We are big fans of Garth Jennings' Son of Rambow around these parts. I caught the film when it played at the Toronto Film Festival and walked out of the theater on a buzz that lasted for days. It is a smart, charming, funny and truly touching piece of work, one driven by a pair of remarkable performances from its young leads, one that celebrates the value of creativity and community. With the film's theatrical release now in sight we were lucky enough to get in touch with director Garth Jennings who was more than willing to answer a few questions over email. Read on!
TB: Son of Rambow is obviously a much more personal and intimate film than Hitchhikers Guide was and, in most ways, seems like a much more obvious choice for a first film. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of both projects and how you ended up coming out of the gate with the big blockbuster first?
GJ: Eight years ago, Nick and I were sitting in a rather stinky little restaurant below our office talking about the home movies I used to make as a kid, movies which had been inspired by watching a pirate copy of First Blood with my friends. From this chat we came up with the idea for Son of Rambow and three years later we had a script we felt extremely passionate about. We began to cast the film and look for financing when the script for The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy landed on our desk. They had approached Spike Jonze who had passed but suggested us instead. Up until this point we had no intention of making a big studio film but it was impossible to resist. Not only did we love Hitchhiker's but we were also being offered free reign to do it our way. In a sense, we had the opportunity to make a very personal blockbuster. We had two glorious years in outer space while Son of Rambow sat in the fridge. And when we came back to Earth we read Son of Rambow again and felt even more passionately about it than before. We tweaked the script, put together a book that helped to visualize the film, went to meet every single British film financier... and they all passed. But a French company called Celluloid Dreams loved what we were proposing to make and helped to finance the whole film. Casting began again and after five months of auditions we found Bill Milner and Will Poulter - two of the most remarkable people you could hope to meet. they had never acted in anything before but they were the best by a thousand miles. It took forty days to shoot, six weeks to cut and the film's first screening was at the Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Paramount Vantage. Phew!
TB: Why Rambo? Did you have trouble getting permission to use the name and images? Was there a plan B if they said no? Was there any concern that the new Rambo film would tank and kill your premise in the process?
GJ: It had to be Rambo. First Blood made such an impression on me as a kid and I still think it's a cracking film. There was never a plan B and we always thought that if people saw it they would understand why. It's amazing that after all these years the new Rambo film has come out at the same time as us, but I don't see how we can have a negative effect on each other.
TB: The film is very obviously driven by themes of creativity and community but there’s also a lot of play-violence in there, including some stuff that could be quite dangerous. How did you balance out the sense of play with real danger? Were there concerns about doing some of the scenes with such young actors?
GJ: I don't really think we ever considered how to balance the dangerous aspects of the film. We always liked that about other films such as Stand By Me or My Life As A Dog. We just wrote it for ourselves with the aim being to capture how it felt for us to be a kid. Or rather, how we remember it feeling. At that age, we rarely considered the consequences or realized that what we were doing was ludicrously ambitious. Will and Bill had a similar experience I think, but they were never in any real danger. They never did any of the big stuff and anything they did themselves was far safer than it looks.
TB: The young actors – all of them – are absolutely remarkable. Can you tell us a bit about where you found them and what they were like to work with?
GJ Oops. I think I have done this already! But to add a little more, the best thing about them is that they are confident to just be natural. They also come from very good, loving families and they became the best of friends and still are today. But can you imagine being in their position? You're eleven years old, never ever acted in anything before and now you are being dragged around a field by a kite attached to a hundred foot crane - it just doesn't get any better than that!
TB: Also on the actors, both of your films feature a lot of faces from British comedy circles that a lot of people over here wouldn’t necessarily recognize. It seems like you’ve got a very supportive and interconnected scene over there. Why can’t you be more American and hate everybody other than yourself?
GJ: Ha ha ha ha! We've been very lucky to work with some great British talent (and American in Hitchhiker's!) There's a wonderful British comic actor called Eric Sykes who plays the old man the kids dress up to be Rambo. He is a comedy legend here in the U.K which made it all the more tragic to see him in such an awful care home. There may well be a 'scene' but Nick and I aren't in it. I like the idea of us all hanging out but the reality is we both work away from everyone else and have our own little lives to go back to at night. It suits us very well. As for hating everybody other than myself, the only people I hate are the people that broke into our office last night and stole my beloved Mac. Total bastards.
TB: Looking back on the film a few months after seeing it I’m pretty struck by how much detail and care for your characters was put into the script. How long were you working on it? Am I right in thinking you built from the characters out rather than from scenes and gags in?
GJ: Hey thanks! I think the reason we took so long to get the script finished was because we would often get sidetracked and seduced by funny characters at the expense of the story. The script went through some extremely different versions before it got to where it is now. We just tried to make everything, no matter how silly it was, tell the story of their film and their friendship and a lot of the humour only works within the context of the film. They aren't the kind of jokes you could tell at a party. I still chuckle when I see Didier shoot that bird while riding his bike though.
TB: Obvious question: what’s next? When will we see more Jennings?
GJ: Nick and I are writing two new projects. It's such early days that it wouldn't be right to go into details - and with our track record it will be another eight years before we get to show anything to you! In the meantime, there's a couple of music videos out there we just made recently. One for Vampire Weekend ("A-PUNK") and a slo-mo video for Radiohead called "NUDE" (part of their recent webcasts.)
TB: Thanks so much for this!
GJ: You are welcome. Sorry the answers are a bit screwy. It's late and I have run out of wine.