An Interview with The Runaways Director, Richard Heap

Richard Heap’s newest feature The Runaways comes to the Brewery on Fri 31 Jan! This beautifully shot drama is a heart-warming, uplifting story following the adventures of three children and their donkeys, in a chase across the North Yorkshire Moors. In anticipation of the Director Q&A screening here at the Brewery (Fri Jan 31, 8pm), we were lucky enough to ask Richard Heap a few questions! Book your tickets for The Runaways here.

The Runaways is based in the North of England, are you originally from the North?

I would say I’m starting to be assimilated! I’m originally from Northampton, went to Uni in Manchester and have been settled in Sheffield for the last twenty-six years. My wife (from West Yorkshire) and kids would say I lapse occasionally, especially dialect-wise when it comes to saying bath and path.

 

Why did you choose this location for the film? 

As my kids have grown up we’ve taken them for weekends away and so we have spent a lot of time on the North Yorkshire coast. Its proximity to the moors made it an ideal place to set the story but naturally, when you write something it is useful to have reference points for inspiration. That area provided them for me.

My first forays into filmmaking were making outdoor adventure films; climbing, running, skiing that sort of thing. I also went on an expedition to Nepal to look at the impacts of climate change in the high mountains. It has meant I’ve had a big love and affinity with the British landscape and I wanted to convey that in this film so it was handy to alight upon a place that had sea, cliffs, villages, moorland and woodland. Places with big vistas but also areas that could feel enclosed.

 

What was the main challenge throughout your creative process?

The main challenge other than raising money is maintaining your energy levels. And holding on to your belief because for any journey like this there are a lot of “Nos” along the way. We are a pretty small production team so when it came time for the shoot it was exciting to build up the crew and cast the actors.

Casting is probably the most crucial stage. A film lives and dies by its acting talent, they are the emotional heart of the film. So probably one of the most challenging aspects is committing to the actors, making a decision.

 

What was your inspiration for creating this feature?

I’ve a couple of kids so had started to feel an itch to do an old school adventure film for them. I’d got a little tired of seeing animations and felt there was an opportunity to do something where they could feel part of something, imagine it was them inside the adventure. I always remember seeing ‘Across the Great Divide’ and ‘Bugsy Malone’ as treats at school on 16mm. I’m not putting my film up with those but that feeling of seeing real kids on screen certainly was part of my thinking.

I was doing some commercial work where I cycled the coast to coast, from Whitehaven to Tynemouth. Seeing the sea again at the end was unexpectedly emotional and it got me thinking how profound this would be if the journey really meant something. So the idea started as a C2C but morphed into what it is now.

 

Are there any unexpected facts or surprising stories you can tell us about the film or its making?

When I first met Mark Addy he said I was a brave man choosing to work with children and animals. But actually it was a joy. My two lead youngsters Macy Shackleton (nine) and Rhys Connah (twelve) are such good company, Rhys being incredibly quick-witted. In fact, Rhys is so nice that Molly Windsor (playing the lead role Angie) and I had to wind him up to get him to play out the scenes where there are big arguments.

The donkeys were great to have on set too, as you could get a bit of animal therapy. If things were going bad you could go up and give them a cuddle and you’d feel better. They were a nuisance sometimes, as they’d always eat grass (sometimes the actors’ coats) and wouldn’t start walking on command so the kids had to be strong with them. They also hate puddles. And don’t go in reverse either. So yes they were a challenge, particularly on the train!

 

How do you think the film appeals to different generations?

The movie has really hit home emotionally with mothers and teenage girls. But in general people with a deep connection to the outdoors and British countryside have appreciated seeing familiar landscapes up on the big screen.

I think naturally people view anything from their own life experience, so kids will hopefully catch on to the adventure side of it and I think adults will see it a little like you have i.e. the impact the bigger world has had on these youngsters’ lives.

I showed a twenty minute run of the film to my twelve-year-old boy during the edit and he really laughed during the bit when the boy is distracting the railway guard so the other two can get the donkeys on the train, principally when he twigged what was going on in the background as Ben and the guard were talking. It made me realise that for that moment my boy was probably on the station platform himself, inside the action, and it felt magical to for me to see that level of engagement. So yes I hope that kids might come out of the film wanting to go to the countryside and build dens and fires.

When I was pitching The Runaways no one believed there was an audience for live-action family/adventure films. They said there was no way to compete with the Disney/animation juggernaut. We’ve obviously had numerous preview screenings and I have felt the audience really connect deeply with our film. If people want to have an alternative to Cloudy with Meatballs 2 then this is a chance to show it!

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