Thanks to the leak of impressively profane outtakes from the set of an '80s Winnebago sales video shoot, Jack Rebney became an unwitting VHS folk hero. Now, In the age of YouTube, Rebney has gone viral. Know to his legions of fans as the "Winnebago Man" or, if you prefer, "The Angriest Man in the World," his rants have seeped into pop culture, appearing everywhere from 'SpongeBob SquarePants' to 'Iron Man 2.'
And now, a documentary about Rebney. Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer tracked down the former news producer to a mountaintop in Northern California to find out how Rebney felt about his unintentional celebrity. The resulting interaction with the acerbic but undeniably charismatic man forms the basis for the surprisingly poignant documentary, 'Winnebago Man.'
Since filming, the two have taken the documentary on the road, hitting film festivals and screenings around the world (the movie heads into select theatres in the US and Canada this month). In advance of their trip to Toronto, Moviefone spoke to the director and his always unpredictable subject about the film, ideas for a sequel, and whether or not Jack truly is "The Angriest Man in the World."
Have you been pleased with the response you've gotten to 'Winnebago Man' so far? I've heard some fans are already asking for a sequel.
Ben Steinbauer: Oh wow, I hadn't heard that. That's exciting. [The] interest in the film is far and away above what I anticipated. And I think that the original clip is like that to a degree. The movie has kind of had that same sort of magic viral outcome that you can't really plan, and to me that's been immensely gratifying.
Jack Rebney: Here's the thing: if they're gonna do any kind of a sequel, they'd better f---ing hurry. Because at 81-years-old, I'm about ready to topple over.
Steinbauer: [laughs] What would the sequel look like I wonder, Jack? Would you have to go over to Afghanistan or something like that?
Rebney: It'd be me in a rest home, with the little blue-haired ladies around, with their immense problems with their endocrine damage and what have you. And they'd be attending to me, they'd be cleaning up all the various problems that all the codgers have. I think it would be really nice. It would be kind of a pathos idea. [laughs] We were here with this vibrant person [a couple] years ago, and now he's a piece of shit!
Steinbauer: Sort of like 'Death of a Salesman.' [laughs] I like that. I'd pay to see that.
Rebney: Oh yeah, yeah. So would I.
People want to see more of Jack because the experience is still unfolding, with you guys going on the festival circuit and on press tours. The story continues, even though the credits rolled on the documentary.
Steinbauer: Oh man, I say all the time that it definitely feels like the movie is continuing, because we continue to trump the end scene in the film [at the Found Footage Festival]. And I don't mean that to take away from the power of that end scene, because really that was the first moment that Jack confronts his audience. But there's been so many examples of larger audiences, or more exposure, that it makes those 200 people in San Francisco look small in comparison. And again, I don't mean that in a derogatory way. But like, being on 'The Tonight Show,' or having Michael Moore introduce the film, getting a theatrical release, and same thing, getting a theatrical release in Canada, traveling to seven different continents basically at this point... it's been incredible. Jack, how would you answer that?
Rebney: I didn't think it was such a big deal.
Rebney: No, from my perspective, it always comes to the same recognition: the film becomes what it becomes in the eye of the beholder in the theater, as soon as they begin to recognize that it's their story. The people that come there want to be entertained, they want to hear this crazy foul-mouthed individual that's constantly swearing and what have you, and suddenly it comes to them: "You know, there's more here. There's something that I may have missed at the outset." And it's ultimately -- and I know this to be an absolute hard fact -- because hundreds upon hundreds of people have come up to me after showings and said, "Hey, that's my story, isn't it?" That's everyone's story. That's the human element.
Speaking of that unpredictability, were there times you were worried that this project wouldn't come together?
Steinbauer: Oh, for me, absolutely. Almost every time--
Rebney: [laughs] Every day! Every moment, says he!
Steinbauer: That's right. I mean, definitely after the first visit, I thought, 'Well, I don't think there's much left to the story here. I guess I've got a really good short film.' And it's the classic 'be careful what you wish for' scenario, because Jack called me shortly thereafter and I sort of had to just hang onto to the tiger I suddenly had by the tail, so to speak. And you can see that second trip up there, Jack's throwing me off his property, and telling me that if I don't like it, then I can get the f--- out. I had no idea how it was going to progress from there.
