Action Reloaded: Hello Jonathan, its great to have you back! For folks that missed our first chat, could you give a brief description about yourself?
Jonathan Sothcott: I’m a prolific British film producer and have made about 40 movies in the last decade, primarily in the action, crime and horror genres. Prior to that I was Head of Programming for The Horror Chanel and, initially, a film journalist. My best known films are probably Vendetta starring Danny Dyer and the We Still Kill The Old Way series.
Action Reloaded: Since we last spoke you have a new company now, Shogun Films. Please tell me more about it!
Jonathan Sothcott: 2020 seemed like a good time to start something new and fresh and genuinely different. The last couple of years I had been focussing more on my personal life while there were big changes going on in the British film industry. I spent a lot of time working with my team on a brand, an identity that people who like our movies would be able to relate to. My influences are everything from 80s action movies and video games to an enduring fascination with the martial arts and ancient Japan. I wanted something with a slight retro feel but that also had that forward-looking Eastern facing feeling. We settled on Shogun and our brilliant designer Robert came up with a powerful logo which captured the essence of 80s icons such as Cannon and Carolco while also feeling modern and powerful.
We ripped up the old slate of films and decided to start again from scratch. As a filmmaker you have to be a realist and if you’re pushing the same old project around Soho for more than a couple of years without traction the only result you’re going to get is holes in your shoes. If you’re making commercial genre movies you can’t afford to indulge and entertain projects that aren’t going to get made. There were a couple of strong properties that I had – notably Assault On Hazard Rock and Pretty Boy – which I brought over to the new company but on the whole the focus is on new material.
When putting this new business together I wanted to surround myself with the right people – in the past I haven’t always done that – but one constant remains SVP Adam Stephen Kelly. Adam is a very smart, switched on young guy, and a talented filmmaker (if you’ve not seen it, check out his exceptional short Done In) and has been with me for many years. We’ve been working a lot with a chap named James Crow, who wrote a picture for me some years ago called Riot (aka GBH), a sort of drama-thriller about the London riots which never caught fire the way it should have, partly because the distributor Revolver went bust just as they released it and partly because the snobbery about these films was much worse then (if you had told me in 2012 that Little White Lies would run a positive retrospective on the Footsoldier series I would not have believed you!). Anyway, it was a good little film, buoyed by excellent performances from Nick Nevern and Kelly Shirlie and I certainly had James down as someone to watch. We stayed in touch over the years and he wrote and eventually directed various other genre films including He Who Dares and House of Salem and I think he has all the makings of a cult director. James is directing Nemesis for us, which has horror elements, and he’s been helping us put together a little slate of high concept horror movies, which is where I think his heart lies. And of course my other half Jeanine is my great sounding board, she has a very strong understanding of what does and doesn’t work commercially and I really value her guidance and advice. I read an interview with a producer who hated a movie because his kids did (and it was something that went on to be huge, like Superman) and I think you have to get the balance right between following your own judgements and listening to the right people. Last week I had what I thought was a eureka moment – an idea for a genre picture that was something different, but could work within our parameters. I called Jeanine into the office and pitched it to her as our next big project and she told me, succinctly and persuasively, that it most certainly was not. And she was absolutely right. Learning to listen to the right people is very important when you’re making films. She’s also a damn good actress and I know I would say that but if I didn’t believe in her I wouldn’t give her proper roles in my films, there’s nothing worse than actors who aren’t there on merit. She encouraged me to do a cast read through on Nemesis (something I’ve not always done in the past, much to my chagrin) and pretty much organised it and I’m so glad we did. I was really proud watching her bounce off old comrades like Nick Nevern and Billy Murray.
So we have an ethos and an agenda, a core team of good people and we’re working with some absolutely brilliant talent – top filmmakers and successful entrepreneurs to realise our ambitions. It was all coming together beautifully… and then the world got sick.
Action Reloaded: With the recent outbreak of coronavirus, has it left you in a worrying position regarding Shogun? As I assume right now all productions are on hold.
Jonathan Sothcott: Worrying? No. Frustrating? Yes. I have to give myself a smidgeon of credit in that I saw this coming a little earlier than some others in the industry so we were slightly better prepared in terms of switching the focus from finance and production to development. The bigger companies with huge staffs and massive offices are obviously going to be hit the hardest and I think the whole movie business will change significantly once the dust has settled from this pandemic. Two key things are happening – theatrical releases are no longer setting the agenda and people are getting a big swell of nostalgia as they are sat at home trying to entertain themselves. I think there is always a huge appetite for cheap, populist entertainment in bad economic times and Shogun Films fit that bill rather nicely.
