I cannot say enough good things about Son of Rambow and it’s Director Garth Jennings. It’s a pleasure to watch from start to end. Everything about it just works and for some reason I can’t quite explain why. It feels as if the filmmakers, the actors and everyone involved put so much heart into it that you can feel it as a viewer. It’s incredibly funny and yet full of purpose.
From first glance this film is a bit tough to categorize, but after seeing it I think I know why. There is no category for it. Any age group, any gender, anybody can really enjoy the film. The film is by no means dark, but by no means light. It simply is an honest and yet imaginary depictions of two kids making a movie. It is at all times walking many fine lines and doing it well.
Normally in a film like this you can smell the plot from a mile away. Although looking back this story did follow the usual arch I never felt the desire to try to jump ahead or figure anything out. The entire movie had so much to enjoy, that I was truly dedicated to each moment.
It’s a rare treat to feel so invested in two characters on screen. The stars of the film, Will Poulter and Bill Milner, are absolutely brilliant, some of the finest young actors (which had never acted before) that have been on screen in a long time.
CityZine was lucky enough to get to talk to Son of Rambow’s, Writer/Director, Garth Jennings, half of Hammer and Tongs, the duo that put together the film. After talking with Jennings you could really tell that he and the producer, Nick Goldsmith, really made this film for the love of storytelling. Jennings was a pleasure to speak with and here is what he had to say about his latest film The Son of Rambow.
Was this film something that you had wanted to do for awhile or something that you recently put together?
We started working on it about eight years ago. That was when the idea sort of first came up. It was based on my own experiences of having seen First Blood as a kid and being so amazed by it that I thought I’d make my own home movie about it [First Blood] with my dad’s video camera. I was talking about those times and those adventures with my friend and my producer Nick Goldsmith and we both thought that that was a good story worth making. It took us about two or three years to get it together and then when had it all ready to go casting when we were offered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And it really was an offer we couldn’t refuse because we love that. So, we did that for two years, came back, spent another year trying to get the financing together again. All of this had taken an awful long time but that’s how we came to do it in the end.
After directing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, how was it directing a film you yourself had personally written. Did you feel like this was more of your own personal project?
Well, Nick and I do everything together. We’re very much the old fashioned team that you don’t get so much these days. I’ve only found this out since we’ve been touring around doing press tours. People go, “But surely the producer is just the guy who gets the money.” I pretty much see ourselves as a little duo. I couldn’t possibly do it without him. We’ve just been doing this forever and although it was a big difference in many ways compared to Hitchhiker’s, in filmmaking, once you’re into the mechanics and you’re creating the thing, it’s very much the same. So my experience so far has shown be that whether you’ve got a $60 million budget or in the second case a $6 million budget, it’s always the same problems and issues. You’re trying to get your story on the screen in time before the rain comes or that guy falls over. It’s always the same stuff. I thoroughly enjoy it, it’s the most marvelous job anyone can give you. I love it, but I think that’s mainly because I get to work with this gang that I’ve become a part of for the last fifteen years since we left art school.
Were you at all projecting in the scene when all the kids are yelling “We’re losing the light”?
I always loved that like. That’s a guilty pleasure. It’s totally unnecessary and some people are going to get it, and the people that don’t, don’t get it. It’s one of those things. I was toying as to whether or not to do it, but the kid who said it made me laugh so much I couldn’t resist it.
Did either the Will and Lee Carter characters resemble you as a child growing up, was their any nostalgia there?
Not really. I was never as interesting as either character. I don’t mean that to sound sort of, oh, how humble I am. Very early on when we were writing the first draft and it was based on our own experiences and they were great. But the script, we realized was aptly boring because [as kids] we had a great time. There was no conflict. We’d set out to try and capture how amazing it was to be eleven or twelve and not give a hoot about what people think or consequences and just to do the things you like doing. So we needed a story that served that and my own story didn’t. So, in trying to the capture the impact it seemed to make sense to move my story to a Plymouth Bedouin family I lived next door to for 25 years. It suddenly became the movie that we wanted to make and we started to capture in a bottle. It’s very hard to do it. We realized we couldn’t be slavish to reality. We were not making a documentary I suppose.
I know a lot of writers get attached to their own personal agenda and don’t look at the bigger picture.
That’s the trouble. You start it, then you realize quickly that just because it happened doesn’t mean it’s any good. It doesn’t always work that way. I’ve seen quite a lot films, they’re clearly based on personal experiences and they are a bit too literal. They haven’t translated them. It’s like trying to adapt a book. You can’t always be literal. You’ve got to sort of translate it.
Where did the idea for the French actor exchange student come from?
