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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Producers Sofia Sondervan & Tom Butterfield on LONDON TOWN (2016) @ 69th Cannes Film Festival

Set in 1970's London, LONDON TOWN (2016) is a coming-of-age story about 14 year-old Shay Baker (played by Daniel Huttlestone) whose life changes when he is forced to spend the summer alone running his father's music shop while the latter lies sick in hospital. Shay befriends musician Joe Strummer and, like many of his generation, is transformed by the music of The Clash.

The rock-n-roll feature film stars Daniel Huttlestone, Dougray Scott, Natascha McElhone, Nell Williams, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe Strummer. LONDON TOWN is directed by Derrick Borte from a script written by Matthew Brown (THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY), and features music from The Clash. The film is produced by Sofia Sondervan (THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY) of Dutch Tilt Film, Christine Vachon (CAROL) of Killer Films and Tom Butterfield (WELCOME TO ME) of Culmination Productions.


I interviewed producers Sofia Sondervan and Tom Butterfield during the 69th Cannes Film Festival just before the film's market premiere. Here is what they had to say:

ME: Sofia, you've had a colorful career in the world of film production. Can you tell us how you began your career as a producer?

SOFIA: I started working at Miramax right out of school, literally the day after I graduated from NYU. I worked in business affairs for three years and then when I wanted to do acquisitions I went to work with Cary Woods who started Independent Pictures with New Line. I did acquisitions with them for a few years. Then I went to POP.COM, which was the Dreamworks and Imagine venture and I ran acquisitions and production there. After that I went to Content Film and became East Coast head of production from there. Then I went and started the feature film division of Sony Music where I developed and produced music driven films such as Cadillac Records. Now I have my own production company.

ME: TOM, can you tell us a bit of your background as a producer?

TOM: Ironically, I'm now head of production at Content. I started working with Craig Perry in LA, which was the company that made the American Pie and Final Destination franchises with Universal, our parent company. After that I was at the New Cinema fund at the UK Film Council for 5-6 years. I came here a lot for that as we did a lot of films with Andrew Arnold, Ken Loach, etc., which was terrific. Then I went out on my own until recently joining Content in November of last year where I became head of production.

ME: Is it nice to join a team after working alone for so long?

TOM: It's nice, although I'm still not quite used to having to bounce stuff off other people. I'm still getting used to having five other people give their input.

ME: How was it for you both to work together on LONDON TOWN?

SOFIA: We became family on this movie.

TOM: We have some other stuff we are trying to do together as well.

ME: How long did LONDON TOWN take to get off the ground from start to completion?

SOFIA: We started working on this at Sony in 2007. So, nine years. I came up with the idea because my mandate at Sony was to make films that involved catalogue or new bands. So we did Cadillac Records with Beyonce and a lot of our artists in it which was about music. Then we did a movie with Jennifer Lopez too. Sony had the Clash catalogue and everyone I spoke to about them had these stories about how The Clash changed their life when they were kids. The idea was to make a Billy Elliot style film set in the music world about this kid who buys his first record and it changes his life. When you're so young something can have such an influence on you.

TOM: During pre-production and production we were having numerous conversations about, 'what was the band that did it for you?' Mine was the Nirvana generation. Our director Derrick Borte's was The Clash generation, which was why he was such a great choice. He got what Joe Strummer and The Clash did for that generation.

ME: So the film is fiction with real events?

TOM: Yes, fiction inspired by real events that happened around The Clash. For example, the riots and the big gig in Victoria Park.

SOFIA: Also the integration. The Clash was very much into bringing world music into England. They brought reggae and other music cultures together, which is very prominent in the film. We are seeing that happen today so it seems to be a pattern that keeps repeating itself. I think the thing now, which we all know, is that kids don't buy their first record anymore. The music comes in such a different way today and is a totally different experience.

ME: Let's talk about that for a bit, the change in the way we listen to music. Do you think digital music make music more disposable today than in the past?

