Interview: Garth Jennings & Nick Goldsmith
Tue, 29 Apr 2008 07:00:35
Son of Rambow Videos
The Paramount studio lot holds more charm and history than most locations in all of Los Angeles. On a sunny day, it's rather beautiful. Down one tree lined streets sits the Forrest Gump bench, and in the parking lot, you can find a gigantic, blue backdrop that's
served as the sky for various films. The New York City set, deeper in the lot, emanates the majesty of old Hollywood. It's an uncanny replication of the Big Apple, seen in
countless films and TV shows. From the water tower to the classic gate, Paramount is a movie lover's paradise. So it's only fitting that the English filmmaking team of Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, a.k.a. "Hammer & Tongs," would be here. Lifetime film fans, they belong
Their latest film for Paramount Vantage, Son of Rambow, is one of the best films of 2008. It's a heartfelt comedy about two unlikely friends that become so inspired by a bootleg copy of First Blood that they make their own action film. However, it's much more than that. The film analyzes what friendship means, how religion can become oppressive and the importance of heroes. Son of Rambow is for anyone that enjoyed the release and escapism of watching an R-rated, action flick with their dad or older brother as a kid, and who knows how amazing that was.
Relaxing on the lot, Nick and Garth delve into this masterpiece for ARTISTdirect. Upon telling them that I think this is one of 2008's best films, Nick shakes my hand and laughs. "Let's just stop there, that's perfect. You can write, 'And Hammer & Tongs agreed with me.' That's the end of the interview [laughs]." However, as fun as that would've been, there was a lot more to talk about, and the team didn't mince words.
The film truly speaks to movie fans. It proves, not only is it acceptable to have heroes as a kid, but kids need heroes, because they often inspire creativity.
Garth: Yeah, the movie wasn't a comment like, "Oh, children watch action movies, and then they want to go kill each other." It's the opposite of what we're constantly in fear of, or told we're in fear of. It's a film that's trying to capture how great it was to be 12—the enthusiasm and the lack of fear. That's the thing.
That feeling is infectious, because it brings you back to how you felt those times were. It's not about how they actually were.
Garth: If you were to go back in time and re-live the things that you were doing as a kid, you'd find that they were never quite as exciting as you remember them.
Nick: That's what we found when we were making the film. You go back to the school you went to as a kid, and it's tiny. So we had to find a school that resembled how we remember school, not the real school. It had to be how we remembered it, with big, old corridors. Everything in the film had to be massive, big and fun.
This must have been an extremely enjoyable film to make, since you got to go back in time.
Garth: I think it was probably the most fun we've ever had shooting anything. Not just because we were re-living our childhood fantasies, but because there were so many other things great going on. For the kids in it, it was their first experience, and there were so many things during the making of the movie that were a delight. It was our movie. We were doing it our way. It was just lovely. I think it comes out. Almost everyone that likes it has gotten that feeling from it. There's a real chemistry between those boys, and the audience can feel that genuine charm coming off the screen. The boys feel so comfortable, because we created an environment where they could flourish. There's a massive a ripple effect to creating a good atmosphere.
The atmosphere brings the film to life. While watching the movie, you see Will's house and feel the claustrophobia there, but the school is a big, open world. Will's such a little kid, and that distance is prevalent. Even though Lee's initially a bully, he brings Will closer to everything.
Garth: Yeah, to be honest with you, you're putting it better than I could put it myself! [Laughs] Which is good, thank you! [Laughs]
You've found a classic balance between comedy and drama. There are the funny sequences in the woods, and then there's Will's oppression at home. That oppressive, religious home life is why Will needs a hero.
Garth: I think you're right again, God bless you! [Laughs] It's one of those things. You're trying to make a film that's balanced. You're trying to make an all around experience for people, so they feel enriched by it. It sounds like a pretentious thing to say, but good movies should be pushing your buttons. We've tried to push as many as we can with this film.
The film has a massive appeal, from kids to adults.
Garth: You're going to make me happy, keep it coming! [Laughs] I love it...That was the plan, to make it for everyone, similar to films like Stand By Me. We looked to classic films that didn't pander to children, but weren't condescending to adults, and vice versa. Those films didn't bother the marketing departments, and they were set in time periods that children could relate to. Stand By Me's period was the '50s. The actual story is the kids are going to look for a dead body, and that's it. It was just faith in material and proper execution that made it into a classic, I suppose. That was the template for us. We wanted to make something as good was and as true-to-life in terms of feeling.
Your journey and trajectory making this film mirrored the boys making their movie.
Garth: I think that's the generic film process. It's hard to make films. It's easy to do stuff in the backyard with your friend, and it's fun. But the minute you start to try and take it more seriously and other people get involved, it's a harder thing to control. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it, and it's a bad thing. It can be complicated I suppose. That's film, and that goes for everything.
How do you guys work together? What's your creative process like?
Garth: Well we do everything together, absolutely everything, and we always have since the beginning—from approaching the actual idea right up to here. Because it was based on personal experiences, we had a very colorful place to start from. We never had a plot to begin with. We just had all of these vignettes that were connected from our memories. That was tricky to start with, because we knew it had to feel a certain way, but we didn't know how to make the plot serve that and arrive at that feeling. In the end, we managed to go back that way. We were so clearly informed by our colorful memories that those characters had a lot of richness to them, sometimes in cartoonish way and sometimes in a more human way.
That's important, because the movie allows audiences to escape. With the forested setting, viewers get to leave where they are and enter a different world. People can delve into this on so many levels.
Garth: Again, I love it. You've got to write all of this stuff down! [laughs] Our thing is going to be trying to get people to go. A poster and everything is all fine, but it's never going to really sell it. We rely on people seeing it and telling their friends to see it. Word of mouth is going to be the way this film has a life in the cinemas, purely. People saying, "I liked this for this reason, you should go see it and take four of your friends." If we can just get over that initial hurdle of beginning, then I think the film will take care of itself. The responses that we've been having showing around at screenings has been phenomenal. It's absolutely wonderful.
“It sounds like a pretentious thing to say, but good movies should be pushing your buttons. We've tried to push as many as we can with this film.”
People are going to be able to connect with the characters. There's a whole spectrum of emotion from the hilarious moments to the sad, traumatic parts.
Garth: It's quite old fashioned in a way though, isn't it? It's really a story of friendship at its core. Every wrong is righted at the end, in that way. That's very neat and tidy.
But isn't that why we watch movies?
Garth: Well I think so. There are some great films that leave you thinking, "Oh my God, I don't know what just happened." The new one is No Country for Old Men. I have no idea what happened to anyone. I just know that all of the people I liked were dead at the end [laughs]. This was one that really felt like we needed to get that feeling wewere after. All wrongs must be righted, and everyone has to show that other side to his self.
The kids both need that hero. William's in that oppressive religious household, and Lee's parents aren't around. Everyone needs someone to look up to even if for just a minute to make their own home movie.
Garth: Exactly! Rambo's an odd one, because most people would think Spiderman or someone like that.
Nick: That would be a boy's classic hero.
Garth: But it's quite funny when it's this. That was the effect this hero had on us, and it felt like it a good place to start.
A lot of kids grew up with the Stallone hero, because that's the movie you weren't supposed to see as a kid.
Garth: Well even Stand By Me, we weren't supposed to see that. We were a bit too young for that at the time, but I think there's something dangerously exciting about it, but it's all harmless at the same time