It’s taken over six years for new Channel 4 drama Run to make the journey to the screen. Set in south London, Run weaves together the stories of four seemingly unconnected people who face life changing decisions: a tough single mother, a Chinese illegal immigrant, a recovering heroin addict and a Polish cleaner.
But it’s not a stereotypical portrait of south London, insists executive producer Jaimie D’Cruz, who plays down comparisons to C4’s most recent London set drama, Top Boy. “There’s no gangs, no guns – none.”
Rather, he describes Run as an affectionate, honest portrayal of the south London he knows – one that reveals the stresses and strains of the mixed communities of the area, but that has life and warmth.
Run was largely created by a young team of TV newcomers from South London. It’s the first TV drama credit for Brixton friends and writers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan, and commercials director Jonathan Pearson and his producer Adam Dolman. It’s D’Cruz’s first drama too. A former series producer at documentary indie Keo Films, he produced Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which won a Oscar nomination in 2011, and runs new indie Acme TV.
Run started taking shape in 2007, when Smith (who is part of D’Cruz’s extended family), Fajemisin-Duncan and Pearson called in to discuss the fledgling project with D’Cruz. None of them had any experience of making dramas, and Run was initially envisaged as a series of standalone micro dramas for a new media audience which could be told in just five or six minutes. “We were not thinking of it as a C4 primetime drama,” says D’Cruz. “That was the furthest thing from my mind.”
The project was developed and pitched to TV stations, digital channels, brands and internet platforms – but to no avail. Then, in 2008, the team decided to produce a self-funded pilot which would act as a calling card. It was a proper two camera, 16mm film shoot in Brixton with full cast and crew.
The big breakthrough came two years later when Channel 4’s Alpha Fund invested in full scripts. Then C4 drama commissioning editor Robert Wolf Cochrane showed interest, encouraging the further development of the scripts so that they became a coherent, interlocked series rather a number of unconnected episodes. When Wolf Cochrane left C4, new commissioning editor Sophie Gardner championed the project too.
D’Cruz describes the budget of Run as the ‘pretty decent’ but not high. The drama features a mix of established acting talent and newcomers, who were discovered through open castings, schools, theatre groups and even young offender programmes. It also eschews expensive props, special effects and grading. Instead Run shot in and around Brixton, Peckham, Loughborough Junction and Camberwell.
Given that most of the Acme team are from a factual TV background, there’s something of a documentary approach to the way they cast, researched stories and found locations. D’Cruz says they were determined to depict the culture of inner city London accurately, rather than recycle media stereotypes of the area. For example, assistant producer Shanthy Sooriasegaram ended up working full time on the intricacies of what a crack squat really looks like or where Chinese illegal immigrants sleep.
Acme’s lack of drama experience meant that it turned to a number of experienced hands to help make the show. The first two episodes are directed by Bafta winner Charles Martin (Skins, Wallander), while Pearson directs the final episodes. And Run was managed by experienced producer Chris Carey (Dirk Gentley, This Is Jinsy). Composer Harry Escott (Shame, Welcome to the Punch) provided the score.
DoP’s Ula Pontikos (Weekend) and Gary Shaw (Ill Manors) helped create the look of the series. The fluid, naturalistic imagery of Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express was an important reference point for the film-makers, who shot largely in available light with an Arri Alexa. Above all, they wanted to avoid the clichés of most depictions of London – the glossy tourist version or the dangerous, grim gangster portrayal. The Alexa is noted for its ability to shoot in low light with a minimal lighting set up, which was perfect for Run as it was shot largely in the evenings in the height of summer to a tight shooting schedule of nine days per episode.
For a documentary maker like D’Cruz – who’s used to turning around documentary projects in months rather than years – it’s been a long process to get Run to screen. But he’s sanguine about the time it’s taken. “The reason it took six years is that many of those years were spent finding people to talk to us. And why would they? We had absolutely no track record in drama. I was knocking on the doors of people that I didn’t even have a right to knock on,” he says.
Run airs on Channel 4 on Monday 15 – Thursday 18 July at 10pm
Run is a four part drama set in South London that tells the stories of four people who face life changing decisions. In one episode, Olivia Colman plays a tough single mother whose teenage sons commit a random act of violence that ends in the death of stranger – and she must choose whether to protect her children or do the right thing.
Broadcaster Channel 4
Production company Acme Films
Starring Lennie James, Jamie Winstone, Olivia Colman, Katharina Schuttler
Writers Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan, Marlon Smith
Directors Charles Martin (eps 1&2), Jonathan Pearson (eps 3&4)
Producer Charles Carey
Associate producer Adam Dolman
Executive producer Jaimie D’Cruz
DoPs Ula Pontikos (eps 1&2), Gary Shaw (eps 3&4)
Production designer Tom Bowyer
Editor James Hughes (eps 1&2), Joe Randall Cutler (eps 3&4)
Composer Harry Escott
Cameras Arri Alexa, Canon C300, Canon 5D
Facilities Edited at The Mews, graded at MPC, mixed at Boom and re-onling at Deluxe 142.
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