Once this is all over I think theatrical releases will get even harder – it will take a lot to convince people to spend a load of money to go and take a chance on enjoying a film in a shared environment after 6 months of watching what they want alone in their homes. I don’t think things like Bond and Marvel will take too much of a direct hit, I mean those studio movies that don’t have that cast iron hallmark of quality. Nobody’s going to be able to afford to spend $100 million plus on a movie that has the potential to tank. Obviously this doesn’t particularly affect me as I have never been in the theatrical business but I think it will just create more opportunities for home entertainment product. We can respond quickly to market changes as we make our films economically in every sense and with this chunk of time to focus on development we’ll have a very strong slate ready to go as soon as some sense of normality returns.
Action Reloaded: Your first project announced is Nemesis. Starring Billy Murray which I’m excited about. Can you tell me any details about the movie?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes, Nemesis is a gangland home invasion movie – so it’s a traditional London gangster movie with all of the elements audiences love intact, but with a darker turn in the last act, when it ventures into You’re Next territory. We were literally 2 weeks away from filming when we stood down on the advice of our insurers, which was very frustrating but what choice did we have – its my responsibility to look after the cast and crew. We’ll be straight back up and running once some semblance of normality returns and believe me this film will be quality, one to sit up there with Vendetta and We Still Kill The Old Way.
Action Reloaded: Billy Murray is perfectly cast! He is born to play the gangster role, he Is the British De Niro. How did he come aboard the project?
Jonathan Sothcott: I think you’re right. He’s certainly a real cut above because he’s a real actor with a range: too many genre actors are one note. Like everyone I guess I grew up watching him on TV and thought he was terrific: so charismatic. I met him about 15 years ago, in the Groucho Club with Terry Stone and Martin Kemp. Billy and I just hit it off and before long he was in my first feature, which Martin directed, which was a horror/thriller called Stalker. He was remarkably good in that in a very non-gangster roll (he plays a journalist who comes to a very sticky end). After that we became partners and best friends and have made more than a dozen movies together. He’s an amazing guy, like a father to me and I’m very lucky to count him as my best mate – we’ve had some real adventures. I can’t wait to see him for a curry and a bottle of red wine as soon as this is over! He was always my first choice for the role, there was never anybody else. I had to coax him out of semi-retirement: he says this is his last film but I keep threatening that if it is he has to write his autobiography (which I think would be a big success)! I want him to have a brilliant vehicle to really show his acting chops and Nemesis is definitely it. I have a real sense of pride making this film with him: we should’ve done it years ago.
Its testament to how well regarded Bill is by his peers that it was easy to assemble arguably the strongest cast I’ve worked with, certainly in a British crime film: Frank Harper, Nick Moran, Patrick Bergin, Nick Nevern, George Russo, Guy Henry… they all wanted to work with him. Jeanine is playing his wife, they look great together and have a very natural chemistry. There’s a couple of new faces in the cast too – Ambra Moore is playing Jeanine and Bill’s daughter, she’s a very naturalistic actress with a very modern edge. And there’s a chap called Danny Bear who Billy and I met and just instantly knew we had to put him in a film – he’s just got it. I can tell he’s going to become a regular fixture in Shogun Films.
Action Reloaded: I have looked at some of the upcoming movies slated to be made by Shogun Films. Some other standout titles for me were Man Of War and Renegades and Incendiary sound amazing!! Have you any casting or potential shoot dates in mind?
Jonathan Sothcott: Man of War is written by and will be directed by Nick Moran. We’re looking at cast at the minute: it really needs a Sean Bean or a Pierce Brosnan, it’s a very high end home entertainment picture. Renegades is a revenge movie in the style of We Still Kill The Old Way but with special forces vets rather than gangsters. I suspect Ian Ogilvy will be getting a call! Incendiary I am waiting on the script – the writers, Chris Lunt and Michael Walker – are two of the busiest in Europe and have a huge plate full for Netflix, Sky etc but they are great guys and I’m privileged that they want to do their indie genre film with me. It’s in the same kind of space as the Statham movie Killer Elite. Chris and I have come close to getting a few TV projects off but I think film is where we’ll flourish.
Action Reloaded: With Shogun on the scene is Hereford Films done and dusted?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes, I fear so. When I think of Hereford Films I think of missed opportunities, false starts and time wasters. There was the ‘new Carry On Film’ debacle, a veritable army of tyre kickers, knowledge rapists and energy vampires and to top it all off the UK government has now shut down the Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief for investment in film production. It was time for a rethink and time for something new. Shogun is a great new chapter and I hope it will provide a plethora of opportunities for people in the British film industry.
Action Reloaded: What kind of genres will Shogun Films put out?
