An interview with the British independent film producer, Jonathan Sothcott.
Jonathan Sothcott is an independent film producer, working with the likes of Danny Dyer and Mark Hamill. He’s also a massive C64 and Commodore Format fan! Here he tells us about his fave games, his career, and what C64 games influenced his work…
Jonathan! Great to speak to you. So, first things first: tell us about yourself. I’m an independent film producer and own the production company Hereford Films, which is based in London. I’m 37 and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years. I’ve produced some 30 movies in my career including Vendetta with Danny Dyer, Airborne with Mark Hamill, the successful We Still Kill The Old Way franchise and Eat Local, which hits DVD this month. Before that I was Head of Programming at The Horror Channel.
When did you first get a C64? I believe it was Christmas 1988 so I’d have been 8. It was the bundle which had a light gun and the Batman game (which I loved). The light gun had this weird demo game with it called Blaze Out which was just the shooting levels of Robocop, Rambo 3 etc.
I had never had any kind of gaming experience before besides Pacman in the arcade on holiday so the C64 was a literal eye-opener. I had a good 3 years going steady with the ’64 before I started seeing a NES on the side as it were, so it very much formed my view of what games I liked and like and because the tapes were so cheap (especially the budget games) I had dozens. I was always an action/platform/run and gun kind of kid – so favourites included pretty much anything by Code Masters (especially CJ’s Elephant Antics and Spike In Transylvania), the Turrican games, Ninja Spirit, Rampage, Tusker, Barbarian, Myth, Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja, Ninja Rabbits, New Zealand Story, Bubble Bobble, Hammerfist, Creatures, Rastan etc. I played the Ninja (well, Hero) Turtles game almost endlessly – I still have nightmares about that bloody water level. I think my favourite though was Werewolves of London which I played relentlessly (now that’s one great game that doesn’t get enough praise, so here’s a video – Ed).
Tell us what you loved about Commodore Format. I remember the covers vividly – they were so strikingly painted. The Speedball 2 cover was like a movie poster. I was also blown away by the tapes – obviously before the internet your selection of available games was pretty much limited to what was in your local shop… so getting these lesser known old games or previews of new ones was very exciting. I also liked the tongue in cheek approach in the journalism (I write a bit myself, eg for GQ and that dead pan tone was definitely an early influence).
Really? Which writers? Well ironically they (probably!) weren’t their real names but Roger Frames and The Mighty Brain! The Roger Frames Buys Budget games column was appealing on two levels – budget games were generally simpler and easier to play so they were more appealing to me as an 8 year old then complex full price games! Also even though he was probably 40 I presumed Roger was my age – so he was like a little pal recommending games. TMB actually answered one of my letters (something blandly insipid like ‘is there a Doctor Who game on the c64?’) in print, which was like being on the TV as far as I was concerned. Later on I was quite fascinated by the Jazza Rignall’s and Radion Automatic at C+VG – they seemed like the older cool kids.
So going back to your career, do you reckon games and the C64 influenced your films? Yes VERY much so – the title of Vendetta came to me when I was looking through old C64 games! So that’s pretty influential. And the kind of action films I make clearly have 80s video game DNA in them. I’d love to do a movie (or movies) based on a retro gaming property – there are so many things that would make great movies. Who wouldn’t like to see a Turrican movie. Or something based on Last Ninja 2. Or even Dizzy as a CGI kids film. So if anyone owning these kind of rights fancies it, please get in touch!
Do you play any of those old games now? Unfortunately my Mum took it upon herself to bin my entire C64 collection – I have forgiven her now, but it was touch and go! – but in our office my business partner Damien Morley and I have an old SNES, Megadrive, NES etc and a collection of games but we try to be good and not spend our whole lives playing them. I bought my girlfriend and I a NES classic mini which was promptly commandeered by her children (who loved it, despite being far too young to have any identification with the games) and we’ve just got the SNES mini. I’m not clever enough to try things like emulators but so I’m hoping someone will bring out a C64 mini sometime soon… but only if it has Werewolves of London on it of course!
Cheers for talking to us, Jonathan – it’s been a total pleasure. One more before we go. If you could go back in time and get a game you couldn’t find or afford at the time, what would it be? I never got to play NARCS which had what I thought was a brilliant cover but which made my Mum decide it might turn me into a drug dealer and ban me from having it! Same with Crack Down with that sinister Goat of Mendes on the box. To be fair to her though she had to suffer years of being driven mad about 8 bit games so she deserves a break! CF
- Jonathan’s latest work, Eat Local, is out on DVD this month.
- Read interviews with Commodore Format staff here