British producer Jonathan Sothcott stops by Flickering Myth to chat about his latest film Nemesis and more…
For well over a decade, Jonathan Sothcott has been at the forefront of the British intendant film scene. A number of successful films, such as Dead Cert, Stalker and Devil’s Playground would be further cemented with a couple of cult British crime thrillers in We Still Kill The Old Way and Vendetta.
Jonathan joins us to talk about his latest film Nemesis, his career so far and the new and exciting company, Shogun Films.
Hi Jonathan, first off, great work on your new film. Nemesis is the first release under the Shogun brand and is very impressive. Tell us a little about the film.
Yeah it’s a good little film isn’t it? Billy Murray had long suggested a London home invasion movie and I thought transposing it to the British crime film would make an interesting hybrid. I cooked up a basic premise and then brought in Adam Stephen Kelly to write the screenplay. We worked on it very carefully and closely together and we tried to fashion a story that was morally ambiguous – its set in a world of greys there aren’t clearly defined black and whites. You aren’t necessarily sure who to root for. When we started writing it we were in the midst of the Trump administration and he had this legion of fans in the states as well as an army of detractors and we thought ‘well sometimes maybe the bad guy wins.’
Nemesis is about an old school gangster (Billy Murray) and his wife (Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott) returning to London from their life on the costa del crime to make a charity presentation and meet their daughter’s new girlfriend at a family dinner party at their apartment. Billy’s return soon turns sour when an alcoholic cop with a score to settle (Nick Moran) interrupts the charity function and draws media attention to Billy’s return and activities, angering his shadowy paymaster (Bruce Payne). The dinner party turns into a disaster as family rivalries flare up but all is not what it seems and events take a sinister turn as Billy and his family are drugged and wake up tied to their chairs, at the mercy of an unexpected new enemy.
As you can tell we’ve really mixed our genre tropes here, blending the traditional London gangster movie with the key components of a home invasion movie. Influences are things like The Long Good Friday and Sexy Beast but also The Purge and You’re Next. I think we’ve made a film different enough to stand out but which will also tick all the boxes for genre fans, with a few twists and turns along the way! It is a dark, dark film though so don’t expect any happy endings.
Tell us a little about your background in film.
Some of my earliest memories are of movies. My parents had Jaws on Betamax which I watched relentlessly. In the early 80s film branding was so strong. Return of the Jedi dominated pop culture in my very early years. I remember the poster for Octopussy better than I do the film (I was only 3!). I had mature taste for a child and always gravitated towards darker things – films like The Golden Child and The Monster Squad. From the age of 7 or 8 my parents let me watch sort of softer horror movies – the Universal and Hammer classics.
Anyway, fast forward to my teens and film became my overwhelming passion – watching them, reading about them and writing about them. I had 3 hefty reference tomes which were positively tattooed with annotations and highlighting – Halliwell’s Film Guide, The Psychotronic Movie Encyclopedia and The TV Times Film Guide (not usually put in such lofty company, but it was required reading for me). This was in the days before the internet so there was still the concept of ‘rare’ films and every £1 VHS acquisition in a flea market felt like a triumph. My parents were very indulgent of my film obsession and were probably secretly relieved I wasn’t getting up to no good. The more I learned about how films were made (an interest I can trace back to watching ‘The Making of Return of the Jedi’ on TV) the more I wanted to be involved. I had no idea how I just knew it was where my future lay. Eventually I began sending off spec articles to film magazines, and found success at The DarkSide, the UK’s premiere horror magazine then as it is today. Through that, in my late teens, I met these chaps David Gregory and Carl Daft who had been tasked with creating special features for the DVD premieres of the classic EMI film catalogue. For them I worked on dozens of DVD gigs – commentaries, documentaries, writing booklets etc for everything from The Wicker Man to Summer Holiday! My proudest accomplishment was convincing David to champion The Man Who Haunted Himself for a special edition and getting Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes to do the commentary track. I love that film and I think the DVD gave it a platform it had lacked for the previous thirty years and lead to its new found status as a cult classic.
Also during this time I did the DVD commentary of The Sweeney film with director/producer David Wickes. David became a bit of an instant hero to me – he was articulate, educated and no-nonsense: a snappy dresser and a bon vivant as well as a very talented filmmaker. He and his wife Heide became great friends to me and David took me under his wing and steered me away from writing about films to wanting to make them. I learned a tremendous amount from him and continue to follow his advice to this day. I have never reached his heights as a filmmaker but whatever success I have had is in some part due to him. After a brief spell as Head of Programming at the nascent Horror Channel, I gratefully went back to Wickes and worked in his office for a year which was an amazing time and I just absorbed everything like a sponge. I began to think about developing my own projects and took one of them to the actor Martin Kemp, who I had always admired. The film didn’t happen but Martin and I had this sort of instant friendship and we made a short film that he directed, I produced and his brother starred in. It was my first attempt at a film and look at what amazing people I got to work with! Martin and I then made a feature together called Stalker which brought us together with my other great friend Billy Murray.
