I’ve been talking up the new film Running Scared, and with good reason – it’s a pretty great, completely delirious action film that you’re going to love. One of the things that I’ve been noticing is that the movie hasn’t quite been sold right, and that’s a concern director Wayne Kramer had when I talked to him on the phone last week for this exclusive interview.
Just so you know, this Wayne Kramer isn’t with the MC5, but his Running Scared is certainly kicking out the jams, motherfuckers. Look for it this weekend, and also be sure to read my exclusive interview with star Paul Walker right here, and the 14-page comic that brings you the insane first six minutes of the movie right here.
Q: I talked to Paul Walker and he had talked about how he was trying to get away from his Golden Boy image. What was it that made you want to cast him in Running Scared?
Kramer: His agents were strongly encouraging me to use him or to meet him. I knew that he had liked the script. My perception of him before meeting him was based on having seen him in The Fast and the Furious, but I wasn’t what you’d call a Paul Walker hater. There’s sort of a contingent out there that have made up their minds that either Paul’s not a good actor or that he acts in fluff. I just thought the guy had a real something, but he never had the right vehicle – in The Fast and the Furious and the movies he had been doing he had the part of a cool guy with the cool car and all the babes and all that stuff was more important than anything he had to contribute. When I met him, my first impression of this guy was that he was formidable. There was something tough about him; he had intense eyes. He had the ability to pin me down, and I don’t think it was even his intention to do so. I realized that if he had that killer instinct, that intensity, it would go a long way towards delivering the performance and the aggression that this guy has to conjure up – more so than ‘Is he the physical type?,’ in that he doesn’t look like East Coast mob.
The more I found out about him the more I realized that he’s closer to the character in the film in real life without the criminal background than who he has been playing in these other roles. He grew up in a military family; his father was a biker and a championship shooter. He’s a guy who constantly gets into bar brawls and had a tough childhood in terms of getting into trouble.
Q: Where did the idea for this film come from? The basic idea is so simple, but then you keep adding layers and layers of complications.
Kramer: I’ve been asked that question a lot, and as a writer sometimes things just pop into your head. The closest thing I can connect this to is probably about ten or twelve years ago I was working on a screenplay that was also about a kid, who had been a witness to a violent crime. The criminal actually ended up getting involved with the kid’s mother, but the kid had gone into shock and slowly was coming out of his shock and realizing that the person who had become a surrogate father to him was the murderer of his own father. The idea of a kid in proximity to a crime and then being the target of somebody’s ambiguity – what it came down to me in this film was, do we believe that the Paul Walker character, Joey, is capable of silencing this kid, of killing this kid? In relation to the question, the script I had been writing earlier was about what was this guy going to do when he realized that the kid is going to come around. It’s like a ticking time bomb.
I guess that’s the connection, where it evolved from. I wanted to do a really modern film that had the energy of a Run, Lola, Run but technically it’s in a kind of Sopranos landscape.
Q: I asked Paul if he had seen the demented fairy tale aspect when he first read the script. He said that you had come up with that as the film was going on.
Kramer: I came up with it in, I would say the early stages of pre-production. I definitely knew it was going that way before we started filming. It was really in the subconscious when I was writing the script, but it didn’t become obvious to me until I was actually storyboarding the film and was having conversations with my cinematographer and my designer and it just hit me one day – ‘Wait a minute, this is like a Grimm’s fairy tale nightmare because of the kid’s journey.’ Then I found that I could assign subtle alter-identities to each person this kid meets along the trail.
It was a little earlier than what Paul suggests, otherwise it wouldn’t be so prevalent in the production design – you can’t figure that out on the fly.
Q: You have a film where two of the leads are kids, and you’re filming almost completely at night. How hard is that, logistically?
Kramer: It’s brutal just in the mere fact that kids have very short work days. They’re only able to work about 6 hours a day, and I’m not sure that’s all actual shooting time. And they’re kids – their level of concentration is very limited. I knew that if I pulled this film off it would be because I found the right kids. I’ve seen films sabotaged by the inability of kids to act or not be directed, stuff like Project Greenlight.
The first challenge of casting kids is having their parents even agree to have them be in something like this.
Q: Where they have to be abducted by pedophiles –
Kramer: They were very mature about it. Kevin Bright, who plays the lead kid, early in the production I was skirting around it and referring to the pedophiles as kidnappers, and he looks at me and goes, ‘Look, I know they’re not kidnappers.’
Q: The marketing for this film has been really… interesting. There’s a video game where you can guide Paul Walker as he has oral sex, and there’s an extended clip montage of the word ‘fuck.’ Have you been involved with this advertising?
Kramer: I only just realized the other day that that ‘fuck’ montage was out on the internet – I don’t even know who put that together. But with the game they came to me and said they were thinking doing it, and it made sense to me, since somebody described the film as having a Grand Theft Auto-style energy. I said I was all for provocative stuff. And everything in that game is in the movie; a lot of times they’ll make a game and none of that stuff is actually in the movie. But in terms of the game, every level you reach in the game is in the movie.
