Run interview

Mission: Impossible is Searching director Aneesh Chaganty‘s favorite film franchise, so it’s not a surprise that he uses imagery from that movie to describe the centerpiece action sequence in his newest thriller, Run. In a recent interview, Chaganty told me that one of his movie’s biggest camera moves “was intentionally supposed to evoke the pullout of Tom Cruise on the Burj Khalifa.”

But Mission: Impossible wasn’t on the primary list of cinematic inspirations for this nail-biter of a story about a wheelchair-using teenager (Kiera Allen) who finds herself essentially trapped in her own house by her overbearing mother (Sarah Paulson), who’s harboring a dark secret. Read on to learn which films directly inspired this suspenseful yarn (our full review calls it “relentless” and “tense as hell”), and hear from Chaganty and producer Natalie Qasabian about the biggest challenges to mounting this production, storyboarding the entire film, and more.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Aneesh, this is a movie about a mother and a daughter, but let’s start off by talking about your own mother for a second. You’ve spoken previously about how she used to take you and your brother out of school so you could be first in line to see a new movie, so it sounds like you have a great relationship with her. But Run is about a young person rebelling against her overbearing mother. Were you consciously or subconsciously working through any of your own feelings in this story?

Aneesh: No, but there’s a lot of my mom in the movie. Some of the behaviors and the things around the house, tiny little behaviors, the plants – there are a lot of tiny things that have been borrowed from her, but not the central problem that [Sarah Paulson’s character] Diane is facing. 

Me and my mom have a great relationship. During the press for Searching, we were traveling all the time and I got very sick. It was a stomach sickness, and this doctor told me to go on a very specific diet for four months. It was right when I started moving to Canada to shoot Run. I didn’t have the time to cook anything, so she flew out for all of prep and production for three and a half months and cooked every meal and every snack that I ate.

Wow!

Aneesh: I never had catering on the set of this movie. It was all meals that my mom was giving me just to stay on this diet. Now I’m better, but it was because of that. So we’ve got a very good relationship, and I was happy to be able to trade that food for an insight into making movies, because she’s so into movies and stuff.

Natalie: She became everyone’s favorite person on set, and everyone can attest, she is nothing like Diane.

Natalie, what was the toughest challenge that arose for you as a producer on this project?

Natalie: Oh man, I think the biggest thing was, we ended up going to Winnipeg in Canada. The schedule kept shifting, and we ended up there in the winter. This is a movie that takes place in the spring, technically. So the biggest thing was trying to adjust for the weather constantly. I remember on day 3 we had an exterior, and it started snowing. We were going back to that location for a couple more days, and [all three days had different weather forecast for them]. So at the beginning of the shoot, it was like, “Are we going to add snow to the movie? Are we going to take it out?” We didn’t even know which way to go because we couldn’t predict. That was one of the hardest things: creatively trying to pull off the look that Aneesh and [producer and co-writer] Sev [Ohanian] had written and had in mind, but not being able to even predict what the challenge was going to be on a given day.

Did you guys end up using visual effects to get rid of some of that stuff in the final cut?

Natalie: We did. We mostly ended up getting rid of snow, but there was a fun moment where the VFX budget started as adding greenery to make it look like a springtime movie, but once the snow really hit in Winnipeg, that VFX budget quickly became, “OK, snow removal.” It totally shifted.

I know you and Sev watched a ton of movies before Searching to get inspired in terms of tone but also studied why certain types of storytelling beats worked really well in certain contexts. What movies did you study for inspiration when you were developing Run, and what specific types of things were you on the lookout for this time?

Aneesh: Totally. I think there are a lot of very clear inspirations for this movie, and we took them all from there. The top five are Psycho, Rear Window, Misery, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and What Happened to Baby Jane? became one over the course of time and me even discovering this film while we were writing and after it, but as far as the main writing inspirations, it was those four. From a director’s standpoint, for visual inspirations, you can add in Unbreakable and Signs and Rosemary’s Baby. Those all inspired this film heavily.

When we spoke for Searching, you talked about how the test screening process was incredibly helpful and really let you guys shape that movie into its best form. Did you take that same approach and lean on test screenings in a big way for Run?

Aneesh: We did. This is my first real live-action movie. This is the first movie we’ve made with a studio from the beginning of the film. Searching was made very isolated and by ourselves. So on Searching, we were able to look at our test feedback and completely have autonomy to do what we wanted based on the test feedback. Now, with a studio involved, you’re involving a whole other entity. Now you have two sets of people who are looking at the same thing. One group wants this thing, and the other group wants another thing. You’re trying to navigate, and at the end of the day, the studio’s the one that financed the film. I would say for the most part, we entirely involved feedback, but the ability to execute what we learned from the feedback was the area that was a little more contested this time than last time. That’s my very smiley way of answering that.

Natalie: Yeah. I will say we did bring back a ton of people who watched Searching and gave us notes. We’ve created this brain trust of filmmakers and some non-filmmakers, too, that are just smart people. All those who watched Searching came out and they haven’t disowned us as friends yet, even though we keep them hostage for like five hours and grill them on the movie. But it’s exactly what Aneesh is saying: we made Searching independently, this one had a studio involved, so there were a couple more people in the room making decisions. But absolutely, we lean on trusted friends and filmmakers to guide us.

