Following his prior independent film success with "The Cooler", writer/director Wayne Kramer chose again to work outside the studio system with "Running Scared", turning to independent production company/distributor Media 8 Entertainment. Using their financing resource was able to quickly green-light the film and fully cover the costs of production, along with beginning principal photography only six months after Media 8 first read the script. As his ambitious follow-up to "The Cooler", Kramer has chosen to make a gritty, 1970s-style, fast-paced thriller with a few modern twists.
Question: Where did the initial idea for the script come from?
Kramer: I think it was an offshoot of an older idea I had about a kid who witnessed the killing of his parents, and went into a state of traumatic shock and the person who killed his father got involved with his mother and became like a surrogate father to him, but the kid was slowly coming out of shock and it was sort of like a ticking bomb as how this kid would react to a violent situation. And something about it just evolved into wanting to do a more visceral, kinetic film, and having this similar idea of a gun changing hands that was in a murder and a kid being the perpetrator of the shooting...and somehow turning it into a visceral, Grimm's fairytale nightmare where the kid is on the run in a sort of ugly universe meeting these subtly iconic fairytale villains, like a Mad Hatter as a pimp or the Blue Fairy as a hooker or the witches in a gingerbread house as pedophiles in an apartment.
Something like that just evolves. But I really wanted to do a rollercoaster ride of a movie. I as the audience had not seen something like that in quite a long time and couldn't really remember the last time I went to a film and had a real ass-kicking, disturbing aggressive ride. I remember a movie like Carlito's Way, with Al Pacino trying to make it through the night, D.O.A., things like that. Or Run Lola Run, which was something that I thought had the energy even if it was more cartoonish maybe.
Question: Where did you come up with the scene involving the child molesters?
Kramer: The mere fact that you can ask that question led me to believe that I needed something like that. I love scenes in films that come out of left field. It made sense to me in terms of the Grimm's fairytale journey that the kids are on, and that there would be freaks out there who would present themselves as being benign people. And in a way Paul Walker was the big bad wolf but inside he was just a sheep. But (the molesters) are wolves in sheep's clothing. And I wanted to mix it up. But I also loved the idea of the kid going from the frying pan into the fire, something worse and worse. But then everybody would expect Paul Walker's character to come in and handle the situation, which I feel the moment he comes through the door you know he's going to resolve it because he's the leading guy and he's tough and all that.
But I thought it would be so great to take a secondary character, the wife sitting at home, and just pull her into events and give her the centerpiece of the film. I don't know if there's a precedent for it, but I just didn't want it to be mired in a Mob film. People are going to either love it or hate it but I remember when From Dusk 'Til Dawn came out and people were so upset that this robbery desperados-on-the-run movie turned into a vampires film, but I thought that was pretty original. I mean, the trailers gave everything away, so I don't know how upset people should have been. But with this film the secret is nowhere near the advertising and that's not actually because we don't want it, it's just that the MPAA won't let us touch it.
It's been the hardest film to create a trailer for. There's a Super Bowl trailer, and ABC would not allow any single shot through, and I said what are they doing paying $2 million for? You won't show a body hitting a wall, you won't show a puck coming toward someone's face. If anyone's seen the trailer for this movie, it's not the movie. You don't see the kids in the trailer at all. You don't just deal with the MPAA on the actual making of the movie; you have to deal with them on every poster, every spot, every radio ad.
Question: Was this written at the same time as your other works?
Kramer: That's usually how it works; I have a couple of scripts already written before I go on to make another film. The Cooler looked like it was going to be greenlit as I was beginning to write Running Scared, so they were never in conflict with one another. It took quite a while after The Cooler to get (this) film set up because it is such a dark, politically incorrect film and everybody wanted to bring me into the studio system to do things that they felt were benign or PG-13, or versions of The Cooler, you know? And I'm a big fan of this genre of film, which is the tough, gritty, propulsive actioner, but also I just didn't want to repeat myself. I will make more intimate films like The Cooler, I just didn't want to make another one right away.
Question: What was your overall experience with the MPAA?
Kramer: You know, I had a bad experience with them on The Cooler. The film was already finished at the time we submitted that, so it was very expensive for Lions Gate to go and change a reel. So knowing that this film was going to have problems--it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out--I started showing it to them early because I wanted to know where they found the problem areas. And I was able to work with them this time to basically get the film by. I don't know if it's sneaky. Look at Eli Roth and Hostel. If that film can get an R rating my film is just a nursery rhyme compared to that.
Question: What points did they tell you to finesse?
