Steph Green is a female director to watch out for this summer, as she is set to make her feature film directorial debut with Run & Jump.
Run & Jump sees Green bring together a terrific cast as Maxine Peake, Will Forte, and Edward MacLiam are all on board.
We caught up with Green to chat about the new film, making the leap from short film, and what lies ahead.
- Run & Jump is set to hit the big screen here in the UK later this week, so can you tell me a bit about it?
Run & Jump is about a family coping with the father figure coming home with brain damage, after suffering a stroke. So it is story about a transition for the family, which is headed up by Maxine Peake playing the lead role.
To complicate matters they have a neuropsychologist visit from the U.S., who is there to work with and observe the father. Therefore, there is one new man in the house and one new version of their father in the house. Therefore, it is a tumultuous time and you are with them as they move through this change.
- You have penned the screenplay as well as in the director's chair, so where did this project start for you? And what sparked the idea for the story?
The original screenplay is by Ailbhe Keogan - who is a Kerry based writer was the inspiration for the film: I have worked quite a bit in Ireland and with the Irish Film Board.
Together with my producers Tamara Anghie, Martina Niland, and David Collins, we were looking for a script. Tamara found this one, and I really connected with Ailbhe.
I was immediately inspired by both the script and her: her story is very interesting. The story is not autobiographical it is parallel, as her dad suffered a brain injury: her family had been something where they would have great empathy for these characters that she had created.
The genesis was Ailbhe and her amazing script, and that really did keep the project going as actors and the film board were responsive. Ailbhe was very generous in letting me come into the writing process.
This is her first feature length screenplay, and together we did quite a few re-writes. She was very generous to offer me that co-writer credit, but she was the original seed for the idea.
- I was going to ask you about the writing process and how much the story and characters changed from the initial screenplay you connected with, to what we see on screen?
The visitor to the family in Ailbhe's original script was English, and it was my idea to have the neuropsychologist visit from the U.S. That was quite a bit change, even though it was quite superficial. In other words, it wasn't about the emotions that Ailbhe had captured so beautifully.
Other changes were really about tightening scenes, re-drafting, editing, leaving out, bringing in, and everyone's arc being worked on together. The title was also changed. She has been a novelist, and we really just got the script ready for screen.
Once you have your budget and you have all those pragmatic concerns as well, things need to be adjusted based on what's possible and where it is possible to shoot. Having the production background, I brought that into the process and into the script.
- Run & Jump also marks your feature film directorial debut, so how did you find the transition away from short film?
I loved it. I loved more time getting to direct and getting to work with a deeper and longer format. It does throw up some really complicated questions that you can never really anticipate as a short filmmaker.
Particularly, and ensemble movie like this where you are asking who's story is this? Who am I invested in? This film lets you visit the perspectives of many of the characters, even though it is bound to Vanetia as the core character with Ted, the neuropsychologist.
Keeping someone compelled, keeping the attention of the audience, and keeping investment for an hour and a half is a new challenge. I loved it, and you really can't wait to do it again. It is a marathon and is a completely different process to short film.
- And while you say it is a different process, how did you feel your background in short helped with this debut feature?
You build the skills and the stamina to ready yourself for a longer process. The scene work, getting to know how to work with actors, and the plan making that you visualise with you DOP and storyboards: all that prep work that you do in both cases, you really do hone your skills to be ready for that feature.
You also find your team: you find out who you trust and who you want to bring on to the next stage. It is key - when you are working on a first feature in particular - that you are surrounded by people who know how you work and who are going to support you in the more challenging times.
I had shot commercials and short films that had taken a week: I have also shot commercials that have taken two or three weeks.
So I felt like I was ready for the five weeks of Run & Jump, and very excited to have that much time to shoot. Next time I hope I get eight weeks (laughs).
- You say that you had five weeks - which is longer when you compare it to a short film - but that does seem like quite a short period of time to shoot a film. How do you find shooting under such tight time constraints?
You just need to keep moving: I think people who work in television will also say the same thing. Sometimes, a fifty-minute drama is shot in nine days. It is about momentum and it is about making it work, within the scenario you find yourself in and not being so bound to your plans that you can't be flexible.
In a way, the job of the director is knowing how to take all of their preparation and balance it with what you are then faced with on set.
It usually has quite a few different elements than what you anticipated: whether it is an actor who has come to set and is performing differently to what they did in rehearsal, all the way to a house that you were told was blue is yellow.
That flexibly is part of the job: it is definitely a part of independent filmmaking. You have to not get stuck, as your film cannot afford the delay.