In terms of the marketing of the film, I just wanted to mention one thing – it’s been brutal getting any trailers past the MPAA. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the TV spots, but they don’t feature the kids at all. The MPAA will not allow you to show a kid in jeopardy in a movie trailer, which is essentially the whole movie. I feel the audience isn’t getting a real look at what this movie is, and it’s frustrating to me. I am always going to the marketing department and saying we need to put more of the pedophile sequence in the trailer, or show Raggedy Man grabbing the kid, and they go, ‘We can’t do it. They won’t let us.’ The rules for an MPAA-approved trailer are so strict, and so throttling, was the reason why New Line decided to put the first six minutes up behind an age-restricted wall. This movie has proved impossible, content-wise, to show anything.
Q: Did you run into that same problem when you were trying to get the R-rating for the picture? Did the MPAA give you a hard time?
Kramer: I wouldn’t say it was that bad. I think they questioned two or three shots, but ultimately they let me get away – like Eli Roth in Hostel – with the cut I wanted. One of the great things about getting the R in this film is that this isn’t The Hills Have Eyes, where I’ve had to re-invent the film for the MPAA or cut it down – this is exactly the cut of the movie that I wanted. There’s not going to be an unrated cut on the DVD where the audience feels gypped at having to see it again to see what wasn’t in there. This is my cut of the film.
Q: Did this come from your previous experience with the MPAA? Did you walk in thinking, ‘They’ll never let me get away with this scene, so I won’t even shoot it.’
Kramer: It’s weird because based on my previous experience with the MPAA somebody at the production company recommended to me that I get it in early and see what the problem areas were early. I was wary of that thinking that they’re going to be dictating the course of the film for me. Then it made sense because why fall in love with a scene and then realize it’s not going to be in the film?
So we submitted it early to them and I had very few issues. I was probably a little cynical about them and maybe included more in my film than I wanted, although I don’t know how conscious that was.
Q: You were involved in the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
Kramer: Yeah, I was interviewed for that along with Maria Bello. We discussed the scene in The Cooler which got the NC-17, which was Bill Macy going down on Maria Bello. Basically what it came down to for the MPAA was that they got a glimpse of Maria Bello’s pubic hair while his head was down there and they objected to it. My contention was that I doubted it was that, because it wasn’t like camera was lingering there, it was moving up her body. It wasn’t offensive, and I had seen it done in other R-rated movies. I felt like it was because the shot began on a ten or fifteen second shot of Maria Bello’s face as she was having an orgasm, and it felt so real to them, they had the flag up. We talked about the process of going in and trying to appeal it and how they’re so rigid and puritanical.
There’s no transparency. My big issue with them is that there’s no standard of consistency between decision to decision. As a filmmaker who is in a quasi-legal proceeding and appeal, you’re not allowed to quote any precedent. I can’t go in and say, ‘Look at Sharon Stone, she opened her legs in Basic Instinct and you saw everything and in my film you’re having an issue over pubic hair.’
Q: You get away with some pretty explicit oral sex in this one.
Kramer: Yeah. The interesting thing is that they came back to me and said, ‘We don’t know about this scene, it’s racy.’ I said to them, ‘First of all with the angle of the shot you don’t really see anything, and it’s kind of moody lighting.’ So they asked us to brighten up the shot and I thought for sure they were going to tell us to cut it, and they came back and said OK. I guess it’s more if they see detail in a sexual situation –we also have a full frontal stripper who is nude, and you can even see at one point that she’s pierced! They had no problem with that. I guess they have issues where people are interacting and it’s not so much nudity.
Q: Are you concerned that with Paul being in Eight Below one week and your film the next will create a weird backlash with the public, with people being upset that he goes from a kiddie film to a hard R film?
Kramer: I’m not concerned because it gets controversial that he’s doing my film, which pushes audiences more towards seeing Running Scared. I think they’re such different audiences that I don’t think they’re going to conflict. It will show that Paul has appeal in different genres. The good thing for us is that when Paul goes out to promote Eight Below he talks up Running Scared.
Q: I’m sure Disney’s thrilled.
Kramer: I’ve not heard if Disney has an issue with it yet, but then again Disney hasn’t seen the film. They’ll go to the theaters next week and that’s when you’ll hear the primal scream.
Q: What’s next?
Kramer: I’m juggling quite a few projects that I’ve written. One is a supernatural thriller, and it’s about how every thousand years in Hell they elect a new Satan, and the reigning Satan has to take on the body of a mortal and find his successor, the most evil person alive. He takes over the body of an FBI profiler on a terrible serial killing case in LA. He’s inherited a 13 year old daughter and an ex-wife, and he’s kind of the moral center in a messed up world. It’s pretty cool and depraved. .. Thomas Jane wants to do it.
I have another project I’m going to do with Chazz Palminteri that I wrote, a low budget film. A smaller scale than Running Scared. It’s about a dying hitman, it’s sort of a Peckinpah-ish, redemptive piece. I’m in talks with New Line about a couple of projects they want me to do, and I might be doing one there with Mark Ruffalo, adapting a gritty mob book.