For Robert Connolly, the Australian filmmaker at the helm of the forthcoming family picture Paper Planes, that was one of the most important requirements – as he sought to emulate the likes of The Goonies, or Little Rascals or The Sandlot Kids – and with this riotously entertaining endeavour, he did a more than commendable job.
“I’ve watched films with my kids enough to see what they like, and they wanna watch films where the heroes are kids,” he explained to us over a coffee in Berlin. “Kids watching kids go on an adventure – that’s fantastic. In Australia there hasn’t been a movie like this for over 10 years.”
Prior to Paper Planes, Connolly had focused on more adult-orientated dramas, presenting thrillers such as The Bank and Balibo. But he explains that the reason for this dramatic change in pace, was so that he could make something that his own children would be able to enjoy.
“I made Paper Planes for them,” he said. “I felt like I should make a film for my young kids, while they’re still young – and it’s been fun to tap in to my inner 11-year-old to make it.”
The premise to this endeavour is one that encourages children to go back to basics somewhat, to revel in simplicity, away from the lure of modern technology, and actually inspire creative thinking. For Connolly, this was a vital message to get across.
“The future will be claimed by young people who can marry creativity and innovation with what they do,” he continued. “The engine room of creativity is boredom, so what we do is create a world where our kids aren’t bored. When you used to drive around in the back of the car with your dad for hours, bored out of your brains, your mind would wander. Now you’ve got an iPad on the back of the seat, so we’ve created a world where we fear that our children are bored, but boredom is a place that creates thinking.”
The film challenges the younger members of the audience not only to be more resourceful, but also emotionally too – as we deal with a protagonist who had recently lost his mother – but it’s themes the director is certain his audience are able to cope with.
“Kids are able to deal with much more than we think. They see things going on and comprehending tragedy and sadness, and they’re up for it. The film has a little bit of that which gives some meaning to it, but it’s in amongst the humour. But kids have really responded to that stuff. I think that they’re incredibly capable of dealing with a broad range of emotions.”
Finally, just before speaking to Ed Oxenbould, Connolly was quick to praise his leading actor, predicting a bright future for the talented 14-year-old performer.
“One of the great pleasures of making this film, was directing Ed,” he explained. “He is an intelligent, sophisticated actor. They often say with kids you’ve just got to make then act natural in front of the camera, but he did so much more. I treated him just as I would an adult. He improvised, he had suggestions and thoughts about things. He’s going to have a massive career. He’s amazing.”
Needless to say we didn’t tell Oxenbould what his director had just said of him to avoid any sense of narcissism – but that wasn’t really an issue where this affable young actor was concerned, who was evidently maturer than his years, with his head most certainly screwed on.
“I was mildly interested in acting at a young age, and I never thought it could get to this level. But I’m just a regular kid, I wouldn’t say I’m famous,” Oxenbould said.
For the young actor – who also starred in both Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, as well as M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit – it was a unique joy to shoot a movie in his home nation.
“It’s an incredible experience going to Hollywood, but it feels very, very far away, having to Skype your family and friends. I’d love to film to Sydney and go to my own bed every night.”
“So yeah this Australian helped, I could use my own accent and be comfortable. A little closer to home than LA or Philadelphia! Plus, it’s very unique, I’d never read a script like that or can remember the last time I saw a film like this. You don’t really see Australian family films, so I just knew I had to be a part of it.”
But what does the future hold for Oxenbould? Though it’s rather early to predict (he was only 13 at the time the interview took place) he admits he is keeping his options open, not committing to a life in cinema just yet.
“I also love cooking and I wanna go to culinary school when I graduate from high school. I don’t know if it will eventually overtake acting. I cook a lot of sweet things – I make a good crème brûlée.”
Well, if his crème brûlée is anywhere near as good as his acting performances thus far – he may just end up being a successful chef too.