After Stalker I sort of coasted along making films that were easy but unmemorable, more often than not featuring Billy, Danny Dyer or Craig Fairbrass or all three! I was still very green and learning as I went and went down some weird rabbit holes. A couple of those films were very good but I was lazy and still coasting. That changed when I started thinking about making a film completely on my own, for the first time since Stalker with no other producers involved. I definitely work best like that. It was quite daunting but I wanted to get out of the rut I was in and the result was Vendetta. It was a tough film to pull together – nobody wanted Danny Dyer, he was considered toxic after a run of bad decisions both on and off screen – but I really believed in his star power. Eventually the film was a huge success and suddenly I was a very hot property as a producer, landing to a picture for Universal and a really quite extraordinary deal to make 4 films a year for Starz/Anchor Bay. Colin Lomax and Rod Smith there were great supporters of mine. It put a lot of peoples’ noses out of joint, particularly because I was living high on the hog in the spotlight and I made some weak and lazy decisions. The only film I’m proud of in that period is We Still Kill The Old Way and even that is with some caveats. But the films kept coming together and I completely took my eye off the ball and the quality suffered dramatically. We Still Steal The Old Way was a shadow of its predecessor despite a stellar cast. Between 2016 and 2018 I made a couple of negligible micro budget films to keep my hand in but my heart wasn’t in it. So as 2019 drew to a close I was at a bit of a cross roads and wasn’t sure whether to keep making films.
Working in film is often born out of a passion for cinema from an early age. What was your cinematic upbringing? The films that really struck a chord with you.
As I say I vividly remember my parents’ top-loading Betamax video. They had about half a dozen tapes that I watched again and again. Jaws the most obviously. One Million Years BC. Dinosaurus (a very obscure ‘dinosaurs come to life on a tropical island’ film). And they recorded me more off the TV – Jaws 3, Warlords of Atlantis, The Land That Time Forgot. In fact, thinking about that its amazing I never made a lost world/dinosaur movie.
When we moved from Surrey to Sussex in 1986/7 I recall two things happening – there was the access to the classic horror movies on television but also we lived near a town that had a proper indie video rental store – it was called Video Legend. This was an important milestone in my journey towards making films as I suddenly became aware of how important the poster art and marketing were – for the first time I was picking my own films to watch off a shelf rather than what my parents thought I would like on television.
By the time I’d started at secondary school, a second wave of film interest was stirring – action. Although I had always enjoyed the Bond films growing up, it was more for the spectacle than anything else. At around 13 or 14 I rewatched them all and was blown away by them – yes they were spectacular, the locations were amazing and they were so glamorous but James Bond, and particularly Roger Moore, was a new kind of hero for me. I loved – and love – these films and they have been a huge influence on me, from working with a roll call of Bond alumni to my great belief in opening credits that grab you, big soundtracks and as much production value as possible. I was lucky enough to work with Roger – not just on The Man Who Haunted Himself DVD but later on The Wild Geese too, another of my favourite movies. He wrote the foreword to a book I wrote about Christopher Lee. He was everything you’d hope and more – immaculate, charismatic and hilariously indiscrete. I will treasure a lunch with him and Bryan Forbes at Scotts. And getting a cab with him to Soho and watching him swamped by Japanese school children clamouring for autographs (he signed them all) as we disembarked. Today I count his son Geoffrey as a close friend.
So that was Bond, but Bond was just the tip of the iceberg. Being a 15 year old with a VHS player in the mid-90s was testosterone movie bliss – I discovered Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal. Of those guys Seagal was always my favourite – I think his original run up to Exit Wounds was fantastic and Out For Justice is probably my favourite action movie.
In terms of British films, Who Dares Wins is a huge favourite of mine. The producer Euan Lloyd (who also made The Wild Geese) was another mentor for me. I remember our last lunch at Les Ambassadeurs in Park lane where he said Cubby Broccoli used to take him in the fifties. I was very sad when he died. I gave the eulogy at his memorial service. I’m so lucky to have known and worked with these British film legends. I think North Sea Hijack is absolutely wonderful I must’ve seen it 100 times. I also love Get Carter and The Long Good Friday. The other British film that I feel never gets the recognition it deserves is The Fourth Protocol, which always feels like the third in a loose trilogy with The Long Good Friday and Who Dares Wins. I think my taste in movies is just overwhelmingly populist, that’s the best way I can describe it.
Join us for more in part two of our interview later this week.
Nemesis is set for release in the UK on DVD and Digital Download from March 29th.