Always on the sex scene. They looked at that and said, well, we're on the fence about it. I said it's dark, you can't see anything, you know? So we had to send them a brighter version of it and they looked at it and said OK. And then some of the people getting shot. You know, I think some filmmakers are so jaded today that knowing your film is going up against the MPAA you make it a little harder than you want it to be. And I think they know that's the game. And they push you back and you push against them and you end up in a middle ground.
I'm happy to say, though, that this is the cut of the film that I wanted, so they never made me cut my film any more than I wanted to, and there isn't going to be an unrated director's cut. This is the film. I don't think it takes any prisoners. I don't think when you see this film there's a PG-13 version. I hate it personally when I read that a new film--say, the new Hills Have Eyes--has been already sent several times to the ratings board. I'm not seeing it theatrically. I'll just wait for the fucking unrated cut.
Question: So you're not upset that you had to work with them?
Kramer: No, because as a filmmaker it's the system. I don't like them and I think there's a huge amount of room for improvement. I was actually in the documentary that Toby Dick did about them (Not Yet Rated) where we're talking about The Cooler. The big problems are that there's no transparency with what they do and that there's no precedent. There's no standard. So you're on your own. They tend to be more lenient on violence. And look, sometimes violence is necessary in film. I think actually, I know a lot of people give them hell for violence and I agree.
In PG-13 movies, the bloodless violence that you constantly see with people getting mowed down, it makes violence look cool. But in the R-rated films where violence has more gory consequences, I think that's the way to go. I think when people see this film--love it or hate it--it's shocking when the violence happens, and it doesn't look like a fun thing to shoot somebody in the head. So, ultimately, I think it's got the right rating. I think R should be an adult rating, but we've made it a teenage rating. But when you've got an R movie it should be tough content; it shouldn't be "PG-17," which is the way they treat it.
Question: Paul Walker's mom saw trailer for Running Scared, was shocked, and he said he didn't know what you saw in him to believe that he could do role, because even he didn't think or know that he had it in him.
Kramer: Let's be honest, there is this cult of Paul Walker haters out there that don't think he's a particularly strong actor or think he takes the fluffier roles, and the big problem in marketing this film is how do you those people who've seen one too many of those PG-13 movies go, "We're gonna give Paul a break and come see this." Paul's agent had been very interested in the script for him, and when I initially met with Paul, right away I saw that this guy was tough, I saw a Paul Walker that I don't see in the other movies, that there was a coldness behind the eyes. He pins you down. His father's a biker, a former boxer.
That's the real Paul Walker--not homicidal or sociopathic, but that he's a tough guy. Paul goes into bars, people think he's a pretty boy, they challenge him and they end up flat out on the sidewalk. There's a lot of aggression in Paul that he knew he could act out in this film and he had a blast doing it. It was so great having an actor who wasn't trying to censor me as a filmmaker. It was an amazing shoot in that no one was looking over my shoulder, as they would in a studio, saying, "You can't do this."
There were some people--a lot of the European financiers-- that had reservations about the pedophile stuff, but I just said no, we've got to do this. And yeah, it's a controversial scene, but you never see a single kid get touched in the scene, and they get their comeuppance. It's creepy, it's horrible to think about what's going on, but you see the kid's point-of-view of how he sees them, as these monsters through the window, and this again buys into the Grimm's fairytale journey of witches in those stories, because they're almost pedophiles anyway, always trying to eat kids and put them in oven. (laughs)
Question: What was the timetable for production versus postproduction?
Kramer: It was a brutal shoot. We had to shoot most of it in Prague for financial reasons. This movie was about $15 million only, so we went to Prague still thinking we'd shoot most of it on stages in New Jersey. When we got there I was told we couldn't afford more than five days in New Jersey, so I had to make it work. I had a great production designer. We had about 47 days to do the film, so in terms of how wide the canvas is and everywhere it goes, it was challenging.
But I storyboard meticulously, so every action sequence, every shot was designed beforehand and once the sets were coming up I could adapt the script to what we were doing. The ice rink cost $100,000 to light that way, so that was a big obstacle trying to get the money to do that. But when you're doing action on an indie movie budget, it's really tough. But every day that we were working on the film we had a blast, and I feel we were able to bring a lot of style to it. I love American crews because they're the best, (but) when you shoot internationally you're able to put more on the screen. That's the bottom line. It's not about not wanting to shoot locally, it's about having a vision for the film and you can't afford it here.
Question: Are you a hockey fan?
Kramer: I watch some games but I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan. I would just say I like the implications of what that scene could've done. I thought it would be interesting to do a shootout on an ice rink and then the more I looked into it I learned that they paint those amateur rinks up with black light, and I thought I've never seen that. So I thought that would be a fun scene to do.