Kerry Condon and Demian Bichir in THE RUNWAY distributed by Tribeca Film. Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film.
- James Atherton
- Jan Pace
- Marina Fuentes Arredonda
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The Runway (2010/2012)
Opened: 07/20/2012 Limited
Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: Family Comedy (English)
In this charming comedy, Oscar-nominee Demian Bichir (A BETTER LIFE, "Weeds") stars as Ernesto, a Colombian pilot whose plane has crashed in a small Irish village. Not able to speak a word of English, a precocious 9-year old boy named Paco, the only one in his town who knows Spanish, becomes his translator. Rewriting Ernesto's mysterious and questionable past, Paco turns him into a hero and a celebrity, motivating the entire town to rally behind Ernesto to help rebuild his plane. When a seedy Colombian detective arrives and threatens to reveal a dark secret about Ernesto, the town begins to question who they can trust. Inspired by true events, THE RUNWAY tells the story of a boy needing a father, a man wanting a family, and a town willing to do anything for a hero.
About six years ago I saw an archive TV news report about a South American pilot who made an emergency landing in rural Cork in 1983. Amazingly, the locals came together and built a runway to get his plane back in the air again. And at the heart of this report was the image of this handsome Latin man among a group of local Irish people that struck me as a master image -- a great fish out of water story...
And the 1980's in Ireland were terrible. Unemployment was rife and for many, emigration was a foregone conclusion. Ireland more closely resembled a former Soviet block country than the affluent society it is today (or at least as it was before the current financial crisis - Ireland used to boom in the 'Celtic Tiger' economy).
And in the context of our financial boom there was something about this act of altruism in 1983 at a time when people had nothing that seemed familiar but absent...
Later that year I was working in Belfast and on my second night I ordered a drink at the bar of the hotel where I was staying. I paid for the drink and as I lifted it off the bar the barman said something to me. Without thinking I reached in my pocket and handed him more money. He looked at me, smiled, and said that he had only asked how I was doing. And then it struck me -- a simple but profound thought - that I didn't remember the last time anyone behind a counter in Dublin had said anything remotely social to me. And I started to think about those people in Cork again...
I lived with the idea of making a film about the runway for a long time but while the situation was interesting, the story was not immediate. Some other work interrupted and about a year later I came back to the idea and started to think about whose story it might be. Drawing a blank I fell back on the old writer's trick of trying to make it personal...
In 1983 my parents moved from Dublin to rural Wexford in the South East. I was six years old and the culture shock was extreme. At that time, unemployment in Wexford was around 70%. I moved through a few different schools and found it difficult to settle. What was, on reflection, a rural idyl seemed only quiet and boring. About this time I saw Spielberg's E.T. and I remember being quite convinced that an alien dropping out of the sky would be a great alternative to my current struggle with being the new kid...
And this was the seed of my story -- a story about a kid in need of a father, and the most inappropriate father figure dropping out of the sky. The story of a town wracked by unemployment, empowered to build a runway for a man they didn't know. And the story of the pilot himself, who would be inspired by the town's selfless act. After that I wrote quite quickly and passed an early draft on to my manager, Brendan Mc Donald who would end up producing, and to Macdara Kelleher, the producer, who is a friend from film school.
After that we made steady progress. Macdara started to put the finance together -- no small feat given the scope of what was required with a first time director on board, and Brendan started to look for our pilot. When Demian Bichir read the script, we had no finance attached. We had no other cast, and frankly, no guarantee that the film would ever be made. And he made an unconditional commitment to be in the film. I loved him for that. I had seen him in 'Che' and it was clear that he was a real star, with all the screen confidence that comes with that, without being overexposed to an English speaking audience, which meant that we could preserve an all important sense of mystery around our pilot and still have a charismatic lead. Demian's commitment never wavered through a tough shoot. (Don't get me wrong -- I know all low budget films are tough, but throw an airplane, a 1,300 foot runway, three countries, two kids, a car chase, a bull, and the Irish weather into the mix and you get an idea of how what we had to contend with).
I saw over 2,000 kids in Cork for the parts of Paco and Frogs. I've cast children before. Not a fan of showkids, I tend to look for non-actors. Sometimes you go out and the first group of kids you see produces the most brilliant little actor. But for whatever reason on THE RUNWAY, John Carpenter and Jamie Kierans were literally the last kids we saw, but they were brilliant. For Grace, the boy's mother, we chose Kerry Condon, who from the outset found the perfect balance between the practicality of being a single mom and the warmth of character the story needed. I had a sense that a young mother would be more like a friend than a mom and Kerry and Jamie sparked off each other brilliantly from the outset. She was terrific.
The script was well received by the people with the money, and Demian's attachment didn't hurt. Less than a year later we were fully financed with commitment from The Irish Film Board, The Luxembourg Film Fund, Film I Vast in Sweden, and Quickfire Films. A true European Co-Production, we would shoot interiors in Luxembourg, exteriors in Ireland, and do some of the post in Sweden.
In August 2009, eight weeks after the birth of my first child, I began shooting THE RUNWAY. The seven week shoot was extremely challenging but I loved every minute of it, largely thanks to a terrific and fun cast, who made it a real pleasure to go to work. James Cosmo, who I loved in BRAVEHEART, combined with a group of brilliant Irish character actors to bring our story to life. They all deserve a mention but I think Donacha Crowley did a brilliant turn as the town's hapless mayor, Tommy Carmody. In Ireland we filmed in the environs of the town of Schull in West Cork, a really beautiful place where the locals pulled out the stops to help our little film. Our budget was modest, some thought impossible to pull off given the logistics and requirements, but we boxed clever, keeping the unit as small as possible and only getting 'big' for a few days. We shot on RED and moved as quickly as we could, thanks in no small part to PJ Dillon, our versatile and fast moving cinematographer, side-stepping weather and all the other pitfalls that threaten to stop the show on a low budget film.
The film is set in 1983 and I was really conscious of the slew of naff 80's flash back films over the years. So rather than have everyone strolling about in "Miami Vice" jackets I pushed to shoot the film the way they made films in the 80's. And so we shot with a set of antique lenses and pro-mist filters and chose a soundtrack from the 50's because those songs seemed to populate films in the 80's. I made THE RUNWAY for an audience. For people. An uplifting film, which would live and die in the audience's response, which I would never defend by saying it was misunderstood, like some art film. This was always my intention, but as the first screening drew close, I suddenly felt very exposed, like someone ready to do a stage dive from a perilous height, counting on the audience to catch him...
THE RUNWAY premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in July of this year. It won the audience award for Best Feature. When you work on a film for that long, especially a comedy, you forget the effect you intended -- you forget that it's funny or that someone might be moved by it. It was a real joy to be reminded by laughter.