Writer and director John Tomkins is a major drum-beater for film in Torbay, Devon and the South West. The Runner is his fifth film, and you can but hope that the characters and situations in the film are based on the filmmaker’s nightmares rather than his experience.
A runner on a film set is the general dogsbody, the person that gets the coffee, fetches and carries, and tidies up to make sure everything goes smoothly. Runners have been called the footsoldiers of the industry. Put another way, a runner is the glue that holds a shoot together.
The Runner takes on the challenge of depicting the behind-the-scenes filming of period drama, The Importance of Everything, as well as the goings-on of a high-end ‘school for runners’.
All is not going well on the set of the period drama. The put-upon director Steven Elliot (played by co-writer and long-time Tomkins collaborator Tom Meanary) is being driven to his wit’s end by demanding lead man Patrick Haller (Sam Pike), and when aged runner Henry (James Cotter), who would give Mrs Overall a run for her money on who would be the slowest and most doddery, fails to deliver, he’s unceremoniously dismissed and a new runner is sought.
The production turns to the half talent scout, half sensei, Harry Wilkins (Jimmy The Bee Bennet) who channels his used car salesman charisma into leading the runner school. Wilkins collects a heap of hopefuls and the runner training begins.
The runner trainees include diva-wannabe Bridgette White, as Karen Murphy (Karen Fairfax); hapless mummy’s boy Nigel “Mikie to his mother” Oscarward (Tom Hutchings); and unlucky aspiring actor Ryan James (Ben Gilbert).
There’s a grotesque quality to some of these characters and the situations they create. There’s a sense of doom surrounding the demands of the leading actor, which also hovers above the cut-throat ambition of the trainee runners. Do people really behave like this? Well, yes, maybe.
For the runners, the crazy aspiration of Fairfax’s Murphy/White is balanced by Gilbert’s honest to goodness James, and Hutchings’ Oscarward as the sensitive, but kooky, savant, offers something of a halfway between them.
On set of The Importance of Everything, Evelyn Rei as Florence Wells adds a spoonful of stabilising sugar to the sourness of Pike’s leading man Haller. And you can feel the pressure on Meanery with his portrayal of a director increasingly squeezed.
At just over 20 minutes, there’s a lot to cram into The Runner -even the support actors, particularly the ‘crew’ of The Importance of Everything, develop characters of their own.
Cringey, funny, and ultimately uplifting, the unerring allure of film may well be summed up in the opening words of Jimmy The Bee Bennet: ‘I want a piece of that action.’