Jack, what made you rethink being in the documentary? Was it the opportunity for a soap box, or to help Ben out? Clearly you've become close over the course of this experience.
Rebney: Well, I think it's interesting, because you struck on both elements. The first thing that came to my mind was, "Alright, here's an opportunity." Over the course of a number of years leading up [to this], I was a social-political commentator and I loved that. I love being able to express an opinion in regard to people and ideas and bureaucracies. And I thought, "Well, wait a minute, there may be a platform here. This just might bring in some people that I might otherwise not be able to reach." And then it began to dawn on me after we started shooting, here's this young man who, from my perspective, I had no idea whether he knew his ass from his elbow.
Ben, did you feel like you had a responsibility to Jack? Did you feel protective of him at all while you were filming?
Steinbauer: You know, it's complicated. Because on the one hand, when you meet Jack in person, you know immediately that he's not only somebody who doesn't need protecting, but that you may need protection from. [laughs] Jack is an authoritative person, no doubt about it.
What I understood from being a fan of [the clip], was that this was something that people really appreciated, that resonated universally with people of all different age groups. It was almost like a great comedy record in that way, a great routine. And people respected him as a performer, a person who was like a cathartic symbol. So if I was ever protective, it was just that I wanted him to take some small degree of pride in that, [and] find some satisfaction in that reputation.
Rebney: The element that is critical in this is that this episode, this miniscuality in my life was precisely that. That is to say, the Winnebago shoot, three decades ago or whatever it is now, was perfectly irrelevant to me. And continuing to be perfectly irrelevant to me.
Now, the concept that somebody would've taken those clips [upset me]. I edited the film, the marketing film, and those things that were dropped on the cutting room floor were, at my instruction, they were to be destroyed. They weren't. I find that to be... ugly. But the fact of the matter is that in a sense, [the clips] give people an opportunity to express themselves through this surrogate, as it were, and that's a good thing. So does it affect me in any way? Not in any way at all.
Steinbauer: And I want to say that on our DVD, which is coming out very soon, November 2nd, we have the 25 minute finished industrial video that the outtakes are taken from. I think this is the only copy that exists in the entire world, and it's just fantastic. Which is a strange thing to say about a 25 minute corporate sales video for Winnebago in the late '80s, but it is great. I'm so excited for people to see the finished product, because I think it will change their idea about the outtakes.
That was one of my favorite parts of the documentary, that you included a clip from the actual finished product.
Steinbauer: Yeah, I literally think that we have the one remaining copy of it.
Rebney: We have? It's not we have. That's my little box of nonsense there. And it's mine.
Steinbauer: Okay, alright, Jack has. And he so graciously shared it with all of us. [laughs]
So Ben, now that you've gotten to know Jack, how do you feel about the name given to him, "The Angriest Man in the World?"
Steinbauer: Oh wow. I definitely don't think Jack's the angriest man in the world. I think he might be... [laughs] one of the freest spirits in the world?
But I think whoever named him that did it in a tongue-in-cheek way, because anyone who watches that original clip immediately recognizes that he's frustrated. He's in a situation that he can't get out of, and he just has to make the best out of, but he, unlike most people, is freely venting what's coming through his mind. He's almost existentially commenting on his performance and his terrible surroundings, and it's just joyous for that reason. Because most people have a filter and don't let themselves say that, and also don't express themselves as eloquently when they're frustrated.
And Jack, now that you've gotten to know Ben, do you have any names for him?
Steinbauer: Be nice now!
Rebney: People have asked me, "What do you think Ben thought when all of this began?" And my stock comment was -- it was meant as a joke, but it rather stuck -- that I thought him as a young boy riding his bicycle into a tornado. Because on our shoot, Ben never had any idea what he was going to get. And there lies some of, if I may use the term, some of the magic. Ben was able to edit those moments of repartee, or whatever you want to call it, in such a way to give us the ups and downs, the impact of the film. I am extraordinarily pleased to have been a part of the film. And I give nothing but plaudits to Ben for [that].
This is not, and I don't say it disparagingly, this is not a monologue on dolphins. This is a real, honest-to-God, ballsy look at the human condition. And that's saying a lot about our documentary film, which I'm very pleased to have been a part of.
'Winnebago Man' is now playing in select theaters nationwide, and comes to Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox starting October 28.