Jonathan Sothcott is the co creator of Black & Blue Films and the producer of the up and coming feature, Expose. IndieFlicks caught up with Jonathan last week to discuss his route into filmmaking and his past, present and future projects.
IndieFlicks: How did you get started in filmmaking?
Jonathan: Originally I wanted to be a film journalist. I left school after my A-Levels and got some freelance work for a couple of movie magazines. Problem is, I wasn’t very good at it! I then somehow blagged my way onto the then-emerging DVD scene ‘moderating’ audio commentaries. Some of these were ok, some I made a terrible hash of but I had bundles and bundles of enthusiasm for the films and the film-makers. After a while the guys at Blue Underground (the company producing the material) made me an Associate Producer on a documentary about a Hammer film. That was my first break which I’ll always be grateful for. Whilst this was all going on, I started producing some of these things myself and also started dabbling in licensing library films to distributors and then in another genius bit of blagging I wound up as Head of Programming at The Horror Channel in 2004. Unfortunately the channel had about 20p as a programming budget, so all the great deals I had done quickly disappeared and we played a load of scratchy old public domain shit about 5 times a day. So I left, thinking it would sink, to go and be a TV mogul, just as the TV advertising revenue model was collapsing! My timing was truly masterful. I consulted on a few other TV channels and then an old pal, David Wickes, who was a bit of a mentor, suggested I go and work with him developing a film for a year in case I liked producing. David always had a lot of (often unwarranted) faith in me. So I went and joined him, loved it and realised that rather than using other people’s films as commodities, I wanted to make my own. So I got involved in a low budget urban horror film called WISHBABY, which started the ball rolling.
IndieFlicks: Who would you cite as your influences?
Jonathan: I don’t know if a producer has ‘influences’… Roger Corman? The three people I have learnt the most from are David Wickes, who taught me how to be a producer and never to settle for second best, Martin Kemp who taught me to try and be nice to everyone and Billy Murray who has taught me more than I can begin to say. They are three of the best in the business.
IndieFlicks: What made you set up Black and Blue Films?
Jonathan: I had tried to get an Expose remake off the ground in 2006 with Martin Kemp starring in it. The money fell apart, as often happens, and the same week my long time girlfriend left me. Devastated isn’t the word. Martin was an absolute sweetheart to me and really helped get me back on track. First of all we made a short film called Karma Magnet which Martin directed. It cost a pittance and we shot it mostly in our office. But we found we had a good producer/director rapport so decided to start a film company. That was in early 2007. It took us two years of heavy development to get to the stage we’re at now where we’re actively making films. Earlier this year actor/producer Billy Murray joined the board and we have found that the three of us have a fantastic working relationship, as well as being great mates, partly because we’re all so different. I really believe in our company and very much see Vertigo as a model I aspire to emulate. They are phenomenally driven and clever guys and they get things done. I’d like us to be making 6 films per year by 2011.
IndieFlicks: Why did you choose to remake Expose as the first feature from Black and Blue Films?
Jonathan: I own a stake in the original film and there is a received wisdom that films based on established properties - be it books, library films or TV shows - have a higher value than new material. I don’t really believe it, but that’s the way it is. It has a certain cult following and I always thought there was quite a cool story in there. Our film is very different to the original – that’s not to say it’s some wanky Hollywood ‘reimagining’ or whatever they call them, it’s just that we used the old one as a jumping off point rather than a model. I’m not even sure Martin’s seen it all the way through.
IndieFlicks: What was the film shot on?
Jonathan: It was shot on the RED camera, which has revolutionized our business in the independent sector. I just came back from the London UK Film Focus market and every other film screening was shot with RED. I am very lucky that my regular DOP, a preposterously talented guy called James Friend, is one of the very best with the RED in the world. To use a cliché, the man paints with light.
IndieFlicks: Martin Kemp is better known as an actor and musician, this is his first feature film as the director. Was he always the first choice to helm Expose?
Jonathan: Absolutely. It was very much conceived as a directorial outing for him after our short film. He wrote the screenplay too and the great thing about Martin is that he has been in so many movies he knows how to structure a script to a budget. He’s a very clever man.
