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DID YOU READ

Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith on “Son of Rambow”

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04302008_sonoframbow1.jpgBy Matt Singer

Every film lover remembers that first adult movie they were too young to see. For Garth Jennings, that movie was 1982’s “First Blood.” “It was brilliant,” remembers Jennings. “Here’s this guy with a stick and a knife taking on 200 men. We just thought it was the business — so much so that we then decided to make our own home movie version of this using my father’s video camera.”

Jennings’s home-brewed movies eventually led to a career working in collaboration with Nick Goldsmith under the name Hammer & Tongs, in which Jennings would direct and Goldsmith would produce first a string of remarkably creative music videos and then features, starting with 2005’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The team’s second picture brings Jennings full circle: a semi-autobiographical story of two British school kids who become amateur filmmakers after watching — what else? — “First Blood.”

The result is the hilarious and deeply touching “Son of Rambow” — the extra “w” of the title, as Jennings and Goldsmith note, is to avoid reactions like the one they got after an early test screening, when a man was furious to discover the movie was not an actual Rambo sequel. “He wrote on his test sheet, ‘How dare you trick me? Where are the guns?'” Goldsmith told me with a laugh. During our interview, Jennings and Goldsmith talked about their own “Rambo” sequels and the pleasures of growing up children of the 1980s.

I assume that the film is in some way based on things that one or both of you did as children.

Nick Goldsmith: The first draft we wrote was sort of autobiographical, but we both had fairly ordinary, nice upbringings, so it was a bit of a dull script. But then we had this peripheral character who was a Plymouth Brethren, this religious group that goes to ordinary schools, but aren’t allowed any form of entertainment in their lives. We found by moving the story next door to this little kid who’d never seen a film before or any form of entertainment, we could have it so that when he sees “First Blood,” it blows his mind. It was a way for us to get that feeling across of how it was when we were kids, when you see a film, and it really has an effect on you in a much more filmic way.

04302008_sonoframbow2.jpgWhat sorts of movies did you create in the wake of that “First Blood” viewing?

Garth Jennings: Well, the movie that we were inspired to make by “Rambo” was called “Aaron: Part I,” and Aaron is a sort of Rambo-esque character. I played the head of the military of defense, and I get kidnapped by the PLO, and the PLO hold me hostage in my mother’s shed at the end of the garden, and they’re gonna burn me alive unless the government coughs up some money and makes their lives better. And so Aaron comes running in, kicks everyone’s ass and then burns them alive in the shed. The name Aaron came from the fact that we always wanted our hero to have one big singular name, and I had seen the name Aaron Spelling going up at the end of “Dynasty,” and thought, “Aaron. Aaron’s a hard name. Aaron’s coming! Be afraid!” I didn’t know that in real life, Aaron Spelling was a tiny man.

The kids start making their movie, and there’s something wonderful and pure about it. Then at a certain point, everyone in their school finds out about it, and it mutates into this huge production. Are there any comparisons to be drawn there with the story of a pair of independent filmmakers getting sucked into the Hollywood machine?

NG: Well, you can’t help but have that. Even though we were conscious of that [parallel], it’s a function of the fact that once you start doing things as kids and it’s exciting, people tend to join in. So it is a sort of comparison to what happens in the real world. We tried not to make too much of that — it’s too easy to start going, “Hey, we’re making a particular dig at the Hollywood system,” or something.

The movie is very much a product of people who grew up in the 1980s. Can you talk about what made it such a great time to be a kid?

GJ: I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I look back, I think that was pretty good. There were great records. There was good clothing. Very big hair.

NG: I think it was probably the worst looking decade ever.

GJ: It was definitely the most garish, stupidest looking decade. I think the ’70s have got nothing on the ’80s in terms of just stupidity.

04302008_sonoframbow3.jpgWith your film and the recently released “Be Kind Rewind,” there seem to be the rumblings of a movement to reclaim VHS as a technology now that it’s been completely supplanted by DVD and digital. Do you think that’s true?

GJ: It was the first time we were able to do something immediately that felt very professional. It was a feat when we all got video cameras — well, we didn’t all get video cameras.

When I grew up, you usually had one kid who had one and you’d make friends with him so you could play with it.

GJ: It was actually my dad who got one because his friend was emigrating and selling off all of his electrical equipment. We never would have had one otherwise. We got this thing, and it was amazing. I haven’t seen “Be Kind Rewind,” but I understand it’s from a similar generation of people that just grew up discovering they could make something and then play it back. There was something wonderful about putting on a show at the end of the day and not having to send it off to a processing plant. It felt like we’d been given the keys to the car.

With very few exceptions, we don’t see the kids’ imaginative view of what we’re seeing. When they create a “flying dog,” we see what it really is — a plastic dog strapped to a kite. Yet one of the kids says “It looks just like my drawings!” which is a great moment. Was it difficult to decide how to represent what Will and Lee do?

GJ: None of it was actually difficult to do because it’s so based on the fact that we never saw anything as impossible at that age. You never worried about making a mistake. You just thought, “Wow, yeah, it’s a dog tied to a kite. It’s a flying dog.” I like that ludicrous ambition.

NG: The flying dog was an idea we came across and we thought, “Oh, yeah, of course, flying dog. Easy. We’ll just tie a dog to a kite, and it will fly,” and then the special effects guys come in, and they’re like, “Of course it’s not going to fly. You’d need a kite the size of a small country in order to fly this dog.” We ended up having hundred-foot cranes and men with wires and rigging and that sort of thing. It always gets more complicated. It’s easier when you’re a kid.

[Photos: Bill Milner as Will Proudfoot; Will Poulter as Lee Carter; writer/director Garth Jennings — “Son of Rambow,” Paramount Vantage, 2007]

“Son of Rambow” opens in limited release on May 2.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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