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INT: Wayne Kramer

Feb. 23, 2006by:

Writer/director Wayne Kramer isn't pulling any punches with his latest film, RUNNING SCARED. His last project, THE COOLER, was a critical darling, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and garnering Alec Baldwin an Oscar nomination. As a result, Kramer soon found producers on his doorstep, begging him to make a studio film. But he ignored the siren's call of the mainstream and chose to stay true to his indie roots. The result is RUNNING SCARED, an intense, violent story of a low-level mobster whose only chance at saving his family rests on his ability to track down an elusive gun. Check it out.

Wayne Kramer

Where did the initial idea for the script come from?

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 shootingand somehow turning it into a visceral, Grimms 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 couldnt really remember the last time I went to a film and had a real ass-kicking, disturbing aggressive ride. I remember a movie like Carlitos 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.

Where did you come up with the scene involving the child molesters?

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 Grimms 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 sheeps 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 Walkers character to come in and handle the situation, which I feel the moment he comes through the door you know hes going to resolve it because hes the leading guy and hes 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 dont know if theres a precedent for it, but I just didnt 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 dont know how upset people should have been. But with this film the secret is nowhere near the advertising and thats not actually because we dont want it, its just that the MPAA wont let us touch it.

Its 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 wont show a body hitting a wall, you wont show a puck coming toward someones face. If anyones seen the trailer for this movie, its not the movie. You dont see the kids in the trailer at all. You dont 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.

Was this written at the same time as your other works?

Thats 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 Im a big fan of this genre of film, which is the tough, gritty, propulsive actioner, but also I just didnt want to repeat myself. I will make more intimate films like The Cooler, I just didnt want to make another one right away.

What was your overall experience with the MPAA?

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 problemsit doesnt take a brain surgeon to figure that outI 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 dont know if its 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.

What points did they tell you to finesse?

Always on the sex scene. They looked at that and said, well, were on the fence about it. I said its dark, you cant 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 thats the game. And they push you back and you push against them and you end up in a middle ground.

Im 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 isnt going to be an unrated directors cut. This is the film. I dont think it takes any prisoners. I dont think when you see this film theres a PG-13 version. I hate it personally when I read that a new filmsay, the new Hills Have Eyeshas been already sent several times to the ratings board. Im not seeing it theatrically. Ill just wait for the fucking unrated cut.

So you're not upset that you had to work with them?

No, because as a filmmaker its the system. I dont like them and I think theres a huge amount of room for improvement. I was actually in the documentary that Toby Dick did about them (Not Yet Rated) where were talking about The Cooler. The big problems are that theres no transparency with what they do and that theres no precedent. Theres no standard. So youre 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 thats the way to go. I think when people see this filmlove it or hate itits shocking when the violence happens, and it doesnt look like a fun thing to shoot somebody in the head. So, ultimately, I think its got the right rating. I think R should be an adult rating, but weve made it a teenage rating. But when youve got an R movie it should be tough content; it shouldnt be PG-17, which is the way they treat it.

Paul Walkers mom saw trailer for Running Scared, was shocked, and he said he didnt know what you saw in him to believe that he could do role, because even he didnt think or know that he had it in him.

Lets be honest, there is this cult of Paul Walker haters out there that dont think hes 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 whove seen one too many of those PG-13 movies go, Were gonna give Paul a break and come see this. Pauls 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 dont see in the other movies, that there was a coldness behind the eyes. He pins you down. His fathers a biker, a former boxer.

Thats the real Paul Walkernot homicidal or sociopathic, but that hes a tough guy. Paul goes into bars, people think hes a pretty boy, they challenge him and they end up flat out on the sidewalk. Theres 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 wasnt 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 cant do this."

There were some peoplea lot of the European financiers that had reservations about the pedophile stuff, but I just said no, weve got to do this. And yeah, its a controversial scene, but you never see a single kid get touched in the scene, and they get their comeuppance. Its creepy, its horrible to think about whats going on, but you see the kids point-of-view of how he sees them, as these monsters through the window, and this again buys into the Grimms fairytale journey of witches in those stories, because theyre almost pedophiles anyway, always trying to eat kids and put them in oven. (laughs)

What was the timetable for production versus postproduction?

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 wed shoot most of it on stages in New Jersey. When we got there I was told we couldnt 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 youre doing action on an indie movie budget, its 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 theyre the best, (but) when you shoot internationally youre able to put more on the screen. Thats the bottom line. Its not about not wanting to shoot locally, its about having a vision for the film and you cant afford it here.

Are you a hockey fan?

I watch some games but I wouldnt say Im a huge fan. I would just say I like the implications of what that scene couldve 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 Ive never seen that. So I thought that would be a fun scene to do.

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