[dl] Big Screen
The director of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy revisits Rambo -- sort of -- with his new, semibiographical comedy. By Sarah Wassner Flynn
Although Garth Jennings’s career as a director has spanned two decades, Jennings has been getting paid for his work for only half that time. That’s not to say he’s been getting ripped off. It’s just that there aren’t a lot of studios willing to pay an 11-year-old, which is what the Britain-born Jennings was when he made his first “movies.” Those efforts -- action films, mostly -- were shot with his dad’s camcorder and the help of his boyhood friends. “I’d get my friends together, and we’d spend days going over fight sequences and working on how realistic we could get guns to look,” says Jennings, whose career has since evolved to include directorial work on the surprise-hit feature film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “They were fantastic in their sheer ambition, but quite ludicrous and silly in the end.”
Still, those early movies provided Jennings with the fodder he needed in order to write and direct his current film, called Son of Rambow. The comedic coming-of-age story, set in 1980s rural England, is about two kids who create a home movie based on Sylvester Stallone’s iconic action hero Rambo -- in this case, changed to Rambow, thanks to a child’s clumsy spelling. The film’s protagonist is Will Proudfoot, a naive 11-year-old boy (sound familiar?) who has been shrouded from TV and movies by his puritanical religion. (The puritanical part is not drawn from Jennings’s personal background but was inspired by his next-door neighbors.) Will has a wild imagination that is fed when he catches a peek at a bootleg version of Rambo: First Blood, which leads him to team up with school bully Lee Carter. A mismatched pair, the two endure a summer full of sick stunts and elaborate schemes en route to making their first film.
It took a lot longer than one summer for Jennings to get Son of Rambow made. He had been developing the idea way before 2005’s Hitchhiker, even back when he and his producer/production partner Nick Goldsmith were cutting their teeth making music videos for the likes of Beck, Blur, Fatboy Slim, and R.E.M. In fact, the film occupied nearly a decade of Jennings’s life before it made it to the big screen. “I came up with the concept about eight years ago,” Jennings says. “It took us about three years to get the script to the level I wanted. Then, Hitchhikers came along, and I took a major detour for another two years. When that was over, I had to wait it out to find enough financing to get [Son of Rambow] out there. When we finalized the film, I realized the lead actor was just five years old when we first started the whole thing.”
That lead actor, Bill Milner, is, like his costar Will Poulter, a film rookie. That was intentional on Jennings’s part. “We went looking for kids that were still kids,” he says. “Both Bill Milner and Will Poulter had never acted. Well, one of them had been a munchkin in his school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, but that was it. I loved that they both had this natural charm and vulnerability but were able to be confident and shout and cry in front of a camera. It took us five months to find them, but when they walked through the door, I just knew they were it.”
Of course, first-time actors also tend to cost less than experienced ones, and budget was a major issue for the indie release. Money was so tight, Jennings fretted over whether he could afford to buy a brief clip from First Blood for his film. That’s where the years he’d spent in the video business came in handy. With music videos, “I’d learned how to do an awful lot with an awful lot less money,” he says. “We try to use as few people on set as possible. We don’t use monitors or do playback after each shot. We just shoot and go very fast. We filmed Son of Rambow in 40 days in a town in England, premiered it at Sundance in 2007, and Paramount bought it right away. So, I guess you could say we’ve learned to be extremely efficient.”
Maybe that’s why Jennings didn’t spend too much money on, er, totally awesome and authentic ’80s wardrobes for the film. One character does don a Madonna-like wedding dress, but Jennings says, “I didn’t want to go overboard with the ’80s paraphernalia. It was truly the most ridiculous period in all of history. Too much of it would have been a complete distraction. We did work in some touches here and there, like token British phrases that were big in the ’80s, including skill, meaning ‘cool,’ and my itchy beard, meaning ‘I don’t believe you.’ ”
Phrases aside, Jennings says he hopes Son of Rambow will appeal to the inner 11-year-old in all of us, because the movie aims to capture “the enthusiasm we all had at that age -- when you lack inhibition and believe anything is possible.”
3 to Watch
Here are the new TV shows, movies, and DVDs worth checking out this month.
TV: Turner Classic Movies Presents: Frank Sinatra, the Man and His Movies
A Decade in Death: It has been 10 long years since Francis Albert Sinatra left us for the Celestial Cocktail Lounge. To celebrate the life that was, TCM is airing more than 40 Sinatra films and several TV specials, including Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim, a 1967 showcase of some of Sinatra’s sexiest music.
Do Not Wear Brown, Harvey: The Sinatra films and specials will air in the evenings, so dress appropriately -- that means black shoes. Period. For reference, here’s what Sinatra biographer Bill Zehme wrote in The Way You Wear Your Hat: “Brown offended [Sinatra] greatly after dark. When he spotted a hapless square whom he chose not to label a ‘Harvey,’ he would designate him a ‘Charley BrownShoes.’ There was no excuse for brown shoes past sundown, ever.”
When to Watch: Every Sunday and Wednesday at eight p.m. Eastern time through the end of May
Movie: The Foot Fist Way Premise: It’s about a goofy tae kwon do instructor named Fred Simmons. We could tell you more, but since the movie is less than 90 minutes long, that seems like enough.
Call It “YouTube Goes to the Movies”: If you’ve seen Will Ferrell’s The Landlord online, you know exactly the kind of lowbudget, high-payoff comedy he and business partner Adam McKay are looking to finance with their Gary Sanchez Productions. So, it makes sense that this movie -- shot in just 19 days on a budget that wouldn’t cover catering costs on most movie sets -- is the first film to be released in theaters by Ferrell, McKay, and, um, Sanchez.
Best Line: Fred Simmons to a child student, “Your weakness is disgusting to me.”
In Theaters: May 30
DVD: Square Pegs: the Complete Series
It’s Like Sex and the City, Only with Keds Instead of Manolos: Sarah Jessica Parker wasn’t always a big-time star of the envelope-pushing HBO series about four dirty-talking lady friends. Once upon a time, she was just a geeky kid who dressed poorly, had even geekier friends, and got picked on by the cool kids. We’re reminded of that by the DVD release of Square Pegs, a short-lived CBS series in which Parker had her first starring TV role.
Do You Feel Old, Punk? If you, like us, remember this series from when it originally aired, even if you were a kid back then, we’ve got bad news for you: That was 26 years ago; Square Pegs debuted in 1982. That was a very long time ago. We are very old.
How’d They Do That? As is Square Pegs: The Complete Series, the big Sex and the City movie is being released this month. Weird coincidence, that.
In Stores: May 20