IndieFlicks: Now that Martin has had his first taste of feature film directing, can we expect
to see him direct another feature in the future?
Jonathan: Yeah. As you probably know his band Spandau Ballet have reformed which is going to take him out of the game for a while but we hope he’ll be back behind the camera next year.
IndieFlicks: The next film from Black and Blue Films is Just for the Record, a mockumentary about low budget filmmaking. Where did the idea for the film come from and how did you manage to get such a star studded cast involved?
Jonathan: Phill Barron, the writer, and I have both been involved in a few totally disastrous ventures and thought it might be fun to spoof them. Low budget film making is neither fun nor glamorous – it’s so fucking cut-throat they don’t even have the decency to stab you in the back, they stab you in the front! Anyway, we wrote this script, I got my mate Steve Lawson involved and we played around and made it funnier and went off and made it. A lot of it was improvised on the day.
The casting was pretty easy. People like Danny Dyer, Craig Fairbrass, Lisa McAllister, Roland Manookian, Geoff Bell, Phil Davis etc are all mates of mine and Steve’s. Victoria Silvstedt I’ve known for years whilst others we didn’t know like Sean Pertwee, Rik Mayall and Ciaran Griffiths just loved the script and wanted to be in it. We have a couple of kids – Calum McNabb and Triana Terry – who are really going places too. We were blessed and it was without a doubt the happiest film I’ve done.
IndieFlicks: The film is directed by Steve Lawson and is also his first outing as a feature director. Was it a deliberate choice to have your films directed by first time feature filmmakers?
Jonathan: No not at all. Steve is a good friend and when he read it and asked if he could direct, I thought ‘fuck it, why not?’. I’m afraid I love gambling on outsiders and sometimes bets like that REALLY pay off and this one has because Steve did a really brilliant job. Keep an eye on him.
IndieFlicks: When can we expect to see Just for the Record released?
Jonathan: We don’t have a date yet. It is still being cut together. But I’d guess first quarter of 2010. Keep an eye on www.justfortherecord-movie.com for all the news.
IndieFlicks: Can you tell us anything about your future zombie film Devil’s Playground?
Jonathan: Yes that is due to go in the fourth quarter of this year. Danny Dyer, Craig Fairbrass, Lisa McAllister are all involved and we are co-producing it with HMR films. I love the little rep company I take from film to film. They are great people and bloody talented actors. The zombies are going to be portrayed by free-runners and it is going to be pretty action-centric. Think of it as all the tough London boys against a load of double hard zombies. It is certainly going to be a lads film. Either side of that I have two gangster films – one is with Danny Dyer and is a very sophisticated London crime film. The other, Gunned Down, which we aim to shoot in London and Marbella next April, is a more balls to the wall American style gangster outing. It has been written by Craig Fairbrass and is bloody slick. Craig is a great guy, a really passionate film buff and brilliant company.
IndieFlicks: What do you think about the current state of British low budget filmmaking?
Jonathan: It’s healthier than it might appear but it is by no means an easy gig. There is, with a few notable exceptions, a financial threshold below which I don’t think it is possible to make a commercial project. There are a lot of £50,000 films floating around that won’t get a release because compromises were made on casting or production values and because the film-makers can’t afford to generate acceptable delivery materials. Noel Edmonds gave me a great bit of advice once – “Everything in this business takes twice as long as you think and costs twice as much as you’d like”. Wise words.
The nice thing about the British indie community is that we all know each other. There is a real and tangible sense of community and we all bloody love movies. I saw Jake West the other day, five or six years ago he and I were competing over making two bob documentaries for Anchor Bay DVDs. And there we were at the party for his film Doghouse talking about our next films like we’d been doing it for 30 years. It’s a giggle.
IndieFlicks: What advice would you give to any aspiring filmmakers out there?
Get on and do it… and blag. There are all these books about how to get your film made. Bollocks. If they’re that good at making films why aren’t they making them? Films are more fun than bloody ‘how to’ books. Just go out there and make something. Then make something else. And make shorts. I only made one and I really wish I’d made more. They are so much fun and just the best training there is. I wish I’d been making shorts in my late teens and early twenties. If a great script came in I’d try and find time to make another one.
For more information on Black & Blue Films please visit their official website - click