SOFIA: It does. There are no more superstars today. All the superstars are dying off now, like Prince and Bowie, and it's the end of the superstar days. But then I have a five year-old who listens to Bowie but digitally.

TOM: We have some young actors in the movie. Nell in particular, who plays the love interest, disagreed with me vehemently about the way she listens to music because she believes digital is the only way as it's so accessible; if you find one band you find another band in seconds with so many different options.

ME: How was working with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe Strummer?

TOM: He was tremendous! Incredibly dedicated to getting Joe Strummer right. We ended up doing a month of rehearsals with him and a band that we put together for him. He was so good! Our music supervisor said, “Okay no lip syncing.”So we had him live and recorded and the originals meshed together.

SOFIA: Jonathan recorded all his own and played guitar on all the songs so the songs in the movie are all him. We had some big performances for the film and some of our investors who are of The Clash generation told us, “We feel like we're at a Clash concert! This guy has become Joe Strummer. He's so good!”

ME: Can you speak about the writer of the script, Matt Brown? You've worked him a few times right?

SOFIA: Matt and I have been friends for a long time. The original script was written by Kirsten Sheridan, Jim Sheridan's daughter and her writing partner Sonya Gildea. They wrote a different script from the current one. When I left Sony Matt Brown came in to rewrite it and that's the script we used. We also recently did The Man Who Knew Infinity, which is out in theaters now, together. I brought that film to Pressman when I was there.

ME: Maybe each of you can tell me which film in your career you are most proud of so far?

TOM: I'm going to be really cheesy and say this one. For a couple of reasons. Myself, Sofia and our director Derrick had an incredible experience. It all came together so quickly after so long waiting. It was suddenly so fast we got thrown into it and while it was incredibly tough it was insanely rewarding. For me personally to go back to and shoot in London was really lovely, because I hadn't shot there in years. We had a beautiful summer with only had one day of rain on the last day of production. We got very lucky with our cast- Dougray, Daniel, Jonathan and everyone. I look back on it fondly.

SOFIA: Yeah, I would go back and shoot in England any day. It was so nice to shoot there. The crew is night and day. Everyone was polite and no one said anything bad about anyone. My son was with me the whole time there and he always asks me, “Can we move back to England please?” It made such an impression on him and we weren't even in the nice part of London. We were in East London which is terrible but it still made such an impression.

ME: What about you Sofia? What's your favorite film that you have worked on, if you have one?

SOFIA: I feel the same way as Tom. I really enjoy doing music based films. Cadillac Records was kind of the impossible made possible. It didn't take long to get made but it was really hard to get all those enormous singers to say 'yes' and cast them and pull all those recordings together. That really gave me the knowledge to make this film. I had done all that pre-recording and licensing, which helped me on London Town to get The Clash rights, the pre-records done, etc. It was a great thing for me in terms of making music based films. It taught me everything there is to know about how to deal with legends of the past.

ME: What era of music would you focus on next?

TOM: I think we've got to do 90's next. Like Guns and Roses.

ME: What are you both working on next?

SOFIA: I'm doing another project with Matt Brown. Then I optioned a book called “Girl in the Dark” which is a Dutch book called “Daylight” that was made into a film two years ago and did really well. We now have the rights to do an English language film of the English book version that just came out on Harper Collins. Then I'm doing another movie with Darnell Martin who did Cadillac Records, which I can't talk about but the script has been written.

TOM: Sofia and I have another movie together, which we can't talk about yet. And I'm actually leaving Cannes to go to Atlanta to shoot a film called The Vault. Then with my new job we have a slate of about 8-9 films that will go ahead in about 12-18 months. One of those is a film called The Worker, an action movie we're doing to be directed by Dan Bradley, who in my opinion is the best 2nd unit director in the world. We're hoping to shoot that late in the year. So we are busy!


Interview conducted by Vanessa McMahon

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