We always used to have French exchange programs throughout our education and it was one of those things. He’s quite a bit of work. I never met anyone quite like him, but he embodies the whole French exchange experience for us. He was sort of, he was like an amalgamation of all those characters that came off that all at once.
Almost every character was introduced as very cool and popular in their own way and then you pull back to see the reality of the situation which is quite the opposite, what was behind the decision to do this?
You know, when you’re a kid you see things a certain way and when you look back on them you see them differently a lot of the time. I just remembered there being a boy in my school whose parents were never around, and we thought he was the luckiest son of a gun ever because he could stay out late, he could do what he wanted. He had no one to tell him what to do and we would genuinely leave his house thinking that we had the raw end of the deal here. And when you get older and you look back you suddenly start to realize, hang on, that wasn’t quite the life we thought he had there. I just think, you try to do a sort of nice rounded picture of things and make things engaging. I remember a lot of things differently, I see things a lot differently now as an adult and more often than not they were just simply another side to the coin, I suppose.
How do you feel that a story set in a very small part of the UK translates to a U.S. audience? Do you feel like the film may be perceived differently by a US than it was in the UK?
Well that’s a very, very good question, and I don’t how, I obviously can’t answer in terms of box office. I wouldn’t know how it’s going to do in America that way. All I know is I just spent the last year going around to film festivals and I’ve only just got back from a U.S. press tour which included ten cities and at least two screenings a day in every city. I’ve pretty much seen that with every kind of group, different age groups, high school kids, five-year-olds, octogenarians, and the one thing I can tell you is wherever we play it, it plays the same and it plays very well. People sort of embrace it even though it’s eccentric and it’s British. You would think that the experience would be alienating for some people but what most audiences recognize is that it tells a universal story, using our own upbringing as a basis for that. And it seems to work.
So it’s just an odd one for people to go and see. It’s sort of one of those, “What the hell was that all about?” But when they go they seem to be pleasantly surprised, so I hope the same thing happens in America, but I can never tell. It’s a big country you’ve got there and it’s a tough one, I suppose, to get a little movie like this seen. Amongst the Iron Men of this world it’s a tricky one, but we’ll see how it goes.
It’s a tricky weekend to open with Iron Man and all the other summer blockbusters.
Yeah. Obviously we’re not competing with those, it’s sort of the bizarre alternative. But, I never saw it as an Art House film or anything like that. I think we’ve always seen it as a kind of, Stand By Me film, because even though it’s a little movie, it didn’t play like a little movie. It played like a big-hearted, proper movie and I think that’s what I always wanted Son of Rambow to be. I think when people see it they start to recognize that. Certainly word-of-mouth has been phenomenal so we’ll see.
I was actually surprised because I thought it was going to be a little bit more of a kid’s movie from the preview I had seen, and then I went and saw it and although it’s a movie a kid could enjoy it, there’s plenty for adults to see in it.
You’re right and I think that’s a tricky one to market. How do you say, “It’s for everyone.” The only films that are marketed that way, sort of like Shrek, or something like that. The only thing we can do is put it out there and hope that the word-of-mouth spreads.
Where did you find the two child actors, Will Poulter and Bill Milner? They were both amazing in the film.
It was the hardest thing to do. We always new it was going to be hard because we knew we wanted a certain type of kid, and neither of them had ever acted in anything before. They’d not even been in any school plays or anything. It took us five months of casting and at the very end we found these two independently. And they were just magic. They had no idea just how good they were. They hadn’t been trained, stage schooled, or anything. They just had complete natural ability and they had they had faith in us. They also had great families, which I know is just an odd thing to point out, but it’s actually essential that the families are solid and not pushy and “starry” or anything like that. And I’m not kidding you, from day one they made it. They’re the reason we’re having this interview now. They are the most engaging, marvelous little kids you could ever hope to meet. And they’re very, very different in real life than the characters they play.
Oh, God. Will Poulter, who plays Lee Carter, is kind of the tougher one of the two, yet, in real life you have never met a more angelic child. Honestly, I’ve never in my life met a nicer, more polite, well-spoken child. He uses a completely different dialect in the film, he couldn’t even speak like that. He speaks with a sort of Queen’s English. The fact that he could naturally work with us and learn how to be confident, that confident in front of the camera, to just be that character. I’m telling you, these kids are gold. If they’re not superstars
Bill Milner had only just the week before we found him, joined his school drama group. Just as a kind of another thing to do after school along with sports. So it wasn’t like these kids were hell-bent on stardom, they were quite happy kicking footballs around. They love that game. I know Will Poulter showed a lot of promise, or a lot of enthusiasm in it. They’re amazing. They’re the reason it worked.
