I showed them the trailer they all wanted it. And that was when I realised that action movies were the way forward for me – I love them, I hope I understand them and I think they are underserved in this country. Low budget is no excuse for lack of ambition and on Vendetta we aimed as high as we could.
What are your main action influences within cinema?
Well I grew up in the 80s so idolised Stallone, Seagal, Schwarzenegger, Bronson…. Films like Predator, Cobra, the Death Wish series, Out For Justice, Above The Law. Lot of big spectacle, men who were men and no shitty CGI. I’m also a big fan of TV shows such as The Professionals, The A Team, Airwolf etc. I know it isn’t intellectual stuff but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that.
What is Danny Dyer like to worth with?
Put it this way, if I could go on making films with Danny exclusively for the rest of my career then I would. He’s the ultimate professional. He’s shrewd, intelligent, charming and one of the most charismatic people I have ever met. He genuinely has star quality. And in Vendetta there’s no two ways about it, he’s absolutely fucking brilliant. People get confused with the persona he plays up to in the media sometimes but that’s not the real him. I went up to see him at Eastenders the other day and he gave me a little tour of the set (it’s quite mind blowing) and we were like two daft kids on a school trip, couldn’t believe we were in the Queen Vic. And I think that’s why Danny has such a strong rapport with his audience – he’s actually a very human actor, very real and genuine. People recognise that quality and they love it.
Danny Dyer seems to have been everywhere of late promoting Vendetta, what does this extra effort mean to you and the film?
It’s great having him, he’s an incredible asset – you know I think it’s fair to say he’s probably the most recognisable British film actor of his generation, and his reputation as amusing and candid has journos lining up to interview him. But actors doing PR really only works when they believe in what they’re selling. He knows it’s a good movie and I hope he knows just how good he is in it. Now we just have to hope that people don’t judge us by all the shot cheap gangster films and give Vendetta a chance – I think if they do, they’ll enjoy it.
When you started in the film industry there was no such thing as social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. How do you think the Internet and social media has helped low budget films market themselves and compete with the studios?
When I started you could still hire real dinosaurs as props and the actors came to work on horseback! Yes Facebook and Twitter have made a difference but we can’t compete with the studios. That said, Danny’s twitter is an amazing weapon – most of the other British gangster actors are at the 5,000 to 10,000 follower mark, which is of course really credible and certainly helps sell the films. But Danny has 700,000 followers. And that’ll double by the time he’s been in Eastenders a month. Now, there’s no doubt some of the people who follow him do so just to tweet abuse at him (because that’s so big and clever and makes you a proper hardman) but love him or hate him that’s still a powerful number to conjure with.
Without giving too much away, Vendetta does set itself up nicely for a potential sequel – is this something on the cards for 2014/15 and, if so, how would you up the ante?
Yes I mean look, we have to see how the first one performs but Steve is writing it and he, Danny and I are all passionate about doing it – but there’s no point in doing so unless we can make it better than the first one. Churning out shit sequels to cash in on films isn’t where I want to be. We have an idea that is partly set in New York and that will tie up loose ends from the first one but obviously it needs to work for a fresh audience too. We’ll take our time and get it right.
It looks like you’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Danny on Vendetta, what can we expect from your next collaboration, Assassin?
Yeah well, you know, we’ve worked together a lot over the years – Vendetta was our sixth film together and we did a football video called Danny Dyer’s Football Foul Ups. We have a very good rapport. Assassin was fun, I like the director JK Amalou a lot and it was great to have the Kemp brothers together. There’s a strong supporting cast including Eddie Webber, Anouska Mond and Deborah Moore and I think it’ll be a solid little movie. It’s not balls to the wall violent like Vendetta, it’s a very different proposition.
Danny will be debuting on Eastenders this Christmas Day as the new landlord of the Queen Vic. What do you think he’ll bring to the long running soap?
I think he’ll put it back on top. For years and years Eastenders was must watch TV. It led the way in TV drama and it was always centred around an Alpha Male – Dirty Den, Grant Mitchell, Steve Owen… and I think they’ve lost that. Steve McFadden is a terrific actor but he’s sort of become the villain of the square now. Eastenders needs a serious injection of testosterone and Danny is the man to stick that needle right in the heart of the Square. You know they used to – justifiably – use the tagline ‘Everyone’s Talking About It’ – with Danny front and centre I have no doubt they will be again.
One of the biggest threats to the film industry, especially independent British films, is piracy. Do you think enough is being done to combat film piracy in the UK, and what would you like to see done?
This is becoming a real issue for me and I find myself having to bite my tongue on Twitter and Facebook. There is this weird culture that film piracy isn’t theft. IT IS. People think they have the right to stream a film illegally before they decide whether to buy it properly. YOU DON’T. You don’t get to borrow a car from a garage for free to decide whether you like it. You get a test drive. The trailer is the test drive. But with the advent of the internet people just don’t see it like that and it’s incredibly frustrating. There’s also this insane notion that it’s a victimless crime – that the billions of Hollywood won’t be damaged by one cheeky download. And maybe they won’t, but for the indie producer who’s spent a year working incredibly hard for very little money, piracy is absolutely fatal. I’m not actually a fan of the term piracy, it has this glamorous, naughty Johnny Depp connotation, when the fact is that it’s linked to organised crime, drug racketeering etc and is actually incredibly seedy.
Are there any British action films produced in the last few years where you’ve watched and thought “yeah, I wish I’d made that one”?
Of course – recently The Inbetweeners Movie because it took £40 million at the box office! I don’t really think like that though, I think as a producer if you see a film you like it makes you want to work with the people who made it – the actors, the director and so on. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazingly talented people, people I have been a fan of – Steven Berkoff, Kierston Wareing, Rik Mayall, Robert Englund, Ray Winstone and many, many more. Everybody has their problems but I love film and essentially make a living from my hobby which is a great place to be in!
It must be difficult balancing being a film producer, and working the hours that entails (often on location for days and weeks at a time), with your private life. What do you like to do to relax when you get the time, and what do you wish you could do more of?
I like to write, not films but about films. I recently wrote a piece about actor Lewis Collins for GQ when he died. And I have a book out called The Films of Danny Dyer (stick to what you know and all that), which I co-wrote with my good friend James Mullinger. That was a lot of fun. But I enjoy that and will be writing a couple more books next year, hopefully another one with James. You know when you make a certain type of film people think of you in a certain way – I’m not a football hooligan (I don’t really like football) and I don’t live in a bunker in Epping Forest with Dyer and the Kemps drinking red stripe and planning The Next Big Job. I am much happier at home reading books about films or watching them on DVD with a nice cup of tea!
Thanks very much for your time Jonathan. We hope Vendetta proves to be the success it promises, and deserves to get. Vendetta, with Danny Dyer, is released on DVD on Monday December 23rd and can be ordered here.