Rambo Redux

In an unlikely passion project, one man seeks to unseat Stallone

The many faces of Zachary Oberzan in <i>Flooding With Love for the Kid</i>
The many faces of Zachary Oberzan in Flooding With Love for the Kid

There's no telling what a man, professionally trained in a grueling art form and fielding both a grudge and a wicked imagination, will do when he's pushed to, and then beyond, his limits by a society that doesn't appear to need or even want him.

John Rambo, an ex-Special Forces, post-traumatic-stress-disorder-bedeviled hunter-killer, first shot his way through a couple dozen rural Kentucky lawmen and National Guardsmen in David Morrell's 1972 novel, First Blood. Then Sylvester Stallone made for a sweatily buff Rambo in Ted Kotcheff's 1982 film adaptation, but with precious little of the emotional nuance and soulful self-reflection of Morrell's utterly gripping novel. Now Zachary Oberzan, a New York-based actor, has created his own feature-length adaptation of Morrell's novel – called Flooding With Love for the Kid – and, surprise, it's the best one yet.

The one-man project – Oberzan plays more than 20 roles in the film – was shot entirely on location in his 220-square-foot New York apartment, with a final budget of $96. The Austin Chronicle spoke with Oberzan by phone from his home in New York and discussed the genesis of his unique film and the importance of sticking to your guns (even if they're just finger pistols).

Austin Chronicle: What's the backstory behind your adaptation of Morrell's 1972 novel?

Zachary Oberzan: When I was around 9 or 10 years old we got free HBO for a weekend in my house. As a kid, I loved movies, so that was very magical at the time, to have these movies sent directly into my home, particularly R-rated ones. First Blood the movie came out in 1982, so this must have been shortly after that, probably in '83 or '84, and so I saw it on our free HBO late at night. I was quite amazed by it, quite touched by it. ... A little while after I saw the film, I was in the book section of a supermarket and I saw they had the novel First Blood by David Morrell. It had Sylvester Stallone's picture on the front because the book had been reissued, but it had been originally published in 1972 while the Vietnam War was still going on.

AC: What was your reaction to reading the book after having fallen in love with the Stallone movie?

ZO: I loved the book even more than the movie, and in fact I was very dissatisfied with the way that the Stallone version had portrayed the events of the novel. And so, at the age of 10, it became something of a dream of mine to create a version that was more true to David Morrell's version of First Blood. And that stayed with me, even before I began my career in the arts. It made a tremendous impression on me, and I would go back and re-read that book every couple of years, because it would reconnect me with my childhood and reintroduce that sense of wonder that you get when you're introduced to a story you love for the first time.

AC: At what point in your life did you finally decide to actually embark on this odyssey that would become Flooding With Love ...?

ZO: After high school, I decided to attempt to pursue a career in acting and, like most people, went to New York City, where I quickly found myself working a day job in an office because no one had any use for me as an artist. New York is, of course, just saturated with artists, and they certainly didn't need another one like me. I took that very personally, the fact that I couldn't get any parts in plays, that I couldn't get any parts in movies, that no one wanted me to direct anything. Basically, the world had no use for me and what I wanted to do. I thought I was very talented, dedicated, hardworking, and deserved those chances, but I simply was not getting them.

I finally got past that point of auditioning and trying to please other people, of letting other people control my happiness and my future, and I said, "Well, I'll just make my own work." So I decided to embrace my limitations. I thought, "What do I need to actually make this movie?" In every movie you see, there's some amount of falsity, of contrivance, and so where do you draw that line as to what can be fake and what can't be fake? I decided that if my motivations and my passions and my emotions for the story and the characters were real, then it really didn't matter as much if I were on location in Kentucky or if I was using real guns or real costumes. All of those things, ultimately, are secondary.

It really became a metaphor in a way. Just as Rambo had to wage his one-man war all by himself, without any help whatsoever, I had my own cinematic war, in a sense. I'm a highly trained individual, but society had no use for me, much like Rambo, and so I, too, went berserk. Fortunately I went berserk in a creative way rather than a violent way.

AC: Much has been made in the press of the film's $96 budget.

ZO: I did have rules for the making of the film. Whereas Rambo was fighting his war in the woods without any outside help, I decided that everything in the film would have to come from my immediate surroundings. The only thing I spent money on was mini-DV tapes, and the only prop that I did actually purchase and bring in was a green beret, which I bought for like $10 off of eBay. I wear it all the time now.

AC: Flooding With Love for the Kid has unleashed a torrent of accolades your way. As a filmmaker who didn't really plan for many people to see his film, how has that affected your previously fractious relationship to the art world that rejected you in the first place?

ZO: Ironically, it was by giving up trying to impress anyone or trying to follow any sort of traditional path in order to become a working actor/director that finally made the world take notice. I'd made a few films in my previous incarnation as an artist and sent them to festivals all over the world, and received nothing, not even a rejection letter. I'd given up on trying to make the world listen to me and just did what I wanted to do. And that's when the world came to me.

Flooding With Love for the Kid screens Sunday, Jan. 30, 10pm, at the Alamo Ritz.

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Zachary Oberzan, First Blood, Flooding With Love for the Kid, David Morrell, Sylvester Stallone, John Rambo, Ted Kotcheff

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