On the Right Track? Conversation with “Run, Run Away” Filmmaker Ruby Rae Drake

| April 22, 2016

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The following is a guest post from De Anza College film student Alyssa Valdez.


Lea’s life is like a 10-yard dash. Run, Run Away is the evolving journey of a track star who is forced to evaluate what she’s running away from or, perhaps, what she’s running toward.  Is this track star on the right track? Is she running her life or is it running her? Ruby Rae Drake’s aesthetic creation of Run, Run Away gives us legs as she takes us for a run through the only race that counts: life.

Run, Run Away screened as part of the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival’s Shorts 6: Youth Works program.  We met up with writer/director Ruby Rae Drake to take us through the peaks and challenges of visually mastering this notion of “running away,” which as she illustrates, holds more significance than we might think.

Lea (Kira Lanoue) races in Run, Run Away

Lea (Kira Lanoue) races in Run, Run Away.

Ruby, please tell us about yourself and your background. How did you get into the world of film?

I started making films in 8th grade because my mom found this film program called SF Art & Film for Teenagers that sounded interesting. I came to the first class not even sure if I would do it for the rest of the year and ended up doing it for five. Through that class I learned about film theory and film production, and grew to love telling stories visually. I’ve always been a storyteller, and through the workshop I found a way to tell those stories.

Walk us through how Run, Run Away was conceived and how it’s related to your classwork.

Run, Run Away wasn’t related to any classwork per say. I did it as part of the film workshop with SF Art & Film, but it was mainly for fun. The idea for this particular film came from a few places. I wanted to make a film about stress and running away, and I wanted to make a film about quitting. I wanted to make a film about quitting because I feel that quitting has a very negative connotation, and I wanted to understand that connotation because I don’t think it’s always correct. I think it takes a lot of courage and strength to be able to assess the situation, especially something you have been passionate about, to realize it maybe isn’t right for you anymore, and then to walk away.

The team races to the finish line.

The team races to the finish line.

There wasn’t much dialogue. The visual storytelling spoke volumes where dialogue didn’t need to. The theme was amplified through more visual communication than verbal communication. I find that intriguing since not every filmmaker can accomplish that. Was that meant to be on purpose? As a director, did less verbal communication make it easier or more challenging to direct your cast and get your point of the film across?

For me, visual storytelling is almost always the goal. Because video is by its nature something to watch, I think it’s really important to tell the story through images, especially when it comes to backstory and exposition. I don’t think it necessarily made it easier or harder to direct my actors and get my point across. I think there were times when it was definitely challenging to get the feeling I was going for to come across, but there were times when it was easier because I didn’t have large chunks of dialogue to work through.

Objects are key elements to the subject of Run, Run Away. I love that capturing a shot of something as simple as the flowers dripping water onto the photo evoked the complexity of emotions, memories, people, and events to provide context to the subject and bring the storyline full circle. Am I on the right track? [no pun intended] If so, guide us deeper into the powerful symbolism that you sought to convey with a scene such as that one.

I wouldn’t really say I picked objects because of their symbolic nature, other than to say that I went for white flowers because those are common at funerals. I was more interested in the power of objects to bring back memories and connect different memories. For example, with the flowers, I used the same flowers for the funeral and for the scene with the boyfriend and for the scene on the course for the idea that all her memories were coming together, triggering other memories, and closing in on her.

A contemplative moment as Lea gets dressed.

A contemplative moment as Lea gets dressed.

I think the lead did an amazing job. Her expressions in the close-up shots provided the outsider with audio to her thoughts/feelings while her movement in the handheld tracking shots provided a lens to her evolving journey. Since she didn’t have many lines, how was the casting process like? How did you know she was Lea?

Casting Lea was luck and trust. The girl I had originally cast fell through so I went to the theater teacher at my school and asked for her most talented female actors. She recommended three, one of whom was Kira Lanoue. Kira could do the dates, so I went with her. So I really can’t take credit for casting Lea. I would say that belongs with my school’s theater teacher.

Why address this issue of running away? Do you feel like there’s a generation of young people trapped in this cycle of running away from reality?

Yes. Exactly that. Except I think that we are all running towards something but I’m not sure what anymore. It felt like throughout high school I was racing to get into the best college, but then after I got into the school I wanted to go to that felt like another beginning, not an end goal. I think there were a lot of ideas I was trying to work with (I mentioned quitting and stress earlier) so in addition to this idea of running away, to some extent I was also concerned with the question of what is she running to.

Lea pauses after a race

Lea pauses after a race.

This is one captivating film. Give us insight into the production/collaboration process. Also, what challenges did you/your team face and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenges on this shoot were the cast and crew. Like I mentioned earlier, casting came down to the wire. Additionally, my original director of photographer realized he couldn’t make the full shoot a few days before the shoot. Luckily, Alex Herz, whom I had worked with at YoungArts, came to my rescue. So figuring out everything logistically was challenging, but I’m incredibly lucky to have talented people in my life who I can count on to help me out when I need it.

Who do you credit as your influences?

This is a tough question. I’m the type of person, and I think to some extent all filmmakers are, who watches a film and instinctively analyzes it for ways that I could use it to improve my own filmmaking. So then to some extent everything I’ve ever seen has influenced me. On a more specific note though, Darren Aronofsky, Peter Weir, and Wes Anderson stand out to me at the moment.

Filmmaker Ruby Rae Drake

Filmmaker Ruby Rae Drake

Tell us about your Columbia experience.

I’m currently a freshman at Columbia University in NYC. At school I’m taking film theory, creative writing and literature classes, and I plan on majoring in film theory and creative writing. Columbia is known for its Core Curriculum, which requires that all students take a series of classes, mostly having to do with the humanities. So through school I’m focusing on the theory side of filmmaking while I stay involved with filmmaking through working in the city and on projects with friends.

What words of wisdom can you provide for other student filmmakers?

As cliché as it sounds, go out and make something. But also watch films. Figure out what you like and don’t like, and then analyze that and figure out why you like it or don’t like it. And I would also say don’t forget to read. Filmmaking, I believe, ultimately comes down to storytelling, so read the NY Times, read books, listen to interviews with people you find interesting. As much as you can, immerse yourself in stories.

Watch the Run, Run Away teaser:

Ruby Rae Drake is a filmmaker based in San Francisco and New York City. She is currently writing her next short, which will be about sisters.

Learn more about Ruby’s work on her website: rubyraedrake.com

Run, Run Away screened as part of the 59th San Francisco International Film Festival’s Shorts 6: Youth Works on Saturday, April 23rd @ 12:30 p.m.


Alyysa Valdez’s’s guest post is part of our ongoing series of film school students interviewing aspiring filmmakers.

 

Alyssa Valdez

Alyssa Valdez is a sophomore at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. She is majoring in Communications while minoring in Film and Television Production, which intertwines her experience in front of the camera with her love of storytelling behind it. She has starred in an MTV Rhapsody commercial as well as performed on the The X Factor, but the biggest assignment of her life isn’t to become a household name. It is to become a name for her household: the family’s first college graduate. A career, or better yet, a lifestyle revolved around film/television is the icing on this layered cake that she calls her life.

Follow Alyssa on Twitter: @AlyGabrielle

Follow Alyssa on Instagram: instagram.com/alygabrielle23

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

Film School Shorts is a production of KQED.

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