- A terrific cast has been assembled as Maxine Peake, Will Forte, and Edward MacLiam; can you talk a bit about the casting process?
I absolutely love casting, because is it really the first place where the script comes alive. With Maxine, I just knew that she had to be Vanetia from the moment that I encountered her. Then I met her, and she is just incredible.
She represents - both as an actor and as a woman - this perfect alchemy of strength, vulnerability, likability: she is just so real and relatable to the woman, the mother figure, and the love interest. She was a very clear choice.
Similarly, Will Forte was as well. Once I came upon him, I came very stuck on the notion that he could do it: even though it was before Alexander Payne had pegged him for Nebraska.
I still felt that this could be an exciting choice that I could make to show my chops as a visionary casting person: that has been the result.
I think I will be trusted in the casting realm in a different way, based on making that leap with Will: who had not done serious roles before.
Ed did such an incredible job in researching and embracing a very tricky portrayal. There are many red flags when you are portraying a brain-damaged individual, and you really need to stay inside the framework of the research that you have done.
Yet, he still had to invent Conor at a creative level, and find the character. I think he achieved an important and impressive balance between finding Conor himself, and also doing the homework on how that kind of brain damage would manifest in the character.
I could talk to hours about the cast, as I can't thank them enough for participating in something that was not glamorous: we were in a small house trapped together, trying to make ensemble drama work in very constrained circumstances.
They were all troopers and I think everyone shines: I am biased, of course.
- How did you find working with your actors? And how collaborative a process was it between you all?
I like working with actors: oddly, I don't think all directors do. I feel that it is one of the bravest professions, in that you are giving yourself over to a process and a director without knowing how the end will manifest.
In addition, you can be blamed if it doesn't turn out very well: it really is a risk every time for an actor. Understanding that risk, I try to create a safe space for everyone to be adventurous with what they are doing and I try to find a rhythm of working together, where everyone feels as supported as possible.
Of course, we are working with great material and so we are analysing the script, deciding how wants, desires and vulnerabilities will manifest; we are deciding together.
I generally have a strong idea of how I want to block and shoot something, and while I come into the day knowing that, of course the actors contribute something.
If something doesn't feel right, or they have an idea, they often bring something to the table in that moment that is invaluable: especially these actors, who have so much experience.
The adult actors on this film have been on many more sets than I have, and so they would have ideas. At the same time, they showed me ultimate respect. I feel very grateful for my experience with them.
- Vanetia is a fantastic central female character, and we don't get to see many characters like this for women on the big screen. How exciting for yourself and Maxine Peake to bring her alive?
Maxine and I both feel that it is important that a character like Vanetia reaches the screen, as we don't get to see the real, domestic balance that Vanetia gets to show. We were lucky that the script supported us enough to be able to show a well-rounded female character that had all elements going on: that in itself was heroic and real.
It was not some big action that she took, but the dual responsibilities and the fact that she is many things at one time. She is a woman who is full of energy that is attractive to a mean, she feels lust and love herself for Ted, she is also mourning the reality of her changed husband, she is a mother, and she is a friend.
We so rarely see a film like this, which portrays the feminine perspective. I had been coached early in the process to switch the perspective to Dr Fielding, so I might get the movie made faster.
I am relieved that I didn't have to do that, and I am boggled that I was coached... it is interesting that I was coached as it shows how intense the pressures still are to bind the perspective to the male gaze or experience.
Yes, I think it is a feminist film, and I think that women and men who are sensitive to the content do get it at a different level, because of that attention that we are paying to the daily domestic routine and how important it is.
- The movie has played on the festival circuit and has already been released in the U.S. so how have you found the response to the film so far?
I have been blown away for how positive it has been: you always prepare yourself for a 50/50 response. I think it has been overwhelmingly positive. If people do not like the film, I think that they are just not connecting with Vanetia, actually.
I can't say how gratifying it has been to read these glowing reviews from such places as the New York Times and the LA Times: I didn't even know if we would be noticed by some of these publications, as it is a smaller film.
It is a tough time for indie and smaller films. What you can hope for is a critical success, as they will help the word spread, as you are never going to have all of the billboards, the commercials, and the publicity that these bigger films have. We are less afraid that we thought we would be.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I am developing more scripts: I am working on another project with Ailbhe, everything from a vampire script to an eighteen hundreds period piece.
We will see which once flies first. I am looking to do a second film, and looking to continue the process and the growth.
Run & Jump is released 23rd May.