Did you have to set it up for success? I know in the last scene when he’s sitting in the movie theater, Will Poulter has a very emotional scene, that must have been very tricky.
This is the miracle of them. That scene was the second day of filming and I was very nervous that we wouldn’t get it. And I am sat next to the camera when we’re shooting that scene and I was whispering to him, “OK, this is what you’re watching,” and I’m talking him through it. And I’m starting to whisper in by best tone of voice why he’s getting upset, the kid just starts to cry, and when that starts to happen you start getting emotional because I’m thinking, oh my God this is incredible. So I starting welling-up and the whole thing’s amazing. Honestly, they are miraculous. Yeah, I owe a great deal of the film’s success to those two boys.
Why did you chose Rambo: First Blood out of all the films of that era?
Well, really, it’s based on the fact that that’s what happened to me. It was the first film I’d ever seen that wasn’t for my age group, but it also completely blew my head off. I just thought it was the most incredible film I’d ever seen, so much that I started making my own action movie. It was the first home movie I made. I’ve since went on to make loads and loads, but that was what inspired me to pick up my dad’s video camera.
Also, when we looked at all the other reasons, legal reasons, just in case we had to change it, there wasn’t one like it. It was the only film where the guy only has a stick and knife and he has to be really resourceful. There’s only one guy who gets killed and that’s when he throws a rock at the helicopter and the man fall out. It isn’t the same sort of body count thing that all the other movies were, even the subsequent Rambo movies.
It’s just when you’re twelve, luckily you grow up on the edge of a forest, we used to play in the forest every day. That’s where we used to hang out. And he’s the guy in the forest, sewing up his own arm and everything. That is phenomenal.
I was listening to a Mark Kermode interview that you recently did, and I was wondering what people in the film industry think of Mark Kermode as a movie critic?
It’s very funny. I get asked this question a lot. I did this television thing with him because he absolutely loved Son of Rambow. In fact every week in his show he sort of says “Don’t see this” or “Don’t see that,” and then he says “So if you haven’t seen it already, go and see Son of Rambow.” He couldn’t be more of a flag waver on our part. He just didn’t like Hitchhiker’s. He said to me, “You know, I didn’t like that film. I didn’t think it was..” this or that. I just told him to fuck off but that was OK. It’s quite funny because I really like him. I have no problem with him at all. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s entertaining.
Every now and then he gets it wildly wrong in my opinion but then they all do, even the good ones. I never have any problem with this stuff. It doesn’t bother me if someone likes what I’ve done or not unless they’re immediate family, then I have a slight issue. But, even then I have to just deal with it. I mean you can’t please everyone. With Mark, because people find him so obnoxious and bulshy, I had loads of people write to me after the interview saying, “We’re on your side. We don’t know how you deal with that crude man even though he liked your film. He’s clearly, he’s too, he’s a very tough and rude man.” He was an absolute angel to me before and after and even during the interview. And he’s quite happy for you to abuse him back. I just don’t think anyone does. I don’t think anyone bothers.
What comes next for you? I know you’ve just finished this and it’s just coming out in the U.S., but do you have any idea of writing, acting, directing?
Yeah, we’re writing our next [film]. We’ve got two more projects. We haven’t got them ready. We had Rambow ready after Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy, and right now we’re just right at the beginning of two big things. It’s going to take us quite a long time. One is a completely animated film, which we’re just starting the first draft of at the moment. The other one is a live action film, but that’s very early days. They’re both sort of in their early stage. There’s not much telling story-wise. I sound like I’m being cryptic. It’s just not all worked out yet. I promise the world will know as soon as it is. It’s very exciting stuff though. It’s kind of like this is what you dream of.
That’s very exciting. So more imagination to come?
I definitely think they’re more imaginative in many ways, but I hope more grounded in others, who knows. I have no idea what we’re doing. It seems like a good idea at the moment.
That’s a very honest answer.
Well no one knows what they’re doing. No one really knows the answers to any of this stuff. That’s why you realize as you go along that no one has a clue what they’re doing. You just gotta go on your gut on this stuff.
That’s very true. At the end of the day that’s all you have, right?
It just feels like the right thing to do and it’s exciting to do right now so we’re enjoying it. We’re just carrying on with it.
I just wanted to say I really enjoyed the film, it’s one of the best things out there right now.
Well that’s very kind of you. All you have to do now is shout that from the top of your roof tonight.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We really appreciate it.
It’s my pleasure.
So skip Speed Racer this weekend and go see Son of Rambow, it’s a great film that you’re sure to enjoy!
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Watch the trailer below!