The Real Truth Behind Son of Rambow's Delay
Unless you were at Sundance in 2007, I'm sure you're asking, what delay? Son of Rambow, the fantastic indie movie that originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2007, is finally making its way to theaters on May 2nd, 2008, a whole 16 months after its debut. The film was bought at the festival a year ago for around $8 million. It was originally slated for release in late 2007, but got bumped, and has only recently been confirmed for May this year. Like all Sundance movies, this one has a story, a story about problems with distribution and problems with rights. I'm happy that it's finally coming out and I'm very glad that people will have the chance to see the movie, but this story must be told.
Son of Rambow is a fantastic British film about a religious kid who ends up watching a VHS bootleg version of Rambo: First Blood. From that point onwards he joins forces with the bad boy of the neighborhood to recreate his own version of Rambo. The film was both written and directed by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's director Garth Jennings. And yes, Rambow is purposely spelled wrong. They even make mention of it in a voice over at the very end of the credits, if you're crafty enough to catch it!
The story begins when Jennings and his production team couldn't even get financed in Britain. The film is quite different than something like Hitchhiker's Guide, described as "naturalistic and very personal, about kids but aimed at an adult audience, with an unknown cast." Producer Nick Goldsmith explains their struggles, saying "Garth and I were very surprised that no British financiers were willing to back the film, in fact we felt quite disheartened by it. We truly believed that we were making what would be a highly commercial film, but completely British at its heart."
Hengameh Panahi of the French company Celluloid Dreams came to their rescue and via pre-sales was able to cover their $8 million budget. However, the biggest issue with the film is obviously the use of plenty of Rambo: First Blood footage, which is entirely necessary to tell the story. Carolco Pictures owns the official rights to Rambo, but the French company StudioCanal bought their entire library and is the one that needs to actually license out the clips. Before the film's Sundance premiere, StudioCanal had agreed to license the clips, but not without some additional unresolved intellectual copyright issues. And additional talks with Optimum Releasing for distribution in the UK broke down before anything could be finalized.
The film played great at the fest (I gave it 8.5 out of 10 and loved it) and was sold to Paramount Vantage during the festival for a reported amount of around $7.5 million. StudioCanal promptly filed a lawsuit immediately after claiming that "the movie exceeded its clip deal and infringed upon its intellectual property, and asserted a prior claim on the U.K. rights." Eventually the judge threw out everything except the distribution issue, which was left for the studios to resolve themselves outside of court.
Within the last month, Vantage has finally reached a compromise with StudioCanal, selling part of the UK rights to StudioCanal's Optimum Releasing. In essence, Optimum won over the ability to put it out earliest and in the film's home territory, releasing it in the UK wide starting in April. In turn, Paramount Vantage will put it out via a platform tiered release starting on May 2nd in the US. StudioCanal had also dropped their objections over the use of clips from First Blood as part of the agreement.
At this point in time after everything has been resolved, it would make sense for Vantage and Optimum to give it a full four months of time to market and promote it, especially given that the newest actual Rambo movie has already hit theaters. Whether releasing Son of Rambow on the same day as the comic book flick Iron Man and the very first day of the summer movie season is a good idea has yet to be determined. But the one thing that is certain is that the studio loves this movie and is fully supportive of it, as Paramount Vantage's president Nick Meyer confirms, "Everything we did, we did because we love the movie and we want to get it out as soon as we can."
What this essentially came down to was a battle for money. Paramount Vantage is expecting it to play best in the UK, as anyone would, and thus was hoping to keep their control over that territory so they could make the money if it hits big. Instead, the resolution is now that Optimum will handle the UK and Paramount Vantage will take the rest of the world. They're crossing their fingers, as am I, hoping that it will break out just like Juno or Napoleon Dynamite did. And given how great of a film Son of Rambow actually is, it could possibly happen, especially in the premium early summer spot.
Thanks to Adam Dawtrey at Variety for originally covering this story. I must give credit to them for all the hard work, and the least I could do is share this story with everyone else.
My thoughts were initially that they were delaying Son of Rambow to time it closer to the release of the fourth and final Rambo, which just arrived in theaters a few weeks back. It would be perfect to run off of that buzz, especially because it's a lot harder to get people interested in a classic action franchise when it is only that, a classic action franchise. Now it is a classic action franchise reinvigorated with one final all-out flick, and that will resonate in the minds of many moviegoers throughout April and May. But all in the same, I am concerned (as I am for ANY Sundance movie) that the buzz it had coming out of Sundance is now entirely dead.
The buzz can easily be restarted and refreshed come April and May, but it's losing a lot of that exclusive buzz that comes from Sundance, which I think if used in the right way is incredibly advantageous. Either way, I really hope Son of Rambow gains some traction in its US release. It's not only a great film but a film that has obviously gone through some struggles. I hope that these struggles haven't hurt it and I hope that in the end it plays amazingly well. If you need any more convincing about Son of Rambow, just ask, but I guarantee on May 2nd you'll find that after 16 months of waiting, it was worth it.