What were some of the things you guys learned as a result of that feedback? What were some changes that you made from the early versions of this movie?

Aneesh: You can get a sense of it in – we’re putting a couple deleted scenes in the Hulu [bonus feature section], and some of them we fought heavily for. But I think the biggest difference between the most perfectly edited version of the script versus the most perfectly edited final version of the movie, is mom and daughter sentimentality. The first half of the original script was a lot more of investing in this relationship between a mom and her daughter, having conversations with them, the Cold War was a significantly longer process. The biggest note from Lionsgate was just, “Make it a thriller. If you don’t need the scene, it’s out.” I think what that turned it into is still an extremely effective barebones thriller that moves left to right and doesn’t stop. I think one of the biggest compliments about the film is that it just doesn’t stop. This is a process that every movie goes through, this negotiation, but what felt like started off as a family drama meets an intense thriller became an intense thriller.

Natalie: I think some of it is a testament to Sarah and Kiera’s performances, too. People in our friends and family feedback screenings, one of the first things everyone said was, “You get their relationship from just that opening montage.” While we love the scenes that followed, some of what we cut was – a lot of the notes we were getting were, “We’re getting that. In one look, Sarah conveys so much. In one look, Kiera conveys so much.”

run

The pandemic impacted this movie’s release in a pretty significant way. I think you wrapped filming long before the world shut down, but did you take advantage of that extra time to continue to hone the movie into its final form?

Natalie: I think we literally finished mixing and coloring the movie four days before the lockdown. We barely got out.

Aneesh: We were talking about this thing, this coronavirus, during the mix. It was just like, “What’s it going to be?” March happened, and things started closing, and we were thinking, “May. Mother’s Day. We’ll be fine. The pandemic will work through the system and we’ll be out of it by May.”

Natalie: But the marketing side of it had some time.

Tell me about the rooftop sequence, which I think is one of the standout moments in the movie. What type of planning went into that, and how did you actually pull that off?

Aneesh: Yeah, that’s like the signature set piece of the film. I think so much of why that sequence works is because of the stuff before it, and how contained it is before the movie explodes in this way where the character’s literally crawling on top of a roof. From the beginning, we were like, “If this was Tom Cruise or Margot from Searching on the roof, this is just whatever.” The whole element of setting this movie in a house was, how do we turn these very domestic objects that we see every day – if you put a character who uses a wheelchair in this movie, in this thriller having to escape this house, then suddenly, every single obstacle elevates itself into something a lot bigger. For us, that was intentionally supposed to evoke the pullout of Tom Cruise on the Burj Khalifa. It’s supposed to feel like, “Holy shit!” That level of scaling up at that moment was the goal, and to execute that was just such a complex series of shots on one day, moving into another day on this other thing, we’re going to switch Kiera out for a double for this part, we’re going to face replace her for this scene, we’re going to shoot this part on another set. It was a complex series of specifically planned sequences, and Natalie did most of the planning, so we were able to stitch something together and I’m really proud of it.

Natalie: It was so fun because everyone brought their A game to make this happen. We have a lead actress who uses a wheelchair in real life, so there was that: how do we get her? We don’t just want it to be a stunt double, and the shots Aneesh had designed called for it to be on Kiera’s face. But it was really cool and a challenge. It was winter and cold, and we wanted to do as much practically as possible. We really had to fight to keep it authentic. The easiest thing to do would have been to move it on stage, but that wouldn’t have worked for what Aneesh had in mind. So it was us constantly pushing the studio to let us do it the way that would have the most “wow” factor, and really pushing our department heads. To their credit, our DP [Hillary Spera] and our production designer [Jean-Andre Carriere], they brought it. From day one of prep until the end of the shoot, we were figuring out how to make this. We actually started on day one with a portion of the roof scene, and wrapped the movie [with another part].

Aneesh: We shot the big shot pulling out on day one.

Natalie: I’m incredible proud of that sequence. Everyone crushed it.

Did you do a lot of storyboarding for that, or did you just know what you wanted it to look like in your head?

Aneesh: Every single frame of this movie is storyboarded. Literally every single one. It was always supposed to evoke the style, and because it evoked the style of, I tried to mimic the process of Hitchcock and Shyamalan. They both storyboard everything. I still have in my room the binder of 300 pages of hand-drawn storyboard prints. One of the features we’re also going to do on Hulu is a comparison where we’re just showing the final scene with the drawings. It matches 1:1. So all this stuff was drawn out, but this sequence in particular was drawn and re-drawn and processed by pre-viz people to make animatic sequences, because so many departments had to nail everything at the right second to get this thing pulled off. And in frigid temperatures.

***

Run lands on Hulu on November 20, 2020. Be sure to head back to /Film on Friday to read the rest of this interview, which covers the movie’s easter eggs and touches on Searching 2.

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