Jonathan Sothcott, producer of upcoming action thriller Vendetta, talks to us about the movie and his production company Richwater Films.
First off, tell us about your company Richwater films? And how did you get involved with Martin Kemp, Nick Aldrich and Keith Bishop?
I had been cruising along making unremarkable straight to video product (Devil’s Playground, Elfie Hopkins, Fall of the Essex Boys et al) without a lot of self belief or love for the films I was churning out. To be honest, towards the end of 2012 I had pretty much given up and was ready to move out of London and maybe make a film a year. Then I had a bit of a heart to heart with the actor Danny Dyer, who had starred in some decidedly variable films for me but had been a friend for a long time. He wasn’t getting the work he wanted and had suffered a few flops in a row. So we were commiserating and kinda decided to have one last push at making something really good and credible, a bit of an ‘all or nothing.’ I had been working with this writer called Stephen Reynolds developing a vigilante idea as a project for him to direct. Putting Dyer in the lead was what pushed it over the finish line.
Steve is unusual as far as British directors go because not only is he extremely talented but he just ‘gets it’ – he understands what is commercial and he isn’t just obsessed with budgets and how many screens his film will get. He’s much smarter than that. So I had a project I truly believed in, the next step was how to structure it. At that time I had been working with a group of people who I just wasn’t comfortable with and just kind of drifting so I thought “fuck it, its now or never” – so I cut my ties and struck out on my own. I set up Richwater quietly and low key at the end of 2012 and sent out an email at Christmas just saying ‘look, I’m going off to do this mad thing on my own, I hope it works out’ and people were very supportive. Initially there was a lot of resistance to Vendetta – the combination of Danny and myself made people think it was going to be quickly made and forgettable.
But all of us, and I include Steve, Danny and the whole fantastic crew, worked incredibly hard to make it something better than that. So we made the film and cut a trailer and suddenly my little film company was big news – in the space of 10 months we have made two films (Vendetta and Assassin) and start two more back to back next week (Top Dog and Reign of the General), we have a deal with Anchor Bay to produce 4-6 films per year, a tie-up with a leading independent publisher to produce books of our films and for the first time I have quality people beating a path to my door.
Martin, Keith and Nick are all on the board at Richwater. Nick is quite a character who was initially introduced to me as a drinking buddy – he wasn’t in the film business, he was a senior negotiator at a bank and a golfing buddy of Hugh Grant. But he has a passion for business and we became good friends and he joined to look after investor relations – if I was investing my money into a movie I’d feel more comfortable that there was someone with a business background looking after it rather than a load of arty farty film makers. Keith Bishop, known in the business as The Bishop of Soho, is a PR specialist who looks after the company’s corporate publicity. And Martin Kemp is one of my best and oldest friends who has consistently had faith in me and has been very supportive. He’s a very wise, shrewd guy and there’s nothing that he hasn’t seen and done and his advice and insight is invaluable. He’s also a very talented film-maker and its nice to have someone with a creative mindset in house.
What inspired you to start a new wave of British action thrillers?
In the UK we tend to make gangster films, horror films, romcoms and kitchen sink dramas. I wanted to do something different. Although we will make horror and gangster films, our present focus is on action – I’m a child of the 80s, I grew up on Stallone, Bronson, Seagal etc. I love that stuff, passionately. But as a film making country the UK has been badly served for it. And you know action stuff sells internationally if its done well, and that’s the name of the game. I want to make British movies that travel.
Richwater is also teaming up with Caffeine Nights to create tie-in books for the movies, was that your idea? What was it about Caffeine Nights that appealed?
I met an author named Nick Oldham, an ex-cop turned crime writer. He’d sent me a book which I had liked, but it was cops and robbers which is more TV than film. Anyway, I met him for a bit of lunch and he proposed writing a novelization of Vendetta. I liked this idea very much, I am a huge fan of the movie tie-in paperback. An hour later, as luck would have it, I met this guy called Darren Laws who owns this new but fast-growing publisher called Caffeine Nights. He was publishing mostly crime and horror and had recently signed an author called Shaun Hutson who I admired. I ran the idea of a Vendetta novelization by him and he liked it immediately. So we agreed this handshake deal – he’d have first right to publish our movie tie-ins and he’d send me interesting material prior to publication to see if it works for a movie. I just received copies of the Vendetta novelization last week and it’s a great read in its own right, I’m really proud to be involved with Caffeine Nights. I hate it that books are in decline, I’ll never be a kindle owner, so I hope that we’ll produce enough quality books to keep readers interested for a long time!
Your new film Vendetta starring Danny Dyer hits British Theatres in November. For those who don’t know can you tell us what the film is about and how did the project come together?
