‘Son of Rambow’ gets optimum outcome

Paramount Vantage acquisition finally set to bow

After a year in legal limbo following its splashy $7.5 million acquisition by Paramount Vantage at Sundance ’07, “Son of Rambow” is finally ready for release.

Vantage has reached a compromise with StudioCanal in their tug of love over this quirky little British movie by writer/director Garth Jennings.

Vantage has sold certain U.K. rights to StudioCanal’s Optimum Releasing; and the French major has dropped its objections over the pic’s use of material from “Rambo: First Blood,” which it owns as part of the Carolco library.

Optimum, whose topper Will Clarke was after the movie from the start, will now send it out wide in early April. Vantage goes a month later in the U.S. with a platform release. Both hope it could be a leftfield Brit break-out in the vein of “Billy Elliot.”

It was a tough call for Vantage to give up the movie in its home territory — where it stands the greatest chance of success, and where its performance will set the bar for Par’s distribution in the rest of the world.

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“Everything we did, we did because we love the movie and we want to get it out as soon as we can,” explains Vantage prexy Nick Meyer.

“We didn’t acquire the movie to hand over a key territory to someone else,” he admits. “But I’ve personally worked with Will Clarke for 10 or 11 years, and we have an inherent trust and rapport with Optimum. We wouldn’t have been comfortable with this otherwise.”

For Jennings and his producer Nick Goldsmith, it’s a positive outcome to a rollercoaster journey, during which they sometimes wondered if their passion project would ever see light of day.

“Son of Rambow” is a coming-of-age comedy set one rural British summer in the early ’80s, about two misfit boys inspired by a pirate video of “Rambo” to shoot their own home movie.

It wasn’t an easy concept to get financed. Jennings and Goldsmith first made their names with inventive pop promos under the moniker Hammer & Tongs, then had a mixed success with their big-budget feature debut “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” for Disney.

“Son of Rambow” was a very different proposition — naturalistic and very personal, about kids but aimed at an adult audience, with an unknown cast. No-one in the U.K. would touch it.

“Garth and I were very surprised that no British financiers were willing to back the film, in fact we felt quite disheartened by it,” recalls Goldsmith. “We truly believed that we were making what would be a highly commercial film, but completely British at its heart.”

Hengameh Panahi of French sales outfit Celluloid Dreams rode to the rescue. She bankrolled the $8 million budget, pre-selling Japan, Germany and French TV.

StudioCanal agreed to license the “Rambo” clips, but there were still some intellectual copyright issues unresolved when the movie bowed at Sundance. Celluloid had talks with Optimum for U.K. rights — but insiders say those broke down in acrimony just before the fest.

The Sundance crowd of industry insiders and movie geeks proved to the perfect audience for the movie’s cinematic nostalgia. After a bidding war, Panahi and Frank Wuliger, the L.A.-based agent of Jennings and Goldsmith, brokered the richest sale of the fest to Vantage for all remaining worldwide rights.

StudioCanal promptly lodged a lawsuit. It alleged the movie exceeded its clip deal and infringed upon its intellectual property, and asserted a prior claim on the U.K. rights. After months of wrangling, the judge eventually threw out everything except the distribution issue, which he left Vantage and StudioCanal to settle between themselves.

It was hard for Jennings and Goldsmith to move onto anything else while the fate of “Rambow” hung in the balance. But the positive was that these two American and French titans were fighting over a hard-to-market, small-scale, very British pic because both believed in its potential and were desperate to have it.

Maybe, in the end, the movie has ended up in the best hands for it. Clarke himself was a childhood Rambo fan who grew up to become one of the U.K.’s most admired distributors.

” ‘Son of Rambow’ is sort of Will’s life. The kid in the movie is even called Will,” says Clarke’s sidekick Danny Perkins. “It’s a great film, and we’re desperate to make it work.”