Jonathan Sothcott: High concept, low budget quality commercial genre films. Empire reviewed Vendetta as “Ronseal cinema” eg it did what it said on the tin and I took – and take – that as a great compliment as that was very much the intention. I want people to know that they are getting a quality B movie when they see the Shogun logo. A proper film, with great actors that isn’t pretentious and has sound commercial foundations. The main thrust will be action, crime/gangster and horror. We’re developing a very cool sword and sorcery film called Dragon Sword which will film here and in Norway. I think that fits within our ethos. I’m trying to mix it up a bit – we have a couple of anthology pictures, a horror one called Interview with a Werewolf and a London crime one tentatively titled Cabal. We want to make the movies that people want to watch (and, I’d argue, rewatch), its as simple as that.
Action Reloaded: Would you ever consider making any of your projects into a TV series? Or even bringing something classic back Like The Sweeney or The Professionals? ((Imagine Billy Murray as Cowley, Craig Fairbrass as Bodie and Josh Myers as Doyle?))
Jonathan Sothcott: I’m not sure the world is ready for Josh Myers with a bubble perm and a cardigan… but yes it’s a show I’d love to see back on screen, or certainly something like it. The show’s creator, Brian Clemens, was very much a mentor to me, as was lead director David Wickes. I’d love to see that, The Sweeney, Ultimate Force… any of those shows back on. I think the closest is Bullet Proof on Sky, which is absolutely brilliant. I watched the whole first series on a plane to LA and loved it. Huge kudos to the guys at Unstoppable for that.
So the answer is yes, I’d love to and of course I am in dialogue with the likes of Netflix but they only have so many slots and I’ve not yet got that bingo project across the line. It’ll happen though.
Action Reloaded: On the upcoming roster, We Still Die The Old Way isn’t listed. What is the current status?
Jonathan Sothcott: Dead the old way, sadly. The truth is, some fine performances notwithstanding (particularly Billy’s villain) I am not sure We Still Kill The Old Way needed a sequel, much less a second sequel. The first was a big success, the second very much less so, and it sat on the shelf for over a year while the distributor changed hands and I think lost momentum. We’ve been through so many ‘die’ scripts and directors but it just never really gelled and I would hate to tarnish the first film by making another inferior sequel. But I am very keen to work with the cast again, particularly Ogilvy and Ellison and they’ll both be appearing in Shogun Films I hope. I think Renegades will tick the same boxes this movie would’ve, while opening it up to a wider audience, like Harry Brown.
Action Reloaded: Is there still interest from the US about remaking the franchise?
Jonathan Sothcott: Yes we have a pilot script and a treatment for a Chicago-set limited series reboot, which I must say is very good. There has been interest but it hasn’t landed a body blow with a network yet. I’d really like to see it happen as it is by far the best next step for the IP.
Action Reloaded: I will ask the age old question.. But if and when Danny Dyer quits EastEnders will you get him on board for Vendetta 2?
I don’t think he’ll ever quit, he’ll be there as long as Dot Cotton! But seriously, Vendetta was what, 7 years ago? I think the moment has passed, it’s a great movie that people love but a sequel would seem a bit odd now. We have loosely talked about making one with Nick Nevern or Craig Fairbrass but then why call it Vendetta? I will always admire Steve Reynolds and loved the time we spent making that movie but I think it is fair to say that ship has sailed.
Action Reloaded: If you could pick any three movies to remake/reboot what would they be? And who would lead the cast?
Jonathan Sothcott: Well I tell you what I’d love to do is make one last great Steven Seagal film – to me his initial run of action movies was peerless: he was the absolute real deal. I don’t know what has happened to his quality control but he’s better than the last god knows how many movies he’s done. Exit Wounds was the last decent one. I would love to do something with him, something urban like Nico and Above The Law and take him back to his roots, give him that old gunslinger vibe. That would be terrific. I’d love to do a picture with Stallone too.
On the horror front I’d love to have a crack at one of the more niche 80s franchises – Critters, The Howling, Waxork. C.H.U.D. They all have much more potential than was realised and I think genre aficionados like myself would enjoy it. I think these things go wrong – and I’m looking at the Lost Boys sequels and the Fright Night remake – when they don’t get the mixture of reverence and modernisation right. And it’s a tricky balance.
On the series front, I think there’s a great show to be made based on the ‘Jack’ books on which Get Carter was based. Jack’s Return Home was the first book, which was filmed as Get Carter but there were two prequels – Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon… there’s more than enough material there for a limited series and I think it would be different enough not to taint the legacy of Mike Hodges’ movie. And of course I would love to do that.
Action Reloaded: Thank you for your time Jonathan. I appreciate you coming back to chat with me. I wish you all the best with the new company and the upcoming movies!! As always I throw my full support behind your projects!
Jonathan Sothcott: No thank you. Without sites like yours, genre movies have very little in the way out outlets for news and publicity: your enthusiasm is absolutely crucial.