I have always loved the vigilante genre and am a particularly a fan of the Death Wish series – the first two are of course nasty, powerful pieces of drama which had a big impact. The three latter sequels are increasingly silly but still very enjoyable. British vigilante movies tend to be more people getting stabbed in underpasses, gritty low concept stuff. So I wanted to make a vigilante movie that was more action based. Steve, the writer/director and I toyed long and hard with the idea of making our protagonist an average joe but we didn’t want to waste screen time with him learning to fight/kill/torture. So we made him a rogue SAS soldier, an interrogation specialist. This not only made the action more plausible but it opened up the story world – not only is he London’s first vigilante of the 21st century, but he’s also a serving soldier in the most elite special forces unit in the world. This is a big deal, so suddenly the army and security services are involved, as well as the police.
Once we had a script, Danny very quickly came on board. He has made a few regrettable career choices in the last few years so I had to convince financiers and indeed other cast, that this was a Danny Dyer film like Severance or The Business, not 7 Lives or Freerunner. Getting people to read the script was the hard part, once they read it they jumped on board. For me the real coup was Vincent Regan – I had wanted to work with him for years but he’d passed on other scripts. Once he came on board, the rest of the cast slotted into place –Alistair Petrie, Emma Samms, Bruce Payne etc are names who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in this kind of film. Roxanne McKee was a late addition to the cast but a very welcome one, she adds a real touch of class. And Ricci Harnett and Nick Nevern kindly gave us a couple of days for cameos. We shot it in just 3 weeks on location in East London on an extraordinarily low budget but with an incredibly enthusiastic crew who I think were excited to be making a film that everyone cared about.
I hear it’s inspired by the likes of Death Wish and First Blood; what kind of action can we expect?
The mind of writer/director Stephen Reynolds is a dark place indeed. He came up with some fantastically gruesome kills – I can’t spoil them for you but suffice to say these wouldn’t be out of place in Saw or 7even. Our homage to First Blood was having our soldier hero’s CO come into the action to ‘take him back’ and Vincent Regan gives a beautifully subtle performance with just a nod to Richard Crenna. My favourite scene in Death Wish is right at the end when Bronson cocks his finger like a gun at the station and its fair to say that we struck a similar note in our film. Steve and I bonded over 80s action movies – Predator, Out For Justice, Who Dares Wins, Enter The Ninja – all that stuff. We’ll sit there at night sending each other obscure trailers on YouTube. So this is really a love letter to these movies, its what you might call old school.
Any word on when we get to see a North American release?
Intandem Films are screening the movie for buyers at the American Film Market shortly so hopefully out of that we’ll have an American deal. I really hope we’ve avoided making a film that’s too parochial and that US audiences (and beyond) will enjoy what we’ve tried to do.
Have you noticed we Brits love our action? There are several new production companies appearing all with a similar goal of keeping old-school action alive. Do you think this will continue to grow?
I didn’t know there were in Britain. I am a great admirer of a very shrewd producer named James Harris who made the third Green Street film, which was released last week to great business here. Rather than just making a hooligan film he added an MMA trope and made it feel fresh – and the results speak for themselves! I am a big believer in British film and I’d love to see us making action movies that compete on a global scale – not people shooting each other with plastic guns in supermarket car parks. We have some great actors who can really do it – Statham, Ray Stevenson, Craig Fairbrass etc – and we have fantastic film makers. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.
What can we do to get the word out to International audiences?
We have a website with lots of detail – www.richwaterfilms.com – and are on Facebook, Twitter etc. So if you like what you see, check us out online and look for updates!
What other projects are coming up from Richwater?
We recently wrapped a hitman movie called Assassin. It again stars Danny Dyer but this time the cast also includes Martin and Gary Kemp, it’s the first time they’ve appeared in a movie together since The Krays. This was written and directed by a very interesting French film-maker named JK Amalou who I very much enoyed working with. I am literally just about to start a two gangster movies back to back for Universal – Top Dog starring Leo Gregory, written by Dougie Brimson and directed by Martin Kemp – and Reign of the General, starring Ricci Harnett, which is a true crime biopic of UK underworld boss Carlton Leach. Next year we have We Still Kill The Old Way, which is about all of the old London gangsters from the 60s and 70s going on a vigilante killing spree after one of them is killed by a street gang (think Harry Brown on crack), an ambitious ticking clock sniper movie called Age of Kill and a big budget ensemble mercenaries film called Renegades, which is in the spirit of The Wild Geese, The Expendables et al. We are also looking at some television ideas, more books with Caffeine Nights and maybe, just maybe, a sequel to Vendetta. To say it’s an exciting time would be a massive understatement.