In Run, Scott Graham takes inspiration from Springsteen’s music to capture the identity of a small Scottish town, where a former late-night car racer dreams of escapism. We spoke with the director at the Glasgow Film Festival: here’s what he told us.
There’s something universal about Bruce Springsteen‘s music. The New Jersey-born singer-songwriter writes about life at its most real – the kind of life where you don’t always get what you wished for, but you can still dream for a better outcome. He addresses the working class and sings of love, hope, freedom and community, representing a different kind of American Dream – one that might be unattainable, but is still very much real. In Run, writer-director Scott Graham takes inspiration from Springsteen’s music to craft a deeply emotional drama that is as much about the American Dream as it is profoundly Scottish.
Developed from the director’s earlier short film, Run is set in the Scottish town of Fraserburgh, where young men and women dream of escaping their everyday small-town life by driving around in racing cars at night. Finnie (Mark Stanley) used to be one of these late-night racers, but he has grown up and is now a husband and a father. He spends his days working as a fisherman and dealing with his teenage son, who is following in his footsteps in the car racing business. Dissatisfied with a life he can’t seem to be able to escape, Finnie steals his son’s car for one night, which he spends driving around Fraserburgh with his son’s pregnant girlfriend (Kelly, played by Marli Siu). And it’s through this unlikely pairing that Run delivers its message, in a journey of repressed feelings and self-understanding that is as visually stunning and filled with impressive performances as it is captivating, relatable and deeply meaningful.
We spoke with Scott Graham on his compelling drama: here’s what he told us on life in Fraserburgh, shooting and casting Run and more.
Run: Fraserburgh looks to America for a voice to express feelings
I understand that Run was developed into a feature-length movie from a short film you made.
It was my first short. It’s set in my hometown, but I had been living in Glasgow for ten years: I had gone home, and I was researching a documentary about the racing culture. The teenagers that I was speaking to were listening to music like rap and hip hop, and artists like Eminem. One day one of them was commenting on the fact that all his dad does is shut himself in his garage and listen to Springsteen, so I made this connection with the way people from my hometown were looking to America for a voice to express their frustration and the way they were feeling. I never made a documentary in the end: I felt that there was a drama there that I wanted to write about. With the short, we were really just scratching the surface, so the plan was always to go back and do a longer story. It just took a while for that to happen: I ended up making two feature films before that.
Springsteen is very much present in the film, not just for his songs but also for the theme of escaping. It’s an American Dream ideal, but it becomes very Scottish in Run, as there is a very specific sense of place.
I’m really pleased to hear you say that, because that’s exactly what I felt. I grew to love Springsteen, but it was more an ironic thing for me, in the beginning: it was almost both funny and sad that he was so popular, and that, as I was driving home, the closer I got, the more Springsteen I heard on the radio. But then it became something deeper than that: I started to recognise in the North East, where I’m from, those characters and even the landscape in a lot of classic American films that I was watching – road movies like Five Easy Pieces, Badlands and Vanishing Point. I could see a connection with those films, and I felt that I could tell something that was very specific to Fraserburgh, but that also had all of these themes that were so prevalent in American songwriting, cinema and literature.
How have audiences been reacting to the film?
Good! We screened it in London at the end of last year, but last night, in Glasgow, people were laughing a lot more than I expected. I guess the humour was coming through, and I’m sure it’s just because the dialect was easier to follow for a Scottish audience, but I felt like it went well. A few people from Fraserburgh actually drove down to watch it, which I wasn’t expecting, and they found it authentic, so I was really pleased. It’s been about a year since I finished it, so I have a bit of distance from it now, and I can actually enjoy it.
Driving through Fraserburgh: a cinematic way of life
What was the main challenge when shooting the film?
We had about 28 days, and a lot of it was night shoots. When I was writing it, I never thought about how difficult it would be to set something in a car for that amount of time. We found a way to make it work: the actors loved it, because they didn’t feel like they were really working! They could forget that the camera was there, so it was more like theatre or even real life. Marli [Siu] talks about the experience of it being quite freeing, just getting to shoot in a car. They were such a good cast! They worked really well together.
Even if it’s mostly set at night and shot inside a car, Run is very dynamic. It flows really well, the lighting really works and it’s also very pleasing from an aesthetic point of view.
I knew I was dealing with a character that wasn’t really able to express how he was feeling, but I wanted the audience to have some insight: in a way, it’s amost why I needed Marli in the car. It was to provoke these things. Some of it comes from the music that she’s listening to, which provokes a reaction in him. Sometimes it’s just about some neon light hitting them. Some of it we had to recreate and some of it happened by chance, but the town does feel different at night. If you really start to dig into why the racing culture is so popular – to an extent that it’s almost like a way of life for a period of time – you’ll notice that the town is quite grey and low to the ground during the day, but at night it has more colour. That grey becomes black and, from my eyes, everything becomes more cinematic. If you’re inside that bubble of a car and you have some music playing, you can kind of feel like you’re somewhere else, like you’re in a movie.
The sound of Run is also really unique. There are many references to Springsteen in the film’s themes, but the music we listen to is actually very different, and there are also many moments of silence, which you wouldn’t expect to find in a film developed around car races.
I knew there needed to be these changes in the sound: trying to keep it interesting, visually and audibly, was part of it. If you’re a fan of Springsteen’s, you might get a little bit more because of it, but you don’t need to be. The themes of his songs are there in the fabric of the story, but I wanted to know Kelly a little bit better by the music that she listens to. Finnie is kind of cynical about it, at first, but in the end the lyrics end up moving him.
Casting Run‘s leading characters
How did you cast Finnie?
Two friends of mine had seen Mark [Stanley] in Clio Barnard’s Dark River: I actually hadn’t seen it, as it had only been released at the London Film Festival at the time, but I trusted them when they said I should really see him for the part. He came in, and it’s just something that he brought instantly, both physically and emotionally: he really understood the character. I don’t really like the word audition: to me, it’s more like a meeting of minds. So much of the reason why I cast an actor is just from the talking part, and not so much from the reading of the script, but when Mark did read… I remember the blood just rising up through his neck and face! He just brings something to the character: it’s almost like he’s not in control of his emotions, and they threaten to spill out. He always is actually in control, but it seems like he’s not.
What about Kelly?
Marli is from a small town, and she spoke about how nice it was to go on dates in cars, driving to the local drive-in, because you didn’t have to look at each other. She really understood the character, and she’s super smart. She just really felt like Kelly, in a way, in terms of the role that she would play with Mark and the effect that she would have on him. I could imagine the two of them working together. We cast them separately, so they didn’t read together, whereas Mark and Amy [Manson, who plays Finnie’s wife] did. In their audition, Mark ended up with his elbow bleeding! They did a scene where Amy’s frustrations are all coming out: I think she pushed him against the wall and he cut his arm! [laughs] But I just knew I had my film.
What about the scenes in the car? Were the actors actually driving?
Yes, they were. We did have stunt drivers there for a couple of days, but they took Mark out in the car, and they said that it was fine for him to do a lot of it himself, so he did. The hardest thing for Marli was to act scared, because she loved it! The editor and I had a lot of fun looking at the tape: whenever I called “cut” and the tape was still rolling, she would just burst into laughter! She really enjoyed herself, and Mark did most of the driving himself. We knew that we couldn’t – and we didn’t want to – recreate Fast & Furious, so we needed it to be as realistic as possible, and it’s so much harder to do that if you have to fake it.
Run‘s message of hope and Scott’s future projects
What message would you like people to get from Run?
It’s there in Springsteen’s songs as well, this idea that the ties that bind you to your family and your community might mean that you don’t follow all your dreams. They might mean that you never leave your hometown, but, if that love that has kept you there survives, that’s a reason to be hopeful. I like that long road that the characters are on: in a way, that’s all a relationship is – two people agreeing to walk together… for now. Even if you don’t really know what’s around the corner.
It was also nice to see Finn learn from his son so much and so often. We’re familiar with this idea of fathers living vicariously through their sons, but usually their sons are doing something that their fathers never did. But Finn’s son is doing exactly what he did, it’s just that he can appreciate it.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a story that follows a boy who is affected quite deeply by his father leaving his mother when he’s not quite an adolescent: he’s around 11 or 12. It follows him then as an adult and as an older man when he has a child of his own. It’s about the impact of absent fathers. I’ve been reading a lot of Flannery O’Connor, whose most famous story is A Good Man Is Hard to Find. At the beginning of the story, a boy is looking for a boyfriend for his mother, as he somehow thinks that this will make his life easier. But it’s difficult to find a good man. The story is about that, but it’s also about how difficult it is to become a good man, especially if you take the wrong path, which he does. It’s early days, and it’s taken me a while to get to it because at first I thought I’d do something completely different, but, once you’re interested in something, it’s difficult to leave it behind.
Run premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival on 1st March, and will be released in cinemas on 13th March 2020. Click here to find more information on its official website.