INTERVIEW: Brittany Runs A Marathon writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo

As Brittany Runs A Marathon (read our review here) races into Australian cinemas this week (October 31st) for an exclusive season, before streaming on Amazon Prime from November 15th, the film’s writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo visited our shores to spread the word on his uplifting comedy.

Taking some time away from the special event Q&A screenings held in Sydney and Melbourne, our own Peter Gray was fortunate enough to chat with the filmmaker to discuss how this story came to be.

First off, I just wanted to say congratulations on the film.  I saw it earlier in the year and absolutely loved it, as did fellow members of our team here too, so really just wanted to relay that.

Hey, thank you, that’s so nice.

I understand the film was inspired by your roommate, what was it about her story that made you want to write it?

It was incredible to watch this woman who had always made herself the butt of a joke, or really allowed people to laugh with and at her for their comfort and their ease, find her worth.  And she found it with sincerity, and tenacity, and vulnerability.  And I watched my friend go through that, and I thought it was a story that people could relate to, and be inspired by, so I started writing.

How much of the character and the story that we see is true to what actually happened?

Nothing in the movie is a recreation of what happened in real life, as far as the scenes, but there are parts of her journey that I did borrow, and the emotional journey is hers too.

And did you always know that this was something that you were going to direct?

No.  And I never thought I was going to be a director to be honest.  But I wanted to protect the story as much as I could.

I think one of the things I really responded to was the queer sensibility in that body image is something that the community is affected by, and a lot of Brittany’s traits are very relatable – self deprecative humour, humour as a defence mechanism, self-destructive – did you bring your own experiences when informing the character?

100%! I look at this as a coming-out story for her.  In my early 20’s, when I came out, I realised I didn’t want to be the funny sidekick in my own life anymore.  I wanted to change the way the world looked at me and I wanted to change the way I looked at myself.  And I only wanted to surround myself with people that were supportive of that.  And in doing that, un-learning a bunch of shit that I was told I was worth and rebuilding from scratch who I was in my heart and my soul, and through that I found a sense of self-agency and a dignity and respect for myself that I didn’t have before.

And Jillian Bell is so perfect in this role.  How far into production did she come on board?

Seven months before we started filming she came onto the project.

And how did you get her to say yes?

I was meeting with actresses at the time, and she had read the script and had a very intimate understanding of the character, she related to it on a personal level for a number of reasons, and she also had a very cerebral understanding of the part.  I was a big fan of her comedic work but didn’t know if she was a dramatic actress too, and I hoped that she would have the dramatic sensibility to toe the line between the comedy and the painful pathos of the character.  We were on the same page about what we needed to have, what we needed to execute it, and what we wanted the end result to be.

Is it true that the film documented her own weight loss?

It’s half-true.  We shot the film in 28 days, and she lost the exact amount of weight that the character lost on her own.  She lost 29 pounds in the lead-up to filming and the last 11 pounds while we were filming.  The scene at the beginning of the film where she’s looking at herself on Facebook, that’s an actual photo of Jillian a year before we started filming, so we used a series prosthetics to recreate that.

I guess in some ways you could liken making a film to running a marathon…

Very easily (laughs)

...there’s practice and training in that, how did you adapt your style from playwriting to film?

It was a learning process.  Every project you face is a blank canvas, it’s a brand new slate, and at the core of everything it’s all Aristotle, it’s all drama, and for this story in particular it was about learning to play with the close-ups and the wide shots.  It’s an intimate story happening inside Brittany’s heart and soul, that’s the close-ups, and it’s literally a story about a woman running across the city, and the world of that, the scope, the emotionality of that…that’s the wide shot.  So it was all about adapting cinematic language into a language I understood.

Now that the film is out, have you been able to take a breath and reflect on the experience?

Umm, no! (Laughs).  It’s been a sole focus for so long, we sold the film in January to Amazon, and I thought that would be the end of the road but it was really just the beginning.  And I have been promoting the movie since January.  It’s been pretty surreal to see the reactions all over the world and see how people have been inspired and so connected to the material…but I can take in only as much as I can, but I won’t be able to see it in its whole until I have a little bit of distance.

When you first spoke to Brittany about writing her story, what was her reaction?

I said “I don’t know if I should tell you this but I’m writing a movie about you” and she asked what it was called and I told her ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’ and she asked how fast does she run in it?  She was flattered.  But then it became quite scary cause she thought in some way it was as if her journal was going to be read.  It wasn’t until we were at Sundance that I gave her the press notes and it said “Based on his real-life best friend, Brittany is a hot mess” and she was like “You can’t say that, i’m an adult, you have to draw the line between me and the character”…and that was a totally fair request.

As I said, when I saw the film it really resonated with me in a lot of different aspects and I think what you have made is incredible and I really hope more people see it

Oh my god, well thank you.

Brittany Runs A Marathon is screening in Australian theatres from October 31st 2019 before streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime from November 15th 2019.  Our thanks to Paul Downs Colaizzo and Transmission Films.

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