Sometimes a story is so powerful, you have to pass it on.
This recent film "Every Runner Has a Reason" came through our office and has spread like wildfire ever since. This is an honest, human story that cuts deep to the core. This is a visceral call to action.
We caught up with director, Jordan deBree from Heist and he gave us some insight into the making of this film, how he helped tell this amazing story through collaboration and how music played a critical role.
M: What inspired you to make this film?
JD: The San Francisco Chronicle had a piece about Ronnie. I saw the headline and a photo of Ronnie and immediately forwarded the article on to our team without even reading the piece. I mean, here was this guy living underneath an overpass and running 2-3 hours a day for kicks. It seemed like there just had to be a good little film there. We love story, and we're constantly looking for opportunities to tell really great stories, and Ronnie just continued to surprise us.
M: When/How did you first meet Ronnie?
JD: I met him the week before filming just to get a good sense for his personality, his look and what might be possible. He's got this very gentle soul, and that's something that comes through immediately. Ronnie's been through a lot, and at this point in his life, he's incredibly grateful to have simply survived. And while things are definitely challenging and tough for him, he doesn't really think of it that way. Like he says in the film, he's just glad to be alive.
M: What was the filming process like?
JD: Well, we had a pretty specific look in mind for this piece, but because it was a side project - and pro bono at that - we were trying to wedge it in - between paid jobs and make it happen on a shoestring. Jamie Niebuhr is a super-talented young DP/creative. Jamie's on staff here at Heist, and he and I worked closely together to figure out how to make it all happen with a stripped-down crew, limited resources and time. We knew we were going to have to "steal" our locations and move very quickly. So, we shot out of the back of a van a good bit, but we couldn't really nail the center-framed, super-intimate closeups with a van or steadicam. So, we wound up using the Movi instead. An amazing tool. but not without its issues. That said, it worked out great in the end, and local Movi technician Rod Hartzog really helped us out with that.
The last challenge was the drone copter shots. I wanted to find a way to visually convey that feeling that runners sometimes have of at once being out of their body - almost floating above everything, insulated from the world around them. Aerials would give us that, and they'd also give us an epic way to put Ronnie in his urban environment and hero his journey. Local drone operator Devin Hedrick of Hover Effect and Rod Hartzog once again came through. The shots were very challenging and stressful. We needed to ensure safety, move quickly and nail the shots. A tough combination. But those guys really came through. Finally, there was Ronnie's story. I didn't want him thinking too much about his story, and I knew I didn't want the interview to have a visual component. So, we basically just sat in a little art gallery that he works in and recording a very long, meandering conversation. Ronnie's got a great voice, and there's such authenticity to it. It really was just about asking him to talk about some key themes and frame them up in the context of his personal story. He did the rest. And there's so much that didn't wind up in this short piece. No one's story can be accurately and fully embodied in a 30-minute film, much less than a 3-minute one. So, instead, we tried to accurately capture the essence of one small portion of Ronnie's life - his running. I hope we did that, and I hope we gave people a sense for who this guy is and the grace with which he carries himself.
M: Did any unplanned experiences happen during the filming?
JD: Oh yeah. First of all, you can't chase a guy through the streets of San Francisco and not attract attention. And when you're filming in some of the grittier parts of the city, folks who live on the streets take notice. The thing is, they had no idea that the guy who was starring in our little movie was actually one of them. It was a pretty interesting dynamic. And there was a similar corollary when we were filming in some of the nicest areas of San Francisco. Everyone thought we were making a shoe commercial. Second, this was pretty guerrilla style, so without getting into specifics, let's just say that we were all a bit worried and anxious about some of the things that were doing. We were trying things that required a lot more resources, time and planning, but hey, that's what makes filmmaking fun. Finally, Ronnie surprised us at the end. We were trying to figure out how to wrap up the piece, and we invited him in to have a look at it and asked him if there was anything he wanted people to come away with. And that's when he casually and off-handedly mentioned that he was running the San Francisco Half Marathon to raise money for the non-profit Hospitality House (www.hospitalityhouse.org) that had helped him when his life was really hitting rock bottom. As soon as he said that, it was clear how we were going to end the piece. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better story. Here's this guy who lives on the street, and he's running a marathon to help raise money for a charity - not for himself! Unbelievable. But that's Ronnie.
M: What went into finding the right song for this film?
JD: Music is incredibly important and so very challenging. Whether you've got $100,000 to spend or $500, it's always a tough one. We typically audition 100's and 100's of track options to find the right one. We've even auditioned 1000's before. But Marmoset has made our life so much easier. I'm not saying that because your putting this writeup on your blog. I tell everyone this. Marmoset's user interface is awesome, and the quality of the tracks is consistently high. Instead of looking at 100's of tracks, we can look at 30-50 and find great options. And that's exactly what happened here. We found a few different options that were very viable, but this particular one just had the right vibe - this airy melancholia that then builds and on new layers and finally breaks into something more energetic. A lot of Marmoset tracks have stems. This particular one didn't, but we reached out to the team and asked if they could hunt the stems down and they did. Which was awesome... We were super happy. And this is our experience with Marmoset every time - not just on this particular project.
M: What would you like people to take away from watching your film?
JD: Maybe this is cynical, but originally, I just wanted people to be surprised. I wanted them to think they were watching just one more running commercial and then suddenly realize that it wasn't that at all. That seemed like fun. But as soon as I got to know Ronnie, it was clear that there was a deeper, weightier layer to him. He was just incredibly gracious and humble. I mean, he really feels like he owes the world a lot. He owes the people who helped him, and he owes the people that forgave him. He's thankful for everything in his life. And at the same time, that sense of gratitude, that peace, has come at great personal cost. I mean, he really does sleep on the sidewalk at night, and all of his earthly possessions are strapped into that little dolly. And you don't want to romanticize that. It's no joke. And yet somehow, he rises above all that. All of it. So, I hope people who watch the piece are inspired. And I hope we all look around at our neighbors, at strangers we pass on the street and ask ourselves what we're missing, what we're presuming about these folks. Because life is complicated. It's full of heartbreak and beauty. And it you can look at the world the way Ronnie does, you'll probably be a lot happier in the midst of all that.
Oh, and if you are inspired, consider giving a donation (big or small) to Hospitality House. They picked Ronnie up when he was at rock-bottom on several occasions. They did this when no one else cared or believed that Ronnie's life could be different. San Francisco is in the midst of sweeping and dramatic transformation right now, and it's organizations like Hospitality House that will help ensure that the city retains its essence, its soul in a sense, in the midst of all this change.
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