Sly Stallone's Got Nothing on 'Rambow'

A conversation with Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, the filmmakers behind the new film Son of Rambow.

(Soundbite of movie "Son of Rambow")

Mr. BILL MILNER: (As Will Proudfoot) If you don't tell me where they're hiding, then I have no choice but to shoot you and your cat. Do you have any last requests?

Mr. NEIL DUDGEON: (As Joshua) I was just...

(Soundbite of broken glass)

MIKE PESCA, host:

That is a new film, "Son of Rambow," and it's very likely the cutest thing ever associated with "Rambo." I know, high bar. It's the story of preteen boys in rural England who go wild over the Rambo film "First Blood," and set out to make a homemade sequel of their own. It's in theaters Friday. Director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith swung by our studios to talk about it.

Sometimes, when you watch a film, you just know this is so personal to the director, to the directing team - I got that feeling. Is this the case with "Son of Rambow"?

Mr. GARTH JENNINGS (Director, "Son of Rambow"): Yeah, well, it started off as being based on the fact that when I was about 12 years old I saw "First Blood." It was the first one I'd ever seen that wasn't meant for my age group.

So, that was exciting, but the fact was I just thought this film was amazing. Here's a guy with a stick and a knife who has to take on 200 men who are after him, and we just thought this was amazing, this film.

And so much so that we made our own little sequel, our own little Rambo-esque movie. It was called "Aaron: Part One," and it - I started making home movies at that age from that point on. And I was talking about these movies with Nick, that we just sort of realized that that captured that feeling of being 11 and 12 when anything was possible.

PESCA: See, I can think Rambo for a kid, even though it's not meant for it - probably, I think that movie had an R rating, which meant that...

Mr. JENNINGS: The first one?

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. JENNINGS: The funny thing is though, only one person gets killed in that film, and that's when he throws a rock at a helicopter and the man falls out, which really is his own fault for leaning out of the helicopter.

So, it's very, very different from the films that came afterwards, which was all about body count, and exploding arrows, and it wasn't - I didn't like those movies as much as the first one.

PESCA: Rambo does kill a couple dogs, I think. Right, they send the dogs in after him and you hear...

(Soundbite of whimpering)

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. Exactly, but that's it. You hear it.

PESCA: You hear it, right. It's all subjective. You see it play out in the troopers' faces.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. Yeah.

PESCA: See, I think that Rambo, even though it's not meant for 17 year olds, there's something very appealing to a boy about it because first of all, Rambo is pretty much an asexual character. I think through all the movies, never a love interest, and he's a guy whose motives are pure, yet everything he does is misinterpreted.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yes!

PESCA: And what 10, 11, 12 year old doesn't feel like that?

Mr. NICK GOLDSMITH (Producer, "Son of Rambow"): Also, there's something really important with the first one. It's everyone's against him. He's not gone into another country to go and like rescue anyone...

PESCA: Right.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Which is incredibly, like, attractive for a kid to watch. It's that, you know, a man pitted against everyone else. Also, it was so easy to become Rambo. All you had to do was take your tie off and tie it around your head and suddenly you were Rambo, it was very, very clear.

PESCA: I also like the fact that of the clips that you played in the movie, my two favorite quotes were there. One is "He could eat things that would make a billy goat puke."

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Isn't that a great line? Only Richard Crenna could pull that one off.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah.

PESCA: And the other great one, which is, "Don't forget one thing. What's that? A good supply of body bags."

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. That's good. I love that line.

PESCA: The movie, we should say, is spelled with - "Rambow" in the movie is spelled with a W on the end, and you did have clips from the actual film. How hard was it getting the rights to all those clips? And was there trouble even saying "Rambow" in the movie's title?

Mr. GOLDSMITH: I mean, getting clips was actually quite easy. You find out who owns the film. In this case, it was Studio Canal, and they have a clip-licensing department, and you tell them what you want, and you get charged by the second.

PESCA: I've done some reporting on - there was a movie called "Ghost World," and in that movie there was a collector, and I talked to the producer of that about licensing that movie. Maybe this is different in the UK, but here in America they had to get OKs from everyone depicted on every album cover, everyone whose likeness you showed.

So, not only do you have to, at least in America, not only did you have to get permission from the studio, but if you featured Bryan Dennehy, Sylvester Stallone, or Richard Crenna, you'd have to get permission from them, or Crenna's estate because he's passed.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Yeah. We did. We had to get permissions from each of those individuals in the film. So, yes, the Richard Crenna estate, Bryan Dennehy, and Mr. Stallone.

PESCA: And did you just - did you show it for him, or tell him the idea?

Mr. JENNINGS: Well, not beforehand. Yes, we did tell him the idea. I wrote letters to them all explaining, look, this is what we've done, this is why we've done it, and this is why we need your permission. And then afterward, once the film was finished we managed to get Sylvester Stallone to see it, which was great, in around about January of this year, and he really liked it, which was terrific, thank goodness. So, yeah, we have Stallone's blessing.

PESCA: I was with you guys. A couple nights ago you did a screening, and you invited kids, boys of the same age as the characters in the movie. This was kind of a sophisticated crowd. Afterwards I talked to one of them who said he was a filmmaker, and he cited, as his major influences, Fellini and Kubrick.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Really?

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Good boy. How old was he?

PESCA: He was 15.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Holy cow! I mean, that is a very different experience that he's been having compared to my upbringing.

PESCA: This movie was set in the early '80s, though, and in a different country. Do you think that still a 10 year old is a 10 year old? Or do you think times have changed so much?

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Maybe, maybe. I think the process of making stuff is still fun. I still think when you're, you know, doing stuff with your friends, and making little movies, and things like that - whatever it is you're doing, there's still that enjoyment, but it's hard to say. I do feel differently to that boy, but I think on the whole most kids are probably just doing the same stuff, aren't they?

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. I hope a 10 year old is still a 10 year old. I'm sure back in 1982 we could have found a kid who would have quoted Fellini as an influence on them.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. JENNINGS: There's always going to be one.

PESCA: Now, there's another aspect to it. I was wondering if maybe the difference is not just one of time, but one of place. We are here in America. The movie is set in England. You guys are English, and I got to thinking about this when I heard you guys interviewed on the BBC on that point. Actually I heard you, Garth, interviewed. Can we play a clip of that?

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. MARK KERMODE (BBC Film Critic): And one of the things my girlfriend said as we were watching it is, oh, I'm so pleased it's British. I'm so pleased it's British. She said the Yanks probably couldn't do this. Do you know what she means by that?

Mr. JENNINGS: Well, I think so. Someone was saying to me that American movies would never have a hero kid who wasn't a go-getter. You know, the kid in this film doesn't speak for the first 10 minutes, and they couldn't have that. He'd have to be like, hey, I got a crazy idea or something. That was a terrible impersonation, but, you know.

Mr. KERMODE: But, also he would live in a house in which they had a home-editing suite, and he was connected up to the Internet and could launch small missiles. It wouldn't happen that he just had his dad's rubbish, you know, VHS camera.

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah.

PESCA: What you and British film critic Mark Kermode must think of America. But now that you're in America, defend it. Would you say this couldn't be an American kid?

Mr. JENNINGS: Do you know what? I was actually quoting a man called Yan Pinkover (ph), who actually stars in our film. He was a young filmmaker who won a competition, and we show him in our own movie.

And one of the quotes - one of the things he was saying about the film was that it's very hard to have a lead character, especially a kid who doesn't have a real goal, or isn't a kind of go-getter. Now, I do apologize to your listeners for my appalling American accent impersonation.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: I like the way he's trying to get himself out of this hole.

Mr. JENNINGS: No. I don't feel I'm in a hole at all because I agree with Yan.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Blame it on Yan.

Mr. JENNINGS: I do agree with Yan. I think that, funny enough, we did a writing project for a U.S. studio last year, and it was - again it featured a young kid, but the problem they had with it was this kid didn't appear to be, you know, feisty. He lived in his own world, and they wanted to change that.

PESCA: They want their kids wisecracking, and all wise, smarter than the adults around them.

Mr. JENNINGS: Exactly. Exactly. And I think that that works sometimes, but that can't just be it, and I think that lack of respect for the audience, that there can only be one way of doing things, becomes really boring after a while.

PESCA: And I think an American audience is actually onboard with that, and going to respond to that, and this movie in a way reminded me of the movie that depicted the life of a child like the life of a child, which is based on the Steven King movie, "The Body."

Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah. "Stand By Me."

PESCA: "Stand by Me," right.

Mr. JENNINGS: It's a perfect movie, and a perfect example of how you don't have to do it that way. All those children are so genuine, and played with such heart and soul. The whole movie's made in that way, and I think that they've gone a long way from that in general.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: You have to give the audience a bit more credit because people get it. They don't need to be force-fed a certain type of character, or the storyline in absolutely every perfect detail. People like enjoying the movie, and the responses that we've been getting has been wonderful. It's really affirming to us that, you know, it shows that audiences get it.

PESCA: Well, producer Nick Goldsmith and director Garth Jennings, I had a good time, but in the words of Colonel Trautman...

(Soundbite of movie "Rambo: First Blood")

Mr. RICHARD CRENNA: (As Colonel Samuel Trautman) It's over, Johnny. It's over.

Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As John Rambo) Nothing is over!

PESCA: Thank you, gentlemen.

Mr. JENNINGS: Thank you very much.

Mr. GOLDSMITH: Thank you.

PESCA: "Son of Rambow